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Review pt. 3: Should I carry the Sawyer syringe?

The Sawyer syringe is not the best or lightest-weight tool to backflush your Sawyer filter.

Paul Bodnar             04/26/2019
Paul Bodnar

The Sawyer Squeeze, Sawyer Mini, and Sawyer Micro filters are among the most popular water filters used by backpackers. After a lot of use, these filters must be “backflushed” (or “backwashed”), which means pushing water backwards through the filter to flush out dirt that clogs the filter. Sawyer recommends backflushing when the flow rate diminishes, before long-term storage, and before using the filter after storage. Most long-distance backpackers backflush at least once a week.

Sawyer filters come with a 31-gram/1.1-oz. syringe used to backflush the filter. Since long-distance backpackers are concerned with weight, I wanted to see if there is a lighter-weight alternative to carrying the Sawyer syringe for occasional backflush use.

This post is part 3 in a series of Sawyer filter reviews. Prior posts:

Review: the new Sawyer Micro Squeeze

Sawyer Squeeze and Micro Squeeze Flow Rate Tests

3 Sawyer Squeeze Filters: Left to right are Sawyer Squeeze original, Sawyer Mini Squeeze, and Sawyer Micro Squeeze

Left to right: Sawyer Squeeze, Sawyer Mini, Sawyer Micro

Common backflushing devices

Sawyer 50 ml syringe (top), Sawyer coupling device (lower left), and 0.7-liter Smartwater bottle flip-top nozzle (lower right)

I tested the effectiveness of backflushing the Sawyer Squeeze, Sawyer Mini, and Sawyer Micro using three methods:

1. Sawyer Syringe (31 grams)

2. Sawyer coupler (6 grams)

3. Flip-top nozzle from a 0.7-liter Smartwater bottle (6 grams)

The photos below demonstrate how to use each device to backflush. Note that you cannot use the Sawyer coupler to backflush the Sawyer Mini.

How to backflush

Man holding large plastic syringe in right hand and Sawyer Squeeze filter in left hand with the syringe attached to the filter.

Syringe backflush of original Sawyer Squeeze. The syringe can also be used to backflush the Sawyer Mini and the Sawyer Micro.

Man holding Smart Water bottle, which is attached to a Sawyer Squeeze filter using the plastic coupler provided by Sawyer.

Coupler backflush of Sawyer Micro. (The coupler’s threads match the Smartwater Bottle.) The coupler also works with the original Sawyer, but not with the Sawyer Mini.

Man holding Smartwater bottle (with nozzle flip cap) in right hand against a Sawyer Mini in his left hand.

Smartwater bottle nozzle backflush of a Sawyer Mini. The nozzle may also be used to backflush the original Sawyer Squeeze and the Sawyer Micro.

Lightweight options work best

Backflush flow rate in Liters per Minute. The lightweight Sawyer coupler and the Smartwater bottle nozzle outperform the Sawyer syringe in all cases.

Our tests demonstrate that backflushing with the Sawyer coupler or the Smartwater bottle nozzle is better in all cases than using the Sawyer syringe. The best backflush flow rate was observed with the Sawyer coupler + original Sawyer Squeeze combination. 

You save 25 grams / 0.9 oz. weight and have better results if you use the Sawyer coupler or a Smartwater Bottle nozzle to backflush your Sawyer filter.

Bottom line, TL;DR

What should you use for your long-distance backpacking trip? In combination with my Sawyer filter analysis in earlier posts (here and here), I recommend the original Sawyer Squeeze or Sawyer Micro in combination with the Sawyer coupler or Smartwater bottle with nozzle for backflushing.

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About the Author
A man wearing a backpack and carrying an ice axe kneels in the snow.

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail again in 2010 to do research for his guide book Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the Pacific Crest Trail. Now with the help of a team of great people they have created over 50 guides for trails around the world.