We were intrigued by the Lifestraw Flex given its plethora of uses. Filtering out bacteria and protozoa (including Giardia and Cryptosporidium), this mini filter comes with a soft bottle and is relatively lightweight. At first glance, we were excited to think that there is a lightweight option that can do all this. However, when we tested it, we were a little disappointed. In all of its forms, this filter is tough to suck water or squeeze water through. The in-line compatibility with a hydration bladder is a great idea, but in use, it's slow and super hard to suck through. In general, we love the idea of this filtration unit, but it falls short when it comes to ease of use.
LifeStraw Flex Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Inexpensive, lightweight, versatile
Cons: Leaky bottle, super slow flow rate, hard to suck through
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Lifestraw Flex comes with a 650 mL soft bottle and is compatible with in-line systems like gravity filters and hydration bladders. While we were excited about the idea of how functional this system could be, it has significant drawbacks in the form of filtration. It's tough to suck water through this filter, making it hard to recommend it for any of its many applications.
The Flex brought to you by Lifestraw filters out harmful bacteria and protozoa including Giardia and Cryptosporidium that occur across North America. It does not filter out viruses, so it is not for international travel where tiny viruses are a problem. Lifestraw also claims that it can remove lead from water sources.
The filter cartridge has a hollow tube design with an absolute pore size of 0.2 microns. This filter does work well in sediment-free water sources but has trouble when it comes to turbid water. It also features an activated carbon cartridge that improves the taste of water. The Flex has similar to performance to the Katadyn BeFree 0.6L except this filter does better with turbid water and doesn't clog easily.
Durability & Maintenance
One of our concerns with the Flex is in the durability of its bottle. Other soft bottles are notorious for ripping where the hard collar meets the soft, pliable bottle. That said, of soft bottles that we've used, the material is a lot thicker, and while it's collapsible, it seems to be more durable.
Another concern we have with the Flex is that the coupling between the bottle and filter leaks. When squeezed hard enough, some water comes out, which could potentially cause contamination.
The filter itself seems to be pretty durable but does get clogged easily. It is easy to clean. Unscrew and flush it out. You can also use a syringe (that doesn't come with the kit) to expel any air bubbles that are in the system that might clog it. The filter is good enough for 2000 liters or 500 gallons, according to LifeStraw. Note that the carbon filter, which affects the taste and odor but not the water quality, is expected to last only 100 L or 25 gallons, also according to the manufacturer.
Treatment time varies with the Flex given that it has many applications. As an on-the-go system, filtration is instant when the filter is on its own or in a soft bottle. This system also integrates into a gravity filter or an in-line system like a hydration bladder.
When we first tried to use this with a gravity filter, we hooked it up, and nothing happened. We waited for a while and wondered whether or not it works with an in-line system! After some YouTubing, we learned that the system needs to be completely free of air bubbles. So we used a syringe that came with a different product to clear the filter of bubbles potentially blocking air flow.
Upon doing this, it started to tickle and eventually released a steady stream of water. It took about 6 minutes to get 1L of water from a clear source in the end. The hydration bladder adaptation works but isn't practical given how hard you have to suck to get water. Though, it is instant delivery.
Weight & Packability
The soft bottle that comes with this unit can easily collapse into a smaller bundle about the size of a large salami sandwich. The filter can be used on its own (without the bottle) and has a slim profile that will fit nicely into a running vest or hiking backpack. It weighs about 3.60 oz making it a lightweight option, but not the lightest out there.
Ease of Set-Up
The Flex is easy to use. You fill the included bottle, screw in the unit, and squeeze or drink through the nozzle. If you want to use it with an in-line system, stick a tube from a gravity filter on the intake side. Or if you want to try it with a hydration bladder, you'll need to put a tube on both sides of the bladder or suck directly through the system.
Given that you need to scoop water, we suspect this could be harder to gather water from super shallow water sources. Everything else would work just fine.
Ease of Filtration
Given the small intake and output on this filter, it's extremely hard to suck water through. In short, our main tester wouldn't choose this filtration system simply because of this fact.
Water needs to fill up the filter before you get any water which means working pretty hard for just a little sip. This issue almost makes the on-the-go idea functionless. We wouldn't choose it as our top choice for on-the-go travel simply because you have to work so hard to so little water flow.
Even with the soft bottle that we could squeeze to help facilitate the flow, we found ourselves working hard for just one sip of water. In a hydration bladder, the same trend occurs. As a gravity filtration system, it's slow, but this is the easiest way to use it, as long as you maintain it and it doesn't clog. Overall, this filter is c to use simply because the "sucking" requirement is exceptionally high.
As a versatile system, the price isn't so bad. If you can get over that you need to suck hard to get water, it's a good deal.
The Lifestraw Flex offers versatility. It operates on its own, in conjunction with a soft bottle, or with an in-line system like a gravity filter or hydration bladder. While it has a plethora of uses, we are seriously unhappy with its rate of flow that makes using it hard to use and quite annoying. It's not our top choice for any one application, but rather, works for many.
— Amber King