Katadyn BeFree 3L Review
Cons: Soft bottle is not durable and has broken twice
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Katadyn BeFree has been bumped off the podium and now the best lightweight on the go product in this review is the Lifestraw Flex. Its score has dropped this year because of constant underperformance in the durability category.
If you are traveling or recreating in the USA or Canada, the BeFree is a good 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 traveling 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 viruses like the Sawyer S2. 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.
Since our last review, the one-liter BeFree's bottle ripped around the rigid top collar piece after only a few uses. The three-liter bottle got a pin hole leak on day one of being in our backpack, and we could no longer use it for fear of cross contaminating our water. We were super disappointed and would suggest the Katadyn looks into a more durable material for their lightweight filter unit for more reliability. 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 appears 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, screw the top on, pop open the mouthpiece cover, and squeeze the bottle for almost instant drinking water. We like that you can use the three-liter version as a gravity filter; it also has a handle you can hang or hold it upside-down. The instances we have a difficult time filling the flask is when the water source is small, shallow and/or not moving, as we can not 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. Otherwise, the filter's microfiber unit is 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. There's no complicated filter cleaning or backflushing 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 Katadyn Hiker Pro. The Hiker Pro comes 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 it requires you to get low to the ground to access the water. The easiest filter types to use overall are the gravity filter styles, especially if you are filtering water for more than one person. Our Editors' Choice, 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.
This year we tested the three-liter version and are stoked Katadyn has added this larger version for more capacity. The bag is also convenient just for water storage (although super delicate). The 20oz and one-liter versions of the BeFree are a great choice for a solo hiker or adventurer. It is also best for personal use; 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 claimed filter life of 1000 liters, which is quite impressive for this little unit; we predict it will last trail runners and day hikers a long time. Comparable filters in this review range from 750-2000 liters, making the BeFree fall right in the middle of the pack. We discovered that the filter will fit on to other Hydrapak products like the Hydrapak Seeker 3L storage container, meaning 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 BeFree excels in the speed category. The time before drinking is as long it takes you to get water into the bottle, put the cap on, and squeeze. On the plus side, you can have drinking water virtually instantly with this filter. With the three-liter version in the "gravity" mode, it took us 1.5 minutes to fill one liter. Configuration is quick in this regard, which translates to quick and easy to fill your group's bottles.
Since this is virtually instant, it's tough to beat in the speed department. The Sawyer Mini is right there with the BeFree as you can squeeze water in the same manner, which results in 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 3.5 oz for the three-liter version, the BeFree is super light. The Sawyer Mini is 2.5 ounces, including its 16oz bottle. The BeFree is also one of the most compact units we tested.
This light, compact 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 for the 20-ounce version, especially if you will be running by a water source. If this is the case, you can pause, scoop up some water, and get back on the trail. The three-liter version is good for backpacking solo or with groups. However, we hesitate to recommend this product at all because of the bottle's durability issues.
The three-liter version of the BeFree costs $60. We think an extra $20 for a larger bottle is not a great value considering you'll be buying replacement bottles frequently. If our experiences and the user reviews are accurate, it may not be worth the money. The Lifestraw Flex is slightly more durable and very similar to the 20oz version of the BeFree but time will tell about that product as well. We do think this is a great product and worth the money if you treat it delicately and are looking for a very lightweight, compact product. The Sawyer Mini is a slightly better value at $25 and we have never doubted its durability.
The Katadyn BeFree is extremely light and compact when empty; in fact, it's a no-brainer to throw in your pack or pocket for an active day or overnight that you don't want to carry water with you. It is easy to use and an ideal choice for a solo user; if you're utilizing the three-liter version, it will also perform well in a group setting. Unfortunately, this product is delicate and must be treated with care; the durability issues we've had with both BeFree models leaves us hesitant to strongly recommend it.
— Jessica Haist