If you’re a veteran reader on the survival blog scene, chances are you’ve already seen your fair share of LifeStraw reviews already. These small, portable little water filters have been making the rounds from blog to blog for quite some time now, and for good reason. The LifeStraw is a hand-held personal water purification system that actually manages to remove 99.99999% of the waterborne bacteria in lakes, streams, rivers, etc., helping to make personal consumption of natural bodies of water overwhelmingly safer than without the straw. From a survival perspective, it’s obvious how one of these could really be a life saver in an emergency situation. Yet they’re really handy when it comes to camping and hiking, too.
The LifeStraw packaging is fairly basic. Instructions are given, but it’s very intuitive to use, so you probably wouldn’t need those anyway. It’s essentially a straw with two caps. Uncover caps, stick in water, drink. Easy as pie.
What I find especially convenient about the LifeStraw is how crazy light it is. It’s certainly lighter than an average neck knife (like my Mora Classic 1 for example), and I have no issues carrying them around all day long. The LifeStraw, with its provided neck cord, is barely noticeable by comparison.
While the LifeStraw does filter out 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of waterborne protozoan cysts, it should be noted that other nasties besides bacteria and protozoa parasites can lurk in the water. The LifeStraw won’t filter out minerals, viruses, or chemicals, so while it’s fairly safe to drink from running water in rivers, brooks, and creeks, it’s not a good idea to use the LifeStraw downstream from an industrial plant or in a pool of water in a third world country. Of course, if you have absolutely no other choice but to drink, because you’re stuck in a survival situation say, go for it. Always better with the LifeStraw than without it. But beware that there are still risks as the LifeStraw cannot filter out everything dangerous.
I’d like to mention also that since the LifeStraw does not filter out minerals, it is not safe to use the LifeStraw to drink ocean or seawater. A LifeStraw cannot remove salt from water, and as such you should never use it to drink seawater in survival situations, not even to drink a little, as the salty water will still dehydrate you, whether or not you drink it from a LifeStraw filter. This should not be held against the LifeStraw at all, however, as it was never meant to purify salt and other minerals from water. A water purifier that did so would be inhibitively expensive.
For a $20 filter, the LifeStraw performs exceptionally well. If you are unsure about your water source, and happen to have iodine on you, you can always purify with iodine prior to filtering.
The top of the LifeStraw has a plastic mouth piece for comfort. Thankfully, it’s a rigid plastic and not one of those rubber ones that inevitably gets chewed up and ends up looking like crap after a couple of weeks of use.
The LifeStraw boasts being chemical free, which is awesome as that’s always been my biggest gripe with alternatives like tabs and boiling water. It can filter 1000 liters in its lifetime, certainly enough for users like me who would only need it from time to time in case of emergencies, while hiking, or during camping trips.
The design is both sleek and comfortable to wear, and as I’ve mentioned before, quite lightweight. Remarkably, it only weighs 2 ounces.
The business end of the LifeStraw has a plastic grill covering the filter itself. The filter can handle filtering up to 2 microns, which is tiny.
The caps on both ends do does stay on securely, and while the plastic tab connecting the cap to the straw is relatively thin, I would say that breaking it off accidentally would be highly unlikely. It’s definitely durable for what it is.
In order to properly test the filter, we located a nearby brook and drove over for a trial run.
I’m going to be 100% honest with you, I was pretty damn hesitant about using the LifeStraw when I saw that brook, especially since the water wasn’t particularly clear. Even while running, the stream water was still an unappetizing shade of yellow-green.
Of course, I know that many, many people have used the LifeStraw before me. Vestergaard, the company that originally introduced the LifeStraw, boasts that it has already been used by millions of victims of floods and earthquakes as an emergency response tool. With this in mind, I found a good spot to crouch down in and got to business.
Of course the very first thing I noticed was just how difficult it was to get low enough to use the LifeStraw. I used a pretty large rock to keep myself propped up, sparing me from getting wet from the creek, but it definitely was no picnic staying crouched to drink long enough for my thirst to be satiated.
You have to sip quite hard to get the water up through the straw. Not quite as hard as you would have to suck on a straw to get up a really thick milkshake, but that sort of persistence was definitely required. I honestly take this as a good thing, as it reaffirms my faith that the filter does in fact remove virtually all the contaminants as the advertising claims it does.
Being pretty thirsty, I stayed crouched over for a solid 3 minutes: uncomfortable to say the least, but fine nonetheless. Once I was finished drinking, Elise, who was taking the pictures, immediately asked me whether the water tasted good or not. Surprisingly, the LifeStraw doesn’t impart any kind of chemical aftertaste to the water. It also reduces particulate matter, meaning most of the muddy taste the water would have had before being filtered is gone. The flavour was so neutral that I actually quite enjoyed it, and the texture was phenomenal. I told Elise to try it out by taking a sip herself, and she agreed. No funny taste, and while it takes a little effort to get out of the straw, definitely worth it.
In order to see whether the water looked any clearer once it’d been through the filter, I took an empty water bottle and spat some into it (sorry for the visual) after having used the LifeStraw. Surely enough, that gruesome yellow-green colour was well gone.
Of course, crouching down is just one way you can use the LifeStraw. If you happen to have a container on you, like a water bottle, a pot, or a cup, it would do you well to put the stream water into the container first, then drinking with the LifeStraw from the container, rather than the stream.
Unfortunately the LifeStraw does not fit inside the neck of a typical plastic water bottle, but it’s a problem that can quickly be solved if you’ve got a sharp edge on you. Simply cut off the top of the plastic water bottle, and you’re all set.
With the top off the water bottle, placing the LifeStraw in for a sip becomes effortless. No more couching down to get water. No more staying in awkward positions for long enough to satiate thirst. I actually wouldn’t mind using the LifeStraw as my sole source of water purification for extended periods of time using this method.
Cleaning the water filter is straightforward as well. Intuitively, as you may have already guessed, all you need to do is blow out the remaining water that’s in the hollow membrane filter onto the ground. Then just put the cap back on and pack the LifeStraw away (or of course, keep it around your neck for the rest of the trip).
A fairly recent review of the LifeStraw titled “The one problem no LifeStraw review ever mentions” (read it here), critiqued the product based on the fact that once you walk away from the natural source of water, you essentially have no water period. He argued that the LifeStraw lacking a built in water container like the Sawyer Water Bottle filtration system was a serious design flaw, an oversight that hadn’t yet been addressed. Of course LifeStraw does have an alternative to the Sawyer Water Bottle, called the LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle, but that’s besides the point.
In Canada, where we happen to live, brooks and streams are no rarity to come by. Walk around for long enough and you’re likely to bump into some water. Go out of your way to look for bodies of water, and you’re even more likely to come across some liquid you can ingest. Yes, it is possible to leave the body of water and not come across another one for days, but it’s unlikely. In such circumstances, I’d much prefer having a smaller, more compact and utilitarian design with no extra bits. If I had a water bottle attached to my LifeStraw, it would be significantly harder and more irritating to carry. I definitely wouldn’t be able to casually roam around with it around my neck comfortably. For my environment, I feel the LifeStraw fits my needs better, allowing me to leave my pack at home for a more lightweight hike or stroll in the wilderness.
When camping, the same is likely to be true. Typically, you’ll pick one spot near a body of water, so you’ll always know where the water is. Going back and forth to that body of water typically won’t be a problem, and you can always use a separate container to bring water back to camp if you choose.
What’s most convenient and useful depends on the type of situation you’re in. There’s a reason why the LifeStraw is so incredibly popular. Not everyone wants to carry around a filter strapped to a water bottle, at least not all the time.
The LifeStraw water purification system is a pretty awesome piece of kit.
From an objective point of view, it does its job quite well. From a subjective standpoint, the water filtration system leaves the H2O tasting great, with no chemical or gritty taste. And hell, I’m still alive. Never felt sick even once since I tested it out about a week ago (July 1, 2014), though I’m guessing the millions of natural disaster victims who have used the LifeStraw thanks to emergency relief are more of a testament to how well it works.
I heartily recommend the LifeStraw as a cheap, functional insurance policy when you’re out hiking or travelling through locales with less robust infrastructure. As for end of the world survival? You’ll want a more robust system with a more durable filter. But for hiking, camping, and enduring survival situations until you’re rescued, the LifeStraw is one hell of a valuable piece of gear.