If you’re out in the wild for extended periods of time, then you know how useful a water filtration system can be. Hiking, backpacking, and extended road trips mean that you have to bring all of your provisions with you every time you get up and move. A water filter will save you a massive amount of space while providing you with water no matter where you are. The world truly opens up when you have a good water filter with you. The right one will make nearly every water source potable, meaning you’ll have water to drink no matter where you end up as long as there’s water somewhere nearby you can use your filter on.
In a hurry? Here’s the test winner after 10 hours of research:
Sawyer Mini vs Lifestraw: Which is the Best Water Filter? – Overview
Why Not Just Bring Water?
We’ve all seen a gallon jug. They’re massive, and nobody wants to carry them around any longer than they absolutely have to. If you’re out on the trail or you’re on a long camping trip far from a spigot then your body’s going to need a whole lot more water than you’re going to want to carry. The Institute of Medicine suggests we drink around a hundred ounces of water every day. That amount goes up a great deal when we’re exerting ourselves like you would be if you were backpacking through the mountains or building a campfire every day with your bare hands.
The logistical problems carrying around a reasonable amount of water to survive outside are mindbending. You can totally circumvent that a couple of ways, the easiest most compact of those is bringing along a water filter. Filters these days have come a long way, they’re capable of purging water of bacteria and viruses that would otherwise leave you unable to finish your trip in peace.
A good water filter cuts out the need to break out the campfire and find a vessel suitable for boiling water. It removes the need to wait for that water to cool back down, and they drastically remove the room for error. You’ll be able to find clean water wherever you find water because you can make it with your own two hands. Two of the best and more affordable water filters on the market right now are the Sawyer Mini and the Lifestraw. You’re here because you want to know which one is best, so let’s break them both down and figure out how you’re going to get the most drinkable bang for your buck.
How Does This Work?
These water filters work just like any other filtration system. The pitchers in your fridge, the filters in your coffee machine, and the filters in your local water treatment plant all work on the same principles. We filter things out by creating spaces too small for them to fit through, and the water is allowed to continue flowing without it.
The Sawyer Mini and the Lifestraw are no different. Inside of each of these water filters is an incredibly fine “microfilter.” These microfilters are fine enough to separate microscopic particles out of your water sources. The smaller the pores in the filter, the more they’re able to filter out, and these filters get down to fractions of a micron. We’ll see how the Sawyer Mini and the Lifestraw stack up to each other and how this reflects on their abilities to keep you from getting sick when you put your faith in them.
The Sawyer Mini
The Sawyer Mini is a multi-functional water filter that can work as an on-the-spot straw or it can be attached to any of their multitude of attachments to make gathering and storing water a simple and safe affair.
The Sawyer Mini is a 2 oz device that makes it perfect for carrying in your bag for any sort of outdoor occasion. It’s light and incredibly compact. The size and shape are integral for its wide array of functionalities. You can use it as a straw to drink directly from your water sources or slot it into your drinking devices to make an inline filter. Whatever you choose, it’ll fit your needs.
The Sawyer Mini is built with a 0.1-micron filter. That means that the pores in the filter are 0.1 microns wide. That’s hard to conceptualize because it’s pretty much impossible to see with your eyes. The thing you need to know is that this filter will remove all manner of contaminants. We’re talking bacteria, protozoa, cysts, and microplastics. The filter is rated for about 3,780,000 liters of water. It’s going to last you an incredibly long time, and save you a lot on gallon jugs.
The Sawyer Mini is impressive on paper. Their certified filters meet, and in some cases, exceed the guidelines laid out by the EPA. If you’re looking for something you can depend on to clean your water in a pinch, it’s hard to say you’d be willing to rely on anything else. The real test, though, is going to be how useful it is when you actually pull it out of the bag and get ready to down a beverage. How easy is it to use, and how useful is it when you’re actually applying it?
The Sawyer Mini shines in its versatility and ease of use. If you’re the type to bring along a bottle, you can just slap this right onto the top of your water bottle and you’ll be chugging clean water just like that. It can be used to drink directly from the source if you’re feeling particularly parched or you just don’t happen to have a vessel. You can buy pouches for it, that store nicely into tight spaces, waiting to be filled with water.
These are perfect for creating a squeeze filtration system with your Sawyer Mini. If you’re wanting to create a stockpile because you’ve found a water source and you’re hunkering down for a little bit, you can use the pouches in conjunction with the Sawyer Mini to erect a gravity filtration system. It’s a great device for passive or active use, it fits well into your loadout no matter how you like drinking your water when you’re outdoors, and it’s incredibly simple to use. It’s a great tool to bring along with your things when you’re hiking, backpacking, or camping, no matter how far you’re going. The ease of use means that you can whip it out for a quick drink in any situation no matter how dire or trivial.
When you’re using a water filter it’s important to clean them out. The speed of the water flow and its ability to filter out contaminants. The Sawyer Mini is incredibly easy to clean. They include a syringe you can use to backwash and sanitize the device. The process is as simple as applying a little bit of pressure and remembering to sanitize it after every outing. The backwashing process restores nearly all of the original functionality to the Sawyer Mini. The ease of cleaning, the effectiveness of the process, and the fact that a light wash restores it to a practically unused state make it a great little device that you can keep in your regular pack for years.
The Lifestraw is incredibly similar to the Sawyer Mini. They’re both straws you can use to filter your water directly from the source, they’re both incredibly easy alternatives to carrying around bulky water bottles, and they’re both incredibly portable. Once you start getting into the details of each product you’ll immediately start seeing some pretty sizable obvious differences.
The Lifestraw is another straw-type filtration system. It’s a light device, coming in at a respectable 1.62 ounces. It’s a little bit longer than the Sawyer Mini, but to be fair, that model is designed to be much shorter than its competitors. The Lifestraw’s 0.2-micron filter will sort away most bacteria, cysts, microplastics, and protozoa you find in the water, and it lasts for about 4,000 liters or 1,050 gallons of water. It’s going to last you for a good number of years, Lifestraw estimates you can use it regularly for about five years. If you’re planning on using it in a bug-out bag or your emergency kits, then it has an indefinite shelf life.
Compared to the Sawyer Mini, this filter is a little bit less reliable. The filter’s pores are twice as large as the pores of the Sawyer Mini. At this scale, the filters are functionally identical. The kinds of things these filters are designed to fight against are much larger than one or two tenths of a micron, but having a tighter filter means that you’re going to be reducing your chances of contamination just a little bit more. When it comes to something like your digestive health out on the trail, you’re going to want every advantage possible though.
The smaller filter of the Sawyer Mini comes with the added benefits of additional peace of mind. Even if the peace of mind you’re getting is all in your head, the power of suggestion can’t be easily overstated, and now that we’ve cursed you with knowledge as granular as the exact micron length of the filter’s pores, it’s going to be hard to shake that doubt in the future (sorry).
The Sawyer Lifestraw is exactly what it says on the tin. You use this filter inside of your water source and you suck through it to get the filtration process started. This is a blessing and a curse. You’re never going to be in a situation where your Lifestraw is leaking pent up water all over your things once you put it in your bag, but it does also mean that you’re not going to be able to set up any kind of gravity filtration or pouch squeezing system to stock up on clean water for your trek. Practically, this probably won’t be an issue, the reason you’re carrying this water filter around is so you can save on the weight and space that transporting clean water will take up.
It’s kind of an annoying bummer, though. You’re going to have to rely on your ability to find a source of water whenever the time comes for a water break or a meal, or you’re going to have to fill up a vessel with water, which sort of defeats the purpose of not having to carry a full vessel of water. You also have to use this almost strictly as a straw. You can get creative, of course, but using the Lifestraw as intended right out of the box means you’re losing out on a lot of the options the Sawyer Mini offers in a remarkably similar package.
Cleaning the Lifestraw is pretty similar to cleaning the Sawyer Mini. All you need for the Lifestraw is the straw itself and a water bottle. You’ll be hard-pressed to be without those two things at any given time. Lifestraw also recommends a good old-fashioned puff of air if you feel like the flow rate of your filter is dropping. You should sanitize your filter regularly as well. It’s amazing that these little devices can pull bacteria away from your waters, but if you let the sediment camp out inside of your Lifestraw you’re going to defeat the purpose of the filter rather quickly.
There isn’t much to speak of in the accessory department. The Lifestraw is a pretty lo-fi piece of equipment. You’re going to be getting the Lifestraw and that’s pretty much it. Lifestaw sells a carrying case to protect your straw from getting banged up in your bags and protecting it from dirt and debris, but if you’re good about packing your things, you won’t really need it. It’s a nice mico-luxury if you want to spring for it, but it’s not nearly as useful as all of the bit and baubles you can pair with your Sawyer Mini.
The Lifestraw seems to be more focused on being an affordable alternative to carrying massive amounts of water with you and being the thing you have packed away in your basement for when the weather turns sour, you’re getting a good sturdy straw that filters out your water and not much else. It isn’t a bad choice, but when you stack it up against the Sawyer Mini you start to see a lot of small areas where improvements could be made.
The Sawyer Mini takes the cake. The prices of the Sawyer Mini and the Lifestraw tend to be about the same, but the performance and versatility of the Sawyer Mini is just undoubtedly more useful in more situations. When comparing the two in terms of filtration ability, cost, and versatility, it’s hard to come to any result other than this. The Sawyer Mini filters out particles that are much smaller than the Lifestraw.
That difference in the size of the filters is the difference between making it through your trip unscathed and spending all day on the toilet (or in the trees depending on how far away you are). Its ability to act as a gravity filter to give you a stockpile is reason enough to pick this water filter over the Lifestraw. The Sawyer Mini is smaller than the Lifestraw, making it that much easier to pack away. In situations where you’re packing your bags as tightly as possible, then the Sawyer Mini is that much more of a better option.
You’re going to be able to fit this filter and its accessories in the same amount of space the Lifestraw fits into. These accessories turn your Sawyer mini into basically any sort of filter you could imagine. You can use it to set up a sanitation station that serves your small camping community, there are additives available that will help restore nutrients you lost while out on the trail, and using it as an in-line filter for camelbacks is an incredible way to get your water in without losing any momentum if you’re trying to complete a leg of your trip.
The fatal blow to the Lifestraw is the fact that you need to be near a water source to use it. They stuck too close to the straw angle, and that hobbles the effectiveness of the Lifestraw. It’s hard to want to bring along the Lifestraw knowing that you’re going to have to either carry around your dirty water or make several pit stops along the way. The ability to drink directly from the source and the convenience of a straw is tempting, but when it comes down to the details, it’s just not nearly as useful in practice as it seems on the back of the box. It’s important to note that neither of these filters filter out viruses or heavy metal, so neither of them are totally perfect in that respect, but the Sawyer Mini is, by far, much more reliable than the Lifestraw.
Bonus tip: Now that you know which water filter reigns supreme, you might want to check out some neat hacks. This video shows you every single secret tip and trick for the Sawyer Mini