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Re: How reliable really are Sawyer & Be Free water filters?

Posted: Mon Sep 28, 2020 1:08 pm
by TurboHike
0.2 is effective for filtering bacterial pathogens, but plenty of viruses are even smaller than 0.1

Not much of a concern in the Sierra Nevada, but in other locations this could be an issue.

Re: How reliable really are Sawyer & Be Free water filters?

Posted: Mon Sep 28, 2020 2:13 pm
by michaelzim
Well I guess my "was going to wait" questions got answered already!

First up, I am one of those few people whose life got basically "ruined" by contaminated water. Ironically it was not from backpacking, but domestic water supply c/o the winery I worked for. I was the only 'resident' that did not buy Alhambra water as had drunk tap water my whole life growing up in central Africa and this was the USA for Pete's sake! Buying water seemed dumb. This was 1990 so more ignorance about water quality then and no-one checked or tested it.

I slowly got a multitude of weird illness symptoms over 3 years but seeing as had hardly seen a doctor in 40 years blew it off...until I couldn't. Long sad story & a really outrageously bad GI doc (I had no diarrhea so was never O&P parasite tested). Finally was tested and had huge levels of Giardia, Dientamoeba fragilis, plus two others I forget. A boat-load of anti-parasitics finally killed them off but the whole saga left me with a gut that is still reactive, sensitive + regular pain to this day - 30 years later. To add to the insult, further treatment trashed my hearing (ototoxic meds) resulting in permanent very loud ringing in my ears and hypersensitivity to sound. Not fun at all.
My self inflated notions of super-human health and invincibility took a forever hit. And I became a quasi expert in water-borne parasitic infections and wonky guts.

Moral of the story...Yes, you can avoid getting Giardia et al with common sense water source selection especially in good water places like the Sierra. Most healthy individuals can throw off the minor amounts that may be present in a lot of 'raw' water. However, if such exposure is more constant or one has had prior GI infections, then all bets are off. If that is you I would 100% filter my drinking water even if just for the psychological peace of mind.
So yeah, I need a good non cross-contaminating water setup especially around lower elevation meadows where there are damn cows all over the place, standing in the streams and doing their business in them.

Last up, my comment about a dedicated firm plastic "dirty water" bottle was more trying to figure out how to have water on the trail due to difficulty filling a squeeze-bag bottle in some restricted water situations. The bag bottles are 1 oz. and a firm bottle is 1 oz. so one of them is going to get "dirty" no matter what. Firm bottle much easier to fill. The "dirty" water goes through the filter into a "clean" bottle for me to sip on en route. Two bottles minimum? (Let alone bigger vol. base camp setup). Plus not sure I would trust one of those squeeze-bag bottles in a pack side pocket anyhow - but maybe I should? Just no experience with them yet so am sure it will become more obvious once I do it.

And here I am trying to not over think this, but sort of need to visualize the whole thing before I am up in the hills with a flawed or inconvenient setup - let alone the weight saving I'm striving for. With your help I think I've figured it out!

Thanks much ~ Michaelzim

Re: How reliable really are Sawyer & Be Free water filters?

Posted: Mon Sep 28, 2020 3:15 pm
by Snowtrout
Another idea that many use: buy 2 one quart Smartwater bottles, put the filter on one and cap the other one until needed. Bottles are very sturdy, fill easy and are a simple squeeze and drink.

It's my backup plan if the Sawyer bags start leaking.

Re: How reliable really are Sawyer & Be Free water filters?

Posted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 9:35 am
by michaelzim
At risk of overkill, for those interested, here’s some “scoop” direct from Sawyer…

I contacted their customer service about different parts in my kit v. what they had displayed on the website. Got into a discussion with the rep about filling and back-flushing, as I had opinions about both after my preliminary kitchen trials. She offered to send me their tips for filling pouches (the bag-bottles) and in turn asked if I could send a photo showing my suggested “better syringe type” back-flush setup. Their blunt end syringe seemed to squirt water all over the place if wobbled slightly while pushing the plunger, which is easy to do. I had some irrigation syringes on hand so figured the setup below in photo would be better all round. [Sawyer responses in blue]

First up, filling pouches (bags):

Thanks for reaching out to us. Here are some tips on filling your pouch...

1) Blow up the bag before hand, hold the bottom of the bag open to keep it inflated as you scoop
a) do not submerge bag as all the air will be let out
b) scoop with half the opening (again do not submerge) on the surface of the water

2) find a section that has flow, create a spout (with a wider leaf, small leaves work too, just depends on shape) to direct water into pouch opening
a) or look for an area with the current going over rocks that creates a tiny rapid, fill from there if the water is moving quick
3) best advice, carry a small or large ziplock bag (I always carry a sandwich size one) to scoop water

“Scooping” with that small opening…and leaves! Ummmmmmmmm??? The small Ziploc has some merit.

Their reply to my photo (below) was more worthy of consideration:


I passed your email on to one of our engineers and thought you might be interested in his response...

"FYI - This setup can allow TOO MUCH PRESSURE to be applied to the fibers during backwashing and may/will damage the fibers.

To me this suggests an in-field bottle setup with coupling for back-flushing is preferable to their funky syringe or my sealed syringe idea. It’s what I intend to do.


Re: How reliable really are Sawyer & Be Free water filters?

Posted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 9:45 am
by rlown
One word. Katadyn.

Re: How reliable really are Sawyer & Be Free water filters?

Posted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 10:27 am
by TurboHike
According to Sawyer their filters can handle 20 psi while backflushing:

at the 1:05 mark.

Re: How reliable really are Sawyer & Be Free water filters?

Posted: Wed Sep 30, 2020 3:19 pm
by tweederjohnson
FWIW, I love the Katadyn Be Free collapsible bottles. Third season and they're still going strong. I always bring a 1 L for the trail and a 3 L for when I get to camp and hang it from a tree as my 'sink.' The 3 L can also serve as an extra reservoir if you need the extra water on the trail, or as a back-up if anything happens to the 1 L. Easy to fill and the filter is easy to clean. I clean the bottles and the filters with diluted bleach after every trip. I've used both the Sawyer Squeeze and the Sawyer Mini and definitely prefer the Be Free.

*My caveat being that practically all my overnight trips are in the High Sierra--so I haven't had to use them for filtering excessively gnarly water.

Also keep in mind that we're already in the season where water freezes overnight, which will ruin both the Sawyers and the Be Frees. Have a plan to keep your filters from freezing or use a different filtration/purification method.