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Hands-on Gear Review
Katadyn BeFree Review
Cons: Not good for groups, bottle not durable
Bottom line: A great lightweight choice for drinking water for one on long day excursions like trail running or fishing.
Are you out all day on the go in the backcountry, but don't want to haul a bunch of drinking water around with you? Are you going on long trail runs near streams, mountain bike rides, fishing or boating? The Katadyn BeFree is a great, lightweight choice for active day trips and wins our Top Pick Award for Best Trail Running Water Filter.
The BeFree is so light and compactable it is a no brainer to throw it in your pack, vest or pocket to pull out when you come across a water source and want instant drinking water. We bring this with us when mountain biking, fishing and on long day hikes and trail runs. The catch is you need to be near water, which is preferably deep enough or running to fill the bottle. The challenge with the Katadyn BeFree is its limited treatment capacity and delicate Hydraflask bottle. If you're interested in something a little more durable the MSR TrailShot could fit the bill and allows you to drink directly from the water source.
RELATED REVIEW: Best Backpacking Water Filters and Treatment of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Take this pocket-sized filter with you anywhere from fishing at the creek to running 50K's. We love how light and compact the BeFree is and bring it along on many day trip adventures and takes our Top Pick Award for Best Trail Running Filter. It saves us carrying heavy liters of water and allows for more freedom of movement — this product truly does allow us to Be Free!
Scoring top marks in our weight category, the BeFree is the best pocket-sized filter for on-the-go use. It scores just under the Sawyer Mini but we think it is more compact and appropriate for day trip use than the Mini, and takes our Top Pick Award for that reason.
Reliability / Effectiveness
If you are traveling, competing or recreating in the USA or Canada, the BeFree is a great choice and will eliminate harmful bacteria and protozoa from your drinking water — along with other debris and particulate found in the source. However, it does not remove viruses found in other areas.
If you are travelling abroad in a country where viruses may be found in water sources (like in many developing countries) you should consider bringing a chemical treatment like Aquamira Water Treatment Drops along with the BeFree or another filter capable of removing particulate like the Sawyer Mini which can also filter greater volumes of water in one go than the BeFree. If you want one filter to do it all while you're in more sensitive locations the MSR Guardian filters out all harmful organisms and purifies for viruses.
We have read reports that the BeFree's Hydrapak bottle ripping around the rigid top collar piece after only a few uses. We have not experienced this but can imagine it happening as the flask material does seem quite delicate. The TrailShot and the Lifestraw filters are both more durable but require you to either drink directly out of the source or provide your own vessel to drink out of or fill up. The Sawyer Mini's bottle seems more durable than the BeFree and can be used for longer backpacking trips without worry of breaking or tearing. The BeFree's neck size is an unusual one and it appears that only Hydrapak brand products can mate with the threads of the filter unit. We tried a Gatorade bottle, which was close but did not mate fully and allowed untreated water to flow out when squeezed.
Ease of Use
In many ways, the BeFree is extremely easy to use. The bottle's wide mouth allows you to fill the flask quickly from large or swiftly running sources, then screw the top on, pop open the mouthpiece cover and squeeze the bottle for almost instant drinking water. The instances we have a difficult time filling the flask is when the water source is small, shallow and/or not moving — this does not allow us to completely fill the bottle. It is best to have a little bit of air in the bottle because this helps squeeze out the last drops when the bag is otherwise empty as well. Otherwise, the filter's microfiber unit is very easy to clean, you just swish it around in a clean water source like a lake or river to remove any debris that may have accumulated and it should be back to working order — no complicated filter cleaning or back flushing maneuvers required.
If you plan to be in an area where the water sources are shallow or difficult to access you may want to consider a product like the MSR TrailShot or the Katadyn Vario which come with hoses that can be dipped in the source, rather than having to scoop water out to be filtered like with the BeFree or Sawyer Mini.
If you want to drink directly from the source you could also use the Lifestraw although that requires you to get pretty low to the ground to access the water. The easiest type of filter to use overall are the gravity filter styles, especially if you are filtering water for more than one person. Our Editor's Choice Award winner the Platypus GravityWorks is particularly easy to use. We would only recommend the BeFree for one person travel as it has a small reservoir and you put your mouth directly on it.
As we've eluded to in the previous metrics, the BeFree is a great choice for a solo hiker or adventurer. We tested the 20 ounce version, but it now also comes in a 1 liter for more water storage if you choose to carry your water with you. However this is still not a ton of capacity and if you are trying to fill up a group's water bottles for the day it is not the best or quickest option. It is also best for personal use because if two people are sharing and just using the provided bottle versus filling up other vessels they both may have their mouths on or near it which could cause germ sharing.
The BeFree has a filter life of 1000 liters, which is pretty impressive for this little unit and should last you trail runners and day hikers a long time. Comparable filters in this review range from 750-2000 liters so the BeFree is right in the middle of the pack. We have discovered that the filter will fit on to other Hydrapak products like the Hydrapak Seeker 3L storage container so you can filter more water at once at camp if this is your primary water treatment system, but it will not fit on other standard bottles.
The filter with the largest filter life in this review is the Sawyer 4L Water Filtration System with an impressive "1 Million Gallon Guarantee". This is a gravity filter and a great choice for group filtration and long backpacking trips but it is much bulkier and heavier than the BeFree. If you are looking for a product to filter larger volumes of water for groups we also like the MSR AutoFlow, it is an easy to use reliable product that has a 1500 liter filter life.
The BeFree exceeds in this category, especially if you are solo. The time before drinking is, however, long it takes you to get water into the bottle, put the cap on and squeeze. You can have drinking water virtually instantly with this filter. It will take a little longer if you're trying to fill up a groups water bottles with this 20oz capacity bottle.
Since this is virtually instant, it's tough to beat in the speed department. However the Sawyer Mini is right there with the BeFree as you can squeeze water in the same manner though for instant clean water. If you are looking for a fast group filtering method the Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L is the fastest of all the gravity filters we tested.
Weighing in at 2.3 oz the BeFree is the lightest filter that includes a bottle in the bunch. The Sawyer Mini is a close second at 2.5 ounces including its bottle. The BeFree is also the most compact unit we tested. The heaviest and bulkiest filter in this review is the Guardian.
This light, compactable filter is a great choice for any activity where you don't want to carry large quantities of water with you. We think that long trail runs are a great application — especially if you will be running by a water source a lot of the time then you can just pause and scoop up some water and then get back on the trail. We also love bringing this along on mountain bike rides and water activities like boating or fishing.
At $40, the BeFree is a decent value, however, we're a bit nervous about the durability of the bottle material. If the user reviews are accurate it may not be worth the money. We do think this is a great product and worth the money if you treat it delicately and are looking for a very light weight compact product. The Sawyer Mini is a slightly better value at $25 for a more durable product.
A great choice for long day trips where you have access to water, the Katadyn BeFree wins our Top Pick Award for Best Trail Running Filter. It is extremely light and compact when empty and a no-brainer to throw in your pack or pocket for an active day that you don't want to carry water with you. It is easy to use and a good choice for a solo user — we would not recommend it for group use. This product seems a little delicate and must be treated with care, but provides instant drinking water in a feather light package. Bring it with you for days out in the mountains or on the river.
— Jessica Haist
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