The MSR MiniWorks EX is a classic amongst hand-pump filter lovers. MSR claims that it's one of the best-sold pumps out there, but our testers didn't love it. Sure, it offers good water quality, eliminating chemicals as well as bacteria, protozoa, and particulates. It also offers impeccable reliability that's stood our personal tests of time of the past ten years. However, when our main tester got her hands on other pump filters, this one was left in the dust. It's heavy, slow, and hard to pump, requiring constant maintenance after every three liters or so. While it might be a best-seller, we feel that it's being surpassed by its competition.
MSR Miniworks EX Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Ergonomic pumping handle, Nalgene-top compatibility, reliable, field serviceable, time tested durability
Cons: Pumping time is slow, heavy, bulky, expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Miniworks EX is a hand pump filter that simply doesn't cut it when it comes to the competition. While we appreciate its super easy field maintenance and ergonomic handle, it's slow, clogs easily, and is quite heavy to bring along on lightweight backpacking missions. While this is a popular choice because of its durable and reliable construction, it's far from the fastest or lightest hand pump on the market. Best for one or two people.
This filtration system comes loaded with a ceramic filter with a carbon core. The filter can remove particulates along with bacteria and protozoa (Cryptosporidium, Giardia), along with some chemicals.
During the water quality tests, we used this filter to pump through a sludge mess of water, pesticides, and other dissolved chemicals. While the pump was able to remove most of the nasty stuff from the sludge, it was unable to remove the material that colored the water yellow, and the smell still remained. That said, none of the regular filters could remove that smell, only the purifiers worked in this scenario.
While other purifiers that can remove heavy chemicals were able to remove these components, this filter could not do that work. For most outdoor recreationists in North America, taking water from rivers and lakes in the backcountry, this filtration system is a nice fit. However, if you're worried about heavy contaminants, viruses or other nasty things, be sure to bring additional chemical tablets, or opt for a purification system instead.
Durability & Maintenance
If excellent durability and easy maintenance are what you seek, this pump will indeed deliver. The ceramic/carbon filter is very easy to maintain in the field. If it gets clogged (very likely), you simply just unscrew the top and use an abrasive sponge to clean the filter off. This improves the performance immensely. The filter cartridge lasts 2,000 liters which are almost twice as long as any other hand pump filter in this review. The construction is also quite durable. We've dropped it, thrown it into our packs, and tested it for many years, and it still works! Just be careful in the winter as it can crack if frozen.
One of our biggest issues with this filter is the amount of cleaning it requires. When backpacking throughout North America, this filter consistently slows its filtration speed after three liters.
We typically would have to clean it at least two times per day for two people, which didn't happen with other filters we've tested. While this process is easy, we prefer other pump filters for this sole fact alone. Another reason it earns a lower score in this category, even though it is one of the most durable and reliable filters out there. Performance is lacking.
We've owned this filter for over ten years, and treatment time is quite consistent. We also ordered a brand new one, just to make sure the newest version is the same as the older one our main tester has owned since the early 2000's. Turns out, performance is still quite similar.
In our objective tests, we pumped 40 liters of water at the sink. On average, this filter would treat one liter of water in 80 seconds. MSR claims a rate of 1 liter per minute. This was true for the first few liters, but after that, it slowed considerably, even without sediment! The time for pumping ranged from 73 to 90 seconds, landing at a measured average of 80 seconds per liter with an average of 90 strokes. If you're seeking a serious arm workout to complement your backpacking regime, this will get the job done. Overall, this takes about 1.5 to 2 times as long as other pump filters. So treatment time is comparatively slow. But, if you've never used any other pump filter, you probably wouldn't know the difference.
Weight & Packability
This filter comes in a nice mesh carry sack that allows it to air out and keep all the pieces together. Weighing it on our scales at home, it hits 17.6 oz, which is several ounces heavier than other small hand pump filters. If light and fast are what you seek, this is not the filter to buy as its bulky and heavier. We do appreciate that the filter does not absorb water, so it does dry out relatively quickly.
Ease of Set-Up
Set-up is pretty simple. Just take the parts out of the bag, put the float into the water, and get your vessel ready. This filter works best with Nalgene bottles, screwing right onto them. Other types of bottles or reserves that don't have this adaptor, you'll have a harder time setting up with. Simply because you'll find yourself holding the vessel you plan on collecting water between your knees while trying to keep the intake in the best place for water pumping. Our advice…get a Nalgene-like lid to optimize your filtration experience.
Ease of Filtration
As we mentioned before, this pump will get you nice arm muscles by the end of your trip. Be prepared to pump 90 strokes for one liter of water. Pumping can be hard work, and because of its slower pumping speed, it's not recommended for large group use. It's best for one or two people. Also, be prepared to clean it after three-four liters of water to ensure it keeps pumping.
This pump is really only worth the cost if you're completely sold on the ceramic, field serviceable filter and durability of this hand pump. In comparison to others, it offers the best longevity, and the replacement cartridge costs the same as other competitors. If you're an outfitter seeking a pump that'll last your group a long period of time, this is of value. However, there are much better pumps that offer a similar level of reliability at a lower cost with faster pumping action and performance.
If a durable and long-lasting pump filter is what you're after, the MSR Miniworks EX will deliver. It's not our favorite of the pump filtration systems out there. It's expensive, slow, and needs a lot of maintenance. Though, the filter will last for many years and continues to be a leader on the market for this very reason.
— Amber King