An unrivaled price-to-weight ratio in our extensive review, the Sawyer Mini takes the cake for our Best Buy award. It's inexpensive, lightweight, and small, making it the optimal option for backpacking - even if you aren't on a budget. Weighing only 1.6 ounces for the filter and costing a mere $25, you'll get a filter that Sawyer claims will last for 100,000 gallons. The similar and popular LifeStraw weighs a bit more, is four inches longer, and is less versatile than the Mini, but it does cost $5 less. We find the Mini to be the best filter for personal use in the backcountry.
Sawyer Mini Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Small, lightweight, easy to drink from, can be used several ways, inexpensive
Cons: Doesn't treat large quantities well, clogs fast
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Our Analysis and Test Results
A small but versatile filter, this award winner can be used either as a straw-style filter, can be attached to the top of a bottle or spliced in line with a hydration system. It is one of the lightest filters available, simple to use, and a great value, which is what earns it our Best Buy award.
Reliability / Effectiveness
With a 0.1-micron pore size in its hollow fiber membrane filter, the Mini is effective against protozoa, bacteria, and the hard-shelled Cryptosporidium, though it does not treat for viruses. The new Sawyer S2 Foam Filter has new technology that will treat viruses and includes the same Sawyer Micro filter unit. Since it has no moving parts and no batteries, it is less likely to break or not work when you are out in the wilderness and need it most. We find this filter to be very reliable.
Sawyer states that the Mini can treat 100,000 gallons before needing to be replaced. This is far more than the similarly styled LifeStraw, which can process 1000 liters. One hundred thousand gallons is a tremendous amount, and this could potentially work for many years, depending on the frequency of use.
We noticed that after a few days of heavy use treating our personal and some friends' water in the backcountry, it starts to get much more difficult to squeeze out water from the filter. If this happens, you will need to backflush the filter with the included syringe. This takes a minute or two to do, and the backflush process is much less involved than with pump filters like the MSR MiniWorks EX or the Katadyn Hiker Pro. The syringe itself weighs 1.1 ounces, and we would recommend carrying this with you if you are out for more than a few days. The included soft bottle is relatively durable, but was looking pretty haggard by the end of our testing and may need to be replaced after a few long trips. The MSR TrailShot is also quite easy to backflush and allows you to drink out of water sources like the Mini.
Take care that you do not let the filter unit freeze, as this can damage the hollow fiber membrane. We usually bring it in our tent with us at night to ensure that this does not happen.
Ease of Use
The Mini is very simple to use, and can be used in several different ways. Like the straw-style LifeStraw, you can use the Mini to drink directly from a source. This works best if you have the extra straw attachment that comes included with the filter. The downside to this is that it is a separate piece that could get lost, but the plus is that having a longer, separate piece allows the filter itself to be smaller and lighter than the LifeStraw.
The Mini can also be screwed onto a small-mouthed water bottle and drunk directly from it in that way as long as you can squeeze the bottle. The filter comes with one 16-ounce soft bottle included, but it will work on other small bottles as well. This is handy because it allows you to bring water with you between sources, whereas both the LifeStraw and the TrailShot require you to have a separate bottle to carry water, and the LifeStraw doesn't screw onto the top of a bottle but must be inserted inside the container to drink from it. This contender is more intuitive to use in combination with a bottle.
Lastly, it can be used inline on a hydration bladder. This would require committing a bladder to only being used with the filter for two reasons: you would be putting contaminated water into the bladder, so you would not then want to put clean water in it and drink from it. And second, to get the filter inline, you will need to cut the hose in half, and attach the filter in the middle. This system will work great once you have committed to it and set it up, just don't expect to use it without the filter the next day.
All of these configurations allow for a beneficial and versatile filter. Where both the LifeStraw and original Sawyer Squeeze have similar characteristics, both are slightly more limited in use than the Mini.
It works best as a personal system for one person. We filled some of our friends' bottles while out in the backcountry, but our hands got tired pretty quickly after squeezing all that water for others. The only way to treat more water is to carry dirty water with you in separate bottles. This is one advantage the original Sawyer Squeeze has over the Mini, it can process more water before getting clogged.
Since you can drink directly through this filter, the treatment time is instantaneous. It should be noted that drinking through the Mini is easier and faster than drinking through the LifeStraw. It feels as effortless as drinking through a natural straw - until it starts getting clogged.
If you are trying to fill your bladder or a container with the Mini, it does take more time since the Mini only has a 16 oz. bottle included; to filter into a two-liter bladder takes several refills and steps. We would recommend a different type of filters, like the MSR TrailShot or the Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L if you plan to fill your bladder with filtered water.
At 1.6 ounces for the filter alone, this is the lightest treatment system in our entire review other than chemical treatments. It is 2.5 ounces for filter and soft bottle, and 3.5 ounces for the filter, bottle, syringe, and straw - the Katadyn BeFree has the Mini beat when weighing both the bottle and filter at 2.3oz. By contrast, the similarly styled LifeStraw weighs 2.7 ounces (which does not include the weight of a bottle) and is almost four inches longer. The Mini is so, well, mini and light that it is almost inconsequential to include in your pack. This alone is reason enough to consider purchasing this filter. It can provide you with clean water without weighing down your pack.
Weight and bulk are the two most significant complaints people have about water filters, and why someone would consider not bringing a filter. The Mini counteracts these complaints with style. The taste of water remains unchanged through this model; it delivers water just as cold and fresh as the stream you may be drinking out of. It doesn't leave a chemical aftertaste like Aquamira Water Treatment Drops.
This filter works best as a personal water treatment system for backpacking and is not ideal for groups or car camping. In those situations, we recommend a gravity filter that can treat a large amount of water very quickly, but this filter is lighter and smaller than any of the tested gravity options. This is an excellent choice for a hiker wanting to go far and fast in the backcountry. If you plan on traveling to developing countries where viruses may be present, check out the Sawyer S2.
The Mini costs $25. Can it get much better than that? The LifeStraw costs $5 less but is more limited in use and slightly heavier. The SteriPEN Ultra weighs a few ounces more and costs a whopping $100. Hello Best Buy Winner!
Even lighter, smaller, less expensive, easier to use, and more versatile than its big brother, the Sawyer Squeeze, this water filter takes its place as our Best Buy winner. This filter is a no-brainer to throw in our packs on any backpacking adventure. We love this filter for personal use and think that you can't get much better for the price. We definitely recommend it!
— Jessica Haist