Top Rated Filtration Systems for Backpackers [Sawyer or Life Straw?]

There is nothing worse than getting sick when out in the wilderness. An upset stomach (or worse) can certainly ruin an otherwise epic hiking trip or a fun camping trip with the family. One of the most common causes of stomach problems while hiking or camping is drinking contaminated water. While the stream that runs next to your campground might look crystal clear, it can be hard to know what is upstream. Bacteria, parasites, and other potential disease-causing agents are invisible to the human eye, and can quickly leave you holed up in the tent while the rest of your companions are out enjoying the Great Outdoors.

Small, portable water filters usually weigh under a pound but are easily one of the most important and essential pieces of outdoor gear for hiking, backpacking, and camping enthusiasts. In this short article, we offer an in-depth comparison of two of the most common portable water filters on the market.

Sawyer Mini vs Lifestraw Comparison

The Sawyer Mini and the Lifestraw are two of the most popular and widely known personal water filter devices. On the surface, they may appear to be very similar as both are hollow fiber membrane water filters. In layman´s terms, this means that the water you drink or use must path through a membrane that acts like a type of mesh or net that filters out potential pathogens. Both of these quality filtering products claim to be able to filter out over 99% of several types of waterborne pathogens, including algae, bacteria, protozoa, giardia, and other types of parasites.

Despite these similarities, both of these filtering devices are very different in terms of how they are used. Below, we look into these differences.

How to Use Lifestraw



The LifeStraw essentially functions like a straw. It is designed as a small tube that has special, minute fibers that act as a filter within the tube. To use this filter, you simply plasce one of the filter in the water you want to drink and suck the water through the tube or straw. If you know how to use a straw, you know how to use this simple device. You can drink from a bottle, a glass, or even directly from a bottle or a puddle. Before using the straw, it is bett o let it sit in the water for a minute or so. This will allow the water to creep up the straw and into the filtering membrane. If you are in a serious need for water and end up using the straw to drink from a muddy puddle, you might need to blow on the straw periodically to get rid of the turbidity that could be blocking the filter.

Using Sawyer Mini Water Filter



Unlike the Lifestraw, the Sawyer Water Filter is a squeeze-type filter. This means that you simply uncap the filter, connect it to a bottle of dirty water, and then squeeze that bottle through the filter and into a different bottle. Many of the Sawyer Mini water filters come with pouches where you can collect water from rivers, lakes, or other water sources. If you do not like the pouch design, however, you can simply use any plastic bottle as the filter itself can be adapted to fit over different size openings.

Lifestraw vs Sawyer Mini

There are both advantages and disadvantages to the different types of Sawyer and Lifestraw products. The Lifestraw is usually much quicker to use. Imagine coming to a river after several hours of hiking through hot and arid conditions. With the Lifestraw, you can simply kneel down next to the river, take out the straw and begin to sip. With the Sawyer Mini, on the other hand, it is necessary to fill one bottle (or pouch), and then squeeze it through the filter.



One of the biggest disadvantages of the Lifestraw, on the other hand, is that if you want to gather purified water to put into a pot or pan, you would have to sip it through the straw and then “spit” it into the pot. For any purpose wherein you would need a filtration device to gather water for something other than immediately drinking, the Sawyer Mini is most likely the best option.

Lifestraw Go vs Sawyer Squeeze

The Lifestraw Go comes as a plastic water bottle that has the filtering straw attached to the bottle. With this product you can easily carry your potable water with you wherever you go. Instead of only drinking when you come to a safe water source, this allows you to carry a sizeable amount of safe, potable water with you during your adventures in the backcountry. Simply fill up your bottle from any water source (including from puddles), screw on the top, and sip away.



The Sawyer Squeeze, on the other hand, only weighs three ounces and comes with a potable pouch. The pouch is relatively easy to fill up and the small filter screws directly onto the pouch that is then squeezed to offer pure, filtered water into any type of water carrying device. The main drawback compared to the Lifestraw Go is that you will have to carry a separate water bottle if you want to use this filter as your main water source.

Lifestraw Go vs Sawyer Bottle



Sawyer does also offer a miniature filtration device that is connected to water bottle. In this sense, the Sawyer Bottle is similar to the Lifestraw Go, however, there are some differences worth noting. Whereas the Lifestraw Go incorporates the straw directly into the sipping device, the Sawyer Bottle is distinct in that you can also use the included filter with hydration back tubing. This versatility makes the Sawyer Bottle a bit more useful if you have several different hydration devices that you plan to use during a trip. If, however, you only plan on using one bottle, the Lifestraw Go is perhaps the more practical option.

Lifestraw Family vs Sawyer sp128

One of the main customer complaints related to LifeStraw was that it simply was not adaptable to larger families or groups of hikers. Thus, the company recently came out with Lifestraw Family, a highly portable family water filter that can purify water at base camps or for large camping groups. It has the capacity purify almost 5,000 gallons of water.



Similarly, the Sawyer sp128 is extremely small while still being able to purify over 100,000 gallons of water. This small filter only weighs 2 ounces and it can easily be attached to a drinking poutch, hydration pack or any sort of disposable water. If you want to purify large quantities of water, the sp128 is the more practical option while also being much smaller and portable.

Lifestraw Giardia versus Sawyer Straw

Lastly, the Lifestraw is unique in that it allows you to drink directly from lakes, ponds, rivers, or other bodies of water. In populated areas, giardia is a common pathogen that can lead to serious gastrointestinal issues that can completely ruin your time in the wild. The Lifestraw is specifically designed to filter out over 99.99% of waterborne pathogens including giardia.

Similarly, the Sawyer Straw is also designed to help keep your drinking water safe from the vast majority of pathogens and disease causing agents.  The specs on this product guarantee to filter at .1 microns, which means that 99.99999% of all bacteria and 99.9999% of all protozoa will be captured by the filter. Furthermore, instead of having to carry extra filter cartridges to replace, you can expect this bad boy to work for up to 100,000, thus giving you a lifetime of safe drinking water for all your backcountry adventures.

Other Popular Portable Water Filters

While Sawyer and Lifestraw are both two of the most well-known personal water filtration devices on the market, there are other companies producing quality products that compete with these leading companies. Below, we look at four other water filtration products that deliver quality performance at a reduced price.


Etekcity Water Filter Straw Camping Water Purification Portable Water Filter Survival Kit for Camping, Hiking, Hurricanes

Etekcity offers a filtering devices that includes a three stage filtering process, including pre-filter, antibacterial carbon filter and 0.01 micron hollow fiber filter. Like the Sawyer products reviewed above, Etekcity filter come with a pouch for easy filling and filtering. Furthermore, a straw is also attached to the filter making it easy to drink the filtered water directly out of the putch. You can get at least 1,500 waters of safe drinking water for under $15 dollars.

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Another company offering quality personal filtration devices is Katadyn. Their Hiker Microfilter is a bit more expensive than other products but comes with a one year warranty. Furthermore, th 11-ounce water microfilter is very durable and fits in any backpack. It works like a pump and can then easily be used to fill almost all different types of hydration devices. Furthermore, the Katadyn Hiker Microfilter can filter up to 200 gallons of water.

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The Fixt Nomad is another great product designed to get safe, pure water from almost every water source, except the ocean of course. It has the ability to remove all different sorts of waterborne pathogens, and can also get rid of viruses and even radiological contaminants. It easily fits into any pocket in your pack and can filter upwards of 100 gallons. It even surpassed EPA protocols for clean water specifications.

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Lastly, the Pure2Go water filter is another filter that easily kills all different sorts of bacteria and viruses, including crypto and Giardia. It exceeds the NSF/ANSI P231 and 53 standards for a water purifier and has easy to replace cartridges that can be separately purchased. The 2-year limited warranty means that you can feel that this is a safe investment to deliver you clean water for the foreseeable future. 

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FAQ Section

If you still have a few questions about the best personal water filtration device to keep you safe on your hiking and camping adventures, below we answer a few of the most common questions.

How Many Gallons does a Lifestraw Filter?

The LifeStraw has the ability to filter up to 1,000 liters or 264 gallons of water from virtually any water source. Unlike other filters, it has no parts that can be replaced (such as filters or cartridges. Thus, once you have reached the 1,000 liter threshold, you simply discard the product and purchase another one.

Does the Lifestraw Really Work?

For filtering out bacteria, parasites, and other common waterborne pathogens, the LifeStraw is extremely effective and ceretainly does work. However, it is worth mentioning that since it only filters down to 0.2 microns, it is ineffective against heavy metals and waterborne viruses. If you are in the backcountry, however, contamination by viruses or heavy metals is a rarity.

How do I Store Sawyer Mini?

It best to clean and sanitize your Sawyer Mini Filter before storing it away until your hiking adventure. Simply back flush the filter and pass a bleach solution through the filter. It is best to use about one capful of bleach per quart of water. let the product air dry and then store in a cool and dry place. Alternatively, you can store the device while still wet and clean it (as described above) before using it again.



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