Friday, January 18, 2013

Rethinking My Pack - Sawyer Squeeze v Aquamira

I hiked 644 miles last year. I left my old, heavy MSR filter at home and used Aquamira to treat water. It weighed a lot less than my filter, and had no moving parts to fail. It adds a slight flavor to the water which I did not find disagreeable. A few times I was running low, and had a hard time finding it in town, but I never ran out and it never failed me. - On the other hand, it seemed a shame to bespoil pure mountain spring water with it, and treating nasty tasting, tannin-stained water out of slow-moving streams made me pine for a filter.

Later in the season, I started seeing these Sawyer Squeeze filters. Folks used different bags and bottles to feed them. They squeezed into water bottles, they placed them in-line with their pack's bladder system, and they set up gravity systems to work while they ate. With an advertised 3 oz field weight, I was pretty excited about them, and I vowed to look into them when I got home.

Sawyer Squeeze vs Aquamira after the break ...

I had concerns. The supplied squeeze bag had a reputation for bursting, forcing hikers to improvise on the trail. I saw a lot of rigs requiring judicial uses of duct tape ... Fortunately, the threads are pretty standard, and I saw other bladders and even a big Mountain Dew bottle employed as a squeezable source.

I had also read that Platypus Bottle threads didn't fit into the input side - leaving out my current inventory as possible backups to a failed squeeze bag.

Ron at Mountain Laurel Designs recently posted that the 2013 version includes a new, improved, "super tough" 1L water bladder. That addressed my biggest concern, and pushed the button.

In the box is the filter, a 1L squeeze bag and a 60CC syringe to backflush the filter. The box says "total field weight" is 3 ozs. I'm not sure how Sawyer defines that, but the filter and bag seems minimum, and the instructions admonish the owner to pack the syringe to avoid problems.

I weighed the system on my scale and found it to be 4.75 ozs dry. But dry is not the norm when hiking. After backflushing the filter and letting it drain, the filter weighed 3.63 ozs alone, and the entire system weighed 5.75.

Ron at MLD told me "The filter dry by itself is 2.5 oz, that's the field weight. Short trips do not need the syringe. For any system, drops or tablets included, you need some type of water bottle, so that is not part of the filter's field weight." He may be suggesting that you can attach a bottle to the input side, and drink directly from the filter - A valid and lightweight configuration. However, except on the first day of a hike, no one is going to put this filter in their pack dry, and I'm planning a longer hike in which I need to provide for effective back flush.

(Update) In discussions here (thanks Hiking Dude), and on WhiteBlaze forums, it was noted that the Squeeze bag is significantly lighter than my Platys, and can certainly replace one when greater water hauling capacity is needed.

So I took a look at my total water purification system's field weight. After filtering, when I shake excess water out of the filter, it weighs 95g/3.35 ozs. The Sawyer Squeeze bag weighs 27g vs 35g for my platy, and I can leave one platy behind for an 8g saving. My whole Sawyer-based water filtration system (filter, squeeze bag, Platy & syringe) now weighs 190g/6.70oz.

My Aquamira water purification system includes the two bottles at 84g (full, w/o mixing cap), my premix bottle at 7g, and two platys at 35g ea, for 161g/5.68oz. Only 1.02 ounces less ...

If I put the 33g/1.16oz syringe in a bounce box, the total Sawyer system is cut down to 157g/5.54oz. for the win. I'm unlikely to hike 5-6 days without the ability to effectively back flush. Someone suggested creating an adapter to allow use of the squeeze bag for back-flushing. This might be worth looking into. (End update)

Next I tested the compatibility of my 1L Platypus "Bottles." They seemed to screw in fine, but on closer inspection, the threads don't match. In the photo at left, the blue bag is the Sawyer, and the white one is a Platy. Screwing a Platy into the filter could be bad for long term life of filter's threads. To provide for additional carrying capacity, and for the option of using one as a squeeze bag in the event of a failure of the original, I'll get a 900ml Evernew Water Carry bag. MLD carries them as of this writing, and offers them as an optional purchase when buying the filter.

Despite my issue with the manufacturer's claim for field weight, when I look at my total water purification system field weight, it does seem to be nearly comparable to my total Aquamira system, and is likely to result in significant improvements in water quality. I added a 7g Sea to Summit Ultra-Mesh Stuff Sack to keep it packed together while allowing it to drain.

It seems every time I buy something, the weight indicated on my scale is higher than manufacturer's advertised weights. In writing this review, I was so overwhelmed by the consistency of this phenomenon, that I ordered a set of calibration weights to check the accuracy of my scale, and posted the results. (Spoiler alert, it's accurate.)

What do you think? Do unrealistic manufacturer's claims piss you off? Do you consider yourself a light or ultralight backpacker? What do you carry for water treatment and why? Upon further review, this upgrade looks worthwhile.