We used a Sawyer Squeeze filter on the PCT in 2017. Check out our review of that filter here. On the Appalachian Trail in 2018, we decided to try a new water filter system. The Katadyn BeFree water filter is advertised as being just as safe, reliable, and faster than using the Sawyer. Let's take a closer look at what we thought of this filter on our AT thru-hike.
Specs of the BeFree
The BeFree 1.0 liter is a simple system. It consists of a bag and a cap/filter. This entire system weighs 2 oz. There is no back-flushing of this filter. You just fill the bag and shake it to clean the membrane. Cleaning the filter in this fashion means that you do not have to carry the extra weight of a back-flush kit or hunt around in a hiker box for one.
The speed of the filter is advertised at filtering 2 quarts/min. I think that this must be an average after usage because you can filter a lot of water very quickly when the filter is new.
As like a number of other filters on the market, the BeFree filters down to 0.1 micron.
BeFree water filters are covered by a lifetime warranty for the system. They will cover leaking or split bags and replace them. They do not cover clogged filters.
Speed of the BeFree
Speed was the number one reason that I chose to use this filter. My number one knock against the Sawyer is it is slow to filter. It really is not that slow but after you filter so much water on a thru-hike it becomes a real drag, so the faster the better. The speed of filtration on the BeFree is hard to nail down. Out of the box, this filter is crazy fast. After several weeks of use, the filter is slowed down. Eventually, the filter becomes slow enough that it will drive you insane filtering water. Then you have to replace the filter.
As per the manual, all that is needed to clean the filter is to fill the bag with water, shake it, and dump it out. I was very meticulous about making sure to clean my filter after every single use and to not pick up muddy water. This did not matter. My filter slowed down, and I was forced to replace it. Katadyn advertises it to be good to 1,000 liters of water to a filter. I would guess that I got less than half of that.
BeFree Water Bags
Yet another huge downfall of the Sawyer system is using the plastic bags to squeeze. They often would get a puncture or burst during use. BeFree has a multiple bag size options to choose from, and the filter will thread onto some even more large and durable bags. The bladder that comes with the filter is lightweight and has a large mouth that makes filling the bag much easier than a small opening found on the Sawyer compatible bags.
We had multiple bag failures with the BeFree while on the Appalachian Trail. We never had any of the bags burst but we had 3 bags that got pinholes in them. This does not seem that bad, but the holes only get larger and spray all over the place when filtering. These bags would not be suitable for carrying water in a critical situation like backpacking in the desert. I simply would not trust them enough for storage based on the failures we had. I kept my filter inside my food bag inside my pack and still got holes in it.
Katadyn did honor their warranty and sent me new bags without any trouble. But it is a ton of trouble to deal with your leaking bag until you get a new one. I did not see any gear stores that sold just replacement bags on the trail, so your only option is to wait for a new bag or buy a whole new filter. As opposed to this, you will almost for certain find a Sawyer Squeeze bag in every hiker box and gear store you come across. On a side note, the bladder is rubber, and I was able to plug it with a patch intended for my sleep mat, and it worked really well.
If you need larger storage, HydraPak does sell larger and more durable bags that will fit the filter. I used a 2-liter bag I found in a hiker box for the last 200 miles of my hike. These bladders seem stronger. They also weigh more and are bulky. You can check those out here.
The Befree filter does its job and does it well. It has no moving parts. It filters really fast out of the box. There is not the extra weight of having to carry a back-flush kit. The wide mouth on the bladder makes filling it super fast and easy. On the downside, it slows way down eventually, and the replacement filters are not readily available. The bladders are a little too fragile to be trusted for storage and had multiple failures.
It really comes down to what you wish to use the filter for. This filter would be a great choice for short trips maybe a week or two backpacking. I would not use this filter on another thru-hike simply from the lack of durability, and the availability of and high-cost of replacement parts at resupply. Here is a video to highlight the flow rate between a BeFree and a Sawyer.