Over the last few years, I haven’t been paying attention to new products in the outdoor industry (instead I’ve been remodeling a fixer upper that we bought). When I was recently redoing my kitchen kit, I ran across a new water filter by Katadyn. The Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System looked like an ideal filter that took everything good about the Sawyer Mini and shrunk it even more. I decided to pick one up and test it out. This is my review.
I used the Katadyn BeFree on a five-day trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. There were three of us on the trip and we filtered over one and a half gallons of water a day. Overall, including testing the filter before the trip, I’ve run about ten or so gallons through the filter. Before I get to my overall impressions here’s a description of the product.
The filter system consists of two parts: a flexible plastic bottle and the filter. The filter is threaded to fit into the bottle and has a cap protecting a sports-bottle style nozzle. I bought the 1-liter version which weighs 2.3 ounces. The opening on the bottle is wider than that found on the Sawyer Mini’s bottles — the main competitor — and easier to fill. The texture of the bottle is slightly bumpy and when you wipe the water from the outside the texture seems to help get the water off. It’s really a simple system. To clean it, you fill the bottle up, put the filter on and shake the bottle backward and forward. Or you can swish the filter in your water source and that will also help clean the filter. The BeFree comes in several sizes. The 20-ounce filter is what you see at Amazon and other retailers. The size I bought came from REI. It’s a full liter. Katadyn claims the BeFree will filter two liters per minute.
During use, the Katadyn BeFree seems to work well. Our first few gallons of crystal clear lake water filtered quickly with little effort. After about the fifth gallon of water, we found that we had to squeeze the bottle with about the same force as the Sawyer Mini — maybe a few pounds of pressure. Cleaning it made filtering easier, but it never returned to the ease of the first few gallons. Although I never timed it, the rate of flow seemed to be under two liters a minute. Katadyn claims it will filter 1,000 gallons and only time will tell if that is true. The biggest problem we had was that the bottle wasn’t big enough to feel convenient for our size of group. A 3-liter bottle would have worked much better for our group. Luckily, Katadyn now makes a 3-liter gravity filter version and the company that makes the bottles for Katadyn, makes bottles in 2- or 3-liter versions that fit the filter.
Overall, this product seems a bit underwhelming. At $39.99 for the 20-ounce version, $44.99 for the 1-liter version and $59.99 for the 3-liter gravity filter, it feels overpriced. It seems especially overpriced when compared to the $24.99 Sawyer Mini which does essentially the same thing. I like the Katadyn system a little better than the Sawyer Mini just because it feels more like a system and it is much easier to clean. To me the mini always felt cobbled together. In contrast, the BeFree filter and bottle is completely integrated. The technology is similar though and that makes the price of the BeFree seem high in comparison. This should really be at $25 to $30 for the 20-ounce and 1-liter bottles, respectively, and at $40 for the 3-liter gravity filter. For price alone, I can’t recommend it over the Sawyer Mini. But, since I’ve already shelled out money for this, I can’t see going back to the mini as long as this filter still works. I do plan on getting a bigger bottle for multi-person trips.
If you are in the market for a lightweight personal filter, then the choices are the Sawyer Mini and the Katadyn BeFree. Both work well. The Katadyn is overpriced, but if you have the extra money to spend on an overpriced filter then buy the Katadyn. Otherwise, buy the Mini.
- Katadyn BeFree, 20-ounce version
- Katadyn BeFree, 1-liter version
- Katadyn BeFree, 3-liter gravity filter version
- Hydropack Seeker bottles
- Sawyer Mini Water Filter