Mule Deer vs. Patagonia Shorts

Bad deer! This guy stole my shorts off my hammock line from our Moraine Park campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park¬†as we made dinner. He immediately took a couple hops and I thought I wasn’t going to see my shorts again, but then thankfully stopped and chewed on them until we shooed it. I guess he wanted some salt, lol. They were miraculously not damaged apart from bits of plant material embedded in the waistband. I’ve used these on every overnight backpacking trip since 2005, and they’ll be on the next one ūüôā

Sawyer Mini Water Filter as Primary Backpacking Water Treatment

Sawyer Mini filter, isolated

The Sawyer Mini filter really made an impact on backpacking the past couple years with its small packed size, and especially its low weight and low price. I got one as a gift and I figured it would make an excellent backup filter. It doesn’t add much weight at all at 2 ounces, and doesn’t take up much volume, so it makes for an excellent backup or emergency water filter.

However, how would it work as your primary filter? Well when Tom and I planned our trip to Cottonwood Lakes Basin in the Eastern Sierra, we decided to give that a try to find out. It’s so light! Tom bought one as well so we both took Sawyer Mini filters out on the trail for our 4 day trip, leaving our other filters behind.

Filling squeeze bag in preparation of filtering with Sawyer Mini
Preparing to squeeze the life-giving water out of High Lake

How does it compare to the First Need?

How does it compare filtration-wise? Well, Tom and I have both been using our First Need Deluxe pump filter/purifiers from General Ecology (and now the First Need XL and XLE) for quite a long time and have been pretty happy with them. It’s billed¬†as a purifier and can filter out bacteria, cysts/protozoa like the infamous Giardia and Cryptosporidia and even some viruses which are the smallest living things. I feel pretty darn safe with those specs. They currently list¬†the actual particle retention rating at¬†0.4 microns.

It turns out the Sawyer Mini boasts a particle retention size of just 0.1 microns! Wow, I’m sold there. Not only that, but Sawyer says it can filter up to 100,000 gallons while the First Need XLE has a capacity of 180 gallons. I assume this doesn’t include backwashing, but First Need’s documentation doesn’t even describe backwashing instructions anymore. That brings me to another point – Sawyer’s hollow fiber filtration method must be way more durable than the First Need’s structured glass matrix¬†cartridge. I know I’ve killed one First Need cartridge by backwashing just a hair too strongly, and judging by comments I’ve seen elsewhere on the web, I’m not the only one. They have updated¬†them to be more backwash friendly in the current XLE version. Backwashing the Sawyer Mini, however, has no such risks. Indeed, you need to power through it to do it properly. Also, freezing is a danger for both, but I’d speculate it’s probably less so for the Sawyer (fibers vs glass).

And back to the weight – the Sawyer is listed as 2 oz but I weighed my Sawyer Mini, 64oz bag, 16oz bag, and the included straw at 5.4 oz. The First Need XLE weighs in at 16 oz listed weight and mine weighs 18 oz when wet. Big difference.

Sawyer Mini system on left, First Need XL on right
Sawyer Mini system w/ large 64oz bag vs. First Need XL pump purifier

The Filtering Method

This is a slam dunk for the Sawyer by the specs so far. But now we have to consider the filtering method itself. What is a hiker doing when they use these filters to convert stream and lake water to drinking water? This was the practicality question behind our test. We had already tested things at home just to ensure the basic usage, but we needed to try it in the field.

Pumping river water with First Need purifierWith the First Need, like many pump filters, you stick one end in the water in a good spot, connect the other end to your drinking water container (in the case of the First Need you can attach it to a Nalgene), and then you hand pump steadily to fill your container(s). When you’re finished, you can leave the water source with your drinkable water.

With the Sawyer Mini, your first step is to fill your Sawyer squeeze bag with water. Now, after tests at home in the sink, I found this isn’t the easiest thing to do. You can’t get much water into the collapsed bag, even if you try pulling the sides apart underwater. The 16 oz bag is small enough already, but you’re not getting 16 oz of water in it that way. I got the 64 oz bags so I can fill up more and save time squeezing by not having to switch out bags much, but the 64 oz bag definitely has the same issue. That’s why I brought along a used disposable water bottle (I found one bigger than the usual size for this purpose). You fill your disposable water bottle easily by holding it under, and then you pour that into your Sawyer squeeze bag until you fill it up. It sounds like extra steps, but it’s really no big deal and works great.

At this point, you can hook your squeeze bag up to your filter and begin squeezing out drinking water into your clean container, rolling the bag as you go. A¬†nice thing about this method is that you can fill up your “dirty” water bags and bottles at the stream, and then carry them back to camp or wherever and filter somewhere else.


That’s convenient and nice, but that’s where the fun ends. Squeeze filtering is just plain slow! We noticed it adding significantly to our time in camp (not good for the shortened daylight of late October). It can be a buzzkill when you’re sitting there squeezing and you can’t get on the trail until you’re done squeezing. As we both filtered one morning in preparation for a long day of hiking without any water sources, Tom and I switched filters and compared, but they were both pretty slow. I really wanted to like the Sawyer Mini, but this was tough.

First Need lists their average flow rate at 2 quarts per minute. Yeah there is pumping, but you fill your bottle without too much time and effort really. Pumping never bothered me. Sawyer has a spot in their FAQ about the flow rate, but doesn’t list any actual flow rate. They do say that altitude affects the flow rates (higher elevation makes filtering slower) so it’s possible that affected us.

sawyer-mini-filter-with-plunger-straw-squeeze-bagThere are a couple of usage modes that help get around this. You can screw the filter on top of a squeeze bag or a water bottle and drink straight through it, or you can hook it inline to your water bladder and drink through your hose. This means you filter as you drink instead of filtering a bunch at once. I tried this at home with a water bottle and it seemed to work ok. I squeezed the bottle to get a little more flow. I’m not sure I’d like the low flow if using inline with a water bladder. Also, we did not bring along the backwash syringes for our Sawyers. Maybe backwashing more frequently would help.

So now my plan is to keep using the Sawyer Mini for the purpose I had intended originally – as a backup water filter to my First Need. It makes for an outstanding backup with it’s light weight. I’ll also throw it in my day pack when doing longer day hikes. I know there are lots of glowing reviews out there that are happy with the flow though so maybe I’ll keep at it. I’ll note that I didn’t experience any trouble with the bags springing leaks like some others have. I’ll have to be back to post an update if my experience changes.

Yonder Giveaway Win!

Granite Gear eVent Sil DrysackHa, check this out, I won a giveaway on Yonder! I get a dry sack from Granite Gear. Not a huge¬†deal, but it’s one made with silnylon plus eVent fabric at the bottom so you can squeeze out the air and it’s still waterproof all around, pretty sweet (eVent Sil Drysack). I’m excited and thought I’d share.

If you haven’t heard of it, Yonder is a social photo sharing mobile app that is geared toward outdoor lovers that I’ve dabbled with a bit. There are a lot of great “yonderers” on there that share their outdoor adventures one cool photo at a time, map location included. Plus there are lots of giveaways and contests.

My winning¬†photo is from the trip Tom and I took in 2009 in King’s Canyon when it dumped on us for an entire day of our 5 day trip in October. It was actually a tropical storm that dropped a lot on California.

Here’s the giveaway info page-

The photo and map location are also on Yonder’s regular website here.

Geotagging Photos Strategy For Backpacking

I think I figured out a solution to geotagging photos for my next backpacking trip. I like having my hiking photos¬†geotagged so that I can upload them to Panoramio and have them show up in Google Earth, or upload them to Flickr and have a map on the photo page. It’s neat to look back and see what spot it was taken at, and then also see photos from other hikers from nearby locations.

Geotagged Photos on US Map

My camera doesn’t have a GPS receiver to geotag photos with latitude and longitude in the Exif data like my phone does. My buddy, Tom, has a fairly new camera that does. I thought I wanted one too, to make geotagging a no-brainer, but now I’m not so sure. Tom mentioned that when he turns his camera on, he has to wait a minute or so for the GPS to activate. Presumably it has to lock onto the signal of several GPS satellites, enough to calculate¬†an accurate position. Now this isn’t so great when hiking, and especially backpacking, because I do what I can to preserve battery! That means I don’t want to wait to take a photo. I often turn the camera on, quickly snap a shot, and turn it off.

Mobile Apps to the Photo Geotagging Rescue

I came across a phone app (Geotag Photos Pro) that will save GPS information as it runs, and then later you can use software that will automatically combine that GPS information with your photos on your computer. It works by the time, so you have to make sure your camera and phone time match up beforehand.

Then I actually found another one (gps4cam) that¬†doesn’t even require you to manually sync the time on your camera to your phone. It will provide you with a barcode that you photograph with your camera, and that allows it to compare the times. Leave that in the directory with your photos and it will be recognized. Then just run the program and it does everything¬†for you. Simple! You can also photograph that same barcode with any other camera, and then the software will do the same for photos taken with that too – that way only one person in your group has to have the app running. The pro version allows you to include altitude in the geodata which is great, and it also allows you to better fine-tune the capture interval to balance accuracy and battery life.

The beauty of this is that I already have my phone and it’s GPS turned on when hiking to save my track in another app. It might cause a slight increase in battery usage in this situation, but I’m guessing not much if at all since the GPS is already in use.¬†This solves the problem of a¬†camera’s GPS taking a couple minutes to acquire signals after turning it on – and using more camera battery. And of course I don’t need to get a new camera just for geotagging.

Again, the two apps were:
Geotag Photos Pro
gps4cam – I’ll probably give this one a try.

My next step is to figure out the best way to geotag my past photos!

Geotagged photos near San Jacinto Peak in Google Earth

Graffiti Artist “Tagging” in Joshua Tree

A reader of Modern Hiker’s website alerted the author to what looked like the tag of a well known street artist on a rock in Joshua Tree National Park. I guess he’s well known, well I don’t know him or care about him, at least until he did this vandalism on our public lands. I guess he maybe gains some street artist capital by stunts like this.

Modern Hiker post with updates

Someone needs to give this fool a copy of Leave No Trace.

And some lessons in how to be a decent human being.

Mr. Andre Issues Legal Threat to Modern Hiker 

And some new lawyers, hahahah, funniest legal threat ever.

It was great to hear the response from the outdoor community and the park rangers! Now it appears that this kind of thing is becoming more widespread so it’s more important than ever to be vigilant about vandalism on our public lands.

Don’t Shrink the Superior National Forest

This is important. Sign this petition-

Petition by Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness

State Rep. David Dill was even more direct:

“What are we supposed to do, hold land so people can walk on it and see a partridge? No – we are going to cut the trees on it, and we should mine it … Once the exchange is done we are going to mine and log the hell out of it.”