The Mini Sawyer is a compact travel water microfiltration system designed to be primarily used with the supplied squeeze pouch.
I have used the Mini over 2 years and across 13 countries, filtering anything from tap water to mountain streams. There is a clear lack of long-term reviews, so I thought I should share my experience.
I’ve used the Mini Sawyer filter in the following places:
- 5 months in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan over 2 trips. Roughly two thirds of the time the filter saw regular action in the mountains during treks and a climbing expedition. The rest of the time I used it occasionally to filter tap water in the cities.
- 11 months across India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. I mainly purified tap water coming from the nearby Himalayas and Karakorum mountains. That amounts to around 7 months of daily use. Add to this 4 weeks of filtering water from streams while trekking. The rest of the time I mainly relied on reverse osmosis stations to refill my bottles, with the Mini Sawyer as a sporadic backup.
- 4 months in Iran, Oman, Egypt and Jordan. I only used the filter a few times while in the Middle East, with the exception of Egypt, where it was in use daily for a month.
- 1 month in Turkey. Continuous use for 2 to 4 people, using the tap water coming from the nearby mountains.
That amounts to at least 1000 liters in total, and that’s a conservative estimate.
Microfiltration VS Viruses
It’s important to specify that the Mini Sawyer is a microfiltration unit. In other words, it can remove particles down to 0.1 micron in diameter. That means bacteria, parasites and plastic microparticles. However, most viruses are smaller and therefore still pose a threat.
Although I chose my water sources with care, contamination with viruses couldn’t always be ruled out. I didn’t get sick. Great. But statistically that doesn’t mean anything.
Most commercially available filters are not capable of safely handling viruses. For occasional use, rather than tempting fate you can combine microfiltration with chlorine dioxide tablets or a UV lamp while introducing redundance in your travel gear. For frequent use, an ultrafiltration unit at 0.02 micron is an excellent all-in-one alternative and what I recently upgraded to.
Mini Sawyer Hacks
Inline Filter. If you have two pieces of tubing, a hydration bag and a bite valve you can turn the Mini Sawyer into an inline filtration system. Even without a second tube and hydration bag you can screw the filter directly to a larger PET bottle and connect the tube with mouth piece. A 2L Coke bottle works quite well if put upside down in your backpack.
Gravity Filter. I find this particularly useful when you have to filter larger volumes daily. Simply take a PET bottle, make a small hole in the bottom, and turn it upside down over a bigger jug as shown above. Of course, a connected hydration bag will also work.
Impact Resistance. No electronics, no moving parts. The unit survived countless clumsy drops from moderate heights. The big plastic ends protect it well from impact. It’s solid.
Life Span. I especially appreciate the life span of 100000 gallons or 380000 liters. I’m a heavy user, and I rarely have easy access to spare parts and cartridges. The Mini Sayer should outlive me. One less thing to worry about.
Cold Resistance. The Achilles heel of the Mini is the cold. If it freezes, you can throw it away. I had to religiously keep it on me at higher altitudes. I always carry a backup strip of Micropur tablets anyway, but this could be an issue for longer trips to remote cold locations.
Squeeze Pouch. The mini Sawyer comes with a small 16 oz plastic bag to squeeze water through the filter. This pouch works well but does eventually start leaking after a few months of regular use. A more durable version would be nice. Fortunately it also screws onto the mouth of any regular PET bottle (soda, sparkling water, etc).
Weight & Size 5/5
The Mini Sawyer weighs 1.3 oz / 40 g out of the box when dry. Make that around 2 oz / 55 g when wet, although this depends on how well you shake the water out after use. Add the included squeeze pouch, plastic straw and syringe for back washing and you end up with 3.5 oz / 100 g (dry weight).
The filter itself is as light as it gets, give or take a few grams. The syringe and especially the pouch are not strictly speaking essential. But the total weight remains very light for a water treatment system. And it easily fits in a small day pack.
Ease Of Use 4/5
Flow Rate. The flow rate is acceptable. There are faster filters out there, but if you are constantly in such a hurry I doubt that a 20% increase in flow rate will help you.
Operation. I mostly just sucked directly on the filter. To preserve my pouch for the mountains, I mainly used screw-on PET bottles. You have to let in air a couple of times with this methods, but it didn’t bother me. It beats lengthy squeeze sessions in my opinion. The filter also comes with a straw to directly drink water from a stream. I only used it once as I don’t find drinking from a crouched position particularly comfortable.
The Mini Sawyer also worked well as an improvised gravity filter. It’s a little more work than dedicated units, but it’s great to have the option to prepare drinking water for a small group.
Maintenance. The filter needs regular back washing with the included syringe, usually every 2 to 5 liters. Blowing air through the unit also works, but not as efficiently. Sadly, the unit clogs rapidly, especially with murky water. Then again, compact microfiltration units all suffer from this due to their small surface area.
A friend of mine got one second-hand from a traveler in Kyrgyzstan for 15$. That was an enlightened idea as my Steripen died a few weeks later in the middle of nowhere.
I purchased my own filter in France shortly after for 30 euros. But you can currently get it for 20$ in the US. Either way, it’s a bargain for a product than can last a lifetime. The LifeStraw is the only comparable filter that usually sells for a little less, but it’s nowhere near as versatile.
The Mini Sawyer is an excellent lightweight travel filter for individual needs. Sawyer makes by far the most durable compact microfiltration units on the market. The Micro has a better flow rate, but is a little more expensive and can’t be converted as easily into an inline filter. The Squeeze comes with handy inline adapters, but it’s heavier and bulkier.
Frankly, the Mini is the cheapest model and seems to work just fine. But what I really like is the versatility. With a little creativity it can be turned into an inline or gravity filtration system without having to rely on easily lost accessories.
So who is this for? I think most travelers and backpackers will profit from carrying one. It’s one of the easiest ways to cut down on plastic waste.
I only see two scenarios where the Mini would be limiting. First, if you regularly filter larger volumes for groups of people, a dedicated gravity filter makes life much easier. Second, if viral contamination is a frequent threat the Sawyer Point Zero 2 is a better albeit bigger alternative.