When I first got into hiking and backpacking I would carry an MSR Sweetwater pump style water filter. This type of filters uses a lever/plunger assembly and tubing to filtrate the water through a carbon filter for drinking. While they do work really well for filtering gross dirty water in a fast manner, they are relatively bulky and heavy particularly if you’re a solo hiker or trail runner with a small pack. This eventually led me to purchasing a Sawyer Mini water filter which has become EXTREMELY popular in the hiking and trail running communities. Due to it’s tiny size and lightweight it’s become a staple of the ultralight packing list. However, it does have some downsides.
So, what other options are out there?
Katadyn BeFree 1.0L
Katadyn has taken it to the next level with their newest offering, The BeFree Water Filter. The Befree is blatantly targeting the Sawyer Mini crowd with its marketing material always referencing “the leading competitor” (Sawyer… duh!) and for good reason. The BeFree is a very small filter that is essentially built into a bottle cap. Within this assembly is a standard hollow core filter (same technology as sawyer) that helps remove all the microorganisms and bad stuff.
Let’s look at the nitty gritty details.
- Dimensions: 9.05″ (Uncompressed)
- Diameter: 2.73″ ∅
- Output: 2 Liters/min
- Lifetime: 1000 Liters
- Technology: Hollow fiber filter 0.1 micron
- Claimed Weight:2.05 oz
The Katadyn BeFree is extremely lightweight and packable. Katadyn claims it weighs 2.05 ounces… it came in at 2.15 ounces on my scale. Which is still lighter than the competition. The flask that comes with the Katadyn BeFree comes in two sizes. .6L or a full 1.0L. I opted for the larger 1 Liter flask. This flask is very pliable and can squashed down to a very small package for throwing in a vest pocket on the go.
The Filter is made up of three major components. The flask, the filter cartridge, and the cap. The filter cartridge screws into the flask on a 42mm thread (common size for hydrapak products). On the other end of the filter cartridge is a standard “soda bottle” type thread which the cap is threaded on to. The supplied cap is “sport type” which is similar to a smart water type flippy cap.
The fact that the filter has a soda bottle thread opens up a world of opportunity since the competition uses the same design. I was able to purchase a Sawyer “Fast Fill Kit” and adapt it to the BeFree filter. This has worked AMAZINGLY well for quickly filling up my hydration bladder while on the go… More on this later. The soda bottle thread is also nice to have when you want to throw the flask in your pack while its full. Simply replace the flippy sport cap with a standard soda bottle cap and you don’t have to worry about leaks.
The Katadyn BeFree filter features a 2 liter per minute flow rate. This is the biggest selling point to this filter. It simply blows the competition out of the water. The only caveat to this is that it has a far shorter lifespan of 1,000 liters before you’ll need to toss it and buy a new one. In my opinion, 1,000 Liters is more than enough!
The Katadyn BeFree water filter could not be easier to use. Simply fill up the flask in a stream, screw on the cap, and drink. In practice it works really well and the water tastes great. The flow rate of this filter is so high that water literally just dumps out of it with very little effort.
With the addition of the Sawyer “Fast Fill Kit” I was able to splice a connection into my hydration bladder tube that allows me to connect the BeFree directly to my hydration bladder without removing it from my pack. This setup is incredible! I can whip out my BeFree Filter, detach my bite valve, fill up the flask, connect it to my hydration tube, and feel the hydration reservoir on my back inflating with clean water while I squeeze it through the filter. This saves valuable time on the trail.
The wide mouth flask makes scooping water from standing water, and collecting drips very easy. I also like the material used on the flask, it’s a rubbery stretchy squishy kinda thing that feels very durable. The flask features a stiff area around the threads that help keep it propped open while filling. When the filter becomes contaminated, or dirty enough to slow the flow rate cleaning is easy. You simply fill the flask with clean water, and shake. The shaking motion removes dirt and debris from the fins of the filter cartridge.
Katadyn BeFree versus Sawyer Mini
Battle of the titans! Which do you buy? I guess it boils down to how often you plan on using the filter and how much money you want to spend. Let’s compare!
Flow Rate: The Sawyer Mini offers a 1/2 Liter / Minute flow rate. While the Katadyn BeFree boasts a 2 Liters/ Minute flow rate. This is a BIG difference and in the field this is probably my favorite feature of the Katadyn BeFree. Instead of wasting valuable time I can get back on the trail.
Weight: The weight between the two filters is negligible. On my scale the Katadyn BeFree weighs in at 2.15 ounces and the Sawyer Mini at 2.35 ounces with the flask included.
What they filter: Both the Sawyer Mini and the Katadyn BeFree offer 0.1 Micron absolute filtering. This means that they are both effective against harmful Bacteria, Protozoa, E. Coli, Giardia, Vibrio cholerea, Salmonella Typhi, Leptospirosis, and cryptosporidium.
Included Bag/Flask: The bag/flask that both are supplied with a drastically different. Sawyer provides a laminated bag bottle while Katadyn provides a Hydrapak flask. The Hydrapak flask is far superior in every way imaginable. It’s more robust, easier to fill, easier to clean. I also like that it’s clear so you can get a visual on the “dirty water” before your filter it. The Sawyer bag has a reputation of fatiguing to the point of leaking over time along the glued together edges.
Cleaning: Both filters can be cleaned in the field if they become gunked up. However, the Sawyer Mini requires the use of a syringe to backflush. The Katadyn BeFree can be cleaned simply by shaking clean water inside the flask.
As you can tell, I’m partial to the Katadyn Product… however, there are a few key areas where the Sawyer Mini has the upper hand.
Price: This is a big one. The Katadyn BeFree filter retails for $39.99 (.6 Liter) and $44.99 (1.0 Liter). The Sawyer mini can be purchased for $17.99 and can often be found on sale.
Reputation: While Katadyn has been making filters for a long time. This is their first foray into ultralight minimalist style filters. Sawyer has been selling the Squeeze and Mini filters for years.
Adaptability: The proprietary 42mm flask thread on the Katadyn BeFree filter could be a limitation to some. If you’re thru hiking and your “dirty bag” is damaged it’s nice to be able to quickly replace it with a soda bottle from a convenience store. Sawyer uses standard threads that can commonly be found just about anywhere.
The Katadyn BeFree filter is a welcome addition to the water filtration market. This is a fantastic option for thru hikers, trail runners, and ultralight backpackers. I’m a big fan so far and plan to continue using the filter on my hikes and runs for quick water resupplies. The price is a little steep, but I think the excellent build quality and high end included flask justifies the price.
When compared with the Sawyer Mini I have to say that the Katadyn BeFree is a far superior product in just about every way. Except of course price. But for something that needs to be replaced every 1,000 Liters I think I can afford to spend a little extra up front. At the end of the day though, both products will offer clean drinking water that won’t make you sick.