First (and last) look: MSR Sweetwater

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I recently found myself in the market for a new water filter to replace my venerable Katadyn Hiker (don't ask what happened, suffice to say it wasn't Katadyn's fault). Anyway, I cruised over to REI and after a bunch of dithering let the sales guy talk me into an MSR Sweetwater. In theory the Sweetwater has some advantages over the Hiker:
  • The handle gives it more mechanical advantage so it's supposed to be easier to pump.
  • The fitting for the nalgene bottle screws on so there's less risk that it pops off and lands in the contaminated water you're filtering out of.
  • You leave the tubes permanently connected and the pump has grooves to let you wrap the tubing around it. There's a cap that screws onto the nalgene fitting so you don't need to bag it to protect it from the contaminated hoses.
  • There's an overpressure port that's supposed to squirt out water when the filter clogs, giving you warning.

That's the theory. The practice was a little less overwhelming. First, the pumping action promises to be convenient but I actually found it quite awkwared and worse than the Hiker. Worse, I hadn't pumped 10 liters of clean water before water started spurting out of the overpressure port. I first attributed this to a tight seal with the container I was pumping into, but even after I vented the container (which seemed to help some), it still seemed to be spurting. When this happens you are supposed to scrub the inside of the filter. This seemed to help temporarily, but later in the day when I was forced to pump from some murkier water, it clogged again and worse yet the output seemed to be slightly green. We were able to scrub the filter and get OK-looking output from a cleaner stream later, but this did not leave me feeling very warm about the whole thing, and seeing as I originally bought it from REI, I returned it at the conclusion of our trip. It's surprising, actually, since I've had other MSR gear (including the classic Whisperlite stove) and had found it to work pretty well.

At this point, I'm trying to choose between another Hiker. I've had several and they're quite solid. There's also the brand new MSR Hyperflow. It's only about 2/3 the weight of the Hiker or Sweetwater, and pumps twice as fast. It's a different filter technology than the Sweetwater so there's no reason to think I'll have the same clogging problem. On the other hand it's absolutely brand new, so I'm tempted to wait for others to gain some experience with it before forking over my money. The one bad thing I've heard so far is that if you let the filter freeze it destroys it, so for cold weather camping you'd need to sleep with it, which is kind of lame.

1 Comments

I've had the First Need one for something like 25 years. Its heaver than most and not as "slick" but it works and just keeps working. YMMV

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