Review of the Sawyer Mini Water Filter

Review of Sawyer Mini Water Filter. Photo: Nature Travels.

Bob from the Nature Travels team introduces one of his favourite bits of outdoor kit – a mini water filter kit weighing just 100g and which fits in the palm of your hand.

Often when we publish a review on the Nature Travels blog, it’s of a product a manufacturer or equipment retailer has asked us to try out on one of our trips.

But in the case of the Sawyer Mini Water Filter, this is a little piece of kit I’ve owned for a number of years. I bought it originally for a trekking trip in Nepal, and since then have used it on a number of private trips in various locations and also of course on Nature Travels tours.

It’s ideal for use on many of our adventures, particularly in summertime, so we thought we’d tell you a little about it!

Canoeing in Värmland in the west of Sweden. Photo: Jonathan Perry.
Canoeing in Värmland in the west of Sweden. Photo: Jonathan Perry.

Why is the Sawyer Mini Water Filter so great?

  • It’s small and lightweight (just 100g including filter, cleaning syringe, drinking straw and water pouch). Small and lightweight enough in fact that you can pop it in your pack when preparing for any trip, even if you’re not really expecting to need it.
  • It’s very affordable – around £24 online at the moment.
  • It’s durable and may be the only travel filter you’ll ever need. Sawyer claims the filter has a lifetime of “up to 100,000 gallons” (around 450,000 litres), although actual lifespan will of course depend on factors such how dirty the source water is you’re filtering. Now I spend a fair amount of time outdoors, but I can’t imagine getting anywhere near that limit for many, many years!
  • It’s effective – the claim is that the Sawyer provides “0.1 micron absolute filtration, removing 99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli, and removing 99.9999% of all protozoa (such as giardia and cryptosporidium)”. I admit I’ve never tried drinking water taken from a stagnant cess pool, but I’ve never had any problems after drinking water filtered with the Sawyer so far.
A water filter can be useful for any hiking trip. Photo: Peter Moller Pedersen.
A water filter can be useful for any hiking trip. Photo: Peter Moller Pedersen.

When will you need a water filter when travelling?

  • Pretty much anytime when you’re travelling somewhere you’re not confident the tap water or wild water source is safe to drink untreated. No-one wants their holiday ruined by a dodgy tummy that could easily have been avoided.
  • For Nature Travels experiences, doing one of our canoe trips (or kayak tours if it’s a freshwater landscape rather than coastal archipelago) or hiking tours are going to the main times you may want to take a water filter. The tap water in the Nordic countries is some of the best in the world, so there’s never a reason to buy bottled water there. When outdoors, many of our canoe tours and most of our hiking tours take place in areas where the water is also absolutely fine to drink untreated from wild sources (from flowing sources away from areas of population of course), but this is of course a personal choice. To be on the safe side, or when canoeing or hiking in more rural areas, a water filter may be ideal. It’s a convenient alternative to boiling (which is time-consuming and wastes fuel) or using purification tablets (which normally colour the taste). And of course neither of those methods will remove particles of dirt, etc.
  • A water filter is not only useful for outdoor activities, but for any travel application where it’ll stop you contributing to the insane wastage caused by drinking bottled water. I used the Sawyer on a recent trip to Tenerife to filter the tap water – the tap water there is perfectly drinkable but has a slight salty taste due to mineral content. I’ve also sometimes used it to filter tap water in airports when there’s been no drinking water station available (call me a cheapskate, but not only do I want to reduce my plastic consumption, but I also refuse to pay £3 for a 500ml bottle of water after passing airport security!).
In many of the areas in which our tours take place, the water is very clean and is fine to drink untreated, but it can still be useful to bring a filter to be on the safe side. Photo: Nature Travels.
In many of the areas in which our tours take place, the water is very clean and is fine to drink untreated, but it can still be useful to bring a filter to be on the safe side. Photo: Nature Travels.

What’s included?

The basic kit contains:

  • Water filter
  • Water pouch (for unfiltered water)
  • Drinking straw (to drink straight from the source as an alternative to using the pouch to filter into a water bottle)
  • Syringe (for cleaning)
Sawyer Mini Water Filter showing filter, drinking straw, water pouch, syringe and carry bag (bag not included). Photo: Nature Travels.
Sawyer Mini Water Filter showing filter, drinking straw, water pouch, syringe and carry bag (bag not included). Photo: Nature Travels.

It doesn’t come with a carry bag, but any small washbag like the one shown here works well.

Spare/replacement pouches can also be purchased if ever needed, as well as other fancier add-ons such as an in-line adapter to use the filter with a hydration pack or a thermal sleeve to protect it from freezing in cold conditions. Personally, I’ve never needed anything but the basic pack, and since on winter expeditions I’ve done the water is perfectly drinkable untreated, I haven’t found a need for it yet in winter time.

Camping at the end of a day's paddling. Photo: David Whittingham.
Camping at the end of a day’s paddling. Photo: David Whittingham.

How do you use a Sawyer Mini Water Filter?

Hint: The water pouch supplied helpfully has all the usage and cleaning instructions you need printed on it!

  • Fill the supplied water pouch with unfiltered water.
  • Screw the pouch to the filter. Be careful to screw the pouch on properly to get a good seal so unfiltered water doesn’t drip into your drinking container.
  • Turn it upside down and squeeze the pouch, which forces water through the filter and into your drinking container (if the water’s not dirty, it’ll drip through at a reasonable rate anyway). If you’ve got unfiltered water on the outside of the pouch (for example if you’ve filled it from a stream), just watch you don’t get drips of “dirty” water into your drinking bottle.

That’s it!

Fill the pouch with unfiltered water, attach to the filter, invert and - hey presto! - clean drinking water! Photo: Nature Travels.
Fill the pouch with unfiltered water, attach to the filter, invert and – hey presto! – clean drinking water! Photo: Nature Travels.

At some point during the lifetime of the product, sooner rather than later if you’ve been filtering very dirty water, the rate of flow will slow as the filter clogs and you’ll need to backwash it using the supplied syringe to restore it to full flow – basically you just force clean water through the filter in the opposite direction to clean out the gunk. I haven’t needed to do this yet, but it seems very straightforward.

In addition to the pouch supplied, the Sawyer is also compatible with any 28mm screw top bottle, which is many, but not all, disposable plastic bottles such as those used for soft drinks. Some plastic bottles have necks that are a little too wide.

Unless you lose (possible) or damage (unlikely, as it’s very tough) the pouch it comes with, you’re unlikely to need anything else, but it’s nice to know you could probably find a replacement in an emergency.

The Sawyer can also attach to many, but not all, plastic screw-top bottles if you want to use an alternative container for your unfiltered water. This one's just a little too wide. Photo: Nature Travels.
The Sawyer can also attach to many, but not all, plastic screw-top bottles if you want to use an alternative container for your unfiltered water. This one’s just a little too wide. Photo: Nature Travels.

Even without a water container to screw into the Sawyer, it can still be used, though – there is a straw included which you can attach to the end of the filter to drink directly from the water source.

The pouch holds 16oz of water (that’s just under 500ml for those of us this side of the Atlantic), so it’ll take a couple of goes to fill a one litre water bottle, but typically the whole process takes just a minute or two.

From our own experience so far, we’d strongly recommend the Sawyer Mini Water Filter for more or less any travel application. To find out more about Sawyer and their range of products, see https://sawyereurope.com

A final word – the Sawyer is great for runners too!

The Sawyer is portable enough to bring along on a run too! Photo: Ella Rosen.
The Sawyer is portable enough to bring along on a run too! Photo: Ella Rosen.

We’ve been talking about using the Sawyer Mini Water Filter particularly for Nature Travels canoeing and hiking tours.

But did you know we’ve recently launched a new venture – our sister brand, Running Travels, offering adventure holidays for runners? A number of those tours take place in areas where the Sawyer would come in very handy too for managing your hydration during the daily runs, and it’s so light and portable, it won’t slow you down!

Best regards

Bob from the Nature Travels Team

Additional articles published before 2018 can be found at our previous blog location at naturetravels.wordpress.com