Clean water is something that many of us take for granted, but as soon as you lose access to water from a trustworthy faucet it can be difficult to recognize which water sources are safe to drink from and which are not.
This is especially true in backcountry camping or hiking situations as well as traveling in areas where clean water is not the norm. In steps a solution: a portable water filter that will filter out the pathogens that can cause serious illness. One of these filters is the highly popular LifeStraw, which is lightweight, inexpensive and portable.
We will cover more information on the product itself in the LifeStraw personal water filter review to follow, but there are many types of water filters on the market so it is important to understand what features to look for when choosing a water filter.
What to Look for in A Water Filter
The waterborne parasite Giardia causes the most cases of waterborne illness in the United States each year. Of course, the risk of getting sick from water is greater in areas of higher contamination and runoff from human communities and farms, Giardia is found just about anywhere, even in seemingly pristine mountain brooks.
It is shed into the environment through animal feces, and the resulting intestinal illness is nicknamed “beaver fever” thanks to one of its main hosts. It’s endemic in many areas but you can greatly reduce your risk of contracting the illness by using a water filter that eliminates bacteria and protozoans from your drinking water.
When choosing a water filter, size is an important consideration. Portability is the name of the game for most uses of water filters, whether that be in travel or outdoor situations like backpacking. Not only is weight important, but also size and how well you can slip it into a pack without worrying about parts breaking in the pack. What you want to be able to filter is also very important.
The LifeStraw filters out protozoans and bacteria that live in the water and commonly cause illness, but you will need to find a different filter if you need to be able to filter out viruses. In general, you will want a filter that eliminates viruses in international travel, especially to developing nations. For backpacking within the United States it is not as necessary.
How many pathogens a filter is able to reduce is a result of the micron size of the filter. A hollow membrane filter uses pores that are very tiny, only a few microns in diameter. Some filters have built in mechanisms like activated charcoal capsules that help to reduce strange flavors and odors in the water as well.
Another consideration is how you are planning to use the filter. Some filters employ a straw like design where you drink the dirty water directly through the filter. Other filtration systems are gravity based or use a pumping mechanism so that you can filter water from the source and into your water receptacles already cleaned.
The advantage to that is that you don’t have to worry about your containers being contaminated. You can also use this water for cooking and washing food, which is nearly impossible to do with a straw-like filter. However, this type of filter is more cumbersome to carry because it often includes components like hoses and larger filters.
A tip for filtering water is that although it will clean any water source of pathogens, it is better for your filter if you can find the cleanest looking water in the area to use it on. For example, if you come across a puddle it is better for your filter to drink from the area of the puddle without much debris floating in it than the side with the most junk that can impede your drinking or potentially damage your filter.
The volume of water that a filter can clean in its lifetime is good to think about if you are planning on using the filter extensively.
Most filters will clean over a thousand liters of water, which is plenty if you are planning to use it for travel and outdoor activities but not your everyday drinking water. That being said, if you did choose to use it for your everyday drinking water then most filters have the capacity to provide you clean drinking water for more than a year.
Another method of purifying water, other than filters and mechanical purifying devices, is through chemical droplets that utilize chemicals such as chlorine dioxide to purify water. One downside of this is that, although they kill the pathogens, there will still be dirt and sand and other particles in your water, which is usually harmless but can get annoying to drink.
The bottom line when choosing a water filtration system is that you want to keep yourself safe and healthy. Traveling to an area with endemic waterborne viruses? A simple straw design won’t cut it; you’ll need to purchase a filter that can take care of viruses as well as other common waterborne pathogens.
Portability and weight is important, but not as important as your health. Waterborne illnesses can cause serious intestinal distress with symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting that make you even more dehydrated than you were before. No matter how thirsty you are, filter your water if it is coming from an untrustworthy source to avoid misery and possible serious health effects.
The LifeStraw is one of the simplest water filter designs that you can buy, and while it isn’t the best choice for all of your water filtering needs, there are countless situations where it can be highly beneficial. For only $20, it is a great tool to have on hand whether you are a traveler, hiker, hunter or like to be prepared for disaster.
LifeStraw is very lightweight and portable, and the company has sent their product to locations worldwide after natural disasters when drinking water is highly questionable when it comes to safety. LifeStraws has also been designed for people who live in areas where clean water is difficult to find, especially in developing countries. The LifeStraw Personal Water Filter weighs in at only 2.7 ounces and is 9 inches long.
The filter itself works through the use of a hollow filter membrane, which is a type of artificial membrane made from a permeable synthetic fiber. These fibers can be manufactured to varying levels of permeability; the smaller the holes, the fewer pathogens and other toxins can get through the filter. Water molecules, on the other hand, can.
- A Time Magazine Invention of the Year winner
- Removes minimum 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria (>LOG 6 reduction) and surpasses EPA standards for water filters
- Removes minimum 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites (>LOG 3 reduction) and filters to an amazing 0.2 microns
- Filters up to 1000 liters of contaminated water
Many LifeStraw promotions show users bending over and drinking straight from a puddle, which is definitely feasible because the LifeStraw will filter water from any source, puddle or tap. However, this strategy only works if you’re consistently near a natural water source like a stream or puddles.
The more practical application would be to fill your water bottles from these sources and carry them with you, then drink from the container itself through the LifeStraw.
That way, you can have something to drink even when you are on a section of trail with no available natural water. This is a smart strategy anyway because sometimes once you leave a water source you don’t necessarily know the next time you will come across one.
It’s important to remember that you will need to sterilize your water container the next time you plan to drink directly from it because it has been contaminated with dirty, unfiltered water.
To make this process a little bit simpler, LifeStraw also manufactures a water bottle with a built in LifeStraw so you can fill the bottle and drink directly from the straw attached. If you have a water bottle with a narrow mouth, the LifeStraw will not fit inside so make sure to bring along bottles with a wide enough mouth to accommodate the LifeStraw.
When using the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, it takes a little time for the water to get flowing at full rate, so you will have to apply a larger amount of suction to get it going before the water begins to flow more freely. To clean the LifeStraw as you are using it, simply blow into the straw to reverse the direction of the water flow and flush it out.
This will help to extend the life span of your LifeStraw. As the LifeStraw nears the end of its period of usability, it will gradually become more and more difficult to pass water through. Generally speaking though, a LifeStraw’s life span is about 1,000 liters of water that can be filtered. This is around 264 gallons. To put that in perspective, if you drank only from the LifeStraw for an entire year, you will still have more use left in the product.
Another important thing to consider when purchasing a LifeStraw personal water filter is that it does not filter out toxins or viruses from the water.
It’s not safe to use on water that has been contaminated with heavy metals or chemicals like chlorine, and if you plan to use it in developing nations it is generally a good idea to have a filter with a membrane small enough to filter out viruses that could be in the water.
The LifeStraw design reviewed here has a pore size of 0.2 microns, which is small enough to filter out 99% of protozoa and bacteria species from the water. This is generally sufficient for wilderness and backcountry use. Additionally, the LifeStraw filter will not remove salt from water so don’t try using it on ocean water.
However, if you are concerned about viruses in the water, LifeStraw makes other products that have a smaller pore size (0.02 microns) to filter out smaller pathogens like viruses. Those products are found in the line of LifeStraw purifiers such as the LifeStraw Family and LifeStraw Mission and they filter water so that it meets the United States Environmental Protection Agency standards for drinking water.
As far as taking care of a LifeStraw personal water filter, avoid freezing it because once water has passed through the membrane and subsequently freezes, it can expand and render the permeability too large to effectively eliminate small pathogens.
Storing the LifeStraw is relatively straightforward as well; just keep in a cool and dry location. Because the LifeStraw does not have any moving parts, it has an indefinite shelf life and there is less that could possibly go wrong with it.
- At 2.7 ounces, this is one of the lightest water filters you can find
- Filters out more than 99% of bacteria (such as coli and salmonella) and 99% of waterborne protozoans (such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium)
- Water meets US EPA drinking water standards
- Only $20, a great price for a water filter
- Will filter 1,000 liters of water in its lifetime, which is more than the casual user will need to filter
- BPA free
- Does not use iodine so there is no aftertaste
- Compact size that is easy to slip into a pack
- No wait time for purifying chemicals to work—you get immediate results
- No chemicals, batteries or moving parts
- Easy to clean through backflushing by forcing water through the filter in the opposite direction
- Reduces turbidity in the water
- Not compatible with narrow mouth water bottles
- You will need to carry unclean water with you and contaminate your water containers
- Can take a little bit of time for the flow to reach its maximum potential
- Unable to transfer clean water to another receptacle like a CamelBak or cooking pot
- Does not filter out chemicals, minerals or viruses
- Other comparable personal water filters on the market have a longer life span (will filter a higher volume of water) than the LifeStraw
- Can only be used to provide drinking water to one user (unless it is shared, of course)
In addition to the classic design reviewed here, LifeStraw also produces other designs that will do more than filter out bacteria and protozoans. The LifeStraw Steel design includes an activated charcoal capsule.
Activated charcoal is used as a purifying agent for many different uses, and here it helps reduce the chemical load of the water you are drinking, including chlorine and organic compounds like pesticides and herbicides. As a result, water filtered through the LifeStraw Steel has less of an odor or strange taste. The downside is that it is larger, weighing 4.2 ounces.
The LifeStraw Family 1.0 design is a gravity filter that will purify 18,000 liters—enough water to provide clean water to a family of four for three years. Not bad for $75. The major advantage that this gravity filter has over the LifeStraw reviewed here is that it purifies the water of viruses in addition to the protozoans and bacteria.
It’s easy to use; all you have to do is pour water through the top and it filters out the bottom—hence, gravity filter.
A product made by Sawyer that is very comparable to the LifeStraw is the Sawyer Mini Water Filter. Like the LifeStraw, it also filters out over 99% of bacteria and protozoans, but actually has a smaller size pore for the filter at 0.1 micron in comparison to the 0.2 microns of the LifeStraw. It also has a life span of 100,000 gallons which is 10 times as much water as the LifeStraw.
One great thing about the LifeStraw company is that it donates LifeStraws to people in developing nations that have difficulty accessing clean water. Each purchase allows them to donate their products to people who need them the most.
While it will not fit every need for clean drinking water such as filtering out viruses and chemicals, the LifeStraw personal water filter is an excellent affordable and lightweight option for travel and outdoor use.
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter use of the hollow membrane filter will rid your drinking water of the vast majority of waterborne bacteria and protozoans. Whether or not you are planning a trip, it’s a good thing to have on hand in case of emergency or spontaneous trips.
The simple task of cleaning your drinking water before consumption can save you a lot of misery even if it takes a few days for symptoms to start showing themselves. Not to mention that the LifeStraw company takes a role in distributing their water filtration and purification products to people in developing nations where clean water is not always accessible.
Again, the most important thing is that you choose the filter that will keep you safe! Have you ever used a LifeStraw or something similar? When was it and how did it work for you?