To settle an argument, I’m pitting the Sawyer Mini vs LifeStraw in the battle of the backpacking water filters.
Last year I was hiking into Kalalau Beach along the Na Pali coastline in Hawaii with a few friends. It was one of the most breathtaking vistas I have ever seen. The hike itself is a challenging 11 miles, but we wanted to stay a couple of days, so we brought all our gear.
Less than halfway through the hike in, my mate announces that he hasn’t brought anything to treat water. I was tempted to give him my foul-tasting iodine tablets, but luckily someone had a spare LifeStraw.
Two popular water treatment systems on the market today are Sawyer’s Mini Water Filtration System and the LifeStraw personal water filter, two mini water filtration products that often draw comparisons, so I will do a side by side comparison.
Review of Sawyer Mini vs LifeStraw
In spite of some similarities, the greatest difference between these two products in terms of functionality is that the Sawyer Mini is a versatile pouch filtration system which can be used in various ways while the LifeStraw is just a drinking straw. Well, one that contains water filters.
The LifeStraw filters out harmful particles in real time as you suck up water from a fresh source such as a natural spring, river, or lake. You can also fill up a wide mouth water bottle and use the LifeStraw to drink directly from that.
It’s a handy device, but it is helpful to review the major difference between the LifeStraw and the Sawyer Mini before digging into the specifics.
Both the Sawyer Mini and the LifeStraw boast their unique, proprietary filtering technology. Sawyer’s Absolute Micron Filtering Technology utilizes tiny U-shaped micro-tubes that allow water to enter into micro-pores while other harmful particles are unable to enter – the result is clean water. Check out their YouTube overview here:
LifeStraw has their advanced hollow fiber technology. Instead of the U-shaped micro-tubes, elongated fibers run the length of the straw and similarly filter out harmful particles while the water passes through micro-pores by way of suction.See the Sawyer Mini on Amazon See the Lifestraw on Amazon
How they stack up to each other
Filtration type & capacity
In some ways, comparing the filtration capabilities between the Sawyer Mini and the LifeStraw personal water filter is like the 3,000 lb. horse making fun of the 3,001 lb. horse; the differences are minute.
Nevertheless, there’s a strength in the Sawyer Mini’s efficacy. Whereas LifeStraw’s technology has been rated to 0.2-micron pore size, the Sawyer Mini rates at 0.1. Though both products meet EPA drinking water standards, the Sawyer Mini is the slightly superior water filtration technology.
Not surprisingly, the Sawyer Mini removes a slightly higher percentage of harmful products based on independent lab research: “99.99999%” of all bacteria: salmonella, cholera, E.coli, and “99.9999%” of all protozoa: giardia and cryptosporidium.
LifeStraw filters out “99.9999%” of bacteria and “99.9%” of protozoa. Seriously? Is this really a difference?
For most backpackers, the difference between the two is too minimal to notice (especially as both meet EPA standards).
Lifespan – how much water?
Here the Sawyer Mini rates higher vs the LifeStraw. The Sawyer Mini is rated to filter up to 100,000 gallons of water whereas the LifeStraw is rated only to 1,000 gallons, a significant difference. And don’t worry; you’ll know that the filter has outlived its usefulness when water stops passing through.
- Company Update: Even though LifeStraw’s longevity still pales in comparison to that of the Sawyer Mini, the 1,000-gallon filtering capability is an increase from the previously stated 264 gallons (based on further independent testing).
The Sawyer Mini is 5 inches long by 1 inch wide, and the LifeStraw is 9 inches long by 1 inch wide. Both weigh only 2 ounces. The differences are nearly inconsequential; both market their products as ultra-lightweight water filters.
LifeStraw is great in that it allows you to drink straight from the water source; the Sawyer Mini is a filter, not a straw. However, the Sawyer Mini includes an attachable straw with the shipment (as well as a drinking pouch and cleaning plunger).
Additionally, the Mini can also operate as an in-line for hydration packs or even as a pre-filter system (see “Pro tips” below). Finally, the Sawyer Mini has a 28 mm thread, so it can screw on to most standard water bottles (think Smartwater, not Nalgene water bottle). There is clearly greater versatility with the Sawyer Mini.
Cleaning the Sawyer Mini & Lifestraw
LifeStraw recommends that you backflush your filter by blowing back into the straw in order to remove any remaining water trapped in the filter. The Sawyer Mini, on the other hand, includes a cleaning plunger to give a more thorough backflush.
Cost of Clean Water
The Sawyer Mini is a little more expensive than the LifeStraw, but not by much. Keep in mind, though, that the longevity of the Sawyer Mini can reach up to ten times vs the LifeStraw.
Both companies strive to use their technology and platform for good around the globe. Sawyer International gives specific steps you can take to make a difference through their company here.
However, this is the category in which LifeStraw really shines. For every LifeStraw product purchased, a child in need receives safe drinking water for an entire year.
In fact, LifeStraw began due to a need for filtering Guinea worm larvae out of contaminated water (read more of their remarkable story). Clearly, this is more than just advertising!
What they don’t do
Both the Sawyer Mini and LifeStraw are good at filtering out biological contaminants and are effective in most every natural body of water in North America.
However, they don’t filter viruses (found more commonly in developing nations) or water tainted by dissolvable substances (metals, chemicals, etc.). So, if there is a threat of these other forms of contamination, these would not be the primary products for you.
- Don’t let your filter freeze. If you’re hiking in freezing temperatures, you’ll still want to make sure that the filter stays warm enough so that water does not freeze to the fiber and crack it.
- Bring along a water container. The LifeStraw pictures seem fun, just dipping the straw straight into a fresh stream, but that will get tedious quickly. Make sure you can bring water along after you leave that stream behind. Plus, though the Sawyer Mini includes a 16 oz. drinking pouch, you might find a larger hydration system better for long hikes.
- As mentioned above, though both of these filtration systems are great, they don’t filter everything. Many backpackers use Sawyer Mini as a pre-filter and bring along other filters with absorbent mediums that trap dissolvable substances. You can greatly increase the longevity of those other filters by pre-filtering with systems like the Sawyer Mini which works as an in-line filter (LifeStraw would not work for this).
- Look through other water filter products if your specific needs aren’t met by the Sawyer Mini or the basic LifeStraw. It’s hard to beat the ultra-lightweight component of these systems, but certain trips might demand more advanced filtration methods or versatility.
- Always have a backup. It can be a nightmare getting caught without some sort of backup in case your original breaks, stops functioning, or falls off a cliff (hey, it happens). Even unpopular iodine tablets can be great to pack along in case of an emergency.
Final thoughts: Is there a Clear Winner?
Though the Sawyer Mini outrates the LifeStraw both in terms of filtration and longevity, everyone is different in terms of needs.
Both products consistently receive great reviews and perform well – within the limits of their capabilities.
LifeStraw’s story, more immediate social impact upon purchase and cheaper price, might be more attractive based on your needs. It all depends on what you’re looking for in terms of one vs the other.
Neither of these for you? Check out our review of the best water filters and purifiers for backcountry use.See the Sawyer Mini on Amazon See the Lifestraw on Amazon
Product image credits: © Amazon.com