Product: Sawyer MINI water filtration system
Cost: ~£25 (September 2016)
Duration used: 65 days
Purchased from: Amazon
Easy to use and fits on most shop bought bottles
One of the cheapest options for protection against bacteria and protozoa
Doesn’t filter against viruses (for this, you need their 0.02 micron range of filters)
Slow flow rate at altitude
Requires regular back-washing with clean water
Using the Sawyer MINI
Ease of use is one of the Sawyer’s strong points; it really is as simple as filling a bottle (or the included water pouch) with water and screwing the filter to the top of the bottle. It is compatible with most bottles you will find in shops, so we are usually found carrying several 2L bottles filled with unclean water to be used with the Sawyer MINI.
You’ll find the flow rate at sea level and with a clean filter good enough, it is a little harder than drinking through a straw but not so bad that it is a nuisance to drink with. However, things do change when you are at 3,500m+ and you have not flushed the filter through with clean water. We really struggle to get an adequate flow from the Sawyer and this is a serious downside when biking at altitude; you want to make sure you are properly hydrated and you often find yourself giving up with the straw before getting all the water need.
Maintenance for the Sawyer MINI
The Sawyer MINI, like most filtration systems out there, does require some maintenance in the form of “back washing” with the included syringe for pumping clean water back through the drinking side of the filter. It is important that the water you flush back through be clean, else you may be introducing bacteria and protozoa to the wrong side of the 0.1 micron membrane.
A relatively simple workaround to the Sawyer needing regular flushing is to simply boil a little more water than necessary when cooking a meal, allowing this water to cool and then using it to clean the filter. In this way, you are able to keep the filter working effectively without ever having a clean source of water.
Protection offered by the Sawyer MINI
The Sawyer MINI filtration system is a filter with a 0.1 micron membrane which filters out bacteria and protozoa from the water you drink. It does not protect against viruses, nor will it remove heavy metals or salt from water, so don’t go drinking any sea water with the Sawyer! It is purely for freshwater sources: rivers, lakes, streams etc.
It is worth researching whether the countries you will be traveling to have problems with water-borne viruses, as is the case in many countries in South America for instance. In North America and Europe, you probably don’t need to worry about any protection beyond that offered by the Sawyer, but for world travellers you might want to consider an option which deals with viruses as well.
Lastly, it is worth noting that Sawyer also offer a range of products with a 0.02 micron filter, which do deal with viruses. However, the downside here is a significantly reduced flow rate, so the products are necessarily bigger and lack some of the main advantages of the Sawyer MINI, namely portability and value for money.
The Sawyer MINI is a fantastic piece of equipment for anyone heading into the back country without access to clean drinking water. It is light, cheap (compared to other filtration systems), incredibly simple to use and provides effective protection against bacteria and protozoa – however, not against viruses, which is a negative for any world traveller travelling through countries in South America, Africa and Asia.
Another major downside is the slow flow rate at altitude. It can be frustrating being so dehydrated and only getting a trickle from the filter.
It also needs fairly regular maintenance, which is where things can get a little annoying as well: you need clean water to flush back through the filter, but the reason you have the filter in the first place is because of a lack of access to clean water. This can be avoided by boiling water and cleaning the filter with that water once cooled, but this is another downside compared to heavier gravity filters or the pricier UV Steripen.
All in all, the filter has been great for us and has probably prevented a few stomach bugs during our first month in South America, but given our high frequency of use and the pitfalls highlighted above, we are looking at an alternative product for our water purification needs.