The Sawyer Mini is a minimalist water filter that is perfect for hiking, bicycle touring, and travel. It is incredibly lightweight, affordable, versatile, and reliable. I have used mine to filter water from streams, rivers, and even puddles while hiking and cycling throughout the Western US. While traveling with this little filter in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, I was able safely to drink tap water everywhere I went. The Sawyer Mini filters out bacteria, protozoa, microplastics, and particles of dirt and debris. So far I would estimate that I have filtered about 250 liters of water with this filter and have never gotten sick. This is one of my favorite pieces of gear. This is my full Sawyer Mini water filter review.
Sawyer Mini Pros and Cons
- The sawyer mini is rated to filter 100,000 gallons (380,000 liters)- That’s more water than you will drink in your entire lifetime. For example, if you live to be 80 years old and drink 1 gallon of water per day, you will have drank only 30,000 gallons of water. That’s only 30% of the water that the Sawyer is rated to filter. This is a ‘buy it for life’ product if you take care of it.
- Ultralight- The Sawyer Mini weighs 2 ounces. It’s one of the lightest filters on the market. If you include the bag, straw, and cleaning plunger, the whole setup weighs 3.7 ounces.
- Versatile- You can use the Sawyer mini like a straw and drink straight out of a water source. You can attach it to a standard plastic water bottle or the included squeeze bag and filter water for later or drink directly. Another option is to splice the filter into your hydration pack.
- Affordable- The sawyer Mini costs less than most comparable water filters.
- Packable- The filter measures 1″ x 5″. This is one of the smallest water filters on the market.
- Durable-The filter itself is made of thick plastic. You can drop it or stuff it in your pack without worrying about causing any damage. There are no moving parts that can break. There really isn’t much that can go wrong with this filter.
- Reliable- The Sawyer Mini doesn’t use electricity or chemicals to treat the water. There are no batteries or carbon filters that can run out while you’re in the wilderness. As long as you backwash to clear out any debris once in a while, the filter will keep on working. It never needs to be replaced.
- Everything you need is included- The Sawyer Mini comes with a 16 ounce water pouch, straw, and cleaning plunger. You don’t need to buy any other accessories to use it or maintain it.
- Tested- Sawyer tests every filter 3 times to make sure they are performing to specifications.
- Safe- There are no chemicals involved. The water simply passes through tiny pores that trap all of the bad stuff that could make you sick. Nothing is added to the water.
- The included water pouch doesn’t last long- If you read through Sawyer Mini reviews around the internet, you’ll find that the main complaint is that the included water pouch tends to split open after a few uses. The bag splits because you have to use quite a bit of pressure to squeeze water through the filter. The seems can’t hold up to the pressure. There are very few complaints about the filter itself. To me, this doesn’t really matter. I consider the included water pouch to be an added bonus. Most other filters don’t even include one. Having said that, it was disappointing when mine split on the seem after just a few uses. You’ll want to get a plastic water bottle or a more durable water pouch to pair with your Sawyer Mini. For most trips, I just use a disposable plastic water bottle. I’ve never had one split.
- Freezing temperatures can damage the filter- The fibers inside of the filter absorb some water when you use it. Water expands when it freezes. If the filter freezes with water inside, it can crack or damage the hollow fiber membrane. This can cause damage to the filter. At the very least, it will render the filter unusable until it thaws out. If you expect the freezing weather, store the filter in a plastic bag in your sleeping bag with you when you sleep at night. During the day, store it in a pocket. This way, your body heat will prevent the water from freezing.
- It takes some maintenance- Occasionally, you’ll need to backflush the filter to keep it flowing properly. Backflushing involves squeezing clean water through the filter backward to push out any contaminants. You do this with the included cleaning plunger. This job only takes a couple of minutes. If you backflush before every trip, you shouldn’t have to carry the plunger with you.
- Hard to suck water through- There is quite a bit of resistance when drinking directly from the filter. You have to suck pretty hard. It works fine for taking a quick drink but you’ll probably want to squeeze the water into a bottle or water bladder most of the time.
- The flow rate is a bit slow- The filter works great for 1-2 people. If you’re hiking in a large group, you’ll want multiple filters or a faster filter. When squeezing water through, you can filter a liter in about 2 minutes. The reason is that the filter and nozzle are so small. This compromise was made to keep the filter ultralight and affordable.
- It doesn’t come with a carrying case- The filter, water pouch, straw, and plunger are all relatively small pieces that are easy to lose in your pack. It would be nice if the filter came with some kind of bag to keep everything together. I wrap the water pouch around the filter and plunger and store the whole thing in a plastic Ziploc bag.
- It clogs easily when filtering water with a lot of suspended debris in it- Because the filter is so small, it clogs up relatively quickly when you’re filtering particularly dirty water. A solution is to pre-filter with a bandana or piece of clothing the water to remove larger particles. You can also collect water from the top of the water source if you’re drinking from a puddle. Usually, the larger particles sink to the bottom. When filtering water that already appears clean, you may only need to clean the filter once per week.
- It does not filter viruses- Most viruses are smaller than 0.1 microns so they can pass through the filter. If you need to filter viruses, you’ll need a bulkier filter or chemical treatment.
Water Quality: What Does the Sawyer Mini Filter Out?
The Sawyer Mini filters water through hollow fiber membranes with 0.1 micron pores to remove bacteria, protozoa, and microplastics. According to Sawyer, the filter removes 99. 99999% of bacteria including E. Coli, Cholera, and Salmonella. It also removes 99. 9999% of protozoa including giardia and cryptosporidium. 100% of microplastics are removed as well as larger particles of dirt and debris. Murky water goes in one end and comes out the other crystal clear.
What Doesn’t it Remove?
The Sawyer Mini does not remove viruses because they are mostly smaller than the 0.1 micron pores in the membrane. 0.1 micron is equal to 100 nanometers. Most viruses range from 20-400 nanometers. It will also not filter out chemicals, pesticides, or heavy metals. It is made to filter freshwater that you would find while hiking.
If you’re looking for a filter that can remove viruses as well as some chemicals and heavy metals, check out the Survivor Filter Pro. The drawback is that filters like this are much more expensive. They are also much heavier and bulkier.
Note: Water filters cannot remove salt from water. They are designed for filtering fresh water from lakes, streams, puddles, rivers, taps, etc. They do not work with seawater.
Cleaning and Maintaining the Sawyer Mini
Cleaning the Sawyer Mini involves using the included cleaning plunger to backwash the system. To do this, simply fill the syringe with with clean water, and pump it through the filter backwards. This pushes any contaminants out of the pores to restore the flow. The job takes just a few minutes.
How often you have to clean the filter depends on how dirty the water is that you’re filtering and how much water you’re filtering. On average, a long-distance hiker will have to backwash the filter about once per week.
According to Sawyer, you should backwash the filter when the flow begins to slow down. You should also backwash it before you put it away for long term storage. This way, there are no bacteria or other nasty things sitting in the filter. You’ll also want to backwash again after removing the filter from long term storage. This wets the pores and restores the flow.
You’ll know it’s time to clean the filter when the flow starts to diminish. If you’re filtering water with a lot of sediment or algae, you might notice the flow slowing down after filtering just a couple of gallons. If you’re filtering tap water or clear water from a mountain spring, you might not have to clean the filter for weeks.
When filtering murky water with lots of sediment or suspended solids floating around, the Sawyer Mini clogs pretty easily after just a few uses. If you expect to filter turbid water, be sure to bring the cleaning plunger to maintain the filter. If the filter gets clogged, it will still work. Just very slowly. I pack my cleaning plunger on trips longer than around 5 days or if I expect to encounter dirty water.
Tip: when you’re filtering water with high turbidity, consider pre-filtering the water with a piece of clothing or a bandana. This removes some of the larger particles and prevents the Sawyer Mini from clogging up so fast. Filtering dirty water doesn’t harm the filter. It just means you’ll have to backwash it more frequently.
Versatility and Ease of Use
The Sawyer Mini is incredibly simple to use. Dirty water goes in one end and comes out clean on the other end. The direction of flow is clearly marked with a giant white arrow on the side of the filter. Everything you need to use the filter is included. There are four ways you can use the Sawyer Mini:
- Drink straight from the water source- Attach the included straw, submerge the end in the lake, river, stream, or puddle, and suck water directly through the filter. There is a bit of resistance when using this method. It is kind of like drinking a milkshake. This is probably the worst method because you have to get down on your hands and knees in the dirt to get close enough to the water to drink.
- Squeeze water through the filter from a bottle or water pouch- Fill the included 16 oz pouch with water that you want to filter, screw the Sawyer Mini on top, and squeeze the water through the filter into your water bladder or bottle. You can also attach the filter to a standard disposable water bottle that you can buy at any grocery store. I like to use a 2 liter Smart Water bottle because it is easy to squeeze and fits perfectly in my backpack. Before hitting the trail, double-check to make sure your water bottle threads fit the filter. Most bottles fit but I have run into a few odd-sized ones. If you want more capacity, you can also buy larger water pouches. I bought the 64 ounce Sawyer Squeezable Pouch and it has healed up well.
- Attach the filter in the waterline of a hydration pack- You can install the Sawyer Mini between a water bladder and the mouthpiece. This way, you can just fill up your water bladder and start drinking. You don’t have to take time to filter from one bag to another. In order to do this, you may need to do some DIY. Some water bladders allow you to remove the mouthpiece and stick the Sawyer filter right on the tube. If you don’t want to put dirty water in your hydration pack, you can use this Sawyer Products Fast Fill Adapter to fill your water pack without having to remove it from your pack.
- Filter water with gravity- With a large water bag, like this one gallon Sawyer Products Water Bladder, you can let gravity push water through the filter. A two-gallon version is also available. This is the best method if you need to filter a lot of water. Just set it up and let the water filter while you do other things. You can filter a gallon of water every 15-20 minutes this way. Sawyer does not advertise the Mini as a gravity filter but I have tried it and it works great.
Water Treatment Time
The Sawyer Mini filters water instantly. You can drink the water as fast as you can suck or squeeze it through the filter. When squeezing water through with a bottle or pouch, you can filter a liter in about 2 minutes.
Sawyer Mini vs LifeStraw
The LifeStraw is probably the biggest competition to the Sawyer Mini. The reasons I chose the Sawyer Mini over the life straw are:
- The Sawyer Mini filters out smaller particles than the LifeStraw- The Sawyer rated to filter particles down to 0.1 microns while the LifeStraw is rated to filter particles down to 0.2 microns.
- The Sawyer Mini can filter much more water in its lifetime- The Sawyer is rated to filter 100,000 gallons. The LifeStraw is only rated to filter 1,000 gallons in its lifetime.
- The Sawyer Mini comes with a 16 oz bag, straw, and cleaning syringe- The LifeStraw only comes with the filter and a bag to carry it in.
- The Sawyer is smaller than the LifeStraw– It measures just 1″ x 5″ where the Lifestraw measures 1″ x 9″.
The only area where the LifeStraw wins is the price. It costs a few dollars less than the Sawyer mini. Both of these filters go on sale often. If you shop around a bit, you can usually find a deal.
My Experience Using the Sawyer Mini
I initially bought the Sawyer Mini to use during my 93 mile Wonderland Trail hike around Mount Rainier. Even though the mountain streams and glacial rivers appeared to be perfectly clean, my friend and I filtered it anyway just to be safe. The filter performed perfectly.
Unexpectedly, the Sawyer Mini has become one of my favorite travel tools. I always pack it on international trips because, in many countries, tap water is not potable without treatment. This forces you to buy expensive bottled water.
Rather than paying 50 cents per liter for bottled water, I can just filter tap water with my Sawyer Mini. I can always get tap water for free in a hotel, restaurants, or even a bathroom. After filtering 40-50 liters of tap water, the Sawyer has paid for itself. I reckon I save around $30 per month while traveling.
I did this often while living in Mexico. In many parts of the country, tap water isn’t safe to drink. I have also filtered tap water while traveling in Africa, and Southeast Asia. The water doesn’t always taste the best but I have never gotten sick.
A Bit of Info About Sawyer
When making a purchase, some of us like to consider the ethics of the company that we’re purchasing from. Sawyer is an American company that does an enormous amount of of good around the world. They partner with numerous charities to help bring clean drinking water to millions of people who otherwise wouldn’t have access.
According to the World Health Organization, diarrheal disease kills over 500,000 children each year. It is the second leading cause of death in children under the age of 5. Sawyer filters have reduced diarrhea cases by 95% in Liberia by removing harmful bacteria, protozoa, and cysts from the water supply. This allows both children and adults to miss less school or work and stay healthier.
In Fiji families are saving over 12% of their income per month on water costs. Sawyer filters also save trees by eliminating the need for people to burn wood to boil water to make it safe to drink. The Sawyer filter bucket assembly that is used internationally can filter up to 2000 liters per day and lasts for 10 years.
It’s nice to know that the company you’re buying from is doing something good in the world. For more info on the charities and what they’re doing, check out Sawyer International.
Final Thoughts About The Sawyer Mini Water Filter
The Sawyer Mini is an incredibly affordable, versatile, durable, and reliable water filtration system. The compact and lightweight filter offers an excellent improvement over the bulky water filters of the past. As far as water filters go, this is one of the best values on the market. Pick one up for your next backpacking trip, bicycle tour, or international trip.
You can purchase the Sawyer Mini water filter on Amazon here:
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