Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: Varies from $20 - $22 | Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros: Lightweight, inexpensive, simple, compact, quick
Cons: Can't transfer treated water into another vessel (can only drink through), requires you to carry dirty water with you, sometimes sipping through can be difficult
Best Uses: International travel, backpacking, desert hiking
As the least expensive water treatment system in our entire review (tied with the Sawyer Mini), the LifeStraw has some obvious appeal. For around $20 you can get a compact, lightweight, and simple system for treating water. It is chemical free, doesn't have any batteries or moving parts (meaning it is unlikely to break), and can last for 1000 liters. It filters out particulate, so you won't be left drinking dirt and grass bits like you sometimes will with a UV light treatment system. The LifeStraw weighs the same (2.7 oz) as the Sawyer Squeeze, which is far less than any pump filter. It is slightly less expensive but also slightly less versatile than the Sawyer Squeeze.
Read our full Water Filter Review to see which systems are our favorite.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Originally designed to provide easy access to clean drinking water for people in Third World countries, the LifeStraw is an emergency water treatment method that can also work in the backcountry. It is a lightweight straw that includes a filter. It cannot treat large quantities of water, but does allow fast and easy access to clean water if you have a questionable source.
Reliability / Effectiveness
The LifeStraw effectively strains out bacteria and protozoa, including Cryptosporidium, through its hollow fiber membrane, but it does not treat for viruses. It makes a handy water treatment system for international travel, but be aware that you will still be vulnerable to viral diseases.
Ease of Use
This straw-style filter is incredibly easy to operate. You dip the filter into the water and drink out of the top like you would out of a straw. It can be tricky to suck through the filter if the water is especially murky, and there is a delay as the water goes through the filter before it reaches your mouth (you have to try hard). Once it starts moving through, it is easy enough to drink your fill.
The main downside to this filter is that you can't treat water with it and then transfer the water to another vessel like a cook pot or a Camel Bak. So you can't use it to treat water for cooking, for groups, or for situations like alpine climbing where you want to bring clean water with you and leave the filter on the ground with your bivy gear. You can only drink through the filter. If you are backpacking and need to bring water with you between sources, you will need to carry a bottle of dirty water with you and drink through the Straw whenever you are thirsty. Keep in mind that doing this contaminates your vessel, and you will need to drink through the filter out of it every time until it has been properly sterilized.
Time Before Drinking
Since this is a filter straw, drinking through it is almost instantaneous. It does not require pumping or an incubation period like chemical treatments do. It is noticeably more difficult to drink through than the Sawyer Mini, which is also a straw-style filter, but this only causes a delay of several seconds.
At 2.7 ounces, this is one of the lightest water treatment methods you could bring with you into the backcoountry. However, our favorite light and small filter for personal use if the Best Buy winning Sawyer Mini, which functions the same, is smaller, and only weighs 1.4 ounces.
Durability / Uses Before Maintenance
The LifeStraw is reported to last around 1000 liters. For the same price you can purchase the Sawyer Mini, which lasts 100,000 gallons.
The taste of the water remains largely unchanged with the Life Straw.
This filter works well for short backpacking trips or for emergency water treatment, but is not the most ideal treatment method for extended periods in the backcountry or for treating water for more than one person.
For around $20, the value of this simple filter is hard to beat. Most pumps cost over $100. However, the very similar Sawyer Mini manages to do this. It costs only $5 more, lasts far longer, is smaller and lighter, and more versatile. With this in mind, we recommend the Sawyer filter straw over this one, but we don't think that the LifeStraw is a bad buy.
This is a unique product with a rather specialized use. It is inexpensive and lightweight, and works fairly well for personal use, but it won't treat large quantities of water or water for groups.
Other Versions & Accessories
There are a couple other versions of this product that may be more useful than the standard version. The LifeStraw Go, $60, is the straw with an included water bottle, allowing you to carry water with you. It is similar to a product like the Aqua Vessel Insulated Filtration Bottle. There is also the LifeStraw Family 1.0, $90, and Family 2.0 which are designed to filter large quantities of water, but aren't designed for use in the backcountry.
— McKenzie Long
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: August 29, 2014
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