Filtering Water Out on the Trail

Backcountry Women hosted their first Gear Swap and Sale last week and while I was not ready to part with my gear, which I have a lot of, I showcased three different water filters during a demonstration. I enjoy reading about and testing different gear options.  I like being able to dive in deep into a product, beyond the specs, and really find out what works for me and what doesn’t.

Presenting at Backcountry Women Gear Swap and Sale Photo courtesy of Kylie Howsam

If you are interested in the technical specs of these water filters, there are links to product pages throughout the post. 

MSR Sweet Water, Katadyn BeFree 1 L, and Lifestraw Flex with Gravity Bag

The very first water filter I ever purchased was the MSR SweetWater Microfilter. This unit is older and now discontinued but similar pump-styles are still on the market. This filter has served me incredibly well over the years and the flow rate continues to be steady and fast with filtering one liter per minute. It is great for group hiking.

Cowan Lake backcountry site in Riding Mountain National Park

On a pump filter, there are two ports and two tubes. One port / tube is for dirty water and the other is for clean water. I am going to share a short story with you that took place on Hunt Lake for the purpose of reminding myself and others that having our gear completely ready and functional before leaving for the trail is incredibly important. This goes for any piece of gear!

While in a weakened state due to overexertion, I thought the filter was broken as I tried to fill my bladder without success. I became frustrated and felt defeated. It turned out that I had connected the hoses incorrectly and I was pumping clean water from my bladder into West Hawk Lake! I had used this filter countless times before without any issues.

What if the exhaustion that I was feeling had been related to me being lost or injured and I desperately needed clean water? If using a pump-style filter, I highly suggest setting it up before venturing out instead of assembling the components right when you need it.

This filter came in handy as a back up during an overnight trip last year to Minnedosa River campsite in Riding Mountain National Park. The campsite has a well but due to pressure issues, it was not working properly. We were able to filter water from a nearby creek. It was neat to provide a learning opportunity to a teenager who joined us.

Minnedosa River campsite in Riding Mountain National Park Picture courtesy of Prairie Girl Backpackers

Pump filters are more convenient to use in open bodies of water otherwise a “dirty” water container is needed. My dogs food bowl did double duty as the “dirty” water container while on Epinette in Spruce Woods Provincial Park. 

Epinette Trail in Spruce Woods Provincial Park Picture courtesy of Prairie Girl Backpackers

The second water filter that I have is the Katadyn BeFree 1 liter. I purchased it to take on the Appalachian Trail because I feel the MSR Sweetwater is too much work for a single person. Another reason I chose this filter is because it allows me to carry a reserve of water. I run quite warm and guzzle a lot of water while hiking.

I use a 3 liter water bladder and I encountered a learning curve with it because it is “out of sight and out of mind” tucked into my backpack. I realized that I need to be more conscious of checking how much is left when I am at a water source. 

While returning to the trail head on my solo overnight trip to Caribou West on Mantario last summer, I did not realize that I had emptied the water bladder. I was roughly 2 km from the trail head and I thankfully had enough reserve in my Katadyn BeFree.

Pros of Katadyn BeFree 1 liter:

  • Instant drinking water
  • Allows for reserve of water to be transported
  • Field cleanable by simply rinsing out the filter to remove debris
  • Lightweight and compact

Cons of Katadyn BeFree 1 liter:

  • Water filter only fits 43mm wide-mouth bottles – not universal
  • Some online reviews report that the bottle has leaked – no issues with mine!
  • Can only filter 1000 L before filter needs to be replace

The third water filter that I have is the Lifestraw Flex with Gravity Bag. I have not had the opportunity to field test this unit since I acquired it in the winter. I am looking forward to testing this unit beyond my kitchen in May when my husband and I hike overnight.

I very much like that the Lifestraw Flex with Gravity Bag can be used in a number of configurations, ranging from group use to personal use. My first thought is, this is a great unit for families who hike together, with a mom who likes to go off on solo adventures.

I like that the water can filter on its own while other camp chores are tended to. A downfall to using a gravity filter, at least for someone who is 5 foot-nothing is that being short may make hanging the bag difficult. At the Gear Swap and Sale, I had to reach for the stars to hang the unit on a nail. I would be reluctant to take a hanging gravity filter into the field if I did not have someone with me, whose shoulders I could climb up onto or back to stand on top of to reach a place to hang the bag. 

Setting up for water filter demo at Backcountry Women Gear Sale and Swap

Between the two water filters that I have experience with, I don’t have a favourite or a preference. MSR Sweetwater has served me very well in group hiking and Katadyn BeFree has been great on my solo hikes. They both have a place out on the trail with me, depending on who I am with.

Which water filters have you used? Is there one on the market that interests you?

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