When a 1.6 ounce, $24 Sawyer Mini water filter showed up at my door, I felt hopeful that it would be all that it claimed to be, but skeptical as well, because of an experience I had testing another lightweight water filter over the summer (one which the company withdrew from review after I told them it was like sucking concrete through a straw). I also knew that by getting a chance to test the Sawyer Mini Water Filter in the fall, I’d be one of the first people to review it and because it stands to be a revolutionary water filter in the way the bigger Sawyer Squeeze Filter was for me, I wanted to make sure that my review was in depth enough to discover any deal-breaking flaws or quirks.
To that end, I used it on kayaking trips on Lake Superior, hikes into the Superior National Forest and on a photography trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Overall, I ended up using the filter about a dozen plus days to filter around 30 to 40 quarts of water. I used the filter in multiple configurations: drinking from the included water bladder, hooked up to a hydration pack, filtering into a water bottle, as a gravity filter and drinking from a reused soda bottle. These are the main configurations that I can imagine using in the field. Sawyer includes a plastic drinking straw that you can also use, but for a paddler, I can’t imagine that we’d ever need to drink out of a puddle shallow enough to require the straw.
Sawyer Mini Water Filter Specifications
- Weight: 1.6 ounces shipped, 1.8 ounces after use and shaking out extra water, 2.2 ounces full of water
- Capacity: 100,000 gallons
- Removal rate: 0.10 Micron Absolute, at a 7 log (99.99999%) rate, exceeding EPA and NSF recommendations.
- Includes: Sawyer Mini Filter, 16 ounce water pouch, rubber straw and 2 ounce cleaning plunger
- Price: $24.99 (Buy at REI.com)
The filter itself is a tube with a cap on each end. A nipple emerges from each cap. On the input side, you can connect a straw or tube from a hydration pack that contains dirty water to the nipple, or screw the filter directly onto a dirty-water bladder or soda bottle. In theory, you can attach the filter directly to the opening of a hydration pack instead of using a tube that runs from the hydration bladder to the input nipple, but I found that it doesn’t fit into my lifevest hydration pack in that configuration. Instead, using it as an inline filter works better. On the output side (potable side) a nipple covered with a plastic cap connected to the nipple with a plastic lanyard serves as a straw. You can also connect this to a hydration tube. On the filter’s body, a large arrow labeled “FLOW” shows the direction of use. You can see part of the arrow in the picture to the right. To make a gravity filter just screw the filter to a Sawyer water pouch containing dirty water (I used their 64 ounce pouch — it would be nice if they offered a pouch twice that size for groups. To create a hanger, I just punched a couple of holes in the corner of the pouch and ran a piece of cord between them) and then connect the other side to your hydration tube and a large Platy bottle.
Is the Sawyer Mini Water Filter’s Flow Rate Fast Enough?
First off, I feel that flow rate is the most important part of a filter after removal rate. The removal rate for the Sawyer Mini is more than adequate for my uses in developed countries. I felt that the flow rate was also more than adequate for my purposes in every configuration that I tried with one caveat: when used with a soda bottle, the side of the bottle would collapse and I had to unscrew the filter until air was let in. When used with Sawyer’s water pouches or my hydration pack, I didn’t notice any issues and the rate felt similar to drawing water through a hydration pack. It’s a bit slower than the Sawyer Squeeze, but not enough to make a difference to me. The biggest difference between the Squeeze and the Mini came with using it as a gravity filter. The flow rate seems much slower on the Mini than on the Squeeze. I didn’t time it out to get the exact difference, but it takes about 10 minutes to gravity filter 64 ounces of water with the Mini and the Squeeze is faster than that. I still think that flow rate is more than adequate for a gravity filter, because you’ll typically hang that when you reach camp and then set up your tent, etc… By the time that you’re finished setting up camp, you’ll have filtered water.
Cleaning the Sawyer Mini
All filters eventually clog up. Sometimes, you just pitch the filter and put a new one in. Sometimes, you sand the ceramic element to get to clean ceramics and sometimes you back-flush. You back-flush the Sawyer Mini water filter. To do it, you fill the included cleaning plunger with potable water (clean), push the plunger up against the output side (clean water side) of the filter and then squeeze the plunger. Water goes through the filter backwards and forces out any dirt in the filter. I didn’t need to use the plunger — probably because the water I filtered had limited sediment.
Quirks and Problems
I didn’t really have any real problems with the filter except one. The plastic lanyard that holds the cap on the output side of the filter broke after just a couple of uses. The cap stays on without the lanyard, so it isn’t a big deal, but if I broke it after a few days, I imagine that it will get broken by many users. I just took the lanyard off and don’t miss it. The other quirk is that Sawyer tells you not to let the filter freeze. While I don’t think this is anything different than you’ll experience with other filters, it does mean that you need to manage the filter when paddling in sub-freezing temperatures. In the Smokies, I had several days where I needed to sleep with the filter to keep it from freezing and then had to carry it in a coat pocket against my body until temps warmed up. You really shouldn’t let any filter freeze and I’ve slept many nights with a PUR/Katadyn Hiker in my bag. It was certainly smaller and less noticeable than a Hiker.
I think there is room for improvement on the filter. On most hydration systems and gravity filter systems, the nipples on the filter are ridged, so that when they insert into a hydration tube, they stick better. I’d like to see that change made to the Mini in the next version. I also read that someone would like to have both ends feature threads so that you could easily connect a water pouch to both the dirty water side and the potable water side. I think that that is an interesting idea. It would eliminate the need for tubes when filtering into a water pouch and when using the filter as a gravity filter.
Is the Sawyer Mini Everything it’s Cracked Up to Be?
Even with the minor quirks and problems, I think that the Sawyer Mini is everything that it’s cracked up to be. I think you can sum up my Sawyer Mini Water Filter Review as this: buy it and you won’t look back. And because it’s so light, all your paddling buddies should also buy one. If they do, you won’t have to share filters and should one malfunction, your group will have backups. I’m so happy with how the Sawyer Mini functioned that I can’t imagine ever buying another filter for developed countries. It works great when filling up water bottles, as an inline hydration pack filter, on a pouch or soda bottle, and it also works fine as a gravity filter. If you buy one, you’ll never have to pump again. Go buy one now!
Disclosure of Material Connection: PaddlingLight received a Sawyer Mini Water Filter for free from Sawyer Products.