Gear Review: Water Filters and Containers for Ultralight Backpacking
In the past year, we used three different lightweight backcountry water filters: the SteriPEN, the Sawyer 3-Way Inline Water Filter, and the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter. Here we share our experiences with each of these water treatment methods.
While training for the Pacific Crest Trail, we tested two different SteriPEN models. Both failed within a week. We needed a reliable treatment method, so we passed on the SteriPEN.
We each began our PCT hike with a Sawyer 3-Way Inline Water Filter (1.8 oz.) spliced into the hose of a Platypus Big Zip 2.0 L hydration bladder (5.5 oz). This setup worked wonderfully. Arriving at a water source, we quickly scooped water into the bladder and continued walking. When we got thirsty, sucking on the bite valve pulled water through the filter, up the hose, and into our mouth. Refreshing, clean, and easy.
In the desert, we often needed to carry more water. Thus, in addition to the Platypus, we packed several plastic water bottles. We liked Powerade 1-liter bottles because they were light, cheap, wide-mouthed, and had a uniform shape for easier packing. To filter directly into a bottle, we unsnapped the outlet hose from the inline filter and squeezed the Platypus to force water through the filter.
Over time, the filter partially clogged and slowed. When we received our bounce box in town, we backflushed the filter, which improved the filtering speed. However, after about 2000 miles on the PCT, backflushing no longer refreshed the filter. It became a struggle to suck water through the filter and hose.
In northern Oregon we switched to a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter system. One Sawyer Squeeze and the accompanying dirty water pouch (3 oz. total) can provide clean water for several people, saving a bit of weight if you’re hiking in a group. Another benefit was that the Squeeze filtered even faster than a brand new Sawyer Inline filter. At the same time, we also switched to the Platypus Hoser water bladder (3.6 oz.), which was lighter than the Big Zip.
This Squeeze and Hoser combination performed solidly, but there were a few nuisances. The Squeeze dirty water bag has a small opening, making it difficult to fill in shallow water sources. Additionally, the Squeeze filtered easily into wide-mouthed bottles, but was awkward to mate with the Platypus Hoser’s small opening. Finally, the Squeeze forced us to stop longer at water sources, instead of just scooping up water and moving on, as we had done with the inline filter.
Overall, both combinations of filters and bladders worked well. We are leaning towards using the Sawyer 3-Way Inline filter with the Platypus Big Zip bladder for future thru hikes because of the speed and convenience of that system.
A few other water-related tips:
- Sawyer filters are internally destroyed if frozen. On cold nights, we slept with the filters in our sleeping bags.
- Protect your bite valve with a cover, or be careful where you place it. A valve in the dirt is no fun.
- For speedy fill-ups, carry your water bladder near the top of your pack. We put ours above our waterproof trash compactor bags, but below our puffy jackets. The jackets insulated the water, keeping it cool.
- Consider shortening your water bladder hose. Many hoses are unnecessarily long and awkward.
- Always treat water in the backcountry. Even if water looks clear, it may not be safe to drink. Several of our fellow PCT hikers got sick from drinking untreated water.
We hope these water tips are helpful! Feel free to ask additional questions in the comments section below.