MSR Trailshot Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Versatile, durable, easy to use
Cons: Heavy for trail running, hands get tired
Our Analysis and Test Results
We were pleasantly surprised with the TrailShot's performance and think it is very versatile. You can drink from the source with the long hose if you're on the go, or fill up your group's water bottles once you get into camp.
Scoring well across the board, the TrailShot is a Jack-of-all-trades kind of filter. We scored it slightly lower in the treatment capacity, speed and ease of use categories simply because it requires a lot of pumping to get your water bottles filled and it takes a while.
The TrailShot effectively protects you from protozoa, bacteria and cryptosporidium, all the harmful microorganisms you will find in the US and Canada. It does not protect you from viruses, so if you are traveling to developing countries where the water sources may contain harmful viruses you'll need to pick up a chemical treatment like the MSR Aquatabs in addition to using a filter for particulates, or go full boar and bring the MSR Guardian which purifies for everything.
This little unit seems very sturdy and durable. We think you could bring the TrailShot into the backcountry with you as your only filtration system and it would crank out the clean water with no problem of breaking down. The Katadyn BeFree is much less durable and we would not trust it to bring it along on multi-day trips without a backup; however, it is half the weight.
Ease of Use
Relatively easy to use, and if you're a climber it will help with your grip strength! We were able to get the TrailShot out of the box and know how to use it immediately. Simply tip the bottom of the hose in your water source, fill up the water chamber with a few pumps and you're off! This pump is different from traditional pumps because you're using your fingers and forearm instead of your arms to pump the water and it can give you a good forearm "pump" if you're filling more than just a small bottle.
It's great if you're just drinking from the source and need a few sips of water at a time. If you are looking for a traditional pump that you can use more elbow grease with check out the MSR Sweetwater Microfilter. The TrailShot' is also very easy to backflush but it is hard to tell how effective it actually is since you're just forcing the water back out the hose hole and not forcing it through the filter's fibers.
We like that the TrailShot's hose allows you to access shallow water or get water from sources with high banks or awkward to reach places. Other filters that allow you to drink from the source like the LifeStraw can be very difficult since your face has to be about 6" away from the source. You can also hook your bladder hose up to the mouth of the TrailShot to fill it directly.
The TrailShot's cartridge life last up to 2000 liters, which is pretty great — the BeFree only lasts up to 1000 and other gravity filters like the Platypus GravityWorks have a cartridge life of 1500 liters. Unlike the LifeStraw you are able to fill up other vessels with the TrailShot, it is not as fast as a gravity filter but almost equal to a filter like the Katadyn Vario.
We filled one liter in 1 minute and 6 seconds with the TrailShot, but we suspect that with each liter, our progress will get slower and slower as our hands tire. We were pleasantly surprised because it looks like a much smaller quantity of water coming out, but when you start filling a bottle it goes quickly. If you are drinking directly from the source the clean water is immediate and therefore much faster than filling a bottle!
On the heavy side for what it is, the TrailShot weighs in at a hefty 5.6 ounces. This is on the heavy side for a product marketed for trail running and we find it a bit bulky for just tossing in a pocket. The Katadyn BeFree is half the weight and much more compact for tossing in your pack or pocket for a day trip. We do think that the TrailShot is a better option for a group filter than something like a heavy pump like the 14-ounce Katadyn Hiker Pro and would definitely reach for the TrailShot over this product.
The TrailShot is quite versatile and we would bring it along with on short backpacking trips with two or three people where it would save us weight over something like a heavy hand pump or gravity filter. We would also bring us on day hikes or trail runs, recognizing that if you're doing a lot of high output day trips you may want to choose something like the BeFree. But, if you're looking for something that does it all pretty well, the TrailShot may be the right choice!
Considering that most hand pumps cost in the $90-$350 range, the TrailShot is a screaming deal at $50! We do think that the Sawyer Mini is the best value of the bunch at $25 but this is a close second considering how light and durable it is.
A tough little filter unit that can get you drinkable water from any source in a jiffy, the MSR TrailShot is a great all-around choice. It is easy to use but does require some hand strength to pump large volumes of water. This is a good choice if you want a more lightweight option to replace your old-school hand pump, which you can also use to drink directly out of a water source instead of carrying water with you.
— Jessica Haist