Gear Review: BeFree Water Filter

The Sawyer Mini Squeeze is one of the most popular backpacking water filters on the market. And I hate it. In fact, of all the water filtering or treatment systems I own (seven), it’s my least favorite. Sawyer is a wonderful company, but I’m not a fan of the Mini at all. To learn more about why it’s my least favorite filter, check out my prior blog post about the MSR Trailshot filter. I also refer to the Mini often in this review as a comparison.

I have been on a quest to find the perfect filter since I began backpacking and I’ve finally found it! Water filtration nirvana is mine! Enter: Katadyn’s BeFree 1.0L (the L stands for “Liter”). I had the opportunity to use this award-winning filter on an overnight backpacking trip recently and absolutely fell in love.

The BeFree is simply designed with a bladder and screw-on cap with integrated filter. It weighs 2 oz. and contains a hollow fiber filter 0.1 micron.  The Mini has the same filter and advertised weight, but the Mini requires that you carry accessories in order to operate it properly, which adds to the weight. More on that in a minute. For the BeFree, simply fill the bladder, screw on the cap and then squeeze the bladder to force the water through the filter and out of the cap. You can squeeze water directly into your mouth or into another container. MSRP is $44.95.

A company called Hydrapak – a wonderful company with innovative, collapsible/flexible bottles that I love – makes the bladder, which is much more durable than it looks and feels. I have owned a Hydrapak Stash 1-liter collapsible water bottle for a year now and have used it relentlessly on backpacking trips, with no signs of wear and tear. The flexibility of the bladder on this filter means you can quite literally crumple the whole thing up and toss it in your pack without worry, or roll it up and secure it with a small rubber band.

What I hate most about the Sawyer Mini, and most other manual filters that I own, is the amount of time and work it takes to filter two liters of water, which is the amount I usually carry at one time. The Mini has a very slow flow rate and takes a surprising amount of effort to use.

Katadyn claims the BeFree filters two quarts of water per minute (1.9 liters). That timing doesn’t seem to take into account that you need to refill the bottle to filter two quarts. In my own test, it took exactly one minute and 30 seconds to fill the bottle, filter the first liter, fill it again, and filter the second liter. That’s pretty amazing! That’s faster than any filter I own. Even my Steripen takes 90 seconds to clean one liter of water. The BeFree is also very easy to squeeze and you don’t feel like you are going to pop or break the bladder (unlike with the Mini).

BeFree Filter Flow Rate
Not squeezing hard and getting a good flow!

A common problem with many filters is how you go about cleaning the filter when it begins to clog up with sediment, which causes the flow rate to go way down. The Mini is the most difficult of my filters to backflush. It requires multiple syringes of CLEAN water that have to be injected with force through the filter to flush out the sediment. If you don’t have clean water, good luck. Forcing dirty water through the filter compromises it and renders it unsafe until it can be properly flushed and cleaned out. If it’s pretty clogged up, it’s difficult to get enough filtered, clean water out of it to turn around and flush it multiple times. As I mentioned earlier, their weight of 2 ounces doesn’t include the bladder nor the syringe — just the filter itself.

A growing number of filters on the market utilize much simpler methods of cleaning the filter. Katadyn’s BeFree falls squarely in this group. All you have to do is fill the bottle with water (dirty or clean), screw the cap/filter on and shake it around. Another option is to remove the cap/filter and swish it in any lake, river or stream. That’s it! This also means that you don’t have to carry around the extra weight of a flushing device, like a syringe.

There are a couple of other nifty features and uses for this filter. The Hydrapak bladder has measurement marks on it that are helpful when measuring water for cooking. The high flow rate of the BeFree makes it so convenient to use that, on a recent trip where I had a two-liter hydration bladder full of clean water and the BeFree, I chose to use the BeFree for all of my cleaning, cooking and drinking water needs. Although I had to refill it with non-potable water a few times, it was still easier, more convenient, and less cumbersome to use than the clean water in my big bladder.

While you could use the BeFree as a stand-alone water bottle and fill it as needed, I don’t think that will be convenient for most backpackers.  There is no carabiner attachment point on the BeFree so you can’t hang it from your pack (I hope Katadyn adds this feature onto future models). If you fill it and take it with you, you will need to put it in an exterior pocket of your pack. The flexible, collapsible nature of the Hydrapak bladder makes this option less than ideal. Although it does stand up on its own when full.

Katadyn's BeFree Filter Review
When full or nearly full, the bottle does stand up on its own.

I prefer to fill the BeFree and filter the water into my pack’s integrated water bladder, then roll up the filter and stuff it in the top of my back- or side-pocket. Or I will use it to fill my Hydrapak Stash bottle (which is 50 percent lighter than most hard-sided bottles such as a Nalgene).  You can filter the water into any preferred water container and stash the BeFree in your pack or pants pocket.

The opening of the BeFree is larger than a standard plastic soda bottle-sized opening but not as wide as a wide-mouth opening, as is common on a Nalgene bottle, for example. This is important as the size of the opening effects how easy it is to fill your bottle with water from a lake or stream. Receptacles with smaller openings, especially on a flexible bottle, are more difficult and time consuming to fill.  Rigid bottles with a wide-mouth opening are the quickest and easiest to fill.

The BeFree’s opening is wide enough to make it somewhat easier to fill than many other bottles, but it’s not as easy as a rigid wide-mouth bottle, for sure. In other words, the BeFree is not perfect in this regard but it’s really not a big deal at all. It’s a small tradeoff for such an easy and quick filter to use.

Despite how durable the BeFree’s Hydrapak bladder is, I do worry about it being punctured or otherwise damaged over time. For that reason, I always carry Aquamira water treatment drops or tablets with me as backup (though I always carry Aquamira drops with me no matter what filter I bring on a trip). I think it’s smart to carry drops or tablets as a backup option. They weigh very little, especially the tablets, and I don’t want to get stuck in a situation where I can’t drink clean water.

The BeFree also comes in a 3-liter size (can be used as a gravity filter) and a 0.6-liter size. I don’t recommend the 0.6-liter option as your weight savings over the 1-liter option are negligible. The 3-liter version only weighs 4 ounces, which is pretty light! For a group of two or more backpackers, or for backpacking in arid backcountry where more water is needed, this would be an ideal option.

The filter is expected to last for 1,000 liters or 264 gallons. If I backpack 15 days per year and use 3 liters of water per day, the filter will last me more than 22 years!

All-in-all, the Katadyn BeFree is my favorite water filter of all time (so far). It’s far superior to the MSR Trailshot I reviewed last year (and thought was pretty great). For now, my quest to find a lightweight, easy-to-use filter with an amazing flow rate is over!

Disclaimer: I purchased this piece of gear on my own and all opinions about it are mine. I was not given any product or compensation by Katadyn or Hydrapak (darn it!) in exchange for my review.

Water is life. And clean water means health. – Audrey Hepburn

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