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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Doesn't treat large quantities well
As a smaller, lighter, and less expensive system, the Sawyer Mini has usurped its big brother the Sawyer Squeeze for our Best Buy award. It only weighs 1.4 ounces for the filter and will cost you a mere $25 for a filter that lasts for 100,000 gallons. This is an unrivaled price-to-weight ratio in our extensive review. The similar and popular LifeStraw weighs a bit more, is four inches longer, and is less versatile than the Mini, but it does cost $5 less. We find the Mini to be the best filter for personal use in the backcountry.
Read our full Water Filter Review to learn more about all of our favorite options for water treatment and the pros and cons to different systems.
RELATED: Our complete review of backpacking water treatment
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
A small but versatile filter, the Sawyer Mini can be used either as a straw-style filter or can be attached to the top of a bottle. It is the lightest filter available, simple to use, and a great value, which is what earns it our Best Buy award.
Reliability / Effectiveness
With a 0.1 micron pore size in its hollow fiber membrane filter, the Mini is effective against protozoa, bacteria, and the hard-shelled Cryptosporidium. It does not treat for viruses. Since it has no moving parts and no batteries, it is less likely to break or not work when you are out in the wilderness and need it most. We find this filter to be very reliable.
Ease of Use
The Mini is very simple to use, and can be used in several different ways. Like the straw-style LifeStraw, you can use the Mini to drink directly from a source. This works best if you have the extra straw attachment that comes included with the filter. The downside to this is that it is a separate piece that could get lost, but the plus is that having a longer, separate piece allows the filter itself to be smaller and lighter than the LifeStraw.
The Mini can also be screwed onto a small-mouthed water bottle and drunk directly from in that way, just like with the Sawyer Squeeze. The filter comes with one 16 oz. soft bottle included, but it will work on other small bottles as well. This is handy because it allows you to bring water with you between sources. The LifeStraw requires you to have a separate bottle to carry water, and it doesn't screw onto the top of a bottle, but must be inserted inside the bottle to drink from it. The Sawyer Mini is more intuitive to use in combination with a bottle.
Lastly, it can be used inline on a hydration bladder. This would require committing a bladder to only being used with the filter for two reasons: you would be putting contaminated water into the bladder, so you would not then want to put clean water in it and drink from it. And second, in order to get the filter inline you will need to cut the hose in half, and attach the filter in the middle. This system will work great once you have committed to it and set it up, just don't expect to use it without the filter the next day.
All of these configurations allow for an extremely useful and versatile filter. Where both the LifeStraw and Sawyer Squeeze have similar characteristics, both are slightly more limited in use than the Mini.
The Mini does not work as well as the gravity filters like the Platypus GravityWorks or the MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter at treating large quantities of water or water for groups. It works best as a personal system for one person. The only way to treat more water is to carry dirty water with you in separate bottles.
Time Before Drinking
Since you can drink directly through this filter, the treatment time is instantaneous. It should be noted that drinking through the Mini is easier and faster than drinking through the Squeeze or the LifeStraw. It feels as effortless as drinking through a regular straw.
At 1.4 ounces for the filter alone, this is the lightest treatment system in our entire review other than chemical treatments. It is 1.8 ounces for filter and soft bottle, and 2.4 ounces for filter, bottle, and straw. By contrast, the similarly styled Life Straw weighs 2.7 ounces (which does not include the weight of a bottle) and is almost 4 inches longer. The Mini is so, well, mini and light that it is almost inconsequential to include in your pack. This alone is reason enough to consider purchasing this filter. It can provide you with clean water without weighing down your pack. Weight and bulk are the two biggest complaints people have about water filters, and why someone would consider not bringing a filter. The Mini counteracts these complaints with style.
Durability / Uses Before Maintenance
Sawyer states that the Mini can treat 100,000 gallons before needing to be replaced. This is far more than the similarly styled LifeStraw, which can treat 1000 liters, and it is less than the Sawyer Squeeze, which can treat a claimed 1 million gallons. 100,000 gallons is a very large amount, and this could potentially work for many years, depending on frequency of use.
If it gets gunked up, you will need to backflush the filter with the included syringe, but you can use the filter for a decent number of times before this is required, and the backflush process is much less involved than with pump filters like the MSR Mini-Works EX or the MSR Hyperflow Microfilter.
Take care that you do not let the filter unit freeze, this can damage the hollow fiber membrane. We usually bring it in our tent with us at night to ensure that this does not happen.
The taste of water remains unchanged through the Sawyer Mini, it delivers water just as cold and fresh as the stream you may be drinking out of. It doesn't leave a chemical aftertaste like Aquamira Water Treatment Drops.
This filter works best as a personal water treatment system for backpacking, and is not ideal for groups or car camping. In those situations we recommend a gravity filter than can treat large amount of water very quickly, but this filter is lighter and smaller than either of the tested gravity options. This is an excellent choice for a hiker wanting to go far and fast in the backcounty.
The Mini costs $25. Can it get much better than that? The LifeStraw costs $5 less, but it more limited in use and slightly heavier. The Sawyer Sqeeze costs almost twice as much at $40. Hello Best Buy Winner!
Even lighter, smaller, less expensive, easier to use, and more versatile that its big brother the Sawyer Squeeze, the Sawyer Mini takes its place as our new Best Buy winner. We love this filter for personal use and think that you can't get much better for the price. Definitely recommended!
Personal Water Bottle Filter
— McKenzie Long
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: September 2, 2015
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