When it comes to outdoor equipment (or really anything) the best is rarely cheap. That is exactly what makes the Sawyer Squeeze and Mini Water Filters standout. They are the best trail filters that I have used and they are also the cheapest. That is a tough combination to beat.
I’ve owned a Sawyer Squeeze since before 2013 when they updated the model to include some new fittings and redesigned bags (much needed, the original bags don’t hold up well). That little filter has produced a lot of clean drinking water in that time and it has earned a permanent place in my hiking pack. I have had the Sawyer Mini for much less time but it is equally easy to use, has more versatile connections, is smaller, weighs less, and costs even less (I’ll compare the two later in this article).
Rather than go on and on about these filters, I’ll lay out what I like about both of them. Then, I’ll address them each individually.
What I like about both filters:
- Compact and lightweight – The Squeeze weighs in at 3 ounces and the Mini at 2 ounces. Both are considerably smaller than any of my previous filters. They are small and light enough to live in my pack – even if I am just on a day hike and carrying all the water I will need.
- Affordable – These cost between $20-30 for the basic packages. That is less than 1/4″ the cost of my previous ceramic trail filter. The entire filter with bag(s) cost less than just the replacement filters my old system.
- Durable – These are made from plastic with no ceramic elements. They can take a beating.
- Reliable Filtering – Both filters boast an absolute .1 micron rating. They get the nasties out.
- Easy to Use – There is no pumping, no inlet hose to clean, no ceramic filters to clean, and no fuss. Squeeze dirty water through and drinkable water comes out. It’s easy.
- Versatile – These work with the provided bags but they also thread right onto standard 20 ounce and 2 liter bottles. They can be set up as inline filters on your hydration bladder or as gravity filters on something like an MSR Dromedary Bag.
What I like about the Squeeze:
- The Squeeze filter has more filter media than the Mini so it is slightly easier to drink from. If you plan to use the simplest set up, which would be to gather unfiltered water in bags/bottles and drink directly from them, the Squeeze works best but…
What I like about the Mini:
- It is smaller and lighter than the Squeeze and can be used in all the same ways.
- It has more versatile attachment points built in.
- It costs less.
The next obvious question is which should you choose. I would (and did) probably just buy the Mini in most cases. It does everything the Squeeze does minus a little flow rate. It’s smaller, lighter, costs less, and a bit more versatile. However, the Squeeze is a bit easier to use in the most straightforward setup so it may be a better choice for cavemen.
- If you are using Sawyer’s water bags, roll them like a toothpaste tube instead of squeezing. They last longer that way.
- Don’t let your filter freeze (true for all filters, not just these). It can wreck the filter media and there is really no practical way to test the Sawyer filters for damage. Bring it in your sleeping bag at night and tuck it inside your coat during the day to prevent freezing. If you think it froze, replace it.
- 2 Liter bottles (or any bottles you can scavenge) are great for use with these filters. They are light weight and can be squeezed hard without breaking. Keep the cap so you can squeeze the air out and reseal to take up less space in your pack.
- I know Sawyer has improved their bags but I have trust issues with them due to my original bags failures. Evernew makes great water bags that have compatible threads. I own several and greatly prefer them to the Sawyer bags. The threads on Platypus bags don’t quite match but some users say they can get them to work.
- Filling water bags completely full unless you have some tricks up your sleeve. Blow them up with your mouth before submerging or place them under falling water to make filling easier. You can also make a lightweight scoop by cutting the top off of a bottle and capping it. The scoop makes it easy to get the last few ounces of water into the bag.
- Even if you don’t hike and hate the outdoors, these are so compact and light that they are right at home in a car kit or “bug out bag”. I use a rubber band to wrap a water bag around the filter so it stays compact. You can add a short section of tubing so you can drink right from the source if necessary.
- They are so small and light, you might even want to carry two – especially in cold weather.
If they were already convenient enough… You can stroll right into most Walmarts and buy them. They are available with a dizzying array of options and even multi-packs. I generally just buy the basic set up and I bought my Mini on Amazon for less than $20.