Having fresh water at your disposal is a modern-day luxury that we all take for granted, it’s something that we rarely have to put much thought or effort into. It’s as simple as turning on the faucet and filling up your cup or water bottle and continuing with your day, hydrated and happy.
When you’re outdoors, whether it’s a long distance trek or a weekend-long backpacking trip, finding a source of clean water is challenging. You first have to find fresh water, then you have to set up a system to clean the water and find a place to store it.
Sometimes the simplest solutions in life are the best solutions. A straw filter is a simple mobile filtration system that’s lightweight, compact, and can be used on the go with little to no preparation. Lifestraw and Sawyer are two companies that make the top product in their fields and we take a deep dive into the similarities and differences below.
Why you need a straw filter
If you hike, backpack, camp or spend an extended amount of time in the outdoors, having a way to clean your water is an essential part of spending time outdoors. There’s not always going to be a freshwater source nearby and a straw filter is the quickest and easiest way to get clean drinking water. They function like any other straw, however, as the water passes through the straw filter the water is cleaned from particulates that would otherwise make you sick.
One of the biggest downsides to filtering your water is that you’re limited in the amount of water that you can filter in terms of volume. Straw filters have a great flow rate which is the volume you can filter per minute. Using a straw filter, the hollow fiber filter design limits the flow rate to only as hard as you can suck.
They have an obvious end of life indicator. Not knowing that a straw filter has stopped working is a first class ticket to falling ill. Straw filters simply stop working after the filter is no good, it will no longer let water through.
You can drink directly from lakes, streams, and even pools of standing water as long as you can handle the taste. The taste is something that takes a little getting used, as the flavor profile varies depending on the environment the water comes from.
Benefits of a straw filter
- Simple to use
- Contains no chemicals
- No moving parts
- Removes 99.99999 % of bacteria and protozoa
Lifestraw vs Sawyer Mini
The Lifestraw and Sawyer are both respected straw filtration brands. They both make a hollow tube water filtration straw that more or less accomplished the same goal. However, there are small differences in the two that make them slightly different from each other. Truth be told, there are more similarities than differences and we’ll get into that next.
Hollow Fiber Filter
Hollow fiber filters are lightweight and effective water filtration technology that is commonly used among backpackers and outdoor adventurer’s. The hollow fiber filter is made up of hundreds of tiny tubes, similar to straws, that are grouped together to form a filter. The walls of the tubes are filled with tiny pores that trap microscopic particulates that would otherwise make you sick.
- Lifestraw has a hollow fiber filter
- Sawyer Mini has a hollow fiber filter
The pore size of a water filter measures the size of the microbes that a filter is designed to eliminate. Backpacking and hiking filters usually have a size of 0.2 microns and that size removes nearly all bacteria, protozoa, and chemicals. The industry standard is around 0.2 microns, anything less than that is a bonus.
- Lifestraw has a 0.2-micron pore size
- Sawyer Mini has a 0.1-micron pore size
The weight of a straw filter is minimal due to the materials used and the size. Straw filters are made of plastic components and their weight is under a quarter pound. Imagine if straw filters were made of steel and weighed 5 pounds, needless to say, nobody would want to pack them around. Both of these straws are extremely lightweight, both weighing 3 ounces or less.
- Lifestraw weighs 2 ounces
- Sawyer weighs 3 ounces
The lifespan is measured in the volume of water that the filter will process before the filter gives out. It’s measured in gallons and this is one area that Sawyer has the upper hand by a large margin.
- Lifestraw has a 1,000-gallon lifespan
- Sawyer Mini has a 100,000-gallon lifespan
The sole purpose of a water filter is to clean the nasty bits out of the water. Knowing exactly what your filter will remove is the key to staying healthy outdoors. Both of these filters remove nearly all of the waterborne protozoa and bacteria. You don’t have to worry about things like Cholera, Dysentery, and Giardia.
Each of these illnesses when not properly treated can lead to death, not trying to be a Debbe downer, but it’s important to understand the dangers of waterborne illness.
- Lifestraw removes 99.9999% of bacteria and protozoa
- Sawyer Mini removes 99.9999% of bacteria and protozoa
Chemical are not removed
This is a common misconception and potentially dangerous fact to overlook. Chemicals and heavy metals are not removed during the filtration process. If you are downstream from industrial operations or in an area that has had any manufacturing in the past, the water is not safe to drink and you need to find another water source considering testing it for metals is not an option.
- Neither straw removes chemicals or heavy metals
Viruses are not removed
Waterborne viruses are found in water that has been contaminated with animal or human feces which contain pathogenic microorganisms (viruses). Waterborne viruses are not commonly found in the North American backcountry, however, if there is any possibility that the water contains any raw sewage then you need to boil the water or use iodine or chlorine tablets.
- Neither straw removes viruses
- Boiling your water is the most effective way to remove viruses (source)
Cleaning the straw
Your straw filter should be cleaned after every use to clean the junk out of the micropores. The process for cleaning it is pretty straightforward, you pass water through the filter by blowing a breath of air back into the straw. It’s nice because you don’t have to carry any special cleaning equipment with you, all you need is your lungs and the straw.
- Both straws are cleaned by blowing water through the straw after each use
Which straw filter is best for you?
Now that you have a good idea of what each straw is capable of and what their differences are, it’s time to make a choice.
- Removes bacteria & parasites: The microfiltration membrane removes 99.999999% of waterborne bacteria (including E. coli and salmonella), and 99.999% of waterborne parasites (including giardia and cryptosporidium)
- Removes microplastics: Removes the smallest microplastics found in the environment (down to 1 micron), and reduces turbidity down to 0.2 microns
- Rigorous Testing: All claims are verified with laboratories using standard testing protocols set by the US EPA, NSF, ASTM for water purifiers
- Long Lifetime: The microbiological filter will provide 4,000 liters (1,000 gallons) of clean and safe drinking water with proper use and maintenance
Originally designed for use in third world countries, the Lifestraw is an inexpensive water treatment solution that also works great backpacking, camping, and hiking. It’s chemical free, has no moving parts, and will treat up to 1,000 gallons of water. It’s incredibly easy to use and cleans the water of bacteria and protozoa instantaneously.
It’s not the best at filtering out large volumes of water at one time, due to the fact that it’s limited to your lung power. The 1,000-gallon filter life is quite a bit, but considering that the Sawyer Mini is good for 100,000 gallons, it falls short in the lifespan category. Other than that, it’s an inexpensive, lightweight, and reliable personal water filtration system. It’s great to have in the backcountry, “just in case”.
- Compact Quick
- Have to carry water to filter
- Sipping is difficult in murky water
- 1,000-gallon filter lifespan
- Ideal for outdoor recreation, hiking, camping, scouting, domestic and International travel, and emergency preparedness
- High-performance 0.1 Micron absolute inline filter fits in the palm of your hand and weighs just 2 ounces; 100% of MINI units individually tested three times to performance standards by Sawyer
- Attaches to included drinking pouch, standard disposable water bottles, hydration packs, or use the straw to drink directly from your water source
- Removes 99.99999% of all bacteria (salmonella, cholera, and E. coli); removes 99.9999% of all protozoa (such as giardia and cryptosporidium); also removes 100% of microplastics
The Sawyer Mini is a lightweight, inexpensive (slightly more than the Lifestraw), and small making it great for backpacking and hiking. It weighs slightly more than the Lifestraw and is four inches longer. The filter will last up to 100,000 gallons, making it the clear winner in terms of lifespan.
This versatile and compact filter not only works like a straw, but you can also attach it to a water bottle. It has no moving parts or batteries so it’s not as likely to malfunction on the trail. It’s a little bit more expensive than the Lifestraw, however, it is also more versatile. This is the lightest personal filter available, super easy to use, and can last for years depending on how often you use it.
- Versatile (can be placed in a water bottle)
- 100,000-gallon filter lifespan
- Clogs fast
- A lot of work to use in a bottle
- Doesn’t treat large volumes of water well
Both of these personal water filters are lightweight, compact, and work awesome in the backcountry.
They both filter out the 99.9999% of bacteria and protozoa, however, neither removes viruses or chemicals. The Lifestraw is lighter, smaller and slightly less expensive than the Sawyer Mini. However, the Sawyer Mini last for 100,000 gallons and can be used in a water bottle.
They are both similar in most specs, but the Sayer Mini has the upper hand in lifespan and versatility. As always, get lost and keep wandering.