I've been camping and hiking separately before, and besides SERE training for my job, I haven't actually done a whole lot of backpacking. I finally have what I think is a good set-up to start with (We're doing day hikes and camping in the St. Francis NF in the Ozarks, nothing too crazy,) but can't decide on what the best water solution will be. I have emergency iodine tablets, but would prefer a filter of some kind. I want something light and portable, but something that can filter into my own water bottle, or other peoples' if they have a problem with their water sources. I looked at some of the collapsible water bottle, and life straw bottle caps, and I'm not sure if those are what I'm looking for.
The Katydyn Pocket Water filter would be my ideal, but I can't really afford a 350$ filter after my couple of months of stocking up on other backpacking supplies... Are the cheaper Katydyn models good? Should I just get a lifestraw water bottle even though they're very ugly?
I've used both the Sawyer Mini and the full size Squeeze. The Mini does the job, but the flow rate of the Squeeze is much better, and would be my recommendation. I use it with a 1 gallon bag in a gravity feed setup as shown below.
I have also used the sawyer squeeze and mini.... I use the squeeze now because it's easier, tho a bit heavier. Either is a good choice. I've heard lots of stories about busted bags, but I've only ever busted two. I suspect the busted bags are mostly "user error", although I did have a new one bust the first time out, which would point to manufacturer's defect. I keep two quart size bags, which I use both to filter with and for carrying "dirty" water to camp in the evening. I know that I could get by if one breaks. I also carry a one liter nalgene, which I'm going to try ditching in favor of (1 or 2) one liter smartwater bottles. The mini works fine, it's just slower and clogs a bit more easily than the squeeze. The main issue I have (since I backpack mostly in lower temps) is that you absolutely must keep the sawyer filters from freezing. I keep mine in my sleeping bag in a ziplock when it's colder. I also keep a few chlorine dioxide tabs as a backup just in case.
I've read the same reports about the busted bags, and have only had problems with one busting on me. The gravity feed setup definitely minimizes the chance of busting a bag as you're not applying pressure. That said, I always carry a couple extra bags as backup and have also needed them to tote extra water for filtering in places where the water supply is far from camp.
For me the Squeeze is definitely worth the additional weight for its better flow rate and the savings in time and effort.
And yes, definitely need to take precautions to avoid freezing as that irreparably damages the filters.
I didn't even think of my filters freezing. It will probably be a little bit before I go backcountry exploring in freezing temperatures but I'm glad you pointed that out.
I wasn't actually talking about freezing. The filter empties out after use, so it shouldn't freeze. I mean keep the filter clean by running water through the filter backwards.
@Bradyparr Once wetted the filter hollow fibers are full of water and remain that way unless you dry the filter out for a very long time. If the water inside these fibers freezes it can rupture the fibers rendering the filter suspect.
The BeFree is slight less prone to freeze damage but it is still not to be trusted.
These filters cannot be tested to see if they are damaged so you must take precautions to keep them from freezing.
The only similar filter I know of that has an integrity test is the MSR thru link which is sold to use with a hydration bladder although you can use it standalone.
And I agree, frequent and immediate backflushing is a good idea with the Sawyers. They do clog up and if you leave sediment in the fibers for long it may solidify. You can use a warm vinegar solution to attempt to dissolve calcium deposits and revitalize a clogged Sawyer. Se Sawyer instructions
In any case you should backflush your filter with a weak chlorine solution or AquaMira or PUR and set it to dry before you put it ways to store for long. Best to do it immediately you return from a trip in case. You can flush it with chlorine/AquaMira/PUR before a trip and that works but you won't remember or have time. If you don't clean it you will get moldy tasting water...
While the BeFree can be cleaned but it cannot be backflushed. It can e cleaned with a chlorine/AquaMira/PUR type solution when storing. See Katadyn instructions
In any case you should view these filters as having a limited life and plan on replacing them occasionally. They are cheaper than the cartridge refills of more expensive models.
And the Sawyer bags have a poor reputation both for being hard to fill and for failing. I do not think this is "user error" It is the nature of such bags that use a thermal weld. Constant rolling will stress that weld and the lamination. Some people do have good luck with them as far as longevity but they are least good part of the Sawyer system. As said, I only use them as backup.
The bags are definitely the weakest link in the Squeeze system (both filling and potential for bursting) which is another reason I prefer the gravity feed setup. To collect water I use a 10L Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil™ Folding Bucket (<1 oz.) to scoop water and then fill the bags from that.
I backflush every time I filter to ensure the flow rate is maintained (good to do with the Squeeze, but essential with the Mini). I also follow Sawyer's recommendations for cleaning after every trip. It is also important to set the filter upright so it can thoroughly drain and dry after cleaning.
I use the Sawyer Mini, seems to cover all your stated wants. Just remember to backwash the filter after each use.