Filtering Water in the Backcountry

This gear review isn't actually about any one product, but more about a handful of products that work together to produce clean, drinkable water. That's why the title isn't "Sawyer

6 years ago

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This gear review isn't actually about any one product, but more about a handful of products that work together to produce clean, drinkable water. That's why the title isn't "Sawyer Squeeze". There are some water filter systems on the market that are vertically integrated, like a hose and pump system from MSR or Katadyn. The Sawyer Squeeze micropore filters are a little bit more modular in terms how one might collect water, get it through the filter, and what the clean water goes into. The Squeeze is also very different with respect how one goes about cleaning it.

The setup for my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail included:

All together, I think this weighed somewhere between 7-10 oz.

I saw the Squeeze used in several different configurations. In this review, I'll describe my own setup and why it worked. One of the advantages of my particular setup is that as long as the filter itself worked, I could carry dirty water, filter water, and store clean water — even if I lost or broke one or more of the items outside of the Squeeze itself.

With that said, it is very important to protect the Squeeze and keep it clean. In freezing conditions, I always make sure to throw the Squeeze into the foot box of my down quilt at night. In dusty, muddy, or otherwise dirty conditions, I carry the Squeeze in a sandwich-sized Ziploc bag.

Smart Water Bottles

I use 1L Smart Water bottles to carry my clean water for drinking and cooking. They are easy to find in grocery stores and gas stations everywhere, so if I lose or damage a bottle, it's cheap and easy to replace. I don't have to find a gear shop and hope they have my reservoir in stock. In a pinch, I could also use a pop bottle. The Squeeze uses a commonly sized thread configuration, making it agnostic enough that It Just Works™ in most cases.

The Coupler

I took a wild guess and bought the Sawyer SP150 coupler on Amazon for a few dollars. It turns out it's nothing special — its just a garden hose coupler. However, beside the filter itself, this simple addition proved to be the most useful part of my filtering setup. Just having the ability to attach a Smart Water bottle to the egress side of the Squeeze made filtering water so much easier. I saw lots of folks trying to balance a bottle between their feet and "aim" the stream of clean water coming out of the Squeeze, often missing the clean bottle and getting their feet wet.

I, on the other hand, would attach a Smart Water bottle to the egress end, only giving it maybe one and a half turns into the threads of the coupler. This allows excess air to escape out of the clean water bottle. If screwed in completely tight, it just builds air pressure inside the clean water bottle and eventually no water gets through the filter. Using the coupler, I'd never miss, never leak, the clean water bottle would never tip over, and I'd never spill my hard-earned clean water.

Evernew Water Bag

On the ingress side of the filter, I use an Evernew water bag, which holds the dirty water. The Evernew bag has a leashed a cap on it, which allows me to carry extra (dirty) water for those long, dry stretches. When I need the extra water, I simply attach the dirty water bag to the Squeeze and filter it, as usual. From time to to time, the water bag will wear out, but they are relatively cheap on Amazon and come in volumes ranging from 500mL to 2L. The nice thing about using a water bag, as opposed using a bottle for the dirty water reservoir, is that it rolls up. This has two advantages:

  1. A squeezed dirty water bottle eventually collapses and needs be continually detached and reattached to the Squeeze while filtering. With a water bag, I can just "roll" the water out of the bag and into the Squeeze — a bag is supposed to collapse.

  2. When it's not being used, the rolled-up bag takes up very little space inside or outside of my pack. In the future, I might change to collapsible water bottles instead of using Smart Water bottles for the clean water reservoir. We'll see.

I should mention that I specifically chose the Evernew water bag over the Platypus bag. When attached to a Sawyer Squeeze, the Platypus products have a tendency to leak air and water from the ingress attachment. The Evernew opening includes a little more threading to establish a water tight seal. In other words, the Evernew bag doesn't leak water while filtering.

The Scoop

But how do I get clean water into the bag, especially in low-flow situations? I use my 450mL titanium cup as a scoop. In a pinch, I've also cut one Smart Water bottle in half and used the bottom as a scoop. But, since I always have the titanium cup with me for cooking, its easier to use that. Less to carry and less to manage.

Cleaning the Filter

Cleaning and backflushing the Squeeze is easy too, even in the backcountry. I don't have to take anything apart, so there are no tiny pieces to track or lose. Just attach a clean water reservoir to the egress end of the Squeeze and...squeeze. The dirty water that pours out the ingress end can be shocking sometimes, but that's why I use a filter. Once the water runs clear, I'm done. That's it. No extra parts or filters to carry and replace. Just filter in reverse.


In the Sierra, I lost one of the Smart Water bottles when I tipped over in a stream. I literally tipped over, in slow motion, into the stream. I shot back up and clumsily sloshed downstream after the water bottle — hands out and moaning "Noooooooooo!" — to no avail. Must have been hilarious to watch. I ended up not replacing it, and finished the trail with a single clean water bottle.

The best part of my water setup is that it has built-in fail-safes. If I lose my titanium cup, I can cut one of the bottles in half to use as a scoop. If I lose one clean Smart Water bottle, I have another one. If I lose both bottles, I can attach the Squeeze to the dirty water bag and drink straight from the filter. If the bag breaks, I can filter from one bottle to the other. And if I only have a single bottle left, I can attach the Squeeze to the bottle and drink straight from the filter.

In short, you just can't screw this up.

Matthew Sluiter

Published 6 years ago