Long distance backpacking will inevitably involve water purification, this is where the Sawyer Squeeze comes in. While there are many options available to having drinkable water Sawyer makes a great product that is easy to use, lightweight, and quick. With a proven track record of being effective, this was an easy choice for us on our PCT hike.
Methods for Water Treatment
- Water Filters This is the most common treatment that we saw on the PCT. It is exactly what it sounds like. You run your water through a filter. There are many options to this method. My first water filter was a pump-style water filter, with a floatable water pick up and lots of moving parts. These are still effective but tend to be too heavy for consideration while backpacking. Now most filters like the Sawyer Squeeze are simplified with just a filter and a bag
- Water Treatment This is the type of water purification where you add chemicals to your water. Iodine and bleach are some I have seen but obviously leave a bad taste in the water and are not recommended for long-term use. Chlorine Dioxide is the most common method of treatment I have seen. This is products like Aquamira and is a 2 part system that you add, then drink. Although you can save weight, it can cost more and you can not drink your water immediately. However, this can make the water actually taste better, which is really nice when you have to pull water from some nasty sources.
- UV Treatment This system uses a UV light to kill anything in the water. I do not have any experience with these, and did not see anyone using one on the PCT. Most I have looked at weigh over 3.0oz and will require batteries or a way to charge.
- Boiling Great when in a pinch but not a good strategy for long-distance backpacking.
- None This is pretty risky to me. I met two people on the trail that had giardia even when filtering water. The water seems clean but there are lots of pack trails, and you can never be absolutely sure where the water came from. Some of the water I had to use in the desert I did not want to drink even after filtering, let alone without filtering it.
So you have a couple of options for a Sawyer system. The Sawyer squeeze is a bit larger and weighs in at 3.0oz. The Sawyer Mini weighs in at 2.0oz. We opted for the heavier filter. The Squeeze filter seemed to flow faster than the Mini. We shared the Squeeze the entire time on the trail. So we could either carry 2 filters or share the squeeze and save our overall weight. Aquamira will save you weight at 1oz but will cost you time and more money.
Ease of use
The Sawyer Squeeze is super easy to use. You fill up your bag with your water roll the bottom and squeeze the water directly into your bottle. You can put the filter directly on your bottle and drink straight out of it, or put the filter inline on a water bladder. We did not do use this method; it seems bulky even with the Mini. That is it. You can now drink your water without waiting for chemicals to work.
Cleaning the Sawyer Squeeze is simple. You will notice after using the filter long enough that the flow rate starts to slow. This is normal and an indication that it is time to backflush your filter. You use clean water and fill up the syringe that comes with the Sawyer Squeeze and back flush the filter until the water runs out clear. After extended use, this did not restore the flow rate completely. We found that just tapping the filter lightly several times on a rock or stick would free up the stuff in the filter. After that, backflush again and that would restore a good flow rate.
I did not keep track of how many liters I ran through the filter before cleaning. We did not clean the filter much in the desert but had to perform it more frequently once in the Sierras, due to the dirt in the water from the snowmelt. You can cut some weight if you wish and leave the syringe at home for shorter hikes. Hiker boxes on the PCT will be full of the syringes that hikers would use and leave or use the backflush adapter ring.
The only real complaint that I have with the Sawyer system is the water bladders. The Squeeze system does come with some bladders in it. During our time on the trail, most of them failed. The bladders would develop a hole directly below the plastic insert where the threads are located. I was able to use Tenacious tape to fix the holes but that soon failed as well. Pinholes are not that big of a deal when filtering but if you are storing water in the bladders it is a big deal. Poor quality caps are also installed on the bladders. A piece of compressed cardboard material is used for the seal. Replace them with SmartWater caps because they seal better.
Replace the bladders with better ones. Evernew water bladders are the solution to all of the problems. Evernew makes higher quality bladder with better seams, a good cap with tether, and convenient cord for storing the bladder. The other bonus is the bladder is clear so you can see the water you are about to filter.
Is the Sawyer Squeeze worth it?
Absolutely worth it. The Sawyer Squeeze is lightweight, easy to use, and quick. I would use this system again on a thru-hike. It is more cost-effective than other methods. The Sawyer Squeeze is rated at being able to filter 100,000 gallons of water. It is safe. At a .1 micron rating, it filters almost everything out of the water that could make you sick. It weighs next to nothing and has no moving parts to break. I would recommend either get a bright colored Mini or put something on your Squeeze, so you do not leave it behind.
Buy the Sawyer Squeeze Filter here.
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