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MSR Miniworks EX Review

This reliable pump filter is built to withstand rugged trips but falls behind in performance
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Price:  $90 List | $89.95 at REI
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
Manufacturer:   MSR
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 23, 2020
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61
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#21 of 24
  • Water Quality - 20% 8
  • Durability & Maintenance - 20% 8
  • Treatment Time - 15% 5
  • Weight & Packability - 15% 4
  • Ease of Set-Up - 15% 5
  • Ease of Filtration - 15% 5

Our Verdict

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.

Compare to Similar Products

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.

Performance Comparison


The MSR MiniWorks EX is easy to set-up and incredibly durable. It just falls behind in pumping performance.
The MSR MiniWorks EX is easy to set-up and incredibly durable. It just falls behind in pumping performance.

Water Quality


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.

Testing the MSR MiniWorks EX in our nasty sludge water test.
Testing the MSR MiniWorks EX in our nasty sludge water test.

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.

The results. It can't take out the dissolved chemicals  but it does good work to remove everything else.
The results. It can't take out the dissolved chemicals, but it does good work to remove everything else.

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.

All the parts taken apart. No small pieces and very easy to maintain in the field.
All the parts taken apart. No small pieces and very easy to maintain in the field.

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.

A look at the ceramic filter after our sludge tests. Luckily we can easily clean it right off!
A look at the ceramic filter after our sludge tests. Luckily we can easily clean it right off!

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.

Using the sponge  it's super easy!
Using the sponge, it's super easy!

While sleeping, put the filter at the bottom of your sleeping bag to keep it from freezing in cold weather.

Treatment Time


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.

Testing treatment time at home while pumping over 40 liters of water. Our muscles were tired after this.
Testing treatment time at home while pumping over 40 liters of water. Our muscles were tired after this.

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.

This pump is a bit on the heavy side but packs away nicely into a mesh bag.
This pump is a bit on the heavy side but packs away nicely into a mesh bag.

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.

Find a nice spot  screw on your Nalgene bottle and start pumping!
Find a nice spot, screw on your Nalgene bottle and start pumping!

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.

The handle is super large  ergonomic  and quite easy to use. The piston kicks back nicely  offering good even flow...when its not clogged up.
The handle is super large, ergonomic, and quite easy to use. The piston kicks back nicely, offering good even flow...when its not clogged up.

Value


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.

Andrew Reisert filtering water in Mt. Rainier National Park. The ceramic filter in the Miniworks has a long life (2000 liters)  but it does require occasional cleaning.
Andrew Reisert filtering water in Mt. Rainier National Park. The ceramic filter in the Miniworks has a long life (2000 liters), but it does require occasional cleaning.

Conclusion


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