Platypus QuickDraw vs Katadyn BeFree vs Sawyer Squeeze: Which Water Filter Should You Carry For Your Next Thru-Hike?

The perfect water filter doesn’t exist.

That’s not a meme, it’s just how I feel. And to be fair, a lot of the time I can’t tell if my feelings are feelings or memes. Regardless, after blasting through about four O-rings and two Sawyers on the Arizona Trail and the PCT this year, I found myself seeking some water filter alternatives. Ours was a relationship fraught with plenty of good times and lots of ups and downs, but after too many un-backflush-able, drippy, leaky faucet flows, it was time for something different & exciting. And thus, here we are.

In this article, I’ll compare two ultralight backpacking water filters—the Katadyn BeFree and the relatively new Platypus Quickdraw—to the ultra-popular Sawyer Squeeze. Each system has its pros and cons, but which one is the best water filter for thru-hiking?

Platypus QuickDraw vs Katadyn BeFree vs Sawyer Squeeze

Platypus QuickDraw vs Katadyn BeFree vs Sawyer Squeeze: how do they compare, and which filter is best for thru-hiking?

Why These Two? What’s Wrong With the Sawyer?

For starters, I definitely agree with Katie’s article about what to look for in a filter: “weight, ease of use, packability, and price” are all important factors, but I would also add that I think longevity is super important too. Especially when you’re planning a thru-hike.

Both the Katadyn BeFree and the Platypus QuickDraw offer appealing alternatives to the consensus that has been built around the Sawyer Squeeze in the thru-hiking community. And in terms of longevity, I would say that both of them appear to outdo it.

In fact, they probably cozy up about as close as we, as a species, have come to perfecting the backcountry water filter. I don’t know. I’m having trouble envisioning where we go from here. At any rate, in terms of performance, I would say that one of these three filters certainly seems to edge out the others.

Circumstances of Review

This year, I used a Sawyer Squeeze for all of the Ouachita Trail, Arizona Trail, and most of the PCT. I carried the Katadyn BeFree filter through some of Northern California, and most of the Oregon section on the PCT. On the other hand, I used the Platypus QuickDraw for a few different multi-day trips through a bunch of different types of desert.

Then, for continuity’s sake, the BeFree and the QuickDraw were tested side-by-side on trips where water was drawn from THREE different Texas rivers (Brazos, Trinity, and San Gabriel) so you know they’ve all been put through the ringer.

That duck knew exactly what he was doing to the filter.

The Platypus QuickDraw

A “Quick” Rundown

  • $29.95 MSRP
  • 2.2 ounces (without either of the caps or the included bladder, 3.8 with)
  • 2.4 x 6 x 6 inches
  • 3 liter/minute flow (this is a lie)
  • Field cleanable, easy effective backflush
Platypus QuickDraw vs Katadyn BeFree vs Sawyer Squeeze

Actually pretty clear for the Trinity.

Initial and Existential Impressions

I wanted to love this filter, I really did. I thought that it solved all the problems of the Sawyer Squeeze by

  1. Having the O-ring built into the screw cap instead of having it be removable.
  2. The sports cap is way more heavy-duty than the Katadyn or Sawyer, and so it probably won’t break off after three open- and-closes like the others.

Beyond that, I saw some other QuickDraws on the trail this year that were absolutely GUSHING, even months into the hike. Sounds pretty sweet, right? For some reason, though, mine never got to that point.

At its maximum, this filter was going about one liter per minute with serious squeezing. I almost felt like I was getting reps in at the gym. And I know I’m not the only one. I’d say about half of the people I’ve talked to who tried the QuickDraw seem to have shared this experience of never achieving a very quick or even flow.

Still, even if you are one of the chosen ones, I don’t think that three liters per minute is ever going to be an achievable flow for this filter. So I don’t appreciate that number fudging. The advertised weight is also low if you are going to use any of the other pieces that this filter comes with. Although, to be fair, I didn’t use any of them.

READ NEXT – Platypus QuickDraw Water Filter Review

QuickDraw Pros and Cons

Pros 

  •  Probably the most durable filter on the market
  • Versatility: fits on a Platypus bladder or a Smartwater/Essentia bottle
  • Simple backflush

Cons

  • Extremely variable flow rate, regardless of how gamey the source is
  • Lots of extra pieces that you don’t necessarily need

Shop the Platypus QuickDraw

That is not a 3LPM flow, my friends.

The Katadyn BeFree

A Quick Rundown

  • $44.95 MSRP
  • 2.3 ounces (this is true)
  • 11.3 x 3.5 x 2.8 inches
  • 2 liter/minute flow (closer to the truth)
  • Field cleanable, easy effective backflush

The bladder comes in handy when scooping from shallow pools.

Initial and Existential Impressions

I didn’t want to love this filter. I really didn’t. It’s more expensive, and I generally don’t see the point of hiking with a bladder unless you know you’re going to have some big water carries. And the fact that the BeFree filter only fits onto their particular bladder almost just seems sadistic. What are they going to come out with next, iPhone chargers?!

But I think that, ultimately, I ended up preferring this one over any of the others. Why? It’s lightweight, even with the bladder. It maintains a strong flow for longer than the Squeeze or the QuickDraw. And it’s good for scooping from shallower pools. And if you’ve made it this far in the article, I think it’s important to mention that this is ultimately what should drive your decision when picking between these filters: where most of your sources are going to be.

I really wish I’d had the BeFree on the AZT this year since so many of the sources were shallow cattle tanks or else just evaporating potholes in rocks. The scoop would have allowed me to draw a lot more, and it wouldn’t have clogged nearly as fast as my Sawyer did. It would’ve also come in handy on the desert section of the PCT, or the New Mexico section of the CDT (I’m assuming). On the other hand, I was sort of mad that I was carrying this filter in parts of Oregon and Washington because the bladder just felt like dead weight when most of the sources were strongly flowing and deep.

Platypus QuickDraw vs Katadyn BeFree vs Sawyer Squeeze

It’s like I’m drinking from a FIRE HOSE.

BeFree Pros and Cons

Pros 

  •  Undeniable longevity, except for the cheap sports cap
  • A very true 2 liter/minute flow, the strongest of any filter I’ve used
  • Simple backflush

Cons

  • Doesn’t fit on water bottles, so you always have to filter at the source, instead of just filling up and going
  • On a long enough hike, the bladder will eventually puncture. It might take 1,000 miles, but I don’t think I know anyone who did a whole thru-hike with the same bag the whole way. Prove me wrong in the comments though
  • More expensive, and replacements seemed harder to find in towns

Shop the Katadyn BeFree

Sawyer Squeeze

A Quick Rundown

  • $36.95 MSRP (why)
  • 3 ounces
  • Filter: 5 x 2; squeeze pouch: 11 x 6 inches
  • 1.7 liter/minute flow (closer to the truth)
  • Field cleanable, easy, somewhat effective backflush

Nice that these filters screw onto water bottles. But if you zoom in you will notice a curious absence of the sports cap, replaced with a piece of tape, because the howling winds of that haboob on the horizon turned this filter into a referee’s whistle.

Initial and Existential Impressions

As of writing this, the Sawyer Squeeze seems to be the go-to water filter for long-distance backpacking. I think that it definitely has a lot of upsides, but I wouldn’t have written this article if there weren’t things I thought could be done better, and which are probably being done better by other companies.

For one, I couldn’t get an O-ring to last for more than a month or two for either of the Sawyers I used this year. They get worn down pretty quick and it’s not always easy to get a replacement when you’re on trail. And while we’re on the subject of longevity, I should also mention that I simply stopped carrying the bags that these filters come with because they are rendered pretty worthless as soon as the flow begins to slow. Once you start having to apply real pressure to the bags to get a decent flow, they will almost certainly puncture and rip. This isn’t just the voice of experience, it’s the voices of experiences.

All that being said, I think the 1.7 liters/minute flow is probably true for the filter out of the box, which I suppose isn’t necessarily false advertising. But as soon as you hit one gamey source you’re never going to have that flow rate back. Plus, the plunger that’s included for backflushing the Sawyer is a lot of extra weight and space and doesn’t seem to really do much more than the tried and true hiker trash method (unscrew the filter’s cap, put that cap on your Smartwater bottle, and VIGOROUSLY squeeze filtered water back into the filter).

I would also like to mention that Sawyer advertises the lifespan of this filter as being 378,541 liters/100,000 gallons, and I find that number to be almost laughable. I guess that number might be true if you’re only filtering tap water. But why are you filtering tap water though? Is everything okay? (Worth noting that the other major use case for the Sawyer is in areas of the world that lack reliable access to safe drinking water, in which case you might actually just be filtering tap water. Regardless, backpackers filtering out of silty streams and lakes are likely to burn through a Sawyer after much less than 378k liters).

Sawyer Squeeze Pros and Cons

Pros 

  •  Easy to drink on the go
  • Good flow for a decent time
  • Simple backflush even in the backcountry

Cons

  • Delicate O-rings
  • Delicate filter bags
  • Once the mineral buildup starts in the Sawyer, it’s basically impossible to remove, no matter how vigorously you backflush. I tried vinegar water and even the bleach method once. Didn’t really make a difference. The hard truth is that both the BeFree and the QuickDraw have better backflush methods

Shop the Sawyer Squeeze

Platypus quickdraw vs katadyn befree vs sawyer squeeze

My best attempt to glorify Arizona cattle tank water. You can still see how green it was.

Platypus QuickDraw vs Katadyn BeFree vs Sawyer Squeeze: Which One Should I Choose and When?

Even though it’s not perfect, the simple answer is that the BeFree is probably the best, most reliable filter on the market right now. It offers the most versatility. And even though it doesn’t fit onto a water bottle, it could probably be argued that the time you spend filtering at the source gets canceled out by how much faster the flow is. That’s time you don’t have to waste in camp or on your lunch break. If you are going to be hiking in the desert, or on any trail with long water carries and seasonal, unreliable water sources, the Katadyn BeFree is the filter for you. I think it’s probably the one for the CDT and AZT especially. And would’ve definitely come in handy on the California section of the PCT.

If, instead, your priority is a filter that you almost never have to backflush, and that you can rely on to last you for an entire thru-hike? I think the QuickDraw could potentially still be a better option than the Sawyer Squeeze. The only caveat is, of course, the flow rate. It’s such a dice roll, and I really really wish it wasn’t. If you are going to go this route, at least make sure to do two things first: Follow the pre-use instructions of running a liter through it before taking it on a hike. And then take it on a shakedown hike to make sure it’s flowing properly. In theory, this would be the best filter for the AT, CT, and most of the PCT. Otherwise, if all else fails, I think I’ve still got some Aquamira from 2014 sitting around somewhere.

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Comments 7

  • Cliff Ward : Dec 23rd

    I was happy to read the review, even though I had already purchased the Sawyer.
    Thanks for your time and efforts.

    Reply
  • Joal and Jenny : Dec 24th

    Great write up! Entertaining and educational.

    Reply
  • James M : Dec 24th

    Platypus recalled a run of QuickDraws a month or two ago that had an issue with low flow rate; they’ll send you a replacement. Obviously it’s not great that they shipped some flawed products, but sounds like the particular filter you got is not representative of the product line as a whole. I would be interested in seeing this article updated when you can compare to a properly functioning QuickDraw.

    Reply
  • Chris : Dec 24th

    I never had an issue with the Sawyer Squeeze, even after more than 1500 miles. I have never replaced an o-ring and the flow rate remains very good. That said, I am always willing to give another product a fair chance. Thanks for the review.

    Reply
  • Asher : Dec 26th

    The BeFree has been my favorite for a few years now. It actually fits on most of HydraPak soft bottles/reservoirs. Since I had already switched to the Flux soft bottles*, I just replace one of the sports caps with a BeFree replacement filter ($24.95)

    *instead of smart water bottles – for sustainability reasons

    Reply
  • Turtle Man : Dec 31st

    Nice to see such a thorough review based on a significant amount of actual experience. I’d be curious to see how the HydroBlu Versa Flow compares to these. I recently purchase one, but haven’t had a chance to use it yet.

    Reply
  • SGT Sparty : Jan 11th

    I’ve used both the BeFree and the Squeeze and I think the BeFree is the best of the bunch when its at its best. Out of the box this thing is like a fire hose, while the proprietary threads are annoying the larger opening is great for scooping as the article states. However, I used it for a short year (like maybe 12 nights of hiking) in Northern Michigan and I don’t know if it was the iron content, the silt or what but it plugged and ‘reps at the gym’ is exactly what it felt like to get any flow. It was flowing slower than my friends Sawyer Micro. When I couldn’t take it any more I decided to try the Squeeze. I’ve had it longer and the flow is significantly more consistent. Its not as fast as the BeFree at its peak but it maintained a better flow longer. The o-rings can be annoying but the ability to pop on to a water bottle, and the fact that the filter doesn’t stick back up into the catch bag make filtering much easier in my opinion. Also the wide mouth of the BeFree is pretty easily mitigated when you can get a CNOC Vecto catch bag for either type.

    Reply

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