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The Katadyn BeFree Water Filter System, Long Term Review

Katadyn BeFree Water Filter Long Term Review

The Katadyn BeFree Water Filter System is a fast flowing water filter that’s bundled with a wide-mouth soft bottle. It’s designed to filter backcountry water sources and removes protozoa and bacteria that can make you sick. The BeFree competes head-to-head with several similar filter systems, including the Sawyer Squeeze, The Sawyer Mini, and the Lifestraw Flex (see recent review) which all use the same compact, hollow-fiber water filtering technology.

Specs at a Glance

  • Filtration speed: up to 2 liters per minute
  • Filter size:  0.1-micron microfilter is tested to remove protozoa (99.99%) and bacteria (99.9999%)
  • Weight: 3.4 oz dry
  • Lifetime: 1,000 liters

The BeFree first became available in the spring of 2017, when I first tested it. The first version came out with a 20 oz bottle, then a one liter (1L) bottle, and finally a three liter (3L) soft bottle that could be used as a gravity filter or in a squeeze-style configuration to force water through the filter at a rapid rate. I prefer the 3L based bottle system for backpacking because I can use the large bottle to carry more water for use in camp and process several liters at once without having to refill it.

I use a 3L BeFree like a squeeze bag to fill plastic water bottles
I mainly use a 3L BeFree like a squeeze bag to fill the Smartwater bottles, that I drink from.

Despite the simplicity of the BeFree Water Filter System, I’ve heard numerous stories about people who’ve had difficulty with it. Foul tasting bottles, leaky bottle seals, fast clogging filters, an inability to clean the filter, and the list goes on. I don’t doubt that there have been issues. Sawyer experienced many of the same product quality issues, especially with bursting soft bottles, when they introduced the Sawyer Squeeze some 5 five year ago.

But I’ve never experienced a problem with the Katadyn BeFree myself. Not one, ever, and I’ve used the same products that everyone else had access too. In fact, I spent most of last year using a Katadyn BeFree on numerous backpacking trips and day hikes because I was curious if I could reproduce any of the problems I kept hearing about through the grapevine. Nothing. I never had a single problem with the filter element or the soft bottles and I used them hard. I can’t explain it. Maybe we just have better water in New England than anywhere else.

It's easy to store water in the BeFree when the cap is closed.
It’s easy to store water in the BeFree for camp use when the cap is closed.

I became more impressed and accepting of the BeFree the more I used it. The BeFree 3L model can be used as a squeeze filter for one person or a gravity filter for a group, quite easily. You can also transport water in the soft bottle with the filter inserted, provided you keep the cap closed.

I’ve also never had to worry about leaks between the filter and soft bottle cross-contaminating the water I was filtering into my bottles. My filter has never clogged up and I haven’t experienced any noticeable reduction in the flow rate with use. In fact, I rarely bother swishing the BeFree filter to clean it, because the flow rate is so good.

You don't have to backflush a BeFree Filter with a plastic syringe, you just swish it in water to clean it.
You don’t have to backflush a BeFree Filter with a plastic syringe, you just swish it in water to clean it.

Despite my positive experience with the  Katadyn BeFree, I still prefer using the Sawyer Squeeze water filter for backpacking trips because it can screw onto most of the soda bottles on the planet. The BeFree filter is only compatible with its own 42 mm diameter wide mouth bottle or those made by Hydrapack. If I’m on a backpacking trip in some remote place like backwoods Maine and one of their wide mouth bottles were to tear, I’d be hard-pressed to replace it because BeFree or Hydrapack’s bottles still aren’t widely available. That would render the filter useless because I wouldn’t have a bottle to use it with.

The Sawyer filters (Squeeze and Mini) and as well as the LifeStraw Flex take a different and non-proprietary approach to bottle compatibility. In addition to regular 28 mm diameter soda bottles, they work with the transparent, 70 oz Platypus which I usually carry for use as a “squeeze bag” because they’re so durable (and transparent.) If I’m someplace really remote and I puncture or destroy the Platypus, I can still get by just fine with a plastic Coke Bottle. That’s a big benefit in my mind, because I have lost and destroyed Platypus bottles (from overuse) in the past.

Using a BeFree with a brown Hydrapak soft bottle
Using a BeFree with a brown Hydrapak soft bottle

It’s also worth noting that the Sawyer Squeeze has a higher removal rate (99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli; and 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium). But I’m not concerned about a difference of a few 10,000ths of a percentage, and I doubt it makes much of a difference unless you have a compromised immune system. The slower flow rate of the Sawyer (about twice as slow), compared to the BeFree also isn’t something I care that much about. Both filters are sufficiently fast.

Now, my preference of the Sawyer Squeeze filter over the Katadyn BeFree is colored by the fact that I almost always backpack alone and can’t rely on a partner or group to lend me their water filters if mine fails. If I didn’t hike solo and the BeFree wasn’t the only water filter in my party, then I could see preferring the BeFree over the Sawyer, due to its improved flow rate. In my experience, they’re both good systems and perfectly useful for backcountry use.

The author purchased this product with his own funds.

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15 comments

  1. I assume there are the same concerns with damage due to water freezing in the filter. I don’t really like keeping a filter in my pocket and sleeping bag when the temps drop below 32, but I also prefer not get sick from a compromised filter.

    • Do you realize that freezing will break almost EVERY filter made, including the MSR Guardian? If freezing is a concern carry a STERIPEN. That’s what I use when it gets cold at night. Works great.

      • With it’s completely encapsulated fibers, the MSR Guardian can be frozen without damage and I think MSR states this clearly. They are a different material but that encapsulation prevents the expansion and potential rupture of the fibers.

      • Read the documentation again. You can freeze it up to 3 times before MSR recommends replacement.

      • I dug out the instructions and tags from mine and there is nothing about that in any of it. That’s a little unsettling since I have had mine out in freezing temps for at least a dozen nights now. The only mention is to not try to pump while its actually frozen, and not to put hot water through it. I sent MSR an email to inquire so hopefully they will reply. Mine was probably the first batch, bought it a week after they were available for sale – possibly they amended this issue later?

      • I read it on their website, I’m pretty sure. I was surprised. That’s why I remembered it.

  2. I used one of these on a recent trip.

    I LOVED IT

    Water filters are one item i like to pack doubles of.
    This Filter is now my primary filter. I may even pack 2 of these

  3. I tried this system on three trips of one to two nights and have given up on it. I was not able to get rid of the plastic taste, always had unacceptably low flow, and the 3L bag developed a pinhole leak. It seems to have a lot of promise, so I hate that it didn’t work for me.

  4. I’ve found that if you cut off the corner from a ziplock bag, put the befree filter in the corner & tie a strong rubber band around it, it can work as an emergency gravity filter. But you can’t squeeze it for quicker flow, as the water will escape from the under the rubber band.

  5. I’ve used the Katadyn BeFree about fifteen times while section hiking the PCT. I’ve had zero problems and prefer it over the Sawyer, particularly in terms of flow rate. I’ve not experienced any problems with the taste of the filtered water.

  6. I find that if the filter dries out for too long it takes a bit of soaking and flushing to get it working again. I started storing the flask filled with tap water in the fridge between uses – solved the issue.

  7. Two backpacking seasons with my BeFree system, problem free. I use the small BeFree soft bottle, plus a one-liter platy bottle while hiking during the day, and a three-liter Hydrapak Seeker for in-camp gravity flow filtering. That way I have a backup if i have a failure with either BeFree bottle. Plus the ability to carry 4.6 liters of water if water sources are farther apart.

  8. A very minor thought: I just starting with the BeFree but I think the more open elements of the BeFree dry quicker than the enclosed Sawyer units. So it may be less likely to grow bacteria internally when used intermittently. As a prior Sawyer user I am used to disinfecting after trips.
    I just looked at the packaging on the BeFree and did not see anything about requiring routine disinfection.
    There is a company military blog post that does recommend disinfection before long term storage but not the civilian directions
    They do have an “integrity test” for the BeFree that is nice to know about.

    Wet the filter unit with clean or unclean water
    Blow into the mouthpiece of the filter unit
    If it is possible to inflate the softflask, the filter cartridge is not tight any longer and needs to be replaced.
    If it is not possible to inflate the softflask, the filter can be still be used.
    Repeat the easy integrity test whenever your filter does not draw in the water well. The filter can be used for approximately 1000L.

  9. Unless Platypus has changed their threads, they are not really compatible with the Sawyer. The thread pitches are different. Yes they’ll screw on, but I worry about long term damage to the filter. It kinda pissed me off cause I had a nice collection of pristine platypus bags … Evernew water bags have the same standard threads as just about every soda bottle, and the Sawyer squeeze.

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