Why I Hate the LifeStraw Water Filter for Backpacking

In 2005, the LifeStraw water filter came out.  It was accompanied by cool images of rugged outdoorsy types drinking from puddles. Even a decade later, there is still a lot of hype around the LifeStraw.

I’m not going to deny that the LifeStraw is a cool idea. It is great because it is:

  • Portable
  • Easy to use
  • Can filter up to 4000 liters/1000 gallons
  • Removes 99.999% of bacteria and parasites from water including giardia, E. coli, and Cryptosporidium

However, the LifeStraw water filter simply isn’t practical for backpacking for these reasons.  Since people in my local FB hiking group keep talking about the LifeStraw, I decided it was time to write a post addressing why I hate the LifeStraw so much.


You Can’t Take Water with You

The LifeStraw water filter can only be used as a straw.  That means you need to be next to your water source to use it.

This obviously makes some problems for backpacking.

  • You’d have to stop and crouch next to the water source every time you want to take a sip of water.
  • Unless you are following a stream for 100% of your hike, you won’t always have water to drink.
  • Even if you are ok with sipping from a stream every time you get thirsty, it is annoying and time-consuming.
using the LifeStraw to drink from puddle

This looks cool, but is really impractical!

The company is aware of this flaw and has tried to fix it with the “LifeStraw Go” product.  Basically, it’s a water bottle where you put the dirty water.  Then you use the LifeStraw to drink the water from the bottle.

LifeStraw Go

However, the LifeStraw Go doesn’t solve the next problem with LifeStraw…


You Can’t Use LifeStraw to Get Water into a Container

Let’s say that you need water for cooking.  There is no way to use the LifeStraw to get clean water into a pot or other vessel.

True, you could boil the water for at least 1 minute to make it safe to drink… but what if you want to make a just-add-water meal (like this dehydrated hummus)?

If you were really desperate, you could suck dirty water through the LifeStraw and spit it into the container.  This is not something that I’d want to do.


There Are Better Alternatives to LifeStraw

I wouldn’t hate the LifeStraw so much if there weren’t great alternatives.  Personally, I use the Sawyer Mini (read my review here).

The Sawyer Mini also can work as a straw, so you can get those cool shots of yourself drinking water from a puddle (not sure why’d you want to do this though).

But you can also screw the Sawyer Mini onto a plastic bottle or the included pouch.  Just fill the bottle or pouch with dirty water, then squeeze through the Sawyer Mini to get clean water for drinking, cooking, or whatever.

You can buy the Sawyer Mini here.  

This is me filtering water with the Sawyer Mini. I’m using a plastic bottle instead of the pouch to filter clean water into a separate bottle.

I’ve used the Sawyer Mini while backpacking and countries where the water isn’t safe to drink – like here on the beach in Albania.


Admittedly, the Sawyer Mini does have a really slow flow rate. I’ve recently gotten the Sawyer Squeeze, which works the same way but filters a lot faster. It is a bit bigger and costs a bit more than the Sawyer Mini.

If you are going to be backpacking with more people, a pump-style water filter might be the better bet.  The Katadyn Hiker Microfilter or the MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter. These are pricier options though, and the filters don’t last as long.



I do want to say that LifeStraw does a lot of great work.  The filter was originally designed as a way to remove Guinea worm larvae and more than 37 million LifeStraw Guinea Worm filters have been given to people in the developing world.

LifeStraw also gives away their products for free to the developing world and a portion of proceeds go towards supplying communities with LifeStraw “community” filters.

This doesn’t mean you need to buy an impractical water filter to help people in the developing world though.  You can also make a private donation.  Or Sawyer has an option where you can make a donation to solve drinking water problems.  100% of your donation goes towards their clean water programs.  Learn more about making a donation here.

Image credit for guy using LifeStraw in a puddle: “P1090143” (CC BY 2.0) by popofatticus

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