When I look into my pack, I usually see new jackets or sleeping bags that are in for review. If I check my shove-it pocket, though, there’s always an old friend which I keep in an easily accessed spot, and that’s my MSR Sweetwater. This classic tool has long enjoyed popularity for its robust design and ease of use, and it’s time to show some love to show the Sweetwater.
MSR Sweetwater Specifications:
- Effective against bacteria and protozoa
- Effective against particulates and chemicals/toxins
- Filter: Silica Depth
- Filtration Rate: 1L/min
- Weight: 11oz
- Filter pore size: .2 microns
- Made in Seattle, USA
- MSRP: $89.95
Our Take on the MSR Sweetwater
My experience with the Sweetwater has taken me from the Cimarroncito river in New Mexico to unnamed glacial lakes in the Rubies. With plenty of pack time and lots of liters purified, the Sweetwater and I have become firm friends. This really is the sort of product that people love even though it’s not too flashy or the newest gadget.
The kit from MSR comes with the Silica Depth filter body, two hoses (color coded for clean and dirty), a 75 micron prefilter and float, wide-mouth adaptor, a brush and a mesh storage baggy. Setting up the Sweetwater is fast and easy – black hose is the dirty hose, white hose attaches to the side of the filter to pump out clean water. Throw on the prefilter and bobber and you’re basically good to go. The kit includes a Nalgene adaptor which I made extensive use of to insure spill-proof filtering; MSR also included their own MSR-branded sodium hypochlorate solution; this distinctively-scented cleanser can knock out any viruses that the Sweetwater’s .2 micron filter missed, but keep in mind that the solution shouldn’t be used for more than two years after its purchase date.
The Sweetwater is pretty average when it comes to weight – at 110z, it’s middle-of-the-road by any measurement. One of the Sweetwater’s features, though, is an integrated blowoff valve that activates when you’re pushing water through the filter with too much resistance. This can happen when you’re pumping extra-silty water, or if you haven’t cleaned the filter for some time; I personally got squirted in the face several times by the blowoff valve while trying to get water out of rather sad little rivers in New Mexico. Cleaning the cartridge is as simple as unscrewing the cap of the filter The Sweetwater features a 4-1 mechanical advantage and pumps on both the up and the down stroke, so it’s easy to go through a lot of water without too much time or effort. For that matter, the Sweetwater really is a very comfortable pump to use; MSR deserves credit for making the lever action much more ergonomic than, say, my old Katadyn Hiker Pro.
Using and storing the Sweetwater is simple and easy, thanks to its classic design. Hose storage is simple and not altogether elegant – the handle of the Sweetwater has holes which the hoses can run through to be stowed away. I personally find that this system makes it all too easy to cross-contaminate the hoses, so extra care is needed so that the mesh storage bag doesn’t become a breeding ground to Giardia. Many hikers, myself included, have wished that the prefilter that comes included with the Sweetwater was just a touch heavier to sit lower in the water. After all, there’s no point having the prefilter float along at the surface when you should be able to use the included bobber to adjust the depth that the prefilter sits at.
When it’s finally time to drink up, the water will taste fantastic – MSR included an activated carbon core that eliminates funky tastes and odors, and the water that the Sweetwater spits out will taste sweet and natural, as long as you retrieved it from a reasonable source.
- Pump action is ergonomic for when there are lots of liters to get through
- Activated carbon core helps the water taste great
- Simple, classic design that’s been loved for years
- Filter body is dead simple to clean – just unscrew and use the included brush
- Made in the USA
- Hose storage has opportunities for cross-contamination
- Blowoff valve will spray you right in the face, if you’re not careful
- Weight and filtration ratio aren’t anything special
The Bottom Line
If you’re interested in a time-tested filter that is neither the flashiest nor the fastest, the MSR Sweetwater is a fantastic middle-of-the-road choice. Weight, price and filter speed are all average, but the Sweetwater does have a leg up on pumping ergonomics and overall ease of use. The included viral treatment solution is a great bonus, making the Sweetwater a very versatile pump for the well-traveled outdoorsman. When it comes down to it, the Sweetwater is a classic product that outdoorsmen have loved for years.
Buy Now: Available at REI.com