As you will quickly learn on-trail and in the wilderness, whether through your conversations with other hikers or through divine intervention, water (and its level of purity) is a very serious issue. After your backpack, tent, and sleeping bag, your water purification system ranks highly on the “gear you will heavily research” list and vies for the top spot on the “gear people ask you about” list.
Weight, versatility, and practicality dictate the selling points of a water purifier (assuming it actually purifies your water, of course), and Sawyer had all three of these things in mind when designing the Sawyer MINI.
Yet the question remains: how does it hold up in the field? Will you be able to easily and safely filter water should you encounter a wasp nest encroaching on your only water source for miles? Will you end up riving in pain, holding your stomach as you endure the uncontrollable effects of giardia? Will the thing end up broken at the bottom of your pack only to live out the rest of its days in a hiker box somewhere along the trail?
Let’s find out.
Ease of Use
As far as backpackers are concerned the Sawyer MINI is everything you could ask for in a filtering of water device. Here is a quick rundown:
- Weight: 2 oz
- Filter Type: Hollow-fiber membrane (0.1-micron)
- Destroys: Bacteria and protozoa (aka giardia and cryptosporidium)
- Housing material: Plastic
- Included: Sawyer MINI Filter, syringe for backflushing, filter tip cap, 16 oz Sawyer bag
- Colors: Blue, green, orange, pink
- MSRP: $25
Smaller and 33% lighter than the original Sawyer Squeeze Filter, the MINI also offers you the ability to filter your water four different ways: attached to a water bottle, with a Sawyer bag, like a straw, or inline with a bladder.
So what’s the catch?
THE WEIGHT: At only two ounces (.125lbs / 56.7g) the Sawyer MINI is a no-brainer for anyone looking to go light. Before you even discuss potential drawbacks, the size and weight alone are grounds for justifying its inclusion in your pack.
THE FILTER: Sawyer’s proven hollow-fiber membrane (0.1-micron) filter will remove 99.9999% bacteria (including salmonella, cholera, and E.coli) and of all protozoa (including giardia and cryptosporidium). These are the only two things most hikers in the North American region need to worry about, so fear not the wrath of giardia.
THE VERSATILITY: In addition to being used in the same manner as the Sawyer Squeeze (filtering from the Sawyer bag into your water containment devices), the Sawyer MINI lends itself to all manners of filtering. Want to drink straight from a (store-bought) water bottle? The MINI will screw right on to most makes and save you the time of having to first filter, then drink. Don’t want to have to think about filtering? Use it inline with your bladder. Want to just stick it straight into that magnificent looking river and take a sip? You have the power!
THE LIFESPAN: It boasts a life of 100,000 gallons (that’s 378,541 liters) so you can be sure that your relationship with the Sawyer MINI will be a lasting one (if it doesn’t clog up).
No filter is perfect for the challenges presented by the Pacific Crest Trail (I retired four filters on-trail) or thru-hiking, and as I have yet to experiment with the Sawyer MINI as a filter on such a hike, I can only speculate as to what long-term issues may arise.
THE MAINTENANCE: The design is similar to that of the original Sawyer Squeeze Filter in that it periodically requires back-flushing to keep it operating at full capacity (since it is physically removing all those invisible bacteria and visible floaties). I saw many hikers grow frustrated backflushing their Sawyer Squeeze filters, and since the MINI is just that (mini), it will require more frequent maintenance than its larger counterpart.
THE FREEZING: Unfortunately, since there is a ceramic filter inside of the Sawyer MINI, you cannot leave it out during the night because trapped inside can freeze and break the filter. Many people sleep with their Sawyers inside of their sleeping bags, but the trick is remembering to put it in there in the first place.
THE VIRUSES: The hollow fiber membrane filter used by the Sawyer MINI does not protect against viruses. However, viruses are a rarity in backcountry water sources in the United States. Although the water has the potential to carry viruses, said viruses can only result from fecal contamination by an infected human. Therefore, so long as we all practice proper pooping skills in the wild, the virus issue should not be of any worry.
THE BAGS: If you opt to use the Sawyer bags in conjunction with your MINI to filter your water, you will destroy numerous bags over the course of a thru-hike. Fortunately, you can get replacement bags from Sawyer, and your MINI will still be capable of purifying water should your bags fail while on-trail.
|Sawyer Squeeze||$37||3 oz / 85 g||Squeeze/Straw||2 x 5 in / 5 x 13 cm||Hollow fiber||Protozoa and bacteria|
|Sawyer Micro||$29||2.5 oz / 71 g||Squeeze/Straw||2 x 5 in / 5 x 13 cm||Hollow fiber||Protozoa and bacteria|
|Katadyn BeFree||$25||2.3 oz / 65 g||Bottle||11.3 x 3.5 x 2.8 in / 29 x 9 x 7 cm||Hollow fiber||Protozoa and bacteria|
|Aquamira||$15||3 oz / 85 g||Drops||N/A||Chlorine dioxide||Protozoa, bacteria, and viruses|
|Platypus GravityWorks||$100||10.9 oz / 309 g||Gravity||3 x 7.4 in / 7.6 x 18.8 cm||Hollow fiber||Protozoa and bacteria|
One of the smallest and lightest filters on the market, one would expect that in opting for a Sawyer MINI, you are in some way sacrificing some convenience or feature offered by heavier filtration systems on the market.
Yet the MINI certainly does have the potential to impress, and as long as you have the patience to maintain (backflush) your MINI and sit patiently when using the Sawyer bags to filter larger quantities of water, the newest addition to the Sawyer lineup may be just what you are looking for in a filtration system.
Check out the Sawyer MINI here.
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