The Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System is the ideal minimalist water purification method for any backpacking trip. Working hard as your intestine’s guardian against questionable sources of drinking water, the Sawyer MINI has got your back(side). It offers multiple options to cleanse contaminated water, and is there to make sure you spend more time hiking (and less time squatting).
The Sawyer MINI’s tiny stature, minimal weight, and very affordable price what make it our Budget Pick for the Ultralight Backpacker.
Wade into the world of water filters with our comprehensive water filter guide, and see why we recommend the Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System below.
|Feature Type||Feature Specs||What This Means|
|Weight||2 oz (56.7 g)||Super lightweight and tiny; it can literally fit anywhere in your pack.|
|Filter or Purifier?||Filter||Removes bacteria and protozoa from the water before you drink it. Does not filter viruses. Further explanation in our Guide.|
|Treatment Type||Squeeze, Straw||Physically squeeze water through the filter, or slurp it through a straw. Squeezing it is faster and easier. Can also go inline for a bladder setup or rigged as a gravity filter. Details on these methods in our Guide.|
|Effective Against||Bacteria, Protozoa, E. Coli, Giardia, Vibrio cholerea, Salmonella Typhi||Drinking these = bad tummy aches or worse.|
|Filter Pore Size (Microns)||0.1 micron||Small enough to block pesky bacteria and protozoa while still letting clean water flow through. Further explanation in our Guide.|
|Filter Media||Hollow Fiber||What the filter is made of. Further explanation in our Guide.|
|Flow Rate||When squeezed, as fast as you can drink. Otherwise slower.||Flow rate is relatively quick, but clogs up easily, meaning you have to backflush regularly. Slow speeds if using gravity to filter.|
|Filter Life||100,000 gallons||A very, very long time.|
|Filters Particulate?||Yes||This won’t help with overall taste, but will help get sediment and other bits of out your water before you drink it.|
|Components||1 – Sawyer MINI Water Filter with Tip Cap
1 – 16 oz Reusable Squeeze Pouch
1 – 7″ Drinking Straw
1 – Cleaning Plunger (Syringe)
|All the parts you need, though the 16 ounce pouch is pretty small.|
|Works With||Included drinking pouch, standard disposable bottles (28 mm thread), hydration packs, or included straw||Easy to attach the filter to a bottle, use the pouch provided, or drink straight from a stream with the straw. Versatility at its core.|
|Manufacturer Warranty||Limited lifetime warranty||Sawyer has a solid reputation and will replace filters that don’t work. However, don’t let the filter feeze, as it will void the wawrranty.|
|Cost||$24.95||As cheap as it gets for a high quality water filter.|
Origins: Easing You In
Sometimes it happens because there’s a stomach bug going around. Sometimes it happens when chowing down on questionable street food late at night with a belly full of booze. And sometimes it happens a couple days after you decided to drink straight from that perfectly clean-looking stream. Little did you know there was a moose just upstream dropping The Browns off at the Super Bowl. This last scenario is the one for which I have an extremely effective preventative solution to offer. They call it a water filter.
There are many different kinds of water filters on the market, each strutting various features. With so many options to choose from, decision-making fatigue begins to take its toll. After having tried many different water filters, I’ve come to realize that there are a few specific features that are most important to me:
- Small and lightweight, as I’m often tallying up the ounces in my pack to keep it as light as possible.
- Not reliant on an electrical mechanism that could fail in the field when I need it most.
- Easy to clean without having to bring many extra parts.
The Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System has all these advantages and more, and thus has been my go-to water filter since it first came out. Needless to say, I was thrilled when asked to write this review for a product that has served me so well and has spared my gut from agony many times over.
Revelation: The Moment I Knew
I first purchased the Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System some time back for a long-awaited trip to the Hawaiian island of Kauai to hike to the famed Kalalau Beach. Kalalau Beach is one of the wettest and most remote destinations on the island; it’s an eleven-mile trek along the rugged Napali Coast through lush jungle and tropical streams, crossing over multiple ridge lines on treacherous, peanut butter single-tracks. Often butting up against sheer cliff-faces with zero margin for error, these trails can easily spit a poor fool down the hillside to certain doom.
The risk was worth the reward. I arrived to a wide, sandy beach banked by a raised bluff lined by primitive campsites among the thick jungle. Caves dotted the far end of the beach where travelers found overhanging shelters for their tents. The primary source of drinking water was a waterfall that careened thousands of feet down black volcanic cliff-sides covered in radiant moss and tall grass. The sun shone, the birds chirped, the insects buzzed, and the permanent-resident jungle-hippies glowed.
Firewood and food were scarce (meaning there were none), so whatever you carried in or bartered for was all you had. Your ability to ration your food was the main determining factor for how long you could stay before having to leave, either to resupply or move on. Between the numerous streams and the pool at the base of the waterfall, drinking water was plenty. However, since feral goats and wild boars called the mountains and valleys above home, there was sure to be bowel-curling bacteria infesting this abundant supply of “drinking” water.
I broke out the Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System and soon found myself surrounded by a swath of unfortunate, gastro-distressed hippies who hadn’t come prepared with any way to clean their drinking water, and thus had resorted to drinking straight out of the streams. Feeling fortunate to be in a position to help, I passed around the filter, and we squeezed bag after bag into water bottles until everyone was topped off with good, clean drinking water. Being so small, lightweight, simple to use, and reliable, the Sawyer MINI worked on the spot for everyone. It was in that exact moment, as I saw how quickly and easily we were able to treat water for so many people, that I was officially sold on the Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System.
There’s certainly no shortage of things to love about the Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System. In my opinion, it’s better in every way than every other water filter I’ve used. (No, I’m not being paid to say that. It’s actually how I feel!)
There are some clear-cut benefits to the Sawyer MINI right out of the box.
It’s small and ultralight: about the size of a roll of quarters, but a minuscule two ounces for the filter alone. Also, the MINI is one of the cheapest filters on the market at just $25. It filters down to 0.1 micron and claims to be capable of removing 99.999% of all bacteria and protozoa. Those pathogens are what you’ll encounter in the backcountry (or hippie-filled paradise islands). To put it another way, I’ve had no stomach issues from any of the water that I’ve consumed after having filtered it through this device.
Sawyer includes a warranty for the MINI (and all of its water filters), guaranteeing that it will filter up to 100,000 gallons, which pretty much means it’ll last you a lifetime. On top of that, since the MINI is so easy to clean out with a simple backflush using the included syringe, there was no concern about having to carry along any replacement filter cartridges, as is the case with many other filters on the market. Although I had to backflush the filter relatively often to keep the flow-rate up, I’d take that minor inconvenience over carrying replacement filter cartridges any day, as would most ultralight-minded backpackers.
And if all that wasn’t enough reason to choose this filter over others, it’s also the most versatile water filter on the market. There are multiple ways one can make use of the MINI.
You can load up the included 16-ounce bag from a stream, screw the bag onto the filter, and simply squeeze the water into a water bottle or hydration bladder. Or, if you’re the type that prefers to multitask, you can poke out the pre-scored hole in the corner of the bag, thread a string through it, hang it from a branch or tent, and let gravity do all the work while you focus on more important things like taking photos of your awesome water filter in action! (For those wondering, yes that’s a jerry-rigged gravity filter for $25. The rate isn’t lightning speeds, but it’ll do.)
The MINI can be spliced onto the hose of a hydration bladder, enabling you to fill up the bladder with dirty water and sip clean water straight with no extra work. Or, if you’re not into hydration bladders and prefer plastic water bottles, you can fill your water bottle with the dirty water, screw the filter directly onto the bottle, and sip the clean water right through the filter.
Finally, Sawyer includes a straw with your purchase, which allows you to put the filter directly into a stream and drink. This isn’t my preferred mode of filtering since it often requires laying down in the dirt (sometimes even upside down) and it doesn’t enable you to carry the filtered water with you for later. Also, both the straw method and the inline bladder method require one to have the cheeks of a blue whale, as it takes some serious pulling power to draw that water straight through the filter.
Personally, I prefer either the squeeze or gravity methods, as I find that inline or straw methods take more effort to utilize.
Ease of Use
After only seven or eight diarrhetic mishaps, I finally noticed the giant, white arrow on the side of the filter indicating the correct direction in which water is meant to flow through the unit…Kidding! But in all seriousness, it’s essentially foolproof. Attach it to your container of choice and drink.
The MINI is all about simplicity. There are no moving parts to break down, no potentially-harmful chemicals involved, and no batteries to worry about dying on you when you’re thirsty and in the wilderness. That means there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong with this filter.
Compact, lightweight, and versatile, it has never been an issue for me to find a convenient spot to store the MINI. Connect it to your hydration bladder, screw it onto the top of your water bottle, or stuff it just about anywhere in your pack.
It filters pretty quickly using the squeeze method, just be careful not to squeeze too hard or the bag will spring a leak at the weak point near the threading. Flow rate is a bit slower with the gravity method, but it allows you to multitask. As the filter gets used more, the flow rate slows down, and needs to get backflushed to get back up to speed. It’s not the hare in the race, but it’s definitely not the tortoise either.
As with most pieces of gear there’s always room for improvement. A few critiques I have about the Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System over years of use are as follows:
First, squeezing the included 16-ounce bag puts strain on the point where the bag joins with the screw top, potentially causing it to leak contaminated water into your freshly filtered clean water. You have to be sure to either bring along an extra squeeze bag or two for when the leaks begin, or you can bring along a plastic water bottle and use this for the dirty water instead of the squeeze bag. (I’m not a huge fan of the included squeeze bags, but ultralighters tend to grab Evernew bags as a replacement.)
Second, if you’re winter camping, you’ll need to wear a waterproof insulated glove to squeeze the bag, or your hand will freeze. I discovered that one during a Thanksgiving camping trip in the Mendocino Forest. In fact, the MINI is not the best option in freezing temperatures. It’s a hollow fiber filter, and the fibers absorb a lot of water when in use. They can freeze and render the MINI useless, and you’ll never know. This is an issue with all hollow fiber filters, and it’s important to note.
Finally, although the filter does a great job of removing the dangerous bacteria and protozoa in the water, it does nothing to improve taste quality. If it smelled swampy before filtering, it’ll probably taste swampy afterwards.
The Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System is cheap, lightweight, and versatile. Offering you so many ways to clean your drinking water, not only will your tummy thank you, but so will your tent-mate.
The Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System was tested for this review. The product comes with the filter, the 16-ounce drinking pouch, the straw, and the backflush tool.