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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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  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.

      • 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?

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


    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.

    • I was thinking about this since I already carry a 3 liter Seeker for dry camping: a BeFree with 1 liter Flux would give me redundancy for bottles and 4 liter total capacity. Sounds like we have a similar use case, thanks.

  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.

  10. Michael Takatsuno (Glider)

    Used the Sawyer for a few years, but got tired of it slowing down to the point of trickles on thru hikes. Also, the backflushing was annoying as I had to do it constantly to keep them working. Hiked the JMT last year and used the BeFree with a 3L Hydrapak. Best system I ever used. Flow rate was great, cleared in seconds in the creeks and the water tasted great! I used the 3L Hydrapak for camp water and extra hydration for dry stretches.

    Will never go back to the Sawyer. I always found it clumsy when I carried it on the bottle mouth and when I’ve had puncture issues with their bags, they’ve refused to replace them. BeFree will be my filter from here on out.

  11. Looks like Cnoc recently started making their 2L & 3L Vecto bladder with a 42mm threaded opening for compatibility with the BeFree. Provides another option for using this filter. The main advantage would be the ability to fill it quickly using the wide opening, without having to remove the filter every time. I have one of their 2018 models with the 28mm opening and it’s a solid bladder.

  12. I’ve had a few issues with the BeFree.
    Field test in West Virginia, it worked great. But then – First, the plastic tubing that it comes with either melted or otherwise disintegrated in storage, which to me was absurd because I kept it in a ziploc bag, inside its case, inside a closet. This was the night before I flew out to the Grand Canyon, so I had to frantically searched an Ace for the right-sized, food grade plastic tubing to replace. Next, at the Grand Canyon, the BeFree simply does not handle the silty water of the Colorado River past 2, maybe 3 filtrations. Sawyer worked much better. Hard to backflush through silty water as well, so eventually we simply stopped using the BeFree entirely. Back home I spent 20 minutes flushing it and it still doesn’t come past a trickle anymore.
    If you’re only filtering from pristine Appalachian or Adirondack streams, go for it, but for rougher water fare I’d use a Sawyer.

    • This really sounds like lost art. People used to use pump filters with a prefilter in those conditions because it gets the silt out before it reaches the filter.

      • Grew up using pumps and still have an MSR guardian!

        What we ended up doing is letting the silt settle out over night and doing our best to get the top liters of water into the BeFree for filtration. The other move was to jury-rig a bandana over a coffee filter (did not really work) but that fine silt is relentless. I’d bring a few Sawyer Squeeze filters to the Grand Canyon next time.

      • I certainly will! I mean if you’ve got it already you should bring it, but I wouldn’t counsel anyone to drop $350 on a water filter just for a trip to the Grand Canyon, unless you plan to make a habit of it, especially when a Sawyer (or a few Sawyers) will do the trick.

  13. Any experience with the newish Platypus Quickdraw water filter? I’m a Sawyer squeeze user and like the ability to use plastic water bottles vs proprietary bottles. I have had friends that have had issues (always at the worst possible time on the trail) with the BeFree. The Quickdraw seems appealing with a claimed improved flow rate and capped input and output ends but surprisingly lacks the coupler that Sawyer has for an easy in camp gravity setup. Just curious if you had tried it. I would have thought it would be in the 10 best review.

    • It just fits platy bottles, not soda bottles. I’ve used one quite extensively. I like it for the caps, but the lack of threading at the top makes it a squeeze model only.

      • This may be old news, but my Quickdraw accepts both Platypus bags and SmartWater-type bottles. The input has a clever dual-thread design. Inner thread for standard bottles. Outer thread for Platypus bags. I’ve found my new Quickdraw more reliable than my old BeFree or Sawyer Squeeze. Sawyer tended to clog, while BeFree tended to leak.

        • The thing I really like about the quickdraw is that there are caps at both ends so the wet filter doesn’t leak all over your stuff. That and the platy bottle compatibility are golden.

  14. I have been using a befree bottle for several years. I had zero issues with the first onen or two filters. The last few years I have had issues with the filter needing time to get wet enough to regain flow. I have started soaking it in vinegar before trips and then always leaving some water in it on the trip so it stays wet. I mostly use it as. Quick way to grab a liter of water without pulling out my main filter while hiking

  15. On the issue of Katadyn BeFree reliability — last weekend my son’s filter wouldn’t pass any water through at all, and the flow rate on mine was very much reduced from when it was new, probably 2-3 minutes to filter a liter. Neither of us have put more than about 50-100 liters through the filter and have done lots of swishing to clean.

    After reading your review, I was wondering if frequency of use might be a factor. We have used our Katadyn BeFrees only intermittently. Maybe it’s helpful to clean right after using and air dry before storage to keep the junk from solidifying? Maybe with more frequent use it doesn’t have time to harden and remains more cleanable?

    • I’m no expert on intermittent use since I keep mine pretty wet all season long. But what you say sounds plausible. Maybe you just need to use them more. :-) Anyway – always test you gear before a trip if you don’t use it frequently and when it comes wit water filters, bring a backup like Chlorine dioxide.

  16. I’ll stick with the Sawyer after my once beloved BeFree let me down on two separate trips. I actually gave it a second chance! I believed the first time was my fault as maybe I didn’t swish it enough, I got nothing but a trickle of water second trip after stellar performance first go round. I exchanged it at REI, no questions asked although I offered to purchase a new one. Second one did the same thing, only this one also developed pin holes in the bag second day on the trail. I carry a back up life straw (and tablets in my first aid kit) but making fresh water was such a hassle on a four day trip I swore I’d never rely on BeFree again. If they would refine it I would because the tow rate is awesome and an adapter makes is compatible with many bottles!

  17. I’ve been using Aqua Mira for years and have to wait the 4 hours for Crypto. Does the BeFree actually remove crypto without the wait? This would be a gamechanger.

  18. Done with the Befree after second filter has gone kaput. Each one I filtered maybe tops 12-15 liters each. Now realizing that using it once per year and letting it sit is the reason – for whatever reason, but not happy to learn when I need it for a trip, it doesn’t work and needing to go to the local store to buy I knew one, done after the first time. I guess I’ll just carry more water for my 3 day trip coming up. I sincerely wish they would fix this.

  19. Great review Philip, and the comments are really useful too! I really like the BeFree concept. I have discovered though that my membrane must be wet for many hours (preferably over night) before it will pass any fresh water. Found this out the hard way a couple of times when I forgot to pre-wet and needed water on the trail. Was wondering if I had a faulty unit, but seems Bill and Janice have the same issue. I’m not a fan of storing the filter wet long term, given the chance of it going mouldy, so will just have to remember the pre-trip wetting activity.

  20. You DO have better water in New England… at least, better than the silt-heavy southwest where mining has pock-marked the landscape bring more than just dirt down the hills with it.
    Luckily, a cold brew bag with 75 micron pores works very well on the BeFree for Pre-Filtering when collecting water from natural sources.
    Also like the improved durability of the BeFree Black, even though, durablity isn’t much of an issue with the regular.
    Always learn something with your great review. Thanks.

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