Katadyn Hiker vs. Sawyer Mini

Filter vs

The Backstory

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 Choice?

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!

Trip Report: Aero Lakes

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Last week my brother and I completed a four day backpacking trip to the Aero Lakes area of the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness in southern Montana. We had wanted to do a trip in the Beartooths the past couple years, but had decided not to each year due to reports of lots of snow remaining. We finally decided to just give it a try this year. This is a blog post to share our experience and provide some details that hopefully will be useful to other people who make the trip in the future. 

Day 1

Blog Map 1
Map with markers to details I point out below.

We started off from Cody, WY at around 7:30 A.M. and drove to the upper Lady of the Lake trailhead (marked with the green circle on the map). We arrived a little after 9 A.M. One of our maps showed the trailhead here, and it appears to be marked as the official trailhead. However, the map above shows the trail beginning at the blue circle. There appeared to be a parking area in the vicinity of the blue circle based on what we could see walking by, but I’m not sure about the feasibility of getting to that spot unless you have a high clearance vehicle since, based on the map, you have to cross the creek with your vehicle. In addition, it still appeared you had to cross some sort of creek/wet area without a bridge from the blue parking area. The green trailhead has a footbridge across the creek. However, the green trailhead adds about 1/4 to 1/2 mile to the hike. The dirt road to the trailhead (green circle) is a little rough, but it can be reached with a sedan as long as you take it easy and are careful. 

The hike in was pretty straightforward until we reached the area where Star Creek and Zimmer Creek meet (yellow star on map above). As you approach this spot you will see a trail take off to the left (see picture below).

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Trail junction shortly before Broadwater River.

We went straight, following the better looking trail (red arrow in picture). Shortly thereafter we crossed the creek and continued on our hike. However, I quickly realized that we were following a creek going with the flow of water, which I knew wasn’t correct, so we subsequently backtracked, crossed the creek again, went back to the Y, and took the trail that goes off to the left (green arrow in picture), which ended up being the correct trail. The trail that we took initially (red arrow) follows Broadwater River briefly, and then Sky Top Creek until eventually dead ending (according to a guidebook I read), but it wasn’t marked on either of the maps I had. So if you do this hike, make sure you take the trail that goes to the left. If you have to cross a large creek at this point, you are taking the wrong trail. The correct trail crosses a creek, but a much smaller one. On the correct trail, you will be to the left of a creek, going against the flow of water. 

The hike up Zimmer Creek was pretty straightforward. There is a cairn on the opposite side of the creek to indicate where to cross to head up to the Aero Lakes. I believe the map above shows the trail crossing Zimmer Creek earlier than we did (we crossed at the cairn). I have shown where I believe we crossed (pink dotted line). We were able to cross on boulders. The hike from this point up to Aero Lakes was brutal. It was a long, steep climb with loose rocks, boulders, and snow once we got near the top. The guidebook I read says it is referred to as Cardiac Hill, and climbs about 900 ft in roughly a mile. 

Notice on the map above I show us not following the trail up to Lower Aero Lakes (our route shown in pink dotted line). We realized after coming back down that the route we took up was different, and I’m guessing we went up a ravine/canyon to the north of where the actual trail runs. We ended up at the same cairn by Zimmer Creek coming down, but the route we took was definitely different. We were obviously able to do it the different way going up, but it would have been easier to follow the actual trail. Still very difficult, but easier. So if you’re not following a trail, you’re probably going up the wrong ravine/canyon. We apparently just missed the trail, which starts a little ways away from the creek behind the cairn. 

I believe it took us a little under 6 hours to reach Lower Aero Lake from the trailhead. After reaching Lower Aero, we found a camp spot on the point on the southern part of the lake, just to the southeast of where you reach Lower Aero. A few notes on this spot: 

  • It provides great shelter from the wind from every direction other than the north (which came in very handy one evening).
  • You have a great view to the north, including Glacier Peak, Mount Villard, and The Spires. 
  • If you plan on hiking up to Upper Aero Lake, you will have to hike around the western/northwestern side of Lower Aero, which takes roughly an hour. 
  • Our two person tent was a very tight fit in this spot.
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Our camp spot at Lower Aero Lake (green arrow).

In my opinion, this is one of the best camp spots on the lake. However, had we camped at the NW part of the lake (yellow arrow), it would have knocked about 2 hours off each of our day hikes we did. So if you want to reduce hiking time towards Upper Aero, I would probably recommend camping somewhere along the western/northwestern side of the lake (which several people did while we were up there). Finally, if you camp up on the northwest side of Lower Aero (yellow arrow area), it may be a little noisy at night due to a couple waterfalls, so keep this in mind if you like it quiet when you sleep. 

We spent the rest of the day hanging out at Lower Aero. 

Day 2

Blog Map 2
Map with approximate route for day 2 (pink line).

The goal for day 2 was to take a day hike to Upper Aero Lake and then over to Rough Lake and back. When we looked out the tent after getting up, we were surprised to see about 2/3 of the lake had a thin layer of ice over it. That was pretty cool to see. From our campsite, we weren’t quite sure how to get to Upper Aero, as it appeared there was a cliff that would prevent us from going the shortest/easiest way, but we saw a couple other backpackers camped near the cliff, so we figured we would see if they knew how to get there. 

We hiked around the lake and eventually got to their camp. They said they hadn’t been able to figure out how to get to Upper Aero. As we were talking with them, a mountain goat wandered down into their camp, probably about 50 yards from us. The dog with the other backpackers saw the mountain goat, and subsequently took off after it chasing it off. Even though it was brief, it was cool to get to see the mountain goat. Shortly thereafter, a group of 4 other backpackers showed up, and they were able to figure out a way down the cliff (see picture below). Thankfully so, as our alternative routes would have been much harder and I’m not sure they would have even worked, so kudos to them.

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Route down cliff on north side of Lower Aero Lake (pink line).

We headed towards Upper Aero, and took some time to get pictures of the two waterfalls between Upper Aero and Lower Aero. We crossed the creek between the two lakes, and made our way to the east side of Upper Aero. Our plan was to hike along the east side of Upper Aero, and then go over a pass to Rough Lake (pink route in map above). However, we only made it to the black “X”. It looked possible to keep going, but it appeared it would be slow going due to snow and boulder hopping. I believe it was around noon when me made it to this point, and it was already starting to look a little stormy, so we decided to call it off getting to Rough Lake and just spend some time at Upper Aero so my brother could get in some fishing at Upper Aero. We hung out at Upper Aero for a little while then headed back to camp, stopping on the NW part of Lower Aero so my brother could fish some in a different spot. 

Later that evening we had a storm come through that kicked the wind up pretty good and had a little rain with it. I would say gusts around 30 mph. I was definitely thankful for our sheltered camp spot. It stayed windy for a while, but gradually calmed down, and was pretty calm by dark.

Day 3

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Map with approximate route for day 3 (pink line).

We had thought about heading towards the Goose Lake area on this day, but since we didn’t make it to Rough Lake on day 2, we decided to give it another shot on day 3 with an earlier start and a different route. We left shortly after 7:00 A.M. (vs. about 9:00 A.M. on day 2) and headed up towards Upper Aero again. We decided to go up and over a different pass this time. You can see the approximate route we took on the map above. 

The climb up to the pass wasn’t too bad. Lots of boulder hopping and walking across snow. A portion of the climb down the other side was really steep, but not too long. I have no idea if we went the easiest way or not, but it got us where we were wanting to go. We made it down to Shelter Lake, then to Lone Elk Lake, and then to Rough Lake. It took us about 3 hours to get to Rough Lake from our camp spot, with about an hour of that just hiking around Lower Aero. The hike from Shelter Lake to Rough Lake wasn’t bad at all. We spent some time at Rough Lake, then spent some time at Lone Elk Lake on the way back out, and then headed back to camp. 

Once again that evening we had a storm come through. This one looked a lot worse than the evening before as it approached. During the storm there was plenty of lightning approximately 1/2 to 1 mile away, but we only got moderate rain for a little while, and the wind really didn’t come up much with this storm. It wasn’t near as bad as I thought it would be, thankfully. It cleared out a little before sunset, and we got treated to a pretty cool sunset with the storm clouds. 

Day 4

Day 4 was our day to hike back out. We took our time getting camp put up in the morning, and my brother got in some more fishing. We left around 9:30 A.M. As I mentioned earlier, we took a different route going down than we took coming up, and there was a trail pretty much the whole way down, which helped a lot. We somehow managed to overlook the boulder crossing we used for Zimmer Creek on the way in, and ended up crossing through the water little further downstream. The hike out was pretty uneventful. It took us about 4.5 hours to make it back to the trailhead. 

Final Thoughts

Despite the difficult hike in, it was well worth it. It is a beautiful area, and it was really cool to see the huge mountain lakes. There was lots of boulder hopping and walking on snow once up to Lower Aero lake. There is a spotty trail around the west/northwest side of Lower Aero and up to the creek between Upper and Lower Aero, but other than that it is pretty much figure out which route you think is best. Along the entire route, there were plenty of muddy and marshy areas, likely due to both snow runoff and rainfall. 

The mosquitos were definitely a nuisance up to and including Lower Aero. They weren’t nearly as bad at Upper Aero for some reason. Mosquitos were pretty bad at Lone Elk Lake as well. 

There were plenty of wildflowers bloomed on our trip, although it would probably be better if you waited another week or two. 

We saw a few smaller animals (rock chucks, pikas, etc.), but the mountain goat was the only large animal we saw during the trip. We saw plenty of hoof prints throughout the trip, but no bear tracks.

If you want to get away from people, this probably isn’t the hike for you. I believe there were roughly 15 other people we saw come through Lower Aero Lake while we were there, which I’m pretty sure is more than we have seen on our 3 Big Horn Mountain backpacking trips combined. However, it was by no means crowded. We met in person with only about half of those people. 

All in all, it was a great trip with great scenery, and was definitely one of the smoother trips my brother and I have had. 

Finally, just want to do a shout out to Dmitria and Kate. We ran into them several times during the course of our trip. It was pretty crazy how similar our trips were, and it was fun getting to share plans and what we each had done since last seeing each other. Hopefully my brother and I didn’t bug you two too bad. 

Stay tuned to my Facebook page as I will post on there when I have pictures from the trip posted to my website, which will likely be late this week.

If you have any questions about this hike, don’t hesitate to send me a message using the contact page, or send an email to info@brentuphoto.com.

Fishing

My brother did a lot of fishing while we were up there, so I figured I would provide a quick note on fishing during our trip.

  • Lower Aero Lake: caught a lot of Brooke Trout out of this lake, with a few around 12 inches in length. My brother says he had one about 16 inches come off right at shore. 
  • Upper Aero Lake: probably spent about an hour fishing this lake, but never got any bites.
  • Rough Lake: probably spent about an hour fishing this lake, but never got any bites.
  • Lone Elk Lake: probably spent about 45 minutes fishing this lake, and caught a few very small Brooke Trout. 

Trash

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The picture above is the trash other people left behind that we packed out. With as popular as this area seemed to be, I’m actually surprised (and pleased) we didn’t see more. Regardless, please pick up after yourself if you are out hiking/backpacking, and if you see any trash left behind, please pick it up and pack it out. 

 

The Importance of Maps

Not just a map, but maps. As in more than one.

When my brother and I started doing backpacking trips, I took along a National Geographic topographic map. The National Geographic maps gave us a general idea of where trail intersections should be, which is all we really needed to know. We weren’t doing any off-trail excursions. And luckily we never ran into any instances where we needed any sort of other map.

This past summer I took a navigation course through REI, and learned about the custom USGS quad maps on mytopo.com. With mytopo.com, you can create a map that merges several USGS quad maps into a single map, possibly eliminating the need to carry multiple USGS quad maps. I tried one of these maps out for the first time on our hike this past summer in the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. It was so nice to have the detail of the USGS quad map. I rarely looked at the National Geographic map that we had during that trip. I was definitely glad I had learned about these maps, and they were something I was going to use going forward.

Fast forward a couple months to September. I took my first solo backpacking trip out to the Uinta Mountains in Utah. Just like the trip in Wyoming, I had a custom USGS quad map from mytopo.com and a National geographic map. Once again, I loved having the detail of the USGS quad map, and for most of the trip, that was the only map I really needed. But if you read my trip report post, you know that I ran into some issues on the way back to my car. Some strong winds had kicked up a wildfire and was blowing the smoke across the trail. I knew the fire was relatively close to the trail, and the smoke and ash was thick enough that I didn’t feel comfortable hiking out on my first attempt.

This is where having both the USGS quad map and the National Geographic map was important. With the possibility that I may not be able to hike out the way I had come in due to the wildfire, I knew that I needed to look for other potential ways out. However, due to the zoomed in nature of the USGS map (relative to the National Geographic map), it didn’t show any other trailheads. I could find other trails on this map that went other directions, but I would have no idea if they led to other trailheads. This is when the National Geographic map came in handy. It wasn’t as detailed, but since it showed a larger area, I was able to see other trailheads and map out a secondary way out if it was needed. It definitely wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t looking forward to it, but it at least gave me relief that I had another option.

Thankfully I didn’t have to use that secondary option, but it made me realize the importance of having (at least) two maps: one with detail of the area I’m planning on hiking, and another that shows a broader area just in case something goes wrong and I have to find another route.

And while we are on this topic, I would highly recommend taking a navigation course if you are going to be doing any sort of hiking/backpacking. My brother and I took several trips without either one of us having taken a navigation course. You may be able to get by without those skills, but you never know when you’ll run into a situation when you’ll need those skills, and they could save your life.