December 28, 2005

MSR Miniworks: Adequate

Summary
It filters your water. That's what it's supposed to do. There's nothing earth shattering, but nothing too problematic either.

I was convinced to purchase this filter by an REI employee early in my days of backpacking. It was my first filter, though I had used it before. My initial worry was weight but since it was field cleanable he convinced me to purchase it over the new MSR Sweetwater. I used it to filter all drinking water during week long backpacking trips in the Montana Beartooths, Wyoming Winds, North Carolina Smokeys, and Colorado Collegiate Peaks, and for numerous overnights and weekenders in Wyoming’s Teton and Gros Ventre Ranges.

Back in the day, filtering at Island Lake WY, 2006
Photo by Kyle Kemp
The build quality of the casing is above that of most other filters within its price point. Though plastic, it is hard and can take fairly hard shocks and drops without worry. My biggest concern was not for the casing or moving parts, but for the filter cartridge itself. Since it is ceramic, a shock that wouldn't harm the casing could prove catastrophic for the filter. A single crack may allow bacteria and protozoa through the filter resulting in a critical failure. I did happen to crack the cartridge during a move and didn't notice it until I was on an overnight. Since it was my lack of diligence, and not a direct failure of the filter, I don't judge it to be an utter failure. It is delicate, which has motivated me to look for a replacement, but with some care it is a strong, durable filter. Obviously, I'm ambivalent. I wish more filters in the market would build their filter units with as much quality. I also with the cartridge were more durable.

It is not a light filter, neither is it the heaviest in its class. At 14 ounces, it's weight is acceptable for me to use while backpacking or bike touring. As with any filter, a dirtier cartridge means slower pumping. It's already a fairly slow pump, so the added dirt that accumulates even from clean mountain streams nearly cripples it. Though it does get dirty quickly - when on a trip I needed to clean it almost every day - once cleaned its function returns almost fully. It is easy to clean too. Simply scrub the outside of the ceramic and rinse with clean water. It takes less than two minutes. Still, with its slow initial pumping speed and the fact that it clogs quickly, I've kept looking for a replacement.

Though its minor annoyances and potential failures surely didn't serve to promote greater comfort and luxury in the backcountry, neither did it seriously detract. I would characterize this filter as bearable though sometimes annoying.

This filter runs about $80, with replacement cartridges for $40. It won't go through any more cartridges than most others comparable filters so its price is average and overall value for performance also average. It works, but because of these annoyances and potential critical failures to the filter, I found this to be functional though always itching to be replaced. Until I broke the cartridge I couldn't justify buying a different filter, though when I did break the cartridge, it provided the happy excuse I had looked for.

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