Water is one of the most important elements of survival. You can go about 3 weeks without food, but you are only going to last 3 days without water, which is why it is so important to make sure you have a reliable source of clean water when camping or backpacking. As a cash-strapped mom who goes backpacking in the wilderness with my preschooler, I ultimately decided on the Sawyer Mini as our water filter. Here is why, and my experience using it.
Why I Chose the Sawyer Mini Water Filter
There are a LOT of camping water filters out there. So many that it is overwhelming. When choosing a water filter for camping, there were 4 main factors I was looking at:
- Price: I’m a single mom and don’t have a lot of money to spend on backpacking gear. The Sawyer Mini only costs about $20 (you can buy it here for that price)
- Size and Weight: Since I have to carry most of my preschooler’s gear too, it is really important that the water filter be compact and lightweight.
- Long Filter Life: Replacement water filters don’t cost too much. But I live in Eastern Europe, which means I have to pay exuberant shipping costs. A $5 replacement filter might cost $30 to ship!
- Filters Effectively: Obviously you want your camping water filter to actually get rid of bacteria and protozoa. For this reason, I only considered major brand names for the water filter and not those cheap generic ones which aren’t tested.
At first, I considered getting the Life Straw because it was so light and compact. But you can only use the Life Straw as a straw, meaning you can’t use it to filter water for cooking. I also considered the pump-style Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter, but it has a filter life of about 1,150 liters. I’d have to buy expensive replacement filters – which would be even more expensive for me since I live overseas and have to pay insane shipping costs.
The thing I really loved about the Sawyer Mini water filter is that it has a filter life of 100,000 gallons. If you calculate that you drink 64 ounces of water per day, that means the Sawyer Mini would last you 200,000 days of camping! Basically, the Sawyer Mini is going to last you forever.
Sawyer Mini Specs
- Weight: 1.9oz
- Flow Rate: 1 liter per 5 1/2 minutes (this is very low!)
- Filter Life Span: 100,000 gallons
- Input: Standard 28mm bottle threading
- Output: Small nozzle with a cap
Using the Sawyer Mini
One thing I like about the Sawyer Mini is that it can be used in multiple ways. You can fill up the pouch with water, and then squeeze the water through the pouch. Or you can screw the Sawyer Mini onto a plastic bottle and drink through the filter. Or you can use the tube attachment to turn the water filter into a straw and drink directly from the water source.
Problems with the Sawyer Mini Pouch
The Sawyer Mini pouch system is ingenious. However, I immediately had some problems with it.
The pouch that comes with the Sawyer Mini is really small (16oz). And, when you dunk into a stream, ponds, etc, the pouch doesn’t fill all the way up with water. I’m guessing I only was able to fill up the pouch halfway. I’d squeeze the dirty pouch water through the filter and into our water bottles. Then I’d have to refill the pouch again. And again. And again. It isn’t exactly fun to dunk your hands into freezing cold water 😮 Sawyer does sell larger pouches in 32oz and 64oz sizes, but you’ve got to buy them separately.
Even with the constant refilling, the pouch system worked okay – until the pouch burst open! Yes, the pouch is basically just some plastic which is glued together. I really wish Sawyer would come out with some more durable pouch which can be used with the Sawyer Mini.
One solution to this problem is to get a large hydration bladder and attach the Sawyer Mini to it. But not all hydration bladders are compatible with the Sawyer Mini. Mine wasn’t. 🙁
Note: Sawyer makes a hydration pack adapter, but it only is compatible with the Sawyer Squeeze, not the Mini!
Using the Sawyer Mini with a Plastic Bottle
When the Sawyer Mini pouch burst, I had no choice but to use it with a plastic bottle. I’d fill up the plastic bottle with dirty water, screw on the Sawyer Mini, and then squeeze the water through the filter.
Standard plastic bottles aren’t made to be squeezed repeatedly, so the bottle started looking really crumpled. Luckily, the plastic bottle didn’t break – though I did have a replacement in case it did.
For day hikes, it was really convenient to use the Sawyer Mini. I kept dirty water in my large hydration pack. I poured this water into our plastic water bottle and then screwed on the Sawyer Mini. There was no need to stop and filter water because we just drank through the filter. This was great!
Cleaning the Sawyer Mini
The Sawyer Mini can easily be cleaned with a special syringe. You just fill the syringe with clean water and push the water through the tip of the water filter.
You’ll know when the Sawyer Mini needs to be cleaned because it will get harder to filter/suck water through it.
When using the Sawyer Mini at a pristine mountain stream, I went days without cleaning it. When at a mucky pond, I had to clean it 2 times per day.
Would I Recommend the Sawyer Mini?
For lightweight backpacking, I would recommend the Sawyer Mini. It is cheap, effective, and easy to use. However, because of the problems with the pouch, I would recommend that you spend the money to buy a larger pouch. I’d also recommend getting more than one Sawyer Mini so each member of your group can have one to screw on his/her water bottle.
For car camping and other outdoor situations where size and weight aren’t as important, I’d opt for a pump-style water filter instead because filtering with the Sawyer Mini can be time consuming.
For multiple purposes, I’d go with the Sawyer Squeeze + Inline Hydration Adapter + a hydration pack. The Sawyer Squeeze has a much higher flow rate, but is still really lightweight and small, so it is good for all types of camping and backpacking.