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Best backpacking water filter? LifeStraw Portable Water Filter

 I’m always on the alert for ways to shave ounces from my backpack.
Cutting water weight is one option, and the LifeStraw Portable Water Filter can really help.

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by Leon Pantenburg

I started backpacking  about four decades ago and don’t intend to ever quit. But two complete knee replacements, and an unwillingness to get left behind on Boy Scout backpacking overnighters means lightweight gear is not optional.

This Central Oregon high desert spring is the only water source for miles. The water will require clarification and purification before using. (Pantenburg photo)

I’ve pared ounces wherever possible. Cooking is handled by a biomass-fueled product such as the  Solo Stove or, more recently, the Kelly Kettle Trekker.  Neither of these stoves require carrying fuel, so the weight savings could be impressive. I use a lightweight tarp whenever practical, and carry freeze dried food.

One of the most significant ways to cut weight is by reducing the amount of water that needs to be carried. For this, the LifeStraw can be superb.

Last summer, I accompanied some Troop 18 scouts on a backpack trip in the Ochocco Mountains of Central Oregon. The route was along Mill Creek, a clear, quick-moving mountain stream. I carried a collapsible Platypus water bottle, tin cup and a LifeStraw to take care of my hydration needs. The weight was next to nothing, and every time I got thirsty, I’d dip some cool water out of the stream and drink it through my LifeStraw.

I used the LifeStraw on several other day hikes last summer and fall, and it always performed very well. It eliminated the need to carry a heavy water filter, and within its limitations, performs very well.

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Here is some product  info from the company website: LifeStraw effectively removes all bacteria and parasites responsible for causing common diarrhoeal diseases, and requires no electrical power or spare parts.

  • Filters 264 gallons (1,000 liters) to 0.2 microns
  • Removes 99.99999% of waterborne bacteria (>LOG 7 reduction)
  • Removes 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites (>LOG 3 reduction)
  • Portable water filtration; very lightweight –2 oz (57grams)
  • Easy to use, contains no chemicals, and has no moving parts.
  • Used in the harshest conditions in developing countries since 2005.
  • One year manufacturer’s warrantyLifeStraw removes bacteria, including: Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Vibrio cholerae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Shigella SalmonellaLifeStraw removes protozoa, including:Giardia lamblia (“Beaver Fever”), Cryptosporidium Parvum, Entamoeba histolytica, but it does not filter heavy metals or viruses, and it will not desalinate water.

Every product has weak points, though, and the LifeStraw is no exception.

Can’t fill water bottles: The only way to fill a water bottle with a Life Straw is to suck out the water and spit it into the container. I would do this in an emergency, but it certainly is not my first choice! The other option would be to fill the bottle with unfiltered water, pour it in the cup as needed and use the LifeStraw.

System must include a water container: This is not a hardship for me, since I generally carry a metal cup anyway. But unless you want to belly down every time you need a drink, a container to filter out of  is necessary.

Weak lanyard: The LifeStraw comes with a lanyard for putting around your neck. This is a great idea. But the one that comes with the filter snaps off easily. I replaced the factory version with a piece of paracord.

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Ingestion through the mouthpiece limits rapid flow: This shouldn’t be a problem if you stay hydrated, but you can’t just gulp water down. Like any water straw, the LifeStraw requires some effort to get drinking water. An impatient user might quit drinking before getting fully hydrated. A weaker user might decide drinking is too much effort, and stop short of getting enough.

All in all, though, I think the Lifestraw is a great product for its intended purpose of lightweight water filtering. I used mine a lot last summer, and I anticipate it will get a lot more use when the warm weather backpacking season arrives.

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