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.


  1. Iv'e been thinking about getting a Sawyer filter myself, but haven't pulled the trigger yet. From what I hear the filter is great but the bags suck. Attaching it to the bladder seems really efficient. You can just scoop the water straight from the source into the bladder, and filter as you drink. Not very practical if you prefer to drink from bottles though, but at least that way you avoid a potential bag failure... I guess I'm just thinking out loud, but hey, nice blog.

    1. Well, the bag is supposedly tougher than in the past. Replacing it with an Evernew bag seems like the hot ticket, and MLD sells those too. I don't use a bladder because of the weight compared to that of a couple of gatorade bottles. If I decide not to carry the Sawyer on the trail this season, I'll go back to Aquamira.

  2. We had a discussion about this product at the Women's Summit. Several were concerned as was I about the cross contamination...if any and the difficulty of squeezng. What do you think, Bob, about these issues. I've never had my hands on this so no opinion. Of course, I am still "playing" with water issues. :) I'll link it to mine on blogspot. Really nice btw.

    1. Thanks for your q Vera. A gentle squeeze is all that's needed. If it gets hard to squeeze, it's an indication that a backflush is in order. As to cross-contamination, the output side has a screw top with a push valve which should all but eliminate that issue. (I'll post a pic of it soon) I can imagine that when one disconnects the dirty water bag from the filter that some might drip on the output side. I'd think assuring that valve is shut, holding the filter output side up when disconnecting the dirty water bag, allowing the filter to drain, stowing it in the pack input side up, and wiping off the valve with clean water before filling a water bottle would be good procedure. Backflushing only with clean water, and occasionally with bleach water would be a good idea, tho I don't know what Sawyer would say about the latter ...

  3. I used a sawyer squeeze all last year - AZ Trail and Superior Hiking Trail treks. I use a filter instead of chemicals because I like my water to look clean, as well as be safe. One of my dirty water bags got a hole after a few weeks of bouncing against cactus, sand, and rocks but a spot of glue and tape fixed it. Another burst where it is sealed to the opening - bad manufacturing on that one. I leave the monstrous syringe at home and backflush by holding the output to a faucet whenever I pass through civilization - works great. As you mentioned, the threads are not identical to other bottles and I sure hope sawyer updates that soon. Also, if you dip your dirty water bag into standing water, it doesn't fill. I dip a zip-loc and pour that into the dirty water bag. One thing I like is that I can fill the dirty water bag and take that in my pack with no filtering effort until I need it - if I find better water later, I can just dump it and get fresh. This was nice in the unknown water source areas of Arizona.

    1. Your idea of using the dirty water bag to carry dirty water is a great one. It means I can leave one of my Platys at home, and reduces the total extra weight the Sawyer adds to my water system compared to using Aquamira.

      I tended to carry untreated water with my platys when I needed more than the 1200ml my gatorade bottles held. And I also would dump out less than ideal water when I found a cleaner source.

      Pretty sure the problem with threads is not that Sawyer threads are different than other bottles, but rather that that Platys are not the same as other bottles or the Sawyer filter. Evernews are, but as of this writing, they're difficult to find in stock at any of their vendors.

      Thanks for your comments Dude!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.