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MSR SweetWater Microfilter Review

   
Top Pick Award

Backpacking Water Treatment

  • Currently 3.8/5
Overall avg rating 3.8 of 5 based on 6 reviews. Most recent review: August 12, 2014
Street Price:   Varies from $80 - $90 | Compare prices at 6 resellers
Pros:  Handle is easy to pump, handle collapses to pack, smaller filter pore size than Katadyn Hiker Pro.
Cons:  Very average in weight, pump speed, price, and filter life.
Best Uses:  Hiking, backpacking, camping.
User Rating:     
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  • 5
 (3.6 of 5) based on 5 reviews
Recommendations:  60% of reviewers (3/5) recommend this product
Manufacturer:   MSR
Review by: McKenzie Long ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ August 12, 2014  
Overview
A dependable and popular water filter with average weight and pump speed, the MSR Sweetwater Microfilter is easy to use, has a comfortable leveraged pumping handle, and is effective against bacteria and protozoa, but not viruses. It is very similar in features to the Katadyn Hiker Pro, having almost identical weight 12.5+ ounces), pump-time (1.5 min per liter), capacity (750 liters), and price ($85-$89). The Sweetwater provides excellent value, dependability, and ease of use for the price, and can treat as much or as little water as needed, which is why it wins our Top Pick award. For the fastest working filter, go with the Platypus Gravityworks Water Filter. However, the SweetWater has the ability to suck water out of smaller, siltier sources than the Platypus, making it slightly more versatile. If you are interested in the lightest and most economical method to purify your water, check out Aquamira Water Treatment Drops.

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

A standard pump filter, this is an easy and popular way to treat water while in the backcountry.

Perfomance Comparison
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Using the MSR Sweetwater to refill at Iceberg Lake in the Mt. Whitney region.
Credit: McKenzie Long

Reliability/Effectiveness
The silica depth filter in the MSR Sweetwater is effective at eliminating bacteria, protozoa, chemicals, and particulate, but not viruses. It is dependable for use in the backcountry, can collect water from small, difficult sources, and can treat enough water for groups or a single hiker.

Weight
At around 13 ounces including the storage case and hoses, this filter is average in weight. Not too heavy, but not ultra-light either.

Time Before Drinking
Easy to pump with a leveraged handle, the Sweetwater takes a little over a minute and a half to pump a liter, which is not long to wait.

Ease of Use
The Sweetwater is easy to pump. The noteworthy detail is the handle. It unscrews and detaches so that it can fold up better for more compact storage. The way this attaches and detaches is not the most intuitive, but once you figure it out once, it is fairly simple. Re-attaching the handle adds one more step to this pump than any of the others have. When the handle is connected it has more leverage and is more comfortable to use than the handles of other filters like the First Need or the Hiker Pro.

Durability/Uses Before Maintenance
This filter is good for 750 liters before needing a replacement cartridge. This is not nearly as much capacity as a ceramic filter like that in the MSR Miniworks EX or the Katadyn Pocket, which are good for 2000 liters and 13,000 liters respectively, but it is longer than the Aqua Vessel or the First Need XL.

The handle, which feels really great for pumping, and which detaches in order to pack down better, has been reported by some users to break, which is the only durability issue we have come across with this filter.

Taste
Water flavor remains largely unchanged. Chemicals are removed through the filter, which can make water taste better.

Best Application
This is a durable and reliable water filter that is great for general hiking and camping. It hovers between a light and fast accessory and a heavy base camp filter.

Value
At $89, this water pump is comparable to other pump-style filters. It is less expensive than UV treatments such as a SteriPEN, but more expensive than a chlorine dioxide treatment. Overall, this filter provides great value for its performance.

Other Versions & Accessories
The MSR Miniworks EX, $89, is lightweight, compact, and is engineered for frequent and heavy use. It is capable of pumping one liter per minute. You can purchase the Miniworks Waterworks Maintenance Kit for $20. This kit works for both MiniWorks and WaterWorks microfilters.

If you need to replace the filter on your MSR SweetWater, purchase the SweetWater Filter Cartridge for $50 - it filters up to 750 liters. Use the Sweetwater Siltstopper, $20, to extend the life of your filter.

The MSR DromLite bags come in 2, 4, and 6 liter capacities and range in price from $27-33. Completely collapsible and ultralight, you can use the MSR Dromedary Bag for no hassle filling.

McKenzie Long

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: August 12, 2014
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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  • 5
 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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  • 5
 (3.6)

60% of 5 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
6 Total Ratings
5 star: 33%  (2)
4 star: 33%  (2)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 33%  (2)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Sep 15, 2013 - 03:51pm
pdx13 · Backpacker · Cascadia 3600'
The MSR Sweetwater design is not an original MSR product. It came to them from Sweetwater in Boulder. MSR did improve it and change it a little.

The circular brush that actually fits the inside of the filter is a big improvement. Originally, the Boulder Mfg. recommended using a toothbrush (!). The original-style pre-filter was Stainless Steel, and sank nicely under the foam float. The updated (no-doubt much less expensive to make) plastic pre-filter doesn't sink as well, but saves grams and mfg. cost.

A previous reviewer complained about being squirted by the filter. That's a FEATURE, not a bug in this model. If the instructions were read, a person would find that it's time to clean the filter, or pump slower if you can't. The filter annoys you a little (but keeps working) until you take care of it.

MSR also upgraded the kit with a small bottle of sodium hypochlorite to treat water that might have viruses. This is important, although you can get a few pounds of Pool-Shok (treats 1000's of gallons) at Mal-Wort for less than the $15 they charge for a cute 2.0 oz bottle.

Like all filters, this one works best when fed pretty clean water. You can make "pretty-clean" water with a Melita coffee filter cone and a paper filter. If you don't have time, you can wrap a couple of paper filters over the pre-filter and tie at the neck tightly to pre-pre-filter muddy water.

I would say that the Sweetwater is a solid-mid-priced performer. People with smaller or weaker hands should be able to use it well because of the innovative handle pump, which is not the case with some other (even very expensive) models.

When in doubt about your source, boil after filtering and treating. Avoid mining operation run-off, animal waste ponds, and agricultural irrigation fluids. Collect water upstream, uphill, and from rain, if you can. Ask the locals for safe water, and save your filters.

Carry water. It makes you strong.

Cheers.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Sep 24, 2012 - 11:55am
Fitz84 · Hiker · Clear, Ak


Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Aug 12, 2014 - 07:37pm
xtrmecat · Climber · Kalispell, Montanagonia
I have used this little jewel for going on a decade now and have only had one failure. The pump had a detrimental failure in the Tetons due to me cranking a lot too hard. My fault but had the new one arrive within a week of mailing mine in and covered by warranty. Bought the Catadyne unit to use while the MSR unit was down but the handle that drives the pump broke within the first ten liters of use.
Upon comparing notes with other backcountry enthusiasts found many with similar Catadyne stories. Most recently the youngest daughter had their new Catadyne crap out before the first liter. Pump issue. My Sweetwater is on filter four and gets lots of subfreezeing weather use and is my go to unit. I also have a steripen, the cat crap a died(sold after warranty replaced) and two other systems, and none even come close.
The review done by the annoyed person that got repeatedly sprayed should have just run the supplied brush three strokes and rinsed and been much happier on his trip. .

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Aug 13, 2013 - 07:43pm
Grit n Grind · Backpacker · Tennessee
Not really sure what the deal is with this pump. It packs decently well and when it's working I think it's a great pump. However, after you pump some liters through it, it sprays water out of the side like there is too much pressure built up. I stopped using it for that trip because it was so frustrating and switched to tablets (couldn't take any more of the pathetically slow pump while being sprayed with water). Took it on another trip and same thing happened. First day it's great, then the second day, water is spraying out the side and I've got an extra piece of weight with me. Maybe I am missing something, but otherwise, I am underwhelmed.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Apr 13, 2013 - 12:28am
dae1775 · Kayaker
This filter let me down twice; multiple days from civilization. The plunger broke once so I exchanged it. I gave it the benefit of the doubt and I took it out again. The pin connecting the handle to the plunger broke. It was cold out but it was not frozen and the filter was clean. Would not recommend.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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MSR SweetWater Microfilter
Credit: MSR
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