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First Need Water Purifier Upgrade

First Need Water Purifier Filters - Old and New

This past year, General Ecology, makers of the First Need Water Purifier system, changed their water purifier cartridges. The old cartridge model was called a First Need Deluxe (left) and the new one is called the First Need XL (right, in photo.) As far as I can tell, the Deluxe cartridge has been pulled from distribution. They’re impossible to find and if you do order one, the new XL model arrives instead.

The good news is that the new XL cartridge is completely compatible with the old pump and hose. But the bad news is that you will need to buy a new adapter if you use a platypus water bladder.

It’s hard to say if the XL cartridge is much better than the old Deluxe version. The flow rate has increased slightly from 1.8 liters per minute to 1.9 and the cartridge’s lifetime has increased from 135 gallons to 150 gallons. Otherwise the internals of the two cartridges – the structured glass matrix – remain identical.

If you’ve never used a First Need Water Purifier you don’t know what you are missing. The First Need is the only chemical-free portable water purifier that is certified to meet federal EPA microbiological purification standards against cysts, bacteria, protozoa and viruses. In addition it removes harmful chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, diesel fuel, and chlorine which you will find aplenty if you hike through agricultural and semi-industrial areas.

I swear by mine and I know several Sectionhiker readers share my perspective. Two words sum it up: “instant water.” I’ve tried gravity filter systems, chlorine dioxide tables, and other pump systems and I keep coming back time and again to the First Need.

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  1. I am interested in your thoughts on the MSR MiniWorks EX Filter.

    Has been pretty kinda to me (knocking) & haven't picked up any bugs while using.

  2. Matt – I haven't used this filter, so this is just a review on the doc that I've been able to read online. First off, it's a filter, not a purifier. There's a difference – purifiers remove all contaminants, filters less. So if you're ever worried about viruses – say for international travel – you'd want to add a chemical like chlorine dioxide or MSR's sweetwater solution to the output before drinking. Viruses are still less of a problem in the US, so you should be ok.

    It sounds like the EX filters out pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer and other chemical toxins, so you should be ok there too. Most other filters don't, which I find troubling.

    One issue with the Miniworks EX that pops out at me is that it looks pretty high maintenance – in that you need to scrub the filter fairly regularly to keep the flow rate up. I attribute this to the lack of a pre-filter on the intake hose, which would filter out silt and other large particulates. Surprising that they don't add this. It's rather obvious.

    The same holds for bladder/bottle compatibility. It doesn't sound like you can use a small mouth recycled bottle or platypus with this filter via a direct connect. Carrying a nalgene bottle must be awkward if you want to go lightweight. I dislike camelbacks and dromedary bladders…ymmv.

    The only other question I have about the EX would be the pump handle, which looks like it would make storage in a side mesh backpack pocket awkward. Does the handle detach?

    Do you realize that we live in walking distance from one another? I read your twitter profile.

  3. You are correct about how attention intensive the filter can be.

    Great point about that pre-filter. I just use coffee filter paper & rubber bands to keep silt at bay. Also, I actually switched to a wide-mouth nalgene because of the compatibility issue.

    Good food for thought about dropping some weight from my pack. Thanks!

  4. Very informative and interesting post. I also notice a map of Scotland. Planning going well then?

  5. Ah – very observant! That is the map from Scottish Hill Tracks, which you recommended and has been an excellent resource. Yes, I have a Challenge route planned out, just need to work out a few more details before I seek feedback from the chorus.

  6. I used the First Need (original model) for about 10 years before switching to a MSR Miniworks. The First Need is a great filter, but the ergonomics just don't compare to the MSR. The lever style pump handle on the MSR is much less fatiguing than the FN's plunger, and the way the Nalgene solidly screws onto the MSR makes the whole process of filtering water much easier. Usually when filtering water, I'm perched on some rock jutting out into a lake and the fewer things I have to hold, the better. I just cast the intake line into the lake and start pumping.

    Yes the MSR filter clogs and you have to clean it, but it's not that difficult, and at least you know it's working right if it clogs. I also like to disassemble it and dry it out between trips. What's growing in that water trapped in your First Need as it ferments in your gear closet?

  7. I can see your point about the ergonomics. Between trips I take the clean water cap off the First Need filter to let it dry out. I seem to recall that they recommend pushing a diluted bleach solution through if its a major concern. I guess I use mine so frequently that it's never been an issue. Same reason I don't bother drying my hydration bladders. No point.

  8. I had a first need years ago, but found what is now the Katadyn Hiker Pro easier to use, and also easy clean in the field once it started getting hard to pump. Then got into the PCT and lightweight backpacking, and switched to Aqua Mira. Problem with that is that there never is instant water. 30 min minimum and 4 hours best. Now I use the ULA gravity filter, which uses the Hiker Pro filter element, and carry Aqua Mira as backup, and when I need massive amounts of water, such as when a dry camp is coming up.

  9. I love my First Need filter. Had one for years and it's never let me down. It is just a bit bulky compared to some of the newer designs. But you can't argue with this one fact: It just works.

    Thanks for the heads up on the new filter design. I'll be looking for it.

  10. Actually the FirstNeed is a water "purifier." It meets all EPA and first responder requirements for purification. I dislike its ergonomics. It has served me well though and I have deployed it in very nasty "water" without noticably ill effect. FirstNeed is worth the trouble.

  11. After reading all the reviews, and after encountering problems with my original Aquamira Frontier Pro gravity system, I finally made the splurge to get a First Need XL. There's a video that shows what came out after a backwash, that sold me really quick. I'll deal with the extra weight. You have to see this, to believe this.

  12. My blind allegiance has waned a bit and I'm testing some lighter weight in line solutions starting with the Aquaguard Eliminator Inline Hydration Filter and Purifier from Drink-safe systems in the UK. Weighing 4 oz, if it works well, I may switch.

  13. I just ordered a First Need XL and will use it in a couple of weeks on an upcoming 50 mile trek on the Foothills trail, in South Carolina. I'm not mentally ready for the switch to gravity based or inline systems. Your information and endorsement of the First Need really helped me finally decide on it. I had been using a Sweetwater walkabout for years, but it was discontinued years ago and despite it's light weight and small size I had to also use drops in a 2 step purification process, which was a pain. The plunger handle broke on my last trip and although I repaired it, I'm afraid I don't trust it to hold up in the backcountry. Now that I've researched the First Need more, I'm afraid to ever use anything less…period. Thanks for the great info on your site.

  14. George – I'm glad I could help. You will really like the First Need XL. It is the ONLY purifier sold by REI and there's a reason for that. Plus, I'm glad to have you as a regular visitor to the blog. Bring us back some pictures from your hike!

  15. I've been using a First Need since they first came on the market that many years ago. I've purchased the "up graded" models as they have come on the Market and have never been happier…So that is what 30 years of drinking Pure water? I've compared just about every other Manufacturer's "Filters" versus my "Purifer" and well while my hiking companions were fiddling around waiting for the tablets to work after using their "Filter" or had to wait while their digestive systems purged them of bad nasty things after using their "light weight Filters" to save weight, I've never experienced any of that with my First Need..Thank you General Ecology! I have one in my Boat and my Truck for Emergencies as well as an extra one for the house…Great Product….

  16. Hi.. In March I will be leaving on a slow (5yrs +)world 'backpacking' tour.. starting in Mexico and working my way down to the Peruvian Amazon. I have been researching purifiers and filters for 3 months. Comparing all the information available.. including many personal reviews.. there is no doubt in my mind that the First Need XL is the one for me. It is certainly not the best looking.. but that consideration is way down the list of priorities.

  17. I've used mine Yinka at a number of questionable water sources, tinajas, farm wells, streams and faucets in a number of homes in Baja Mexico that were known to contain crypo and other little beasties and never got sick..Good Choice. I also shipped a few to my young Marine Corps friends and nephews in Iraq and they we elated to say the least… Good luck on your hike!

  18. Hey, SevenContinents

    I use the First Need XL as an emergency responder at large events, wildfire and S&R efforts for exactly the reason you cite! I beat the filter clog with an MSR SiltStopper spliced into feed line just after the factory input screen end. The Silt Stopper filter is inexpensive and keeps the pump effort like new. When storing it, I first throw away the MSR filter. I then make a quart of chlorine dioxide water solution (throw a tablet in a bottle and clean both at he same time), rinse the MSR filter holder, the factory tip and then pump the rest of the solution through it before putting it away. It has pumped a lot of water for backcountry wounds and burns in places with otherwise limited potable water sources. Sometimes from ash filled waste water.

  19. I love my older first needs deluxe…still kicking after all these years. I've recently become interested in shedding weight, though… I don't want to give up my first needs…I think I can take off a few oz. Anyone try to mod one for less weight? I know, most of the weight s in the cartridge, and I could ditch the pump and go gravity, but I like the pump, it's fast for on-the-move refills. Maybe a Ti. pin, drill a few holes in handles and the nalgene adapter (older delux)…and of course, leave all the extras behind…indluding the kind of heavy stuffsack.


  20. I just carry line without the stuff sack. It's still a unique and awesome product and I'd bring mine along on longer trips if I needed a group water system, virus protection (India – 3rd world) or couldn't resupply chlorine dioxide on shorter trips. Put it like this, I wouldn't replace it with another purifier/filter.

  21. The first need is still the best water purifier on the market. It’s a little heavier than some, but an amazing filter nonetheless.

  22. I’ve had a First Need for years and years and love it. It is so fast and easy to pump. I like the plunger because I’m usually sitting or kneeling on a rock and pushing down is just a natural movement. It started squirting a bit at the plunger so for a trip a couple weeks ago i thought I’d try an MSR Miniworks EX. That is without a doubt the most disappointing piece of equipment I’ve ever purchased. It’s been returned to REI and we bought a new First Need.

    Chrystal clear Yosemite water and i had to disassemble it and clean it after every two liters. It would still pump the third liter but the flow slowed so dramatically it drove me crazy. The first night out I thought I would time the fifth liter- 15 minutes! 15 minutes to pump one liter! I cleaned the filter and it returned to it’s previous speed…for the first liter and then it quickly slowed down. Every two liters take it apart, scrub the element with the little enclosed scrub pad and hope you don’t drop something or drip unfiltered water onto the clean outlet end of the element. It was awful. You can tell when it’s really slowing down because it makes an airy squishing noise. When you take it apart to clean, the back pressure in the chamber is surprising. I was really surprised because I love MSR products and bought this on reputation.

    The directions said to clean after every use. I kind of thought that meant after a trip or maybe at least every couple gallons. I didn’t think it meant after every two liters. Don’t walk away from the MSR filter—RUN!

    • Thanks for the comment – I was just recommending the First Need to someone over the weekend. Still the best darn pump purifier out there, particularly if you are also concerned about removing inorganic pollutants such as fertilizer or heavy chemicals.

  23. I’ve been carrying it, stripped, and it only weighs a few oz. more than even the lightest competitors, , and it performs so much better. Using it side by side, with MSR, and platypus, pound for pound, it’s the best.

  24. How Timely,,,,Due to a bad Summer storm system surprising us out on a rather large southern lake in my 18 ft. Bass aluminum boat we were forced to take shelter on one of the lakes Islands. I always carry a plastic box in my boat dedicated purposely for such events which includes one of my First Need units..We spent six hours on the Island waiting for the storm to abate under a 12×10 silnylon tarp and munching on MRE’s. We used the First Need to purify the lake water which having traveled through the Atlanta Region and nearby Farms surely needed Treatment before drinking in any measurable amount. Since there is a warning that limits the number of fish you can eat from the same lake we thought it prudent..This particular unit is over 10 years old and gave us no problems but great tasting water….

  25. Does the First Need remove fluoride?

  26. I bought this filter in late 70’s and over time have ordered replacement filters, several at a time. This past trip I screwed on the last filter that I have and need now to order some replacements. Thanks for the info. I was worried about compatibility. I agree this is the best piece of camping equipment you can have, the next is probably a good fire steel. These are 2 absolutely essentials for wilderness campers items.

  27. I have an early model of the First Need water filter and tried to use it after several years of no use–it would not draw water into the filter at all. Is there a seal in the pump that might have dried out? Can you buy a replacement pump only? Thanks.

  28. After a few years of use, the pump starting squirting water out of the top (handle end) which was not only messy, but greatly reduced the pumping efficiency/speed. We stopped using it and replaced it with a MSR AutoFlow Gravity Water Filter, which we love. More recently i have tried to fix the leaking First Need to no avail. According to General Ecology customer support, the seal that is leaking is not replaceable. (the other two seals whcih are not leaking are replaceable… go figure!) Very disappointed that this was made to not be fixable, and that the pump which is just a few pieces of plastic is so expensive.

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