Sawyer Mini vs. LifeStraw – Best Portable Water Filter (One Clear Winner!)

Two of the most popular water filters for camping, disaster prep, and prepper bug out bags are the Sawyer Mini and LifeStraw.

I’ll tell you right away that the Sawyer Mini is the better of the two products.  While they might seem very similar, the Sawyer Mini is a lot more versatile and reliable.

The Clear Winner – Not Even Close

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Overview of the Sawyer Mini and LifeStraw

Both the Sawyer Mini and LifeStraw are hollow-fiber membrane water filters.  This means that the water passes through a mesh-like membrane.  The membrane catches bacteria, protozoa, algae, and other waterborne pathogens.
hollow fiber membrane filter
Compared to the bulky ceramic water filters of the past, the Sawyer Mini and LifeStraw are very compact. They are also very easy to use.

No pumping is required and you never have to change the filter.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that these water filters are game changers.

Back when I was a kid, camping water filters were clunky and the filters had to be constantly replaced.  The Sawyer Mini and LifeStraw are often distributed in disaster-struck places (such as in Haiti after their huge earthquake).

These water filters have probably saved thousands of lives by providing a cheap and easy solution for clean drinking water.

Sawyer Mini vs. LifeStraw Specs

FilterMicron RatingFilter Life (Gallons)LengthWeight

Flow RateCleaning

Sawyer Mini
0.1100,0005"2oz1 ltr \5.5 minsWater backflushing

Lifestraw
152649"2ozN/AAir backflushing

 

Why the Sawyer Mini Beats the LifeStraw

When comparing the LifeStraw against the Sawyer Mini, you’ve got to understand that LifeStraw was designed for use in 3rd world countries.  It wasn’t meant to be a backcountry solution for backpackers and survivalists.  Rather, it is a cheap, disposable water filter that could be distributed to save lives.

By contrast, the Sawyer Mini was designed for backcountry use.  It basically takes the concept of the LifeStraw and improves it tenfold.  Here’s the breakdown.

 

Efficacy

Backcountry water filters are rated by microns.  The rating means how small of particles can get through the filter.  The smallest bacteria is 0.37 long.  To ensure that all bacteria gets filtered out of your water, you’d need a filter smaller than this (protozoa, algae, and other microorganisms are larger than bacteria).

Rated at 0.1 microns, the Sawyer Mini is definitely the superior of the two filters.  Some comparison posts make a big deal out of the fact that the Sawyer Mini removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria compared to “just” 99.9% with the LifeStraw.

Honestly, this slight difference doesn’t matter too much.  Both the Sawyer and LifeStraw do an awesome job of filtering water.

Remember, these water filters DO NOT treat:

  • Viruses
  • Chemicals
  • Heavy metals

In backcountry situations, you usually don’t have to worry about these threats.

Viruses, for example, only really become a threat in situations where there has been sewage contamination (such as after flooding).  Learn more about water purification systems and what they treat here.

 

The LifeStraw is Only a Straw

using the lifestraw

Those videos which show using the LifeStraw to drink straight from a dirty puddle are really cool.  In a SHTF situation, I’d be happy to have a LifeStraw.  However, for everyday planning and prep, there are some issues with relying on a straw for filtering water.

Issues with Straw Filters:

  • Must squat down and stick your head close to the water to drink.
  • Use a lot of mouth-suction power (especially with murky water).
  • Have no way of taking filtered water with you.
  • Can’t fill up a cooking pot.

Of course, you can find some creative ways to eliminate these issues with the LifeStraw.  For example, some people might fill a water bottle with dirty water and then use the LifeStraw to drink from the bottle.

For filling a cooking pot, you could suck water into your mouth and spit it into the pot.

Yes – these solutions will work in a pinch.  But not something that I want to rely on! By contrast, the Sawyer Mini can be used numerous ways.

*Note that LifeStraw has started making other products to address these issues.  For example, the LifeStraw Family, Community, and Mission are all gravity powered.  This means you can get clean water to take with you.  However, those products aren’t exactly portable solutions.

 

The Sawyer Mini is a Straw and Much More

ways to use sawyer mini

Here is where the Sawyer Mini wins hands-down against the LifeStraw.   The LifeStraw is only a straw whereas the Sawyer Mini is very versatile.

Ways to Use the Sawyer Mini:

  • Be used as a straw to drink directly from the source.
  • Drink from pouch or water bottle.
  • Squeeze clean water through the filter into a bottle/pot.
  • Spliced into a water bladder hose.

I find the best way to use the Sawyer Mini is to keep two water bottles with you.  One you fill with dirty water.  Screw the Sawyer Mini onto it, squeeze, and collect the clean water in your other water bottle.  Just make sure you remember which bottle is for clean and dirty!

 

Cleaning

Here’s another area where the Sawyer Mini beats the LifeStraw.  You can clean the Sawyer with backflushing – just shoot some clean water through the bottom side of it.  The water will push out any gunk that has built up in the filter.

The Sawyer Mini comes with a special syringe just for backflushing.  According to these tips, you can also use a SmartWater bottle for backflushing.

The LifeStraw can also be backflushed.  However, they recommend blowing air through the bottom end to blow out buildup.  This isn’t nearly as efficient as shooting water through.

 

Value

The last I checked, the Sawyer Mini costs a small bit more than the LifeStraw.  However, the Sawyer Mini can filter 100,000 gallons of water compared to just 264 gallons with the LifeStraw.

Considering how versatile and long-lasting the Sawyer Mini is, you’ll regret if you choose the LifeStraw just to save a few bucks.

The Clear Winner – Not Even Close

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The Sawyer Mini was designed to be a versatile, effective water filter for backcountry use.  It’s great for camping, hiking, Bug Out Bags, and even to have at home for boil alerts.

While the LifeStraw is also an amazing product, it pales in comparison to all that the Sawyer Mini can do.

Image credits

I’m Jacob Hunter, founder of Primal Survivor.
I believe in empowering people with the knowledge to prepare and survive in the modern world.

More about Jacob here.

Leave a comment

  1. Interesting and informative. Wish I’d read this before purchasing a couple of Lifestraw’s already. Still, they’re both easy to use and they’ll both keep you alive in most disaster or wilderness situations. I’ll find some tubing to connect to the top of my Lifestraw so I can use it remotely, as a siphon, and if I buy anymore water filtration devices I will definitely look into the Sawyer…
    Thanks for this informative and very useful review!

  2. I reviewed all the filter styles back in 2010 and settled on the Sawyer Point One, the full kit with filter, bag, hose, drill bit for bucket, fittings, caps, etc. It is still filtering =all= my drinking water flawlessly 7 years later. I would have spent the same amount for several straw filters in that time, but they break, plug, and get lost more easily. I bought Sawyer Minis for my entire family in other cities and they love them. Sawyer rocks.

  3. I never have had the Lifestraw at any time because I know it is 0.2 micron and where I live, there suffers from Leptospirosis and that bacterium is 0.1 micron is diameter. I’m not sure if Sawyer’s membranes can filter them out but I know Lifestraw won’t. I’m having the Sawyer for years (blue when I first bought it).

    The other thing, most of the times, Lifestraw seems to get more publicity and appears more on blog write-ups and articles. Strange!

    • The Sawyer is rated to 0.1 microns so should filter out the Leptospirosis bacterium.

      Lifestraw is still a great product but in our opinion the Sawyer is superior in almost every respect.

  4. Both run about $19.95 at most stores in our area, but watch for them to go on sale. Sawyer tends to make rock solid gear for the money – you’ll never go wrong with their stuff. The review was fair and spot-on. I went to get a Lifestraw and got lucky that the Sawyer was hanging right next to it – I immediately grabbed the Sawyer, compared the two, and got the Sawyer. I’ve used it in the backcountry and have not been disappointed. Great review – thank you!

  5. Why the Survivor filter Pro is superior to the sower and the love straw. The Survivor filter Pro filters down to .01 microns giving 10 times to filtration power of the Sawyer Mini. giving 10 times 2 filtration power of the solar mini. Like the others it also uses Hollow fiber membranes plus has a replaceable charcoal filter. This unit has actually been upgraded to water purifier because of the fineness of the filtration. They are also back flushable without the use of additional equipment. Unfortunately it is a good bit more expensive but I think well worth the money because it also removes viruses chemicals and minerals. My city water has an extremely high level of chlorine and I use the Survivor Pro just to remove that and the water tastes so amazingly good. Just Google Survivor filter Pro and you will understand what I am talking about.

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