Sawyer Mini vs Sawyer Squeeze: Which Filter Is Best for Thru-Hiking?
The Sawyer Squeeze has been the thru-hiker’s preferred water filter for many years. It’s lightweight, efficient, and affordable. The Sawyer Mini is an even smaller, lighter, and cheaper version of the full-size Squeeze, so it must be an even better choice for weight-conscious hikers, right? Right?
For once, the lightest, smallest option is probably not the best choice for hardcore backpackers. The full-size Sawyer Squeeze is a better choice for thru-hiking than the Sawyer Mini even though it’s an ounce heavier because it’s a more reliable product. Let’s compare the two filters in more detail to determine why.
- MSRP: $41
- Weight: 3 oz
- Output: 1.7 L/min
Widely available: Most outfitters carry the Sawyer Squeeze—heck, you can even find them at Walmart in the camping department. That means a replacement is almost always easy to find. It’s worth noting that the Squeeze is sometimes marked up above MSRP in small towns, so don’t be surprised if you end up spending a little more on a replacement than you expected.
Reliable flow rate: Though not the fastest filter on the market (more on that below), the Squeeze can fill a one-liter Smartwater bottle in well under a minute. The flow rate will decrease with time, but I’ve found that backflushing the filter every week keeps it flowing strong.
Easy to backflush: Speaking of which, backflushing the filter is easy to do. Many people ditch the cleaning syringe provided by Sawyer and instead use a Smartwater bottle with a sports cap to backflush in the field. The key is to do it regularly and get plenty of water pressure when you do it. This becomes even easier if you use Sawyer’s cleaning coupling.
Can be converted to a hands-free gravity filtration system: Sawyer’s cleaning coupling allows you to screw a water container to both ends of the filter, which means you can hang the whole setup from a tree and let gravity do the hard work of filtering your water while you devote your attention to other tasks. I recommend Cnoc Vecto collection bags for this purpose: they’re strong, the wide opening makes it easy to scoop water, and you can easily attach some cord to the plastic slider to make it hangable.
Filter can be damaged by freezing temperatures: If your filter freezes, it may no longer work properly. There’s no definitive way to tell if this damage has occurred. Water will flow through the filter as usual but may not get filtered properly. When hiking in the shoulder season, bringing your Sawyer into your sleeping bag at night is essential to ensure it doesn’t freeze. Likewise, keep it in a next-to-skin pocket during the day when temperatures are low.
Not the fastest flow rate: 1.7 liters per minute is very respectable. But if speed is your top priority, the Katadyn BeFree and Platypus QuickDraw are speedier options.
Sold with many extra accessories that may not be useful: Most thru-hikers don’t use the inline hydration adapter kit, mesh storage sack, or flimsy collection bags that come with the filter. These things end up in hiker boxes or the landfill. It would be nice if you could buy just the filter without all the accessories.
Gasket can come off or leak: The gasket on the inflow side of the filter is not the most reliable. You can purchase replacement gaskets from Sawyer, and standard hose gaskets sold in most hardware stores also do the job.
- MSRP: $25
- Weight: 2 oz
- Output: not reported
Even cheaper than Sawyer Squeeze: At $25, the Mini is a steal compared to the $40 full-size Sawyer.
One ounce lighter: This is why people pick the Mini over the full Squeeze. Ounces add up quickly, and backpackers get excited whenever they can shave even one.
Not as many accessories: The Mini still comes with a net bag, syringe, and one collection bag, but it doesn’t have nearly as many accessories as its full-size counterpart. This helps keep the price down and means less stuff cluttering your gear closet or heading to the landfill.
Slow and clogs easily: Sawyer ominously doesn’t report the flow rate of the Mini. Even out of the box, the Mini is noticeably slower than the big Squeeze, and the flow rate seems to deteriorate more quickly with use. Backflushing helps, but Minis are more prone to outright clogging than full-size Sawyers.
Not as widely available: More stores sell the full-size Squeeze than the Mini. The Mini isn’t hard to find, per se. But you’re less likely to walk into a random trail town and be able to buy one off the shelf.
Dual threads not widely available: Sawyer recently introduced a dual-threaded version of the Mini. However, most stores still stock the traditional Mini that only has threads on the input end. That means handy accessories like the Sawyer cleaning coupling and different types of caps won’t work. There are no threads on the outflow end to screw them onto. We hope the dual-thread Mini will become more widely available in the coming months, but the standard Mini without the outflow threads has less function and versatility than the full Squeeze.
Why The Sawyer Squeeze Is a Better Choice for Thru-Hiking
The Sawyer Mini is aptly named. It’s just a smaller version of the Sawyer Squeeze, differing only in size and the outflow design. It uses the same hollow fiber filter technology and is as effective at filtering bacteria and protozoa.
Although it’s $15 cheaper and an ounce lighter, the Mini is less suitable for thru-hiking for several reasons.
First, the Mini is slow. Whereas a vigorous weekly backflush of the full Sawyer Squeeze should keep it flowing fast throughout your trek, Mini users often report reduced flow within a week or two of heavy use. Eventually, the filter can clog and stop working.
The full Squeeze doesn’t generally have this problem.
Also, the Mini isn’t as widely available as the Squeeze. Most outfitters, and even Walmarts, carry the Sawyer Squeeze. If your filter jams up or you need replacement parts, you can find one in many trail towns. You might be able to find a replacement Mini, but it’s less of a sure thing.
Is there any place for the Sawyer Mini in my gear closet?
Of course! It’s excellent as a backup for safety-conscious hikers or a primary filter for occasional backpackers who won’t put many miles on a filter. It’s also a reasonable addition to your supply of loaner gear for friends and family.
And it’s worth noting that this is very much a “your mileage may vary” situation. Some people have great experiences with the Mini. Trek blogger Richard did a detailed analysis of Sawyer Squeeze vs. Mini flow rate with different methods of backflushing. He found that the flow rate of his full Squeeze and Mini ended up about the same after extensive use. Most people find the Sawyer Squeeze faster and more reliable than the Mini. Do with that information what you will.
What about the Sawyer Micro?
Sawyer also came out with another ultralight filter option a few years ago called the Sawyer Micro. The Micro has the same diameter as the Squeeze but is much shorter and squatter. Many hikers hoped this would be the filter of their dreams—one with the reliable flow rate of the full Squeeze but half an ounce lighter.
Unfortunately, the Micro seems to have the same problems as the Mini. It’s prone to clogging, and you’re less likely to find it in a small outfitter than the full Squeeze or the Mini.
Backflushing the Sawyer
Whichever type of Sawyer you choose, it’s important to backflush it regularly. Sawyer provides a 50mL cleaning syringe for this purpose with every filter it sells, but many backpackers ditch the syringe in favor of an ultralight Smartwater sports cap. I prefer to use Sawyer’s cleaning coupling for a leak-free backflush.
Whatever method you use, make sure to run at least a liter through the filter at high pressure. Tapping the filter on a rock, a log, or the edge of the sink can help to dislodge stubborn particles for a more effective cleansing, though Sawyer warns against knocking the filter too hard and damaging the delicate filter membrane.
If you’re looking for a deeper clean, soaking a clogged filter in hot water or vinegar before backflushing can help get things flowing again. I sometimes find that my filters lock up after being in storage for an extended time. When this happens, I soak the filter in a warm water and vinegar solution, then attach it to a bag of clean water and hang it for a few hours. It’s a slow process, but the filter will usually loosen up and start working again after a while.
Is the Sawyer Squeeze the Best Thru-Hiking Water Filter Overall?
I like the Sawyer Squeeze because it’s straightforward and reliable. Why reinvent the wheel? But other options might be worth considering depending on your needs and priorities.
READ NEXT – Platypus QuickDraw vs. Katadyn BeFree vs. Sawyer Squeeze
Katadyn BeFree: Many hikers love the BeFree because of its flow rate. It filters at an advertised two liters per minute, 18 percent faster than the Squeeze’s 1.7 liters per minute. The difference may sound trivial, but collecting water is tedious and time-consuming, especially if you’re filtering many liters or the water is cold. Anything to speed this process up is a win. The downside with the BeFree is that the replaceable filter cartridges clog easily and must be swapped frequently.
Platypus Quickdraw: The QuickDraw is similar to the Squeeze but weighs less and allegedly filters faster. The QuickDraw is a relatively new product and may still be working out quality control issues. Users report a lot of variability in flow rate, with many reporting that the claimed three-liter-per-minute flow is inaccurate.
Steripen: The Steripen uses UV light to purify your drinking water. The water purification process is more involved than with a squeeze filter, and it requires batteries, which have to be monitored and changed occasionally.
However, the Steripen is not vulnerable to freezing temperatures. In contrast, hollow fiber filters can be permanently damaged by freezing, and chemical systems work slowly in cold water. UV also eliminates more creepy crawlies than many other purification/filtration technologies, targeting viruses in addition to bacteria and protozoa.
The Steripen only purifies your water; it doesn’t filter out sediment or goo. You may want to get the FitsAll sediment prefilter to go with it.
AquaMira: AquaMira is a two-part chemical purification system that works on bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. It weighs very little and doesn’t leave funny tastes in your purified water. However, you must carefully follow the (somewhat involved) instructions for the reaction to work. And it doesn’t physically filter the water, only purifies it, so any sediment floating in the water source will still be present when you drink it.
Iodine: Iodine tablets are lighter than AquaMira and easier to use. Unfortunately, iodine tastes horrendous and stains your water (and water containers) an upsetting reddish brown. It’s OK as a backup, but we don’t recommend it for everyday use when more pleasant options are available.
If you use iodine, you’ll hate your life less if you have a powdered drink mix to mask the taste. For a little more weight and struggle, Potable Aqua sells “taste-neutralizer” tablets to make the iodine experience more palatable.
Bleach: The dirtbag method of chemical purification is an eye drop bottle full of bleach. Two drops of bleach in a liter of water and 30 minutes to let it work its magic should do the trick.
What about pump filters?
Pump filters used to be the backpacker’s standard. But these days, they’re overly heavy and clunky compared to more streamlined modern systems. Pump filters are still handy for getting water out of low, slow sources where dipping a collection bottle is impractical. For instance, pumps are great for snowy winter hikes because you can drop the filter hose down a steep snow bank or into a small hole cut in the icy surface of a lake and pump the water into your bottles, which is much easier than dipping the bottles directly.
Still, pump filters weigh a lot and have more breakable parts than most options above. Most thru-hikers rarely, if ever, need a pump, even on relatively water-scarce trails. Unless you anticipate difficult-to-access water sources, you’ll probably be OK with a lighter (and more affordable) filtration system.
What have we learned?
If you’re trying to choose between the Sawyer Squeeze, Mini, and Micro, go with the Sawyer Squeeze. Find someplace else in your pack to shave an ounce if that’s important to you. The full Squeeze is a more reliable and functional option across the board.
It performs well when compared to other filtration/purification systems. However, depending on your needs and priorities, you may want to consider options like the Katadyn BeFree, Platypus Quickdraw, Steripen, or AquaMira drops.
The main thing is that you filter all your water in the backcountry. None of these options is so heavy or expensive that you should feel the need to forgo them and risk giardia and other waterborne illnesses. Many backcountry water sources are as pristine as they look. Some aren’t. Filtering can feel like a pain, but it only takes a few minutes. It will quickly become a backcountry ritual as natural as breathing.
Featured image: Photo and graphic design by Zack Goldmann.
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