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A Backpacker’s Review of the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

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To try out this award winning water filter, I used it exclusively on a three day backpacking trip up the ‘Black Tusk’ volcanic mountain in Western Canada.

By Ben Seaman, Eartheasy.com Posted Sep 29, 2011

LifeStraw in useI was traversing a razor-thin ridge that led to the black core of an ancient volcano, known as Black Tusk, jutting upwards into the blue sky. The crumbling ridgeline had resisted erosion, and as such remained the best way to access the volcanic spire. Over thousands of years, the mountain top surrounding the volcano had eroded and tumbled down, forming a massive slope of unstable rock. Teetering on the brink of the loose scree ridge, clean water was the furthest thing from my mind…

Black TuskWe had hiked two days to get to Black Tusk. Along the way we took the opportunity to drink water and fill our bottles from the streams we passed, and while the streams looked clean, we always filtered our water rather than risk getting sick. After all, you never know what’s upstream of you.

My water filter this trip was an award-winning device called LifeStraw, which was designed in Switzerland by Vestergaard Frandsen for humanitarian projects in the harsh conditions of Africa. It’s an ingeniously simple water filter which anyone can use. Simply suck water through it and the filter removes 99.99999% of waterborne bacteria (>LOG 7 reduction), and 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites (>LOG 3 reduction) down to 0.2 microns in size. The EPA standard for removing the usual suspects, Giardia, E. Coli and Cryptosporidium, is 1.0 microns. At 0.2 microns, the LifeStraw provides five times more filtration than the EPA standard, which is considered ‘rigorous’. The LifeStraw filters over 264 gallons (1,000 liters), which you know you’ve reached when water can no longer be sucked through it.

lifestraw My hiking partners were using traditional pump-style water filters, and while they were busily pumping away, I was already drinking the cold stream water with no effort at all. I tend to drink water every hour or so, so I kept the LifeStraw in my pocket as I hiked, and when thirsty I’d pull my water bottle out of my pack, insert the LifeStraw, and sip directly from the bottle, as the LifeStraw is thin enough to fit through the bottle opening.

The LifeStraw is easy to carry as it is only 9 inches long by 1 inch in diameter, and weighs less than 2 ounces. Comparatively, the water filters my friends were using weighed around 1 pound. On a long hike every bit of weight savings counts, and as experienced hikers know, it’s the small items that add up to make your pack heavy.

drinking from streamLower down the mountain, where natural water sources were more plentiful, there was no need to fill my water bottle. I could simply get on my knees and put the LifeStraw directly into a stream for a cool drink of clean water. While I do like to take big glugs of filtered water right from the water bottle, I’ve found that the straw does deliver quite a large volume as it has a very high flow rate. It seems to deliver much more water than a typical drinking straw, so I felt satisfied with the amount of water I could get through the LifeStraw. While cooking oatmeal for breakfast or pasta for dinner, I used untreated lake water and just boiled it for a minute to kill any bacteria or parasites. Granted, the water I was using for cooking with wasn’t muddy, otherwise I would have wanted to clean it with a traditional filter.

There are water filters in the $80-$100 range which can be cleaned and re-used for years, but I figure if I’m drinking 3-4 quarts (3-4 liters) of water per day while hiking, the LifeStraw will last me for 250-330 days before it reaches its expiry of 264 gallons (1,000 filtered liters), or three years, whichever comes first. Since I hike about 15 days per year, this is more than adequate for my needs.

If I was in an emergency, it’d be nice to have one of these LifeStraws close at hand. If my car broke down in a remote area and I had to walk all day, or if there was a boil-water advisory combined with a power outage, having access to clean water would be critical. For those concerned about emergency preparedness, it’s a great idea to keep a few of them in your preparedness kit, and one in the glovebox of your car. They’re light and cheap enough to have a few around.

Here are some important tips, based on my own experience using the LifeStraw:

  • When the straw is completely empty, it takes a few sucks to get the water through it. After that, it’s very easy to suck water through.
  • If the straw stops sucking up water, blow back into it (from the mouthpiece) and that will clear the filter and make it easy to suck up water again. I had to do this several times per day. With muddy water, you would have to blow back into it more often.
  • When you’re finished drinking, blow a breath of air into it again to clear out the water in the filter. I also shake the LifeStraw a bit to help clear out any drips so they don’t end up in my backpack. If there is water left in the filter during freezing temperatures, it might expand and damage the filter, so I recommend shaking it dry, or keeping it from freezing. When I got home, I rinsed it under the tap and let it thoroughly dry with the caps off.
  • With the LifeStraw, you can drink directly from a water source (such as a stream, mud puddle, or lake), but keep in mind the ground might be soggy. I only drink from the water body if the ground is rocky, otherwise I’ll end up getting damp from lying on the wet ground beside the creek. A more practical way of taking a drink is of course filling your water bottle up in the creek, and then putting the LifeStraw into the bottle and drinking that way.
  • Although the LifeStraw has been tested up to 422 gallons (1600 liters), you’re supposed to stop using it after 1000 liters. You’ll know when it’s reached the end of its lifespan when you can’t suck water through it anymore. There’s also an expiration date stamped on the straw, of 3 years from date of manufacture. There’s nothing that’ll degrade over time in the filter, but the manufacturer hasn’t had any unused straws in storage for more than 3 years, so they put the expiry date on it ‘just in case.’
  • While the LifeStraw filters down to 0.2 microns, removing virtually all bacteria and protozoa, it should be noted that it will not filter out heavy metals, and will not desalinate water. It doesn’t filter out viruses either, although water-borne viruses are rare in the North American backcountry.

Leaning into the wind at the summit of Black Tusk, a sense of awe took hold as the effort of the climb subsided. I could see the alpine meadows and glacial lakes we had hiked along, and in the distance, the ocean. black tusk summitThe pounding in my heart subsided, and I realized my internal dialogue had changed. The usual pattern of mental chatter gave way to a sense of quiet calm, and the feeling of oneness with nature was uplifting and restorative. I felt the LifeStraw in my pocket, and it occurred to me that this little device is going to help me enjoy the outdoors even more.
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Eartheasy is donating one straw to developing countries for every ten sold, through Rotary International. We also donate a tree for every order through our partnership with Trees for the Future Foundation.

You can purchase the LifeStraw here, or watch our HD video review on YouTube.

 

Posted in Connect with Nature Tags , , , ,
  • Matt

    Great article, on an amazing product. I’ve read about the LifeStraw in the New York Times the other day, and it’s an incredible product. I’m going to buy a few today!

  • doc don

    The thing we worry about here in WA is giardia, or beaver fever. This is a real scourge and the health effects are long term. This little water filter is perfect for me, since my passion is the outdoors.
    Giardia is caused by rain and wind carrying cysts from fields containing or fertilized by manures of infected humans, livestock, or wild animals to nearby rivers and streams. Giardia cysts can remain viable in surface water for approximately two months. As a result, it is more dangerous for hikers to consume water from rivers and lakes during and immediately after raining seasons as contamination tend to be most severe during these periods.
    I am definately in the market for a few of these LifeStraws. I like the price, it’s going to be what I give my hunting buddies for Xmas. Very cool!

  • andrew

    An amazing product! Thanks for the info!

  • http://www.beawarecorporate.com/ greg ascentive

    wow, this is so interesting! I just spent a significant portion of time reading through all the info online about lifestraw, and how that and similar devices exactly work. I'd never really thought about being stranded somewhere and having to drink from a stream. There were a number of user reviews on other sites where folks would order the filter device, then go outside looking for "muddy water" somewhere to drink out of!

  • http://www.seobacklinksshop.com Adam

    Super cool! I have been waiting for this since learning about it a couple years back.

  • Java Addict

    Wow!… May I ask if this lifestraw is available in Asia, I'm in the Philippines. This should be the a great one for me!!

  • http://www.addvalue.com.au Patricia

    Amazing! but I don't think this works for me. Can't do that though.

  • Steinway Grand

    Wow! That's pretty amazing.

  • Dave

    Hi Ben

    I used to do a lot of walking/hiking around Dartmoor, ( i know, not quite the same as your backpacking !), with my dad when i was a lot younger.
    I always remember the time when dad thought it would be ok to drink water from a fast flowing stream. Well lets just say he was wrong, as i was ill for over a week after wards ! So like you said, i gues you never know what could be upstream. Prob a dead sheep in my experience !!

    Anyway, i just remembered that, when i was reading you article. Could of done with a personal water filter then ! :)

    Dave

  • http://musicclout.com For Musicians

    Incredible product that will probably save a lot of lives.

  • BPA Free Bottles

    It's important to use BPA free products too. Wide research on BPA has proved that continuous exposure to it can be harmful to health. So it is better to make sure that all plastic products one uses are BPA free.

    But thankfully, one can now easily find products like BPA free water and milk bottles, baby bottles, lunch boxes, containers, products for ones microwave, freezer or refrigerator, and even BPA free toys. So we should protect our health and that of our near and dear ones by using only BPA free products.

    • Ben

      The LifeStraw is BPA – Free, thankfully!

  • Ben

    Here's a good youtube video of my brother explaining the LifeStraw:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XckPmVmciAc

  • Craig

    I used to drink directly out of a lot of backcountry streams mainly due to laziness for pumping my filter or the dislike for the taste of iodine. Never got sick but always wonder if this was the one that was going to get me. Beaver fever would not be fun! Gotta get me a few of these!

  • Olufemi Nicol

    That’s an awesome product. I definitely could have used the LifeStraw when I got lost on Mt. Kilimanjaro with an empty camelpak and no water bottle. 4 hours without water at 18,000 feet almost killed me. I’d love to be a vendor for this. I have a store for travelers – this would be a perfect item!

  • http://www.facebook.com/julie.hartzfeld Julie Hartzfeld

    Has anyone used the Lifestraw in another country, like Africa?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      LifeStraw has been used in humanitarian relief programs in Africa for over 5 years. and is being further distributed in several countries in Africa today. Over a million people in Africa have had access to safe drinking water through LifeStraw donor programs.

  • Jon

    This is a very good idea. I love to travel from mountains and I always afraid to drink from spring water because I was afraid to become sick. This will solve my problem.

  • Todd Perry

    Its a great product. The only issue i have is the price. It was originally designed to help poor countries with a cheap way to get clean water.
    Sadly with all great products greed over comes the need to help others.
    The original cost to make one of these was less the 5 dollars per unit so as you can see they raised the prices 3 times cost.
    Its a great product and the original inventor had god intentions but someone decided to get rich at the suffering children expense.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      To bring LifeStraw to the North American consumer market, many additional expenses are incurred such as packaging, warehousing, transporting, distribution and administration. The retailer then must assume costs in stocking and selling the item.
      Over 900,000 LifeStraws have been distributed free to communities in need of safe drinking water. Today, LifeStraw is still donated to those in need through charitable programs, and our business also donates one LifeStraw for every 10 sold.

      • Ryan Holm

        Also a 3x markup is rather minimal in the retail world, although it is getting much more competitive and 3x markup is few and far between but what do you think the markup percentage is of lifestraws competitors? or Hiking gear in general?

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Thank you Angela!
    We have been working since the storm hit to supply LifeStraws to storm vicitms. Right now there is a LifeStraw representative on the ground in the Philippines and the filters are being distributed. In a few hours this blog will have a page which details how individuals here can help donate LifeStraws for this cause. Our efforts are in conjunction with Vestergaard and with Rotary International.

    • Angela Kohler

      thank you! I’ll check back and forward any link to anyone I can.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    No. LifeStraw will cease to function when totally used up after about 1200 liters.

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