The new Sawyer Squeeze
It was only a few days into my Appalachian Trail hike. The tail end of winter was giving up the ghost and reluctantly allowing spring to take over. It was warm; I had been walking in shorts, not bad for the beginning of April. The woods were still to come to life, green was a rare colour, my environment more shades of browns and greys. The trees were stark, naked and still, almost as though being surrounded by skeletons, thousands of them waiting to be brought back to life. I could almost feel the eco system rumbling beneath me waiting to explode.
It was incredibly quiet; I stopped at a spring right by trailside at Locust Cove Gap, downed my pack and reached for my filter. Using my feet as a vice to hold my water bottle, I dropped the plastic tube in the pool of clear water and begun pumping. Not one of my favourite pastimes, pumping a water filter, in fact it’s downright boring. I hated looking at the water level in the bottle because it was never as high as I’d hoped. Drink half of that and then pump another half-litre for the ‘road.’
Then it happened. The handle suddenly demanded more effort on my part, I was pulling so hard that when I let go it just snapped out of my hand and sprung back to the filter body whilst a pathetic gob of water spat out, seemingly in spite. I knew it was the end of my filter, having served me on the entire Pacific Crest Trail it was asking a lot to do the Appalachian as well, but still, one day out of town it was the last thing I needed.
Simply fill a mineral water bottle with contaminated water and screw the filter unit on top
Or use the included 1 ltr Squeeze bag instead. This is the new tougher bag design
Or was it? I actually smiled after a couple of seconds because frankly, I’d had enough of having to down my pack, sit down and pump every time I needed water. I wanted the dam thing to break so I could get something easier, quicker, lighter and more reliable. I just didn’t know what it would be. Not at least until Sam ‘Daffy Duck’ Ridge came bounding round the corner.
“Foz, wasup?” He said, his arm reaching to a side pocket on his pack.
“Daffy, hello mate,” I replied. “Not much, filter’s on the way out. Great day though.”
I watched as he grabbed a battered mineral bottle and unscrewed something from the top. Bending down quickly he dipped said bottle in the water, filled it, screwed whatever it was back on, took a swig and walked off saying he’d see me at the shelter later. If he hadn’t have had the brief conversation with me he could easily have completed the whole task in about 10 seconds.
I didn’t see him at the shelter but caught him the following day. His water bottle was tucked still in his side pocket and attached to the top was a small, black unit looking something like a cross between an obese marker pen and a travel size deodorant stick, with a white spout on top. I noticed ‘Sawyer’ on the side and had a vague memory of an in line filter I had looked at for the PCT.
“Daffy, what’s the deal with the Sawyer?” I asked.
He went on to explain a little, namely he had started the trail with it and loved it already. Mainly for the weight (around a mere 70grs / 2.5ozs), but also the ease and speed. Casting germ worries aside and in true thru-hiker spirit he offered me a drink from it. It was easy, just like sucking through a normal spout on a water bottle. At the next town stop I picked up some Aqua Mira water treatment to see me through whilst the internet dealt with a Sawyer order being dispatched to the next trail town.
I had heard of Sawyer back in 2010 when I noticed they were producing an in line filter for hydration packs, and excellent reviews it was receiving. I had heard a whiff just before departing for the AT of the Sawyer Squeeze but not seen one. My unit subsequently arrived and stayed with me for the rest of the trail, and I still have it now, albeit slightly the worse for wear. I met Tony Male and Phil Dean from Sawyer Europe at the Outdoor Show last January where we talked shop and they were kind enough to replace shoddily treated filter with a new one and have subsequently mailed me out their water bladder which I hope to use on the Continental Divide Trail next year. More about the bladder later, let’s look at the Sawyer Squeeze deal first.
Firstly, this is a review for the new SP129 set up which replaces the old SP131. No difference in the actual filter unit itself, but the new deal comes with just the one squeeze bag (32oz / 0.9 litre capacity) which Sawyer have improved after reports of the old squeeze bags splitting and failing. You can buy 0.5 lt and 2.0 lt bags separately. It also comes with a syringe for backwashing the filter unit itself. The whole caboodle weighs a miserly 85gr / 3oz putting it very firmly in ultra-light weight territory.
Let’s give you a quick user guide. The filter unit itself can be screwed onto the squeeze bag or, as mentioned, an old mineral water bottle. Simply fill up the bag or bottle straight from the water source, screw on the filter housing and squeeze bag or bottle. You can also drink through the filter from the bottle although be warned, make sure contaminated water does not run down the outside of the bottle and into your mouth. I used to simply wipe my bottle on my trousers (that’s ‘pants’ if you live over the pond) to get rid of the excess. Or, squeeze desired water into your pot for cooking, or mug for whatever is your choice of beverage. It’s so simple that I had to convince myself when I first started using it that I must have been doing something wrong. It was like reaching filter nirvana, it didn’t get any better.
During the day I did a ‘Daffy’ when I reached a water source. Leave my pack on, reach to my side pocket, grab bottle, unscrew filter, dip bottle in water, screw back on, drink and get hiking. It was literally seconds. In fact I started to analyse the timings which isn’t really me (I don’t really get too technical, it bores the crap out of me). However, on a thru-hike, I reckon having a Squeeze over a pump filter can save a hiker a noticeable amount of time. In fact I don’t reckon, I know. This calculation has been reached from my personal experience and not from some gear geek in a white cloak and thick glasses standing behind me with a stop watch and clip board.
By the time a hiker has taken off their pack, retrieved their pump filter, (chemicals or whatever), connected it to their water bottle / bag, sat down and started to pump I calculate it has to be 5 minutes to stop and treat 1 litre of water. Actual pumping perhaps only 2 minutes but the whole process takes 5, I know this, I did it all through the Pacific Crest Trail. On hot days I would drink about 4 or 5 litres whilst actually hiking. So, repeat this process 4 or 5 times and you’re looking at 20 to 25 minutes treating water per day, this excludes camp water as well, around a further 2 to 3 litres. This is the time it takes an average hiker to walk more than one mile. You can pick up a litre of water in a bottle from source in less than 10 seconds with the Sawyer and as you walk off screw the filter to the top. So, I know I can save myself 20 minutes a day, or, over a 6 month thru-hike, an incredible 36 hours of just sitting on my arse cursing why I ever bought a bloody pump filter in the first place. By the time I had finished pumping, Daffy was a 1/4 mile down the AT whistling.
What you get in the box
Come evening camp I usually like to have 3 litres of water for dinner and enough for a drink and maybe oats in the morning. I would fill up my 1 litre mineral bottle and a 2 litre Platypus bag. Required drinking and cooking water would simply be squeezed straight into my cook pot.
Because of the problems with the old Squeeze bags splitting, not many hikers actually carried them. Most of us had a Platypus or similar camp bag and with the Squeeze’s durability in question we simply didn’t take it, we didn’t need another bag.
Sawyer have addressed this problem with the new bags. I won’t get too scientific again but the old bags had a foil laminate in between a layer of polyester either side. This is a food industry standard but the foil weakens the bag. The new bags have dispensed with the foil and they now also have a layer of Nylon for puncture resistance, the weldable layer is a little thicker for better seam adhesion around the moulded neck area.
It may take a while for hikers to start to trust the Squeeze Bag again. I had one of the old type fail on me but to be fair, I did drop it! However, if I dropped a Platypus or a Dromedary I’d lay good money down it would have survived. Would I trust the new Squeeze bag? On a few hundred mile hike yes I would. On a thru-hike I may need convincing but Sawyer claim the issue has been sorted. If it has been it could be a bonus because it’s super light.
The actual filter itself is a 0.1 micron absolute fast flow hollow membrane. Imagine a tube with a miniscule diameter, and I mean so tiny that bacteria, protozoa and cysts cannot get through it. This is what the unit houses and it is wound back and forth inside. Sawyer claim it removes 7 log (99.99999%) of all bacteria and 6 log (99.9999%) of all protozoa, the highest filter rates available. It will fit in the palm of your hand, has no mechanics to break down, no electrics to run out of power, no chemicals to mix and no pumps. It’s ridiculously light, durable, requires little maintenance and if looked after properly, could feasibly last longer than you would. The guarantee is 1 million gallons.
There is also an adapter available which will turn your Sawyer Filter into an in-line unit for your hydration tube. Just fill your bladder direct from source and the filter will treat water as you suck it through the hose. This is the SP110. Plus, if you really can’t be bothered to carry a water bottle or bag, or any type of container, just dip one end of the filter into a river and suck it straight up!
I would say this, treat it with respect and back flush every day, it takes just seconds. Sawyer say you only need to back flush when the flow slows down but I prefer more of a preventative measure. Fill the supplied syringe with filtered water, remove the drink spout, insert the syringe and shoot the water through. I followed Daffys advice at first. Being the light weight freak he was, he had ditched the syringe and instead took a mouthful of water and simply blew it back through. It can be done but be warned, especially with age, there is the possibility of either a ruptured hernia or forehead blood vessel, and unintentional flatulence. Keep your syringe and use it, it’s worth the trouble and it weighs nothing. When storing, I squeeze through a half litre of treated water containing the appropriate amount of bleach or Milton Sterilising Fluid, then let it air dry. Check after a couple of days and it should be fine, in the unlikely event that it smells mouldy you’ve probably forgotten the bleach.
The cost for potentially treating water for the remainder of your hiking days? A mere £55.95 for us English.
See how Sawyer are saving lives. In Webuye, Western Kenya, 10 Children per month were dying from water related diseases. The church has 500 members, with 400 of them being children and one filter supplies them all with safe drinking water:
The Sawyer Hydration Bladder / Gravity Bag / Water Bag
This bag is still in development and not on sale yet which is why I don’t know what to call it! However, it is all of the above which makes it extremely versatile. I don’t know why it isn’t on sale, it seems as good as it will get but that’s what they tell me. This is the bag I intend to use on my Continental Divide Trail hike next year. As I have mentioned, I hike with 2 items that hold my water, a knackered old mineral water bottle that gets replaced once in a while when it’s too crinkled to perform anymore, and my water bag for camp which occasionally gets used on long stretches with no water sources as well as the bottle. My bag of choice has been a 2 litre Platypus in whatever version was available and one lasted the entire Pacific Crest Trail, and another the entire Appalachian Trail.
The Sawyer comes with a little bonus however. There is a small, separate tube (probably to be sold extra) which clips into a housing on the bottom of the bag, a similar set up to where you would clip in a hydration hose. The Squeeze filter then screws onto this and this bag is now a gravity filter to boot. Hang it up on a suitable tree, pull down the drink spout and a steady stream of safe drinking water is very kindly dispensed into my pot or cup. It’s kind of like turning on the tap (sorry, faucet if you’re from over the pond). Gravity filters are the definition of filtering laziness and now I’ve got one as part of the water bladder that I would have been carrying anyway. It can also be used as a hydration bladder for inside a pack although I’m not sure if there is a hydration tube & bite valve in the bargain at present. Sorry to be so vague but it is still a prototype.
The bag with the adapter tube to connect to the filter to make a gravity bag (please note the connector should actually be the other way round!)
The bag has a decent sized cap and hole to fill into and a little plastic scoop / handle that makes lifting easier and allows you to drag the bag through water to fill. I had one such handle on a Nalgene bladder once and being the anal thru-hiker weight watcher that I sometimes was, I cut it off. I don’t think they’re really needed but if you’ve got one it comes in handy.
The material the bag itself is made from is a nylon/polyester woven textile, coated with Polyurethane which has its seams welded with high frequency radio waves. It is BPA free. I have not knowingly owned an item of equipment made from this material but it looks and feels a lot stronger than my Platy, certainly strong enough to make me want to hike 3,000 miles next year with it at which point, time will tell.
Weight wise it’s not bad, coming in around 126gr (4.4 oz), as compared to my Platy which is 46gr (1.6 oz). I aim to lose a bit of this by removing the handle which could bring it in around 100gr. Remember, however, that the Squeeze Filter is part of the package at 70gr (2.5oz) and the connecting tube at 8 gr (0.28oz).
The whole system is a very attractive 178gr (6.3oz) approximately.
Put this in perspective with my old set up:
Katadyn Hiker Pro Filter (312gr / 11oz)
2 lt Platy (46gr / 1.6 oz)
Nalgene 32oz Widemouth Bottle (170gr / 6oz)
Total: 528gr / 18.6oz
So I have a water bag, gravity filter and bottle filter which has saved me a whopping 350gr / 12.3oz off my previous equipment and which I would expect to last 3000 miles. That’s a pretty attractive deal in my book.
The bag should be available in 2 lt and 4 lt sizes and if the prototype goes on sale, Sawyer inform me the prices will be around:
£36.95 for the 2Lt (Code SP163)
£43.95 for the 4Lt (Code SP164)
The connector for the filter will be around £8.00.
These accessories (bag and tube attachment) were on trial, and dependent upon the response of this and other reviews, they will be stocked within the month and available in the sawyereurope.com online store. Apologies to my American friends, I am dealing with Sawyer Europe here so am not sure as yet to prices for the USA.
5 of these are up for grabs plus more!
I know you all love a good competition so I had a chat with Tony and Phil and they’ve come up with the following:
1) They have 5 x SP129 Squeeze Filtration Systems (Squeeze Bag / Filter / Syringe) which retail at £55.95 each.
2) Also, Sawyer is offering 1 x Prototype Bag with adapter tube for the Filter. Your chance to own something not even on the market yet!
All you have to do is firstly ‘Like’ my Facebook Page here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Keith-Foskett-Fozzie/270894196286427
Secondly, follow Sawyer on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/sawyereurope
And finally, send an email to Sawyer Europe (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell them in no more than 50 words why you think the Sawyer Water Bag should be made available to consumers.
If you wish to own one of these bag/adaptor kits, then you can also pre-book the first off the production line. The first 100 units will have a 20% discount. Email your interest to email@example.com leaving your contact details for instructions about availability and how to claim your discount.
Or, if that all isn’t enough, you can click on the link below to qualify for a 10% discount on Sawyer purchases, or the banner link that will be permanent for a while at least at the top of any page below the menu bar:
The competition closes at mid-night on Sunday, 21st April 2013. Winners announced shortly afterwards.