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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Can't transfer treated water into another vessel (can only drink through), requires you to carry dirty water with you, sometimes sipping through can be difficult
Bottom line: The LifeStraw is an affordable lightweight choice for a personal filter, but not good for filtering large quantities of water.
Effective Against: Protozoa, bacteria, cryptosporidium
Time to Treat a Liter (Timed Test): Drink through straw, fairly instant
As the least expensive water treatment system in our entire review, the LifeStraw has some obvious appeal. For around $20 you can get a compact, lightweight, and simple system for treating water. It is chemical free, doesn't have any batteries or moving parts (meaning it is unlikely to break), and can last for 1000 liters. It filters out particulate, so you won't be left drinking dirt and grass bits like you sometimes will with a UV light treatment system and it weighs almost the same (2.7 oz) as the Sawyer Mini, which is far less than any pump filter. It is slightly less expensive and is slightly less versatile than the Sawyer Mini.
RELATED REVIEW: Best Backpacking Water Filters and Treatment of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Originally designed to provide easy access to clean drinking water for people in Third World countries, this filter is an emergency water treatment method that can also work in the backcountry. It is a lightweight straw that includes a filter. It cannot treat large quantities of water, but does allow fast and easy access to clean water if you have a questionable source.
Reliability / Effectiveness
It effectively strains out bacteria and protozoa, including Cryptosporidium, through its hollow fiber membrane, but it does not treat for viruses. It makes a handy water treatment system for international travel, but be aware that you will still be vulnerable to viral diseases. This filter is reported to last around 1000 liters; for the same price you can purchase the Sawyer Mini, which lasts 100,000 gallons. There is not way to troubleshoot this water filter, other than blowing out the water you just sucked in to back flush. You can also use the MSR TrailShot to drink directly from water sources and it is much easier to back flush.
Ease of Use
This straw style filter is incredibly easy to operate. You dip the filter into the water and drink out of the top like you would out of a straw. It can be tricky to suck through the filter if the water is especially murky, and there is a delay as the water goes through the filter before it reaches your mouth (you have to try hard). Once it starts moving through, it is easy enough to drink your fill.
One thing we did not anticipate with using this model is that it can be difficult to reach the water if you are trying to drink directly from a water source like a stream or pond. The straw is not particularly long and if the banks are high you have to really get down to get your face close enough, or if the bank is muddy, this poses another problem. In these situations, a gravity filter like the Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L or a pump like the Katadyn Vario, could be a better choice. It seems like it's best to use this filter like a straw out of a container you've filled from the source.
The main downside to this filter is that you can't treat water with it and then transfer the water to another vessel like a cook pot or a CamelBak. So you can't use it to treat water for cooking, for groups, or for situations like alpine climbing where you want to bring clean water with you and leave the filter on the ground with your bivy gear. You can only drink through the filter. If you are backpacking and need to bring water with you between sources, you will need to carry a bottle of dirty water with you and drink through the LifeStraw whenever you are thirsty. Keep in mind that doing this contaminates your vessel, and you will need to drink through the filter out of it every time until it has been properly sterilized. Other personal sized filters we like are the Katadyn BeFree and the Sawyer Mini and find them more versatile.
Time Before Drinking
Since this is a filter straw, drinking through it is almost instantaneous. It does not require pumping or an incubation period like chemical treatments do. It is noticeably more difficult to drink through than the Sawyer Mini, which is also a straw-style filter, but this only causes a delay of several seconds.
At 2.7 ounces, this is one of the lightest water treatment methods you could bring with you into the backcountry. However, our favorite light and small filter for personal use if the Best Buy winning Sawyer Mini, which functions the same, is smaller, and only weighs 1.4 ounces.
This filter works well for short backpacking trips or for emergency water treatment, but is not the most ideal treatment method for extended periods in the backcountry or for treating water for more than one person. This seems like more of a novelty treatment than anything else and is fun to have along to drink out of puddles.
For around $20, the value of this simple filter is hard to beat, as most pumps cost around $100. However, the very similar Sawyer Mini manages to do this. It costs only $5 more, lasts far longer, is smaller and lighter, and more versatile. With this in mind, we recommend the Sawyer Mini filter straw over this one, but we don't think that the LifeStraw is a bad buy.
This is a unique product with a rather specialized use. It is inexpensive and lightweight, and works fairly well for personal use, but it won't treat large quantities of water or water for groups.
— Jessica Haist
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