Before I get into the pros and cons of each filter, I’m going to start out with the backstory about why I ended up carrying the sawyer mini with me backpacking in the first place.
When we first started backpacking, my brother and I carried the Katadyn Hiker water filter, pictured above left. It got us through four trips without any issues, and I had never thought about carrying a different filter. My backup plan if this were to ever fail was to boil water with my Jetboil. Last summer (2018), my brother and I did our annual backpacking trip in July, which was trip #5 with the Katadyn Hiker. We went to the Highland Park area of the Big Horn Mountains. On day 3 of the trip, while we were camped in Highland Park, the wind came up pretty bad, and while the wind was blowing we went to fill up our bladders in a small pond. The wind had caused the pond to become pretty rough, and thus the water had quite a bit of sediment in it. We went ahead and filtered some water into our bladders, and during the process it got pretty hard to pump the water. Fast forward to the next day. As we were preparing to fill up our bladders at a different spot, my brother noticed some stuff floating around in his water. At that point, we figured the filter was likely bad, and ended up hiking out a day early. Thankfully neither of us got sick from drinking the water.
After this experience, I realized that boiling water probably wasn’t the best backup plan. I wouldn’t be able to do much water at once, it would take a while to cool off, and it would use up a lot of fuel. So before my first solo trip a couple months later in Utah, I looked into alternatives for backup water supply, and I decided to start carrying a Sawyer Mini with me in addition to the Katadyn Hiker. I also bought a new filter for the Katadyn Hiker for my Utah trip. Just a short ways into my Utah trip, it again became hard to pump the Katadyn Hiker filter. I didn’t want to chance bad water again, so I got to give the Sawyer Mini an unplanned test run for the rest of that Utah trip.
For our trip this year, my brother and I decided to carry two Sawer Mini filters each instead of bringing the Katadyn Hiker and a Sawyer Mini each. Based on my experience of using each, I figured I would provide some of my pros and cons of using each.
Pros & Cons
Had we not had problems with the Katadyn Hiker filter, we would have likely continued using that filter this year. I have no idea why we are having the issue of it becoming hard to pump, but for the 4 trips where it worked, we really liked it.
One advantage that the Katadyn Hiker has over the Sawyer Mini is that the water I am carrying around is good water. The water goes from the source, through the filter, and into the bladder, and then can be used for anything at that point. When I’m using water out of the bladder for cooking, brushing teeth, etc., I don’t have to worry about using unfiltered water. With the Sawyer Mini, the water I am carrying around is unfiltered, so I have to be careful about using water out of the bladder. At night, I will typically remove the Sawyer Mini filter from my bladder, put the original mouthpiece on the bladder, and the keep the Sawyer Mini in my sleeping bag to keep it from freezing. However, I have to be careful not to take a drink out of the bladder without the filter, or use the water for cooking, brushing teeth, etc. I just feel like using the Sawer Mini adds a little more of a chance that myself or someone else could accidentally use non-filtered water for something that it shouldn’t be used for.
One other big advantage the Katadyn Hiker has: the bladder is easier to drink out of with the original mouthpiece vs with the Sawyer Mini. With the Sawer Mini attached to the bladder hose, I almost have to work a little bit to take a drink of water. It’s not bad, but it is definitely harder to take a drink with the Sawyer Mini. I also felt a lot of times that I had to hold the Sawyer Mini to my mouth when I was taking a drink, particularly if the trail was rough. However, with the original mouthpiece, I feel like I’m typically able to stick it in my mouth and then take my hand away while I’m taking a drink.
One last advantage the Katadyn Hiker has over the Sawyer Mini: meal time. When we were using the Katadyn Hiker, we would typically fill our camelback bladders up when we got to camp, and then we would have enough water for drinking, dinner, and brushing teeth. However, with the Sawyer Mini, I have to fill the squeeze bag up with water, squeeze the water out into my Jetboil to boil, and then fill the squeeze bag again to clean up after dinner. Also, when I take the Sawyer Mini filter off my bladder to use on the squeeze bag, I have to either put the original mouthpiece back on, or be careful to set the bladder in a way that the water doesn’t flow out and not set anything on the bladder. Not a huge additional hassle, but it is definitely nice having a full camelback that I can use and not have to fill up a smaller pouch a couple times. Along this same note, though, my arms can end up getting pretty tired by the time I’m finished filtering water with the Katadyn Hiker, particularly if I’m filling up a couple large bladders.
The big advantage with the Sawyer Mini? It makes filling up the bladders very quick when you’re hiking. I just get my bladder out of my pack, scoop up some water in a water source, and then put the bladder back in the pack. I don’t have to assemble the pump filter, make sure I’m not getting the “clean hose” in the non-filtered water, keep track of the caps that go on the inlet and outlet nipples, and then disassemble the pump filter. To me that’s a huge plus.
One other big advantage of the Sawyer Mini is that the filter itself is a lot smaller. I can store the filter and my cell phone in my sleeping bag pocket at night without them bothering me. I doubt I could even fit the Katadyn Hiker filter and main body in my sleeping bag pocket. So if I’m worried about my filter freezing, I would much rather have the Sawyer Mini. I do have to be careful, though, that I put the original mouthpiece back on the hose when I take the Sawyer Mini off the hose.
One other final thing to note: when my brother put the Sawyer Mini onto his bladder hose, he put it on as far as it would go. The problem with this? It made it nearly impossible to get the filter back off. After the trip, he ended up having to cut the bladder hose to get the filter off. Just something to keep in mind if you are going to use a Sawyer Mini filter.
My plan going forward is to carry the two Sawyer Mini filters on each trip. Despite a little more hassle at camp, it’s not enough to outweigh the benefits of a smaller filter and easier bladder filling along the trail.
So there you have it. Everybody is different, though, and the choice is yours. Plus, there are many more options out there besides these two filters. These are just the two I have experience with. Feel free to comment on this post with any feedback you have about these filters, or why you use a different filter!