The LifeStraw Water Filter is a 2 oz straw-style water filter that you drink through. While LifeStraw (the company) likes to say that you can use it to drink directly from a stream or pond, that’s an exaggeration. Crouching down like that is uncomfortable at best since the straw is so short, and it is often impossible if a stream-bank or riverbank is too high. You’ll really want to carry some sort of wide mouth bottle or container to hold any untreated water you scoop up, so you can sip and filter it with the straw. This can be a cup, a wide-mouth Nalgene bottle, cook pot, or even a plastic sandwich bag.
The biggest weakness of the LifeStraw is that you can’t process unfiltered water and save it for later use. That limits its utility for backpackers who are always on the move and need to drink water regularly when they hike. But the LifeStraw is ideal for home emergency preparedness, camping and international travel where water is plentiful and you have easy access to drinking and storage containers. The LifeStraw can also serve as a good backup filter for day hikers who usually carry a lot of water in a hydration system but occasionally run out.
Specs at a Glance:
- Weight: 2.0
- Filter Type: Hollow Fiber
- Lifetime: 4000 liters
- Filter pore size: 0.2 microns
- 99.9999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli
- 99.9% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium
- does not remove or neutralize viruses
The LifeStraw water filter is dead simple to use. You uncap the ends, stick the bottom end into a bottle or wide-mouth container and suck water through the straw. You don’t have to suck very hard and it’s easy to drink your fill without a lot of work. If the filter is dry or hasn’t been used in a while, let the bottom soak in water for about 30 second to moisten it before use. When done, gently blow through the filter to drain any excess water and recap the ends.
The advantage of carrying a straw water filter like the LifeStraw is its simplicity. It has no moving parts like a pump filter, there’s no wait time like chemical purifiers, no batteries like a Steripen, no plastic tubing required like a gravity filter, or special bottles (hard or soft) required for use. It’s also relatively inexpensive, so you can keep one at home, in your car or truck, in addition to the one in your backpack.
While the LifeStraw does resemble a very thick straw, it’s more than that. In addition to a filter, it has tethered caps covering the mouthpiece and the bottom of the filter. These are more important than you might realize because they help minimize accidental infections due to cross-contamination. If the LifeStraw mouthpiece were to come into contact with unfiltered water, there’s a chance that you could swallow a droplet of liquid containing millions of bacteria or protozoa and become ill. Having a tight-fitting cap that actually stays on helps minimize the chances of this. The same holds for the tethered cap at the base of the unit. It prevents any unfiltered water trapped inside the filter from leaking out and coming in contact with the mouthpiece or your other gear. Unfiltered water has the potential to infect you, even if you touch damp gear and unconsciously bring your fingers to your lips.
The LifeStraw also comes with a neck lanyard, which is a surprisingly useful thing when filtering water because it prevents you from misplacing the filter when you pack up, or dropping it into a water source and having it sink to the bottom or float away. You’d be surprised how easy it is to do this, especially if you don’t use a filter regularly.
The main disadvantage of the LifeStraw is that there’s no way to filter and store clean filtered water between uses. You can only sip water with the straw. You can’t run a batch through and store it for later like you can with the Sawyer Mini or Sawyer Squeeze. Those filters allow you to sip or batch filter water when screwed onto a soda water bottle or compatible soft bottle. If a Sawyer screw-on filter sounds more your speed check out, Sawyer Squeeze or Mini: How to Choose, which explains the pros and cons of both units.
While the LifeStraw does filter out giardia, cryptosporidium, and bacteria, it does not remove viruses, particularly those that are transmitted in fecal matter, including Norovirus. If virus protection is a concern, you should use a water purifier that neutralizes or removes viruses like a Grayl Geopress Water Purifier Bottle, an ultra-violet Steripen or Chlorine Dioxide Tablets.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Hollow fiber filters, like the LifeStraw, run slower and slower, the more you use them because organisms and sediment clog the pores that water passes through. But you can make your LifeStraw last longer by backflushing. This is accomplished by blowing gently into the LifeStraw after you’ve taken a drink, which pushes any remaining water out the “unclean” end and purging the filter.
How long will the LifeStraw last? LifeStraw, the company, recently upgraded its estimates from 1000 liters to 4000 liters. This will depend on the amount of sediment in the water you filter and the amount of backflushing you perform.
How do you know when the LifeStraw should be replaced? When it becomes difficult to suck water through the straw.
What’s the best way to store a LifeStraw between uses? After use, backflush (suck and blow out) it with chlorinated tap water, open the mouthpiece and bottom caps, and let dry. Do not put it in a freezer as this is likely to destroy the filter.
The Lifestraw Water Filter is a 2 oz water filter that’s easy to carry and intuitive to use, even if you don’t normally use a water filter. While it can be used to drink directly from a backcountry water source, it’s best used with a wide mouth bottle or open container to hold the water you want to filter and drink from. While its low weight and simplicity will be appealing for minimalist hikers, it’s not the best solution for backpacking because there’s no way to batch filter a quantity of water for later use. The LifeStraw is a better solution for home (emergency preparedness) or camping where there’s an abundance of water or containers to hold it, and you’re not on the move.
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