Water Filters Compared

Limousine vs. Compact


January 19, 2016

There are quite a few discussions online today about what type of water filter to carry into the backcountry. I for one own several and have used them all and I will be the first to point out that no single one is perfect. I have tried MSR, Sawyer, Katadyn, Life Straw just to name a few and I always go with a two part protection like the CDC recommends. I use filter and boil, or filter and tablet just because I feel better at the end of the day. I am going to compare the two most popular here simply because one is a squeeze and one is a pump. I did not review a gravity feed yet because I am still debating on which one to purchase.

What does it do


  • The Sawyer filters down to 0.01 micron and removes Protozoa and Bacteria. It does not remove viruses. ¬†(Although viruses are rare in US waters)
  • The MSR filters down to 0.02 micron Protozoa, Bacteria and most Taste. It does not remove viruses. (Although viruses are rare in US waters)

Because neither will remove viruses, I either boil or use MSR Aquatabs to kill viruses.

Things to worry about

The most common Protozoa that you will hear described in backcountry water sources is Giardia or Cryptosporidium. They are nasty creatures that you do not want to encounter on your trip. Along with the Protozoa, you will also find bacteria that these filters will remove. The one thing that they will not remove is viruses, but in most US locations viruses are extremely rare. Like I stated above, tablets or boiling will finish off the viruses.

Click here for more information on backcountry water sources.


Sawyer Mini

There is a huge push right now with filters like Sawyer Mini because it is small, lite weight, convenient and relatively cheap when compared to ones like the MSR. I have tested the Sawyer and it is all of the above but, it is slow, it does not have added carbon to remove taste and pesticides and it does not remove tannins. Most everyone knows this already but the most important factor that bothered me was I could not remove or inspect the filter. I had to trust that it was not damaged from the back flush. I was also concerned that there is no way to get all of the moisture out of the inside of the filter, but I did follow the guidelines they manufacturer recommended before storing. Other than these few cons, in my opinion, the filter worked really well in the field. I took it on a backcountry hike and used the filter and it performed well. It was extremely simple to clean and it gives you drinking water without having to pull out your pump.

MSR MiniWorks EX

The Miniworks is a filter design that has been around for a long time. What I like about the MiniWorks is the ability to inspect the filter each time you clean it. Also, the entire unit can be broken down in seconds to in the field repair. This is one advantage to the squeeze type filters because they are not repairable. Another advantage is ability to remove taste from the water and this is big plus with me. I have tested this on pretty cloudy water and it comes out clear and tastes great. The one downside to these type filters is you have to break them down to clean them and if you and in really nasty water then you will be doing this quite often. Another aspect that I like about the MSR is the ability to screw the unit directly onto any wide mouth bottle or the MSR Dromedary Bags. Another disadvantage would be the size and weight compared to the Mini. The MSR weighs in at about a pound and cost about $80 to $100 compared to $20 to $30 for the Mini.


So why should you choose to spend more for one or the other? The answer is, in my opinion, determined by what you want and what you trust. Me personally, I do not trust what I can’t see and this is why I use the MSR for my water filter needs and the Mini as my emergency unit. I like my water to taste as close to spring water out of a bottle as possible and choosing a filter that has a carbon core will help with this. It is important for me to end by saying I have done NO factual study or analysis on what either of these filters will do or not do, it is just my opinion on which one I choose to trust in the field, but I always take two forms or precaution no matter where I collect my water.