A standard pump filter; this is an easy and popular way to treat water while in the backcountry.
Using the MSR Sweetwater to refill at Iceberg Lake in the Mt. Whitney region.
The silica depth filter is effective at eliminating bacteria, protozoa, chemicals, and particulate, but not viruses. It is dependable for use in the backcountry, can collect water from small, difficult sources, and can treat enough water for groups or a single hiker.
You can filter 750 liters before replacing the cartridge. This volume pales in comparison to the capacity of a ceramic filters, which are typically good for over 1000 liters, but it does filter more than the MSR Aquatabs.
The Sweetwater feels a little more delicate and has more assembly and parts than other more durable filters in this review like the Katadyn Vario. The handle, which feels really great for pumping, and which detaches in order to pack down better, has been reported by some users to break. We're not surprised, as it has small parts that need to be fixed into place each time, leaving room for user error. This is the only durability issue we have come across with this filter.
The Sweetwater filter handle is the most delicate of the ones we tested.
The water flavor remains largely unchanged. Chemicals are removed through the filter, which can make water taste better.
Ease of Use
The Sweetwater is easy to pump. The noteworthy detail is the handle. It unscrews and detaches so that it can fold up better for more compact storage. The way this attaches and detaches is not the most intuitive, but once you figure it out once, it is fairly simple; reattaching the handle adds one more step to this pump than any of the others have. When the handle is connected, it has more leverage and is more comfortable to use than the handles of other filters like the Hiker Pro, although we still prefer a traditional pump handle like the MSR Guardian for pumping.
The handle on this contender is very easy to pump, and then collapses so that it can be easily packed.
Easy to pump with a leveraged handle, the Sweetwater takes a little over a minute and a half to pump a liter, which is not long to wait, but is not as fast as the Vario that takes a quick 47 seconds and the Gravity Camp that takes 40 seconds per liter with no effort at all.
Luke Lydiard filtering water with the Sweetwater at Iceberg Lake in the Mt. Whitney region. The filter has a pore size of 0.2 microns and a life of 750 liters.
At around 13.5 ounces - including the storage case and hoses, this filter is average in weight for a pump style filter but heavier than the majority of the gravity filters we tested like the MSR AutoFlow that weighs 10.9 ounces or the Platypus GravityWorks that weighs 11.5 oz. Not too heavy, but not ultra-light either.
This is a durable and reliable water filter that is great for general hiking and camping. It hovers between a light and fast accessory and a heavy base camp filter.
At $90, this water pump is comparable to other pump-style filters. It is less expensive than UV treatments such as a SteriPEN Ultra, but more expensive than a chlorine dioxide treatment. Overall, this filter provides decent value for its performance.
The pre-filter on the Sweetw#ter, by MSR.
We prefer the Sweetwater to the Hiker Pro and the MSR Miniworks EX, but have concerns about its durability with the delicate handle. Otherwise, it is easy to use and one of the lighter pumps we tested in this review. If you're looking for a pump to take backpacking for personal or small group use, we'd recommend the Sweetwater. If you're headed out with two or more people, consider a gravity filter instead, like the Editors' Choice Platypus Gravityworks.