Sawyer vs. Katadyn: What’s the Best Water Filter?

Sawyer vs. Katadyn: What’s the best water filter? We put three to the test…

By TMS Ambassador, Chris Cloyd

I vividly remember sitting down next to a lake and assembling my 5-piece Katadyn pump filter to fill up my bottles on a long run in Desolation Wilderness 5 or so years ago. I also vividly remember wincing through sips of iodine-flavored river water before that. I remember feeling like I was setting up a science experiment with my two little bottles of Aquamira, 15 miles from the nearest road on a backpacking trip in the early aughts. Fortunately, for trail runners, backpackers, mountain bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts everywhere we’re now in the golden age of easy, effective, and affordable water filtration options.

Over the last few months, I’ve been comparing and contrasting 3 leading water filtration products – the Sawyer Mini, the Sawyer Micro, and the Katadyn BeFree. All three are awesome, and light years ahead of the products I mentioned above. Each also has its place, depending on your sport and what you’re looking for out of your backcountry water filter.

Sawyer Mini

Price – $19.95

Weight – 2 oz

I’ve been using the Sawyer Mini for a couple of years now – when it dropped 5 years I go I was blown away by how light it is (at 2 oz it’s still the lightest of the 3 products I’m discussing today) and how simple it is. It works and served me well for years. The Mini is rated to 100,000 gallons of filtration and cleans easily enough if you pack it with silty glacier water or murky lake water. Due to its reliability and reputation (along with the fact that it’s compatible with almost all water/soft drink bottles you can find at any grocery store) the Mini is still the gold standard for through-hikers.

Sawyer Micro

Price – $27.95

Weight – 2.5 oz

The big innovation from Sawyer is the release of the Micro this year. It boasts all of the perks of the Mini (just a smidge heavier), but with a MUCH better flow rate. This makes filtering quicker and allows you to (with the included drinking straw) drink straight from the source with your Micro with ease. It’s a huge improvement and makes this filter my go-to on trail runs – I can stow the filter and straw in my shorts (no need to bring the pouch) and drink straight from the lakes and rivers I run by.

The whole system takes up almost no space, weighs less than 2.5 ounces, and allows me to run for hours never worried about getting thirsty (provided, of course, there is enough water where you’re running). I love going on 3 hour runs with friends and seeing the looks on their faces when I have no water bottles as we start, only to hydrate casually along the way. Plus, those stops afford plenty of time to take in great lake views during the run.

Katadyn BeFree

Price – starts at $39.95

Weight – 2.3 oz

Katadyn threw their hat into the ring this year with the BeFree system, which features a well-designed filter that screws on to the included soft water bottle (the Sawyer products use a pouch that comes in a few different sizes ranging from 16 oz to “I’m base camping for the next week and need enough water to support a small country”). Katadyn also makes 3 sizes for their BeFree filter – .6 liters, 1 liter, and 3 liters. As a trail runner/mountaineer, I’m in love with the .6 liter size – it fits into all my running vests and provides a nice reservoir for longer stretches without water on trail runs. For backpackers, the 1 liter size may be more versatile. The compatibility with running vests is key (the Sawyer pouches don’t fit in any running vest I’ve used), and allow you fill-on the go on your runs with ease – simply fill the bottle with “dirty” water, screw on the cap, and keep going. The flow rate is every bit as impressive as the Sawyer Micro, so if you’re compelled to down a liter of water while you’re by the creek, you can do so without any delay. Any time I’m running with a vest, I’m bringing this filter with me.

The Bottom Line

For mountain bikers both the Micro and the BeFree have their merits, but I prefer the Micro, personally. It packs smaller with the pouch, and allows for easy drinking straight from the source. Moreover, should you enjoy riding with a hydration pack, the Micro works as an inline filter, so you can fill up your bladder at any water source and enjoy filtered water during your ride with no extra steps. If Katadyn comes out with a hard bottle to complement their soft bottles sold with the BeFree filter, I’d use that on bike rides without hesitation. 

Quick and easy fill up for the Katadyn BeFree.

I don’t know if Sawyer knows this, but I feel that they may have killed their flagship personal filter (the Mini) with the release of the Micro. It’s barely heavier, the flow rate is better, and the versatility and packability are identical. I’d be surprised if the Micro didn’t assume the alpha dog status among hikers and backpackers alike in the next year or two. The BeFree is an awesome product, too, and makes for easier fill-ups than either Sawyer filter. All 3 have their perks, and I suppose that’s the point – in this “golden age” of light/effective water filtration options, it’s hard to go wrong.

No matter what your preferred outdoor activity is, there are enough great options at low price points in the marketplace today to keep you happy and healthy (giardia-free!) out in the mountains. I raise a glass (of drinkable alpine lake water) to both Sawyer and Katadyn for driving the innovation and making moving in the mountains even more enjoyable, and a ton safer. Salud!

Hitting the trails? Don’t forget to pack your poles!

Check out this review of Leki Trekking Poles

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