We were pleasantly surprised with how the Vario performed on our backcountry trips. It is smooth and easy to pump and we really like its ergonomic handle. The Vario produces great tasting clean water and fast! It was the second fastest pump we tested and could be a good choice for a group water treatment method, although it is quite heavy and bulky.
Katadyn Vario Review
Cons: Heavy, some durability issues
Our Analysis and Test Results
This easy to use pump filter cranks out clean water fast. We were pleasantly surprised with this unit.
The Vario effectively filters out protozoa and bacteria, including cysts like giardia. If you are travelling in the backcountry of Canada or the U.S. this should cover your filtration bases — if you're worried about viruses, consider purchasing the MSR Guardian or bring some back up chemicals like the Aquamira Water Treatment. The Vario has a triple filtration system; an initial ceramic filter for the big particles, then pleated glass fiber as the main filtration, and finally carbon, to reduce chemicals and odors.
We were surprised how many different components this filter has. The Vario can be easily taken apart to trouble shoot and maintain all the various parts of the filter, like the ceramic disc and all the various O-rings, but the fact that it requires so much maintenance is a bit disconcerting. You'll have to carry a green scrubby to clean the ceramic disc, as well as lubricant and replacement O-rings for all the different gaskets.
The Vario seems like a sturdy, durable pump, but after reading several reviews online sighting problems with leaks between the filter housing and the pump head, it sounds like this may be an area for concern. We did not experience any leaking during our test, but did not use it on any extended trips. We would probably reach for a low maintenance gravity filter like the MSR AutoFlow over the Vario.
Ease of Use
This filter is designed to make pumping as easy as possible; we love the Vario's handle and think it has the nicest design of all the pumps we've tested.
This pump has a lot of different components and takes a bit of time to read through the manual to make sure you're using it on the setting you want. Once you've figured out the initial set up, the Vario is pretty straightforward.
We prefer filters with no moving parts and easy maintenance like the Sawyer Mini or the Katadyn Gravity Camp.
The Vario can treat up to 2000 liters in its lifespan, which is quite a high volume compared to other pumps we've tested where both the Katadyn Hiker Pro and the MSR Sweetwater last up to 750 liters. Because the Vario can produce clean water at quite a high speed, we think this pump could be a decent choice for a group traveling in the backcountry. We still prefer gravity filters like the Platypus GravityWorks for group water treatment because you can plug it into your vessel and walk away for a moment — no pumping required.
The Vario was the second fastest pump in this test, after the MSR Guardian. This filter has two speed settings; a slower one for "lifespan extending" which activates the ceramic disc as a pre-filter thus slowing down things a bit, or the fast output setting that does not use the pre filter — allowing the main glass fiber filter to get clogged faster, but has a higher flow. We tested the Vario in the lifespan setting and it still pumped out a liter of water in 47 seconds (and a mere 39 seconds on the faster flow setting).
The Vario is one of the heavier and bulky units. It weighs in at 19.4 ounces, making it the second heaviest filter we tested after the Guardian. The lightest pump style filter is the small MSR TrailShot weighing in at only 6 ounces, but requires using finger/hand strength to pump.
Because the Vario is so heavy, we would not recommend it for long backcountry trips and would reach for a lighter weight gravity filter like the Katadyn Gravity Camp. If you're set on a pump, you might want to consider taking a peek at the MSR Sweetwater. The Vario could be good for group basecamp settings or short backpacking trips.
The Vario is a decent value and is in the middle of the pack price-wise, at $95.
Smooth and easy pump, the Vario was a pleasant surprise. It is a heavy unit, making it not the greatest to be carrying around in the backcountry, but if you have a large group and want a pump style filter (and are travelling in the US or Canada), this could be a good choice. It is a speedy pump, although some durability issues have been found with other users. We did not experience any durability issues over the course of our testing.
Other Versions and Accessories
For a ligher weight pump, check out the Katadyn Hiker Pro, or the Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L. There are replacement cartridges available for this filter as well.
— Jessica Haist