When I started searching for a water treatment system for backpacking my initial choices came down to two specific products: the Steripen Adventurer Opti and the Sawyer Squeeze. Both products had been awarded the Editor’s Choice Award from Backpacker Magazine and I figured I couldn’t go wrong with either. In the end cost, and to a greater extent reliability, played roles and I ended up purchasing the Sawyer Squeeze. After several months of using it I’ve come to the realization that it was a great choice for several reasons that I’ll detail below.
The Sawyer Squeeze is a water filter system that incorporates a set of water bags which you fill and then squeeze to produce clean, filtered water. To use the Squeeze you simply choose one of three bags (0.5L, 1L, and 2L) provided with the system, fill it with dirty water from any stream, spring, etc., and then squeeze the bag which expels the dirty water through the filter and produces clean water. The filter comes with a drinking spout/push cap on the output end which you can drink directly from or use to direct your flow of clean water into a waiting cup or bottle, but as I’ll address later there are alternative methods that you can use to collect your freshly filtered water. It’s a well-designed system that provides a thorough filtering of water from nearly any source. Furthermore, for all those gram counters out there it is remarkably light at weight of about 3 ounces, much lighter than other widely-used pump filters. Here are the specs on the Squeeze from Sawyer’s website:
- All Sawyer filters deliver 0.1 absolute micron biological filtration, removing 7 log (99.99999%) of all bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, Vibrio cholerae and Salmonella typhi (which cause Cholera and Typhoid); and 6 log (99.9999%) of all protozoa such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium.
- Kit Includes:
3 – Lightweight Durable Collapsible Pouches (0.5 L , 1 L, and 2 L pouch)
1 – Replaceable Pop Up Drinking Spout
1 – Sawyer 0.1 Absolute Micron Hollow Fiber Membrane Screw On/Off Water Filter
1 – Cleaning Syringe
Cleaning and Maintenance Instructions
Usage and Modifications –
Since buying the Squeeze I’ve used it for filtering water on several trips that have totaled about a week together. I’d estimate that I’ve filtered about 30 liters through it, well short of the filter’s million gallon guarantee. Typically I gathered water from either springs or rapidly flowing streams like the one pictured above. However, before using the system I should qualify that I made several modifications to the system. After reading a good deal of reviews on the Squeeze I decided that I didn’t want to rely on the bags included in the system as they have a reputation of failing, something that you don’t want to have happen if you have several days left on the trail. With this in mind I bought two Evernew 1.5L bottles to serve as a dirty and clean bladder. Evernew bottles tend to work better with the Squeeze as they mate to the filter more securely than Platypus bottles, which tend to thread unevenly and thus leading to leaks. By replacing the supplied bags with more durable Evernews I’ve alleviated any trepidation over whether or not my system will fail mid-trip.
By replacing the supplied bags it was necessary to make several more modifications to the system. While the Squeeze is designed to be used with the push cap on the output end, with some simply ingenuity a better system can be created. I removed the push cap and purchased a Tornado Tube that I used to mate the male thread of the filter to the male thread of the second Evernew bag I purchased. The tornado tube is the same scientific school supply that most of you have seen used to mate two 2-liter bottles to create a faux cyclone as a teaching tool. They’re readily available all over the net and I got mine from Amazon (link included below). I should clarify that for the bags and filter to mate tightly to the Tornado Tube the tube needs to be shortened be about a quarter inch on each end, a task easily done with a handheld or hack saw. I also modified the “dirty bag” of the system by adding a loop of shock cord from Zpacks which allows the bags and filter to be hung and used as a gravity-feed system.
By making all of these changes I’ve created a multifaceted water filtering system that has perfectly handled any challenge I’ve thrown at it. I’ve filtered several liters of water through it quickly, hung it from a tree or shelter hook in a sit-it-and-forget-it manner, and even drank from it directly. It’s never faltered or even exhibited the slightest issue. Here’s a picture of every change I’ve made to the Squeeze:
While I have loved the Squeeze to this point I do have several recommendations on improving the functionality of the system. Obviously several of those are addressed by the modifications I mentioned above. However, there are two others I would like to add. One of these is to carry along a pre-filter of some sort that will remove any particulates from the water you are gathering in your dirty bag. While this isn’t necessarily a worry when gathering water from a quickly moving stream it can become an issue when using a spring as a water source. I’m not sure how the filter handles particulates or whether they clog it but it’s simply better to alleviate the problem instead of leaving it as a possibility for failure in the future. Another recommendation I’d give is to always carry along some sort of scoop to pour water into your dirty bag when your gathering water from a shallow source. The included and/or Evernew bags don’t do a very good job of gathering water from shallow streams and a scoop helps in this process greatly. I solved this problem by simply cutting the smallest Sawyer bag included in the system in half since I wasn’t going to use it anyways and this worked perfectly on my last trip and shortened the time taken to gather water by nearly half of what it had taken me previously. These two changes will improve the system and hopefully alleviate the issues mentioned above.
In the end, I would highly recommend the Sawyer Squeeze for anyone in the market for a water filtration system. It’s light, functions perfectly, and is one of the most simple to use filters on the market. The only detractor I can think of to the Squeeze is that it doesn’t filter viruses, but the truth is that viruses aren’t really a worry to anyone backpacking primarily in the United States. If viruses are a worry any UV-filter system like the Steripens would be my recommendation. That being said, the Squeeze will meet the need of almost anyone in the backcountry and will do so in a manner that is much less work-intensive than the filter systems of the past. It will also save you weight and isn’t that always the goal?