By Jason Boyle
Water Filtration has come a long way since I started backpacking in the days of iodine tablets and Polar Pure. Even the days of pumps might be long gone. Katadyn has introduced the hand held water filtration called the BeFree. I am fortunate to be reviewing this cool new water filtration device over the next few months.
Katadyn is a Switzerland based company that produces water treatment systems for the outdoor and marine industries. They have a number of products including traditional style pumps, Micropur water purification tablets and Desalinators. Their website is easy to use and features a drop down menu where you can specify group size, how often the product will be used, method of travel, cleanliness of water, and what the user needs to be protected against. By selecting the various boxes in the categories, the website recommends a product to fit the user’s needs.
The Katadyn BeFree is the latest evolution in personal water filtration systems. It features a hollow fiber filter inside of a Hydrapak soft sided flask. The filter features their “EZ clean Membrane” and “Free Flow Channels” for faster flow. The filter unit screws into the bottle and has an attached flip top drinking cap. It is a fairly simple set up. Using the filter is also simple; unscrew the drinking cap filter combo; being careful not to squeeze the filter media, dip the water bottle in a water source and carefully screw the lid back on. Drink directly from the soft sided flask or squeeze clean water into another container.
The included instructions guide features a bevy of warnings, operation tips, and proper storage guidance. The first thing I want to point out is that the filter does not filter viruses, but does remove bacteria, cysts, and sediment. So it is important to choose a water source wisely. They also go on to say to not touch the filter membrane with a tool, fingers or sideways running water as it may damage the filter. They include a handy way to tell if the membrane is working; blow into the drinking cap. If you cannot blow into the cap, the filter works, if you can blow into the cap the membrane needs to be replaced. They implore the user to be careful not to get contaminated water on the drinking cap. There are numerous reminders that this filter is for fresh water only, not brackish or salt water. To operate the filter, it is as simple as I already explained. However if the flow of the water is getting slow, Katadyn recommends swishing the filter around in the bottle or in a water source. This should unclog the membrane. For long term storage, they recommend filling the flask with a Micropur tablet or 4 drops of bleach and water. Then squeeze the solution through the filter and let the filter dry completely before reassembling. Katadyn says the user can expect about 1000 liters of use before needing to replace the filter.
I am excited to review this item. In addition to backpacking, I trail run and here in the south it gets hot. Races have aid stations, but on long training runs the only aid station is the one I bring with me. I am hopeful that this can help reduce the amount of water I need to run with. The soft flask is a little larger than the ones I normally run with, but I think these will fit nicely in my running vest.
I will evaluate the BeFree on the following characteristics – durability and ease of use. I am hard on gear, so I am interested to see how well these stand up to abuse while hiking and running. Also the water in many of the streams in the south have tannins that turn the water brown. I am interested to see if this affects the filter. For ease of use, I wonder if it is really as easy to use as they say it is. Will I worry about fumbling with the cap and getting contaminated water on it? These are just a few of my thoughts. Check back in a month or so to see how the BeFree has performed.
Update September 19, 2017
This summer has been packed, I used the Katadyn BeFree on two backpacking trips – a 40 mile through hike of the Black Creek Trail solo, an overnight backpacking trip with my daughter in the Black Creek Wilderness, and on a 7 hour Mountain Run in Juneau, Alaska. In addition, I kept one in my pack during day hikes and while exploring in Louisiana just in case. Conditions have been hot and humid in the south. Alaska weather was typical for the summer – white out in clouds, strong winds, running on snow, and some sun with temperatures in the 50s.
My two main criteria for evaluating the Katadyn BeFree are durability and ease of use. So far the filter has performed well in both areas. Durability has been excellent. I had a couple areas that I was concerned about – how would the soft bottle hold up and would I damage the filter because of the copious warnings from Katadyn. My concerns with the bottle were unfounded, the soft flask from Hydrapak has taken a beating with no issue. When I was not using the filter, I would compress the bottle and stuff it into the shove it pouch of my backpack or in a pocket on my running vest. The durability of the filter element seems to be good as well. I have been careful to not squeeze the filter when squeezing the soft flask while filtering water. Other than that I did not really do anything special with the filter and bottles. I put them away empty in my pack, and then cleaned them at home and left them separated while storing the bottle and the filter so that they completely dried.
Ease of use is also amazingly simple; fill with water and either drink from the end or squeeze into another container. While on an overnight in the Black Creek Wilderness, my 12 year old daughter use the BeFree unassisted to fill our water bottles and prep water for dinner. In addition, on my 40 mile thru hike of the Black Creek trail the weather was HOT, and I went through a lot of water to stay hydrated. I liked that I could keep the BeFree filter close at hand and fill it quickly at any water source allowing me to have clean and cold water at the ready in addition to my hydration bladder. From a filtering persective, I have found that when I use the BeFree to fill other containers, I like to start squeezing the bottle at the end and work my way towards the filter element.
A couple things that I noticed while using the BeFree filters. Quality of water is important. I have tried to make sure I used the filter from a water source that was running versus stagnant. I normally carry some old school Platypus water tanks, and I fill these up at the water source and bring them back to camp to filter from. This allows sediment to settle, and since I have three 2 liter bags, I only have to make one trip to the water source. The water in Mississippi on the Black Creek trail was brown in color due to the tannins in the water. The BeFree removed the brownish color and any funky taste. In Alaska the water, I filtered was clear and cold from snow melt streams and the filter did not make any change in the water clarity.
I estimate that I have filtered around 20 liters of water through the two bottles and I have noticed a significant reduction in the speed of filtering in one of the bottles. I did the swish and shake cleaning per the directions, and the flow rate improved, but is still slower than my other bottle. I will continue to monitor this.
My only other nitpick is that these are good for quick water stops and getting water from streams on the go, but filtering a significant amount of water while in camp is slow, especially if were to only use the BeFree and not carry Platypus water tanks so that I have a ready supply of water in camp.
Overall, I am very pleased with the Katadyn BeFree and still believe that it is a game changer in the field of water filtration. I have several more trips this fall, please check back in about a month for my final thoughts.
Final Update Katadyn BeFree January 10, 2018
Over the past several months, I have used the Katadyn BeFree while backpacking in the Black Creek Wilderness and while backpacking and camping in the Kisatchie National Forest in Northern Louisiana. Temperatures have ranged from the upper 70s to lows in the 30s in the Kisatchie.
The Katadyn BeFree have continued to work over the past couple of trips, but their performance has decreased drastically. I mentioned in my last update that the flow rate of one of the bottles had decreased and since then the flow rate of both of the bottles has dramatically decreased and become almost non-existent. I would have to squeeze exceptionally hard to try and get any water to go through the filter. I tried the swish and shake method recommended by Katadyn, but had limited success with increasing the flow of the filter.
Since the filters were performing poorly, I tried Katadyn’s recommendation to blow into the filter and found that I could blow air through the filter. According to Katadyn this means the filter needs to be replaced. Additional EZ Membrane Filter Cartridges can be purchased from Katadyn for $24.95. I am glad that the filters can be replaced, but I have to say I am disappointed with the lifespan of the filters that I used. Katadyn says the user can get up to 1000 liters from each filter, depending on the water quality, before they will need to be replaced. I estimate that I filtered around 100 liters of water versus 1000 liters.
Physical durability of the overall system has been good. The Hydrapak flask is in great shape. I was never really concerned with the BeFree as a filter. I would usually squeeze all air out of the flask and shove them in the shove it pocket on the outside of my pack.
I am torn, I really like the concept and as an ultra-runner and backpacker this seems to be a great tool for staying hydrated while moving quickly for long days. I intend to replace my EZ Membrane Filter Cartridges and see if I have better performance. I will update this review if I have any significant changes in performance or durability.
Thanks to 4alloutdoors.org and Katadyn for supplying the product for this review.