The Sweetwater is a good all purpose filter for those concerned about protozoa and bacteria but its filtration factor provides no protection against viruses so this is not a filter that you want to use in some situations such as foreign missions.
You can purchase drops to add to eliminate viruses. These are described further in the review and a link is provided for you to purchase them if needed.
For groups this filter would prove to be a bit too slow since you need about 75 pumps per quart of water. For a person or two or even a family of 3 this filter could work well for an emergency situation.
For long term water filtration, a higher capacity filter preferably a gravity fed one, would work better.
There are a lot of water filters out there but the MSR Sweetwater has stood the test of time. This filter is your basic backpacking model.
Here are how its main specs break down
- Weight: About 11 oz with carry bag. This makes it a favorite among backpackers.
- Gallons That Can Be Filtered Per Filter: 200 Gallons (You can stretch this out a bit by using a prefilter or letting water settle before filtering)
- Cost of replacement filter rated to 200 gallons: $50-$54
- Warranty: 3 Year Limited Warranty (Cascade Designs offers very good customer service that will try to do whatever they can to fix your filter at the lowest cost if you are not within the warranty period.)
Can get water out of just a trickle
The Sweetwater is great at getting water from very small sources and can filter some fairly dirty water without silting up too fast. The included mess intake filter does a good job of providing adequate flow in those situations where you just are getting a trickle out from between a few rocks. The prefilter will suck in some air of course if not fully submerged but that doesn’t mean you won’t get at least some water.
My Personal Experience
When my husband and I moved back to the mountains of North Carolina after spending a few years in Southeast Alaska we wanted to start backpacking again when we had the chance. We bought the MSR Sweetwater in 2008 and we are still using the same filter today. Keep in mind we didn’t get out all the time on the trail so the fact that it lasted this long is largely due to the fact that we didn’t go on as many extended hiking and camping trips as we might have thought we would. Building your own house and living in a camper with no running water or toilet is close enough to camping to make it not as appealing when you have some free time.
That being said it has been a great filter. In fact when I couldn’t find our Katadyn Pocket while we were having our new well drilled, I got out the Sweetwater and it served us well during this time when we were concerned that our community supply of water had a cracked well casing. So I have definitely used the Sweetwater during trying circumstances and the water quality was fabulous and my husband or I could pump a quart of water in a minute or two even though the filter and pump are 9 years old at this point. On camping and backpacking trips we could easily pump the water needed for both of us without feeling like we were spending too much time off the trail just to get enough water to go on.
Years before this we owned an MSR MiniWorks and it was nearing the end of its useful life. It was very slow and honestly I think that even when new it could not have ever compared to the Sweetwater in terms of fast pumping and flow. I used to get incredibly frustrated with it when on trips. We took it on a week long backpacking trip and while it created very good tasting water, it was hard to pump and very slow.
That being said I have read where they have improved the MiniWorks significantly and it is easy to clean the ceramic filter so you get more life out of your filter. It is heavier at 16 oz versus the 11 oz of the packed up Sweetwater.
After reading others experience with this pump and the previous model, there are plenty of people that used MSR and Cascade Designs products for 15 years without having to do anything but replace a pin.
The drawback to the MSR Sweetwater is that it is only rated for 200 gallons before filter replacement so if you are a hardcore trekker or want something built for a very extended survival situation you will want to stock up on replacement filters or purchase a different water filter with a higher capacity before replacement.
Cost Per Gallon Of Filtered Water
The MSRP of the pump is $99 but some online retailers have it listed for as little as $72. Let’s use $80 for a good average cost you will pay. That means that your first 200 gallons of filtered water is costing you $0.40 per gallon. With replacement filter costs averaging $50, every gallon beyond 200 costs $0.25 per gallon.
So what if I need Virus filtration as well?
If you are a Sweetwater owner and are going to be in an area where viruses in the water may be a problem then you can purchase drops to sanitize your water after filtration. MSR makes these drops specifically for the Sweetwater system. A 2 oz bottle will treat up to 80 gallons of water. Some complain about the cost of these drops but honestly I think it is worth it to make sure if you suspect virus contamination. Plus these drops make it possible to use the filter you already own when traveling to foreign countries.
Accessories & Replacement Filters
This handy little accessory will extend the life of your filter by a lot. Even what looks like pretty pristine water can have a lot more sediment in it than you would expect. The prefilter allows you to filter water without putting as much wear and tear on your filter and eliminates the time consuming process of feeling that you need to let water settle before pumping. When you are thirsty you are thirsty and waiting hours for water to settle out is not an option.
These filter fit into the prefilter above so you don’t have to replace the whole thing every time your prefilter is looking dirty. Not a bad thing to have around if you are using your filter a lot or suspect you might have to filter some turbid water at some point. Don’t be fooled by what looks like pristine water! Lake water, pond water, etc can have far more sediment in it than you might expect.
If your water filter is due for replacement then for $50-$54 you can get another element that will give you up to 200 gallons more. Always make sure to use the filter that is absolutely the correct one for your MSR Sweetwater. There are some other replacement filters that look very similar so it is important to make sure you get the right one.
If you are planning on relying on this filter a lot then get a replacement filter at the same time you are ordering your initial filter and you will have a good start towards water preparedness.
Final Words on the MSR Sweetwater
Pros and Cons
- Easy to find replacement filters
- 3 year warranty and excellent customer service
- Proven design with many people using filters for years with no problems
- Simple to use and faster than Lifestraw
- Only filters 200 gallons of water before filter replacement
- Only suitable for 1-2 person use
- Doesn’t filter out viruses
- Water must be pumped. No way to gravity filter
The Sweetwater is a definite improvement over the MSR Waterworks and it is a tough little pump that is lightweight. For a filter under $100 and the amount of accessories you can get combined with the availability of replacement parts and filters, you are going to be hard pressed to find many pumps that are as proven as the Sweetwater.
While this pump could definitely help a family out during a survival situation, it would wear out fast and be rather annoying to use at an average of 75 strokes that are needed to get a quart of water. The capacity of 200 gallons before filter replacement makes this great for a solo survivalist or couple that want a budget filter that they can get replacements for as they can afford to put back more for tough times.
I advise watching out for sales and deals on this filter if you have decided to buy one. The price can range a lot and you can save $20 or more by shopping smart. It is a common filter so take advantage of that.
Always remember that no filter is perfect and accidents happen. Loss or theft doesn’t take but a little bit of time or not paying attention. This means you always should at least have one other way to filter water besides your primary way.
Lifestraws and other inexpensive filters can make all the difference during an emergency or survival situation. You may choose just to have two of the same type of filter and then some replacement elements. This makes sense on some level because if you break or lose one filter then the other one you have will have a few replacements to get you through the long term scenario you might be facing.
Bottom Line: The Sweetwater (available here) is worth the money and worth having in your filtration arsenal, especially for sustaining couples or individuals.
If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing to email updates. When you do, you will receive a free, downloadable copy of the e-Book, The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide. Also check out our Facebook page regularly for links to free or almost free eBooks that I personally reviewed just for you.
You can also vote for Backdoor Survival daily at Top Prepper Websites!