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Beta Editors’ Choice: Sawyer Mini Water Filter

Water, water, everywhere, so let's all have a drink

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Not all riders are lucky enough to have trails near natural bodies of water. And those who do may only see that water during a short (and probably shrinking) time of year. That’s why it always surprises me when I’m the only person on a ride who carries a water filter. Most of the deepest valleys that cleave my local mountains are traced with year-round flowing creeks that make it possible to do all-day rides with just two water bottles. This is a relatively new thing. Emerging from efforts to eliminate water-borne diseases and parasites in developing countries, the compact water filter isn’t much more than 20 years old. Maybe that’s why we’re so slow on the uptake. It goes against our modern instincts to drink from anywhere but a faucet or a bottle. I remember feeling like I was doing something wrong when I first used one. Like the first time I had an indoor conversation with someone while not wearing a face mask. Both took a bit of a leap, but both are so refreshing that you’ll wonder how you went without for so long.

There are plenty of compact filters out there, and they take several forms. Some are designed to be sucked straight from the source like the Lifestraw, some are self-contained pumps like the MSR Trailshot, and there are in-line filters like the Rapidpure Scout. That last one is my go-to when I’m filtering water straight from my hydration bladder. But I just mentioned something about two-bottle rides, which is when I reach for my Sawyer Mini.

This type relies primarily on a collapsible pouch that pushes unfiltered water through a filter threaded onto its top. The process, I’ll admit, is a little clumsy. If the water you’re harvesting is shallow, you need to get creative to get it into the pouch. That’s the benefit of pumps like the MSR. Barely anything needs to be submerged. But with pumps, you need to stay crouched next to the water the entire time you’re filling up your bottle. With the Sawyer, I just inflate it by gently breathing into it, hold it underwater while burping out the bubbles, and sit back somewhere comfortable while I squeeze it into my bottle. 

I did make one aftermarket upgrade. The mini comes with a 16-ounce pouch, which is frustratingly small. That’s why I bought a 32-ounce pouch. Or rather, I bought three. That’s how they come. The bigger pouch takes up a little more space, but almost always the way to go. Even fully submerged, it’s hard to really get all 32 ounces filled up to the corners. The more you can get in there, the fewer trips to the waterside crouch down and fill it up. The other option is the Sawyer Micro Squeeze, which comes with the 32-ounce pouch, but it lacks the in-line capability of the Sawyer Mini.

I don’t use it like this very often. Again, I like my Rapidpure, which has a faster rate of flow. But for those who don’t see a need to own a suite of water filters, it’s a nice feature to have when you want to spin out a ride really quick without stopping to squeeze. Or, if you happen to be on a bike without a bottle cage. Squeezing with one hand while holding a hydration bladder in the other is another one of those clumsy elements to the Sawyer. It can be quicker to go straight from the source, though it takes more effort to pull the water through.

But probably my favorite feature on the Sawyer Mini is that you can buy ‘em cheap, and you can buy ‘em anywhere. I was in an unfamiliar part of the San Gabriel foothills when I suddenly had the opportunity to make a three hour ride into a nine hour ride if I only had a water filter. I found a Big 5 sporting goods, handed over $24.09 and went on my merry hydrated way.

Photos: Anthony Smith