In this post, I compare two of the more popular survival water filter options for your bugout, get home and other survival bags. Those two filters are the Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System and the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter. These are the two water filters I have the most experience with and seem to be the most popular within the survival community.
Two great survival water filter options
They’re both great survival water filter options and I want to take a look at them side by side so we can make the best choice for our needs.
The Sawyer Mini and the LifeStraw are two of the easiest and less expensive portable water filter options for your bugout bag, get home bag or any other survival kit you put together.
My first thought was to explain the differences in water filtering processes but that turned out very boring, even to a geek like myself. I deleted that entire 1,000+ word section. You’re welcome. 🙂
So rather than going into detail on explaining Protozoa, bacteria, Cryptosporidium or going into the microns of each, I think it better to cover a few options. If you want more on stats and details, see the resource section below the article. Outdoor Gear Lab has an amazing comparison article with every kind of detail you could ask for.
Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over. ~Mark Twain
Two is one – One is none
Understanding that water is essential for survival, I can’t think of a more important piece of survival gear that applies to the redundancy rule – Two is one, One is none. In other words, carry two, just in case. Or, at the very least, have a minimum of two ways to filter or purify your drinking water.
For example, I generally carry a Sawyer Mini water filter in my packs. I may also, depending on the pack, have a LifeStraw water filter as well. I also carry water purification tablets and at least two ways of boiling water. This includes at least two ways of starting a fire and two metal containers.
In my limited experience, I lost a water filter once, broke one and severely clogged another – different hikes, of course. And, if in a cold weather situation, you may face freezing as a challenge. Always have a backup plan.
The Sawyer Mini – LifeStraw debate
Probably the two most popular portable water filters in the survival community right now are the Sawyer Mini and the LifeStraw. We see preppers debating which is best all over social media.
Here’s my take.
I prefer the Sawyer Mini as my primary water filter, over the LifeStraw. Mainly because the LifeStraw personal water filter is used as a straw. The Sawyer Mini can attach to my bladder hose, squeeze bags or water bottle and be used as a straw. They’re close to the same price and take up about the same amount of room – when you include the Sawyer Mini cleaning accessories.
Why would anyone choose LifeStraw then?
First, let’s look at the staggering difference in the amount of water these two can filter.
The debate goes something like this,
The LifeStraw only filters 1,000 liters of water. The Sawyer Mini filters 100,000 gallons.
Personally, I wouldn’t purchase a water filter entirely based on it’s filtering capacity. All water filters will need to be replaced eventually.
Seriously, the argument is ridiculous. Neither one of them is going to filter 6 months to a year, or more, of water used for one person, especially in a bushcraft type of environment. They’re going to wear out, break or get lost before you meet the filtering capacity.
Unless you’re a serious backpacker, I doubt you’ll need to filter 1,000 liters (264 gallons) with a portable water filter. How far did you make your bug out location? LOL
So, with this way of thinking, you could attribute the limited filtering capacity of the LifeStraw as a benefit, not a drawback – because you don’t have to keep backflushing the thing. With that said, the Sawyer Mini might be a better choice because it is easy to backflush and keep clean.
Confused yet? Don’t be, I just want to dismiss the filtering capacity as a legitimate factor in choosing a survival water filter for your packs.
To answer the original question, Why would anyone choose LifeStraw then? The LifeStraw works for a lot of people and we just need to accept it. Got a kid in college? Which water filter do you think the typical young person is more likely to use, a big straw or a water filter that needs to be attached and backwashed? Want a survival water filter for a “less informed” family member that’s just not interested in learning more than the simplest way of drinking water safely? Then the LifeStraw just might be your girl. Need a backup alternative for your hiking bag? Yep, I carry the LifeStraw – and use them both.
I keep a LifeStraw in my cars, certain packs as a backup and have given several away as gifts. They make awesome gifts.
Neither water filter is great for filling containers and water bladders with filtered water without more trouble than I want to deal with. For that, a gravity fed or hand pump system might be better.
Neither water filter will filter viruses or chemicals.
Okay – nuff said.
Sawyer Mini – LifeStraw Limitations MIGHT make you look for another survival water filter option
Viruses – From my research, viruses don’t seem to be much of an issue in the United States. If in doubt, consider carrying water purification tablets or boiling the water as well as a filter if possible. An ultraviolet radiation (UV) device might help as well. Live in a country or location where viruses are more likely to be an issue? You might want to look into a different water filter altogether.
Chemicals – You’ll need to look at more expensive filters if you’re worried about filtering chemicals from the water.
First, you might want to look at what chemicals are coming from your tap, those bottles of water you buy, and the food we eat – before you panic about the unlikely event you’ll need to bug out and die from drinking chemical-tainted water. Just sayin’.
That’s not to say chemicals and heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, are not a concern, they absolutely are in some areas.
Other water purification options
This article is about two portable survival water filters but there are other options – possibly much better options. I don’t want you to think I’m recommending you choose the Sawyer Mini or the LifeStraw. There are many options and I want to look at the two more popular filters that I personally have experience with. Here are a few other water purification options.
Side note – This might be a good time to mention water filters are not water purification tools – not at the basic level, anyway. Filtering attempts to remove the nasty little creepy crawlies trying to invade your health. Water purifiers attempt to kill those little monsters – just as boiling does.
The SteriPEN or UV water purifier – I haven’t tried using a UV water purifier because I don’t want to rely on batteries for something as important as clean water. Also, UV light only works in clear water. The light cannot get through solid obstructions. The way I understand it, small leaf particles, for example, might keep the UV light from doing its job on the “blocked” water. I’d be sure to strain my water before drinking it anyway so that would probably be a critical step before using a UV water purifier.
Personally. I would prefer to ingest as few nasties as possible, dead or not. With that said, I’m sure this might be a solution for many people, especially in areas where viruses are more of a concern.
Water purification tablets or liquid – Inexpensive, easy to use and lightweight. Just like the ultraviolet radiation methods of water purification, water purification tablets or liquid do not remove sediment but can kill viruses. You’ll still need to strain the water.
I always carry water purification tablets, generally as a backup or “extra” safety precaution. I generally carry the tablets but do have and sometimes carry the drops as well.
Neither UV water purifiers or water purification tablets/drops remove chemical or heavy metal pollutants.
Gravity fed and hand pump water filter systems
The cons of gravity fed or hand pump water filter systems are weight and price. You’re generally going to pay more and they’ll add more weight to your pack.
I don’t have experience with gravity fed or hand pump water filters but I’m definitely going to change that. I feel the cost/weight tradeoff are worth it in many situations. Many remove viruses as well.
The two hand pump filters I have my eye on but HAVE NOT yet tried myself are the MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter and the MSR TrailShot Pocket-Sized Water Filter. If I win the lottery anytime soon, I might consider the MSR Guardian Purifier. Check out the price of that one!
I feel a little rant coming. I’ll try to turn it into a little advice.
I have a tough time buying into all the marketing hype around most products but that’s really not what I want to get across here. I just want to bring a little reality into focus against those marketing images we see.
You’ve seen them, the healthy looking people leaning over a beautiful river drinking directly from the source. Or the guy drinking from his water bottle standing by a lake.
Here’s what I’ve found when hiking…
The river or lake and the trail are separated by swampy water and very thick vegetation (and who knows what animals) for miles at a time. At the least, you’ll have to walk into 6+ inches of mud as it tries to suck the boots right off your feet.
Or the water is way down a dangerously steep and high cliff.
Or the water is a mere puddle or smelly pond.
So, unless you are very familiar with your route at that time of year, take water where you can. Keep your containers as full as you can.
It’s extremely stressful when you pass on available water only to be forced into the decision later to either chance going forward or to double back before it’s too late.
What I do
I like to carry at least two water bottles and a couple of backup squeeze bottles. One is always for untreated water. I try to keep filtered water in its own uncontaminated container. Keep them separated.
In the best situation, I filter and boil my water – for drinking, cooking and cleaning. I strain, filter and boil water at camp for the next day and take water on the trail where I can find it.
As an added precaution, I have been known to drop a couple water purification tablets into the water as I hike. This helps both with the water and the container.
I have been in several of situations where I’ve had to drink directly from the source with a LifeStraw or Sawyer Mini on the go and haven’t gotten ill yet – knock on wood.
The last thing we want to encounter when out on a hike or in a SHTF situation (No help in sight) is being put out of commission, or worse, from drinking bad water.
Strain, Filter, and Boil.
Best Backpacking Water Filters and Treatment of 2017
Products mentioned: (Using my Amazon partner links – thank you.)
✔ Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System
✔ LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
✔ Aquatabs AQT100 Water Purification Tablets (Pack of 100)
✔ Aquamira – Chlorine Dioxide Water Treatment Two Part Liquid
✔ MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter
✔ MSR TrailShot Pocket-Sized Water Filter.
✔ MSR Guardian Purifier.
What? You still here? Want more?
Here are a few tips – extra credit on my part. 🙂
☑ Keep your hands clean and use hand sanitizer when possible. I wonder how many people have gotten sick after handling raw meat only to conclude it was the water.
☑ Carry a bandana or two for straining water. Every time I see someone carrying coffee filters to strain water, I know they have never actually tried it. Trust me, you’ll be there all night.
☑ Protect your water filter like your life depends on it. I wrap mine in a bandana or shemagh and pack it up when finished. I avoid the urge to just cram it into my cargo pocket. This will also help keep it from freezing up if you’re out below freezing. Until you use it again, that is.
☑ Store and carry the filter’s output up. By that I mean keep the filtered end of the tool pointing up. This will help prevent unfiltered water from dripping down and contaminating the “clean” part of your survival water filter.
☑ If you decide on a Sawyer Mini, the included squeezable roll-up pouch/bottle is way too small. Grab yourself a handful of the 1 or 2 liter (64-ounce) replacement pouches.
☑ The Sawyer Mini water filter fits perfectly on those expensive “Smart” brand bottles of water you see in the gas station coolers.
☑ Always- ALWAYS, test, use and understand ALL of your survival gear before you actually need them. Take a hike. Use your water filters and make sure they’re right for you and do what you expect and need. Make sure they fit your bottles, hydration pack, squeeze bottles, and accessories.
☑ Carry an extra cap or two for your water bottles. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
If you’ve found this article useful, consider sharing it on your favorite social media site. Consider using my Amazon partner links provided – it doesn’t cost you a penny more to do so and it helps keep my wife and life happy. You can actually use my link to make ANY purchase by clicking the link provided on our support page. As always, I’d love to see your comments below.
This article first appeared on Next Step Survival.
Stay focused with a clear plan and objective.
Brian Hawkins, out.