The Frontier Emergency Water Filter System by Aquamira is a small suction-based water filter for hiking, travel, and emergency preparedness. I’ve got the “Tactical” version, and it seems to me that the only difference is the color.
It can only filter 30 gallons (113 liters) before you have to throw it away, but let’s see how it holds up as a short term emergency filter.
Performance – 4
The filter is tested and certified to remove >99.9% of Cryptosporidium and Giardia (both protozoan cysts), two of the most common dangers in contaminated water.
But Aquamira makes it clear that while the Frontier Filter might reduce bacteria and viruses the filter does not live up to the US EPA water purifier standard which requires the filter to remove >99.9999% of bacteria and >99.99% of viruses.
So if you suspect the water might be contaminated with bacteria (e.g. E. coli, cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever) or viruses (e.g. Polio, Hepatitis A, SARS) then the Frontier water filter will not ensure safe drinking water. I guess one could argue that it’s better than nothing, but I would not bet my life on it.
The industry standards as set by ANSI (American National Standards Institute), NSF (National Sanitary Foundation) and USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) give us the following numbers to compare with:
Protozoan Cysts: ≥99.9% removal
Bacteria: ≥99.9999% removal
Virus: ≥99.99% removal.
So while the Frontier water filter ticks the first box and filters ≥99.9% of protozoan cysts it’s far off from being an all encompassing water filter.
Aquamira acknowledges this and recommends that you use the filter in conjunction with the chlorine dioxide Aquamira Water Treatment Drops or Aquamira Water Purifier Tablets for maximum protection. These tablets do live up to the US EPA water purifier standard, but they also add an extra $10 to the price.
One plus for this filter is that it contains activated coconut shell carbon that helps reduce waterborne chemicals, improves water taste and eliminates odors.
But still, my thought is that any solution requiring you to buy additional items to feel really secure might not be an ideal solution in the first place.
Construction Quality – 5
The Frontier water filter is a very light (29 grams / 1 ounce) two piece set; the filter “house” and a plastic straw. Some versions have a flexible straw that you can bend easily and some versions (including mine) has a fixed straw.
The filter block is manufactured by heating a blend of microscopic carbon, binder and antimicrobial particles beyond the melting point of the binder material until the particles adhere to each other in a process called “sintering”. The result is a porous, carbon impregnated filter block that uses mechanical and adsorptive filtration processes to remove both physical and chemical contaminants.
The filter house itself feels quite sturdy and is made of an unknown plastic, but where the construction quality lacks is in the two piece build.
You have to insert the straw firmly into the filter housing, and this is an issue for several reasons. First, the straw is not of the most sturdy quality and if you don’t hold it right you can easily bend it. Second, having two pieces to keep track of means you’ve got two pieces to lose or misplace. And third, every time you have to assemble or disassemble the water filter you increase the risk of accidentally contaminating the straw.
Ease of Use – 6
The Frontier Emergency Water Filter System works as most other straw-filters. You attach the straw firmly onto the filter outlet, submerge the filter end into the water source, and then drink through the straw.
Aquamira does caution you to not submerge the drinking straw into potentially contaminated water, and they also advise you to let the filter air dry for 48 hours after use before storing.
When you use it for the first time be prepared to discard the first one or two draws of water though, which will be black. Because as with all carbon-based filters, the Frontier filter has some carbon dust in it that will be flushed out in the first draw. I found that two draws of water was enough to flush out the carbon dust.
To be clear, this carbon dust won’t hurt you if you drink it, it just looks nasty.
Maintenance – 6
Because of the very low capacity of this water filter, only 30 gallons (113 liters) there’s not much maintenance to do during its lifespan. The only aspects of maintenance are the assembly and disassembly of the filter, plus letting it air dry for the recommended 48 hours after use before storing.
The assembly and disassembly are minor hassles, but a major hassle is the part where Aquamira recommends that you let the filter air dry for 48 hours before storage. As this filter is designed to be used in emergency situations or when you’re on the road that’s a big issue.
Now, one could argue that due to the low capacity and low cost of this filter you’ll likely throw it away after using it in an emergency or longer hiking trip, so I won’t be too hard on the maintenance factor.
And just as with the LifeStraw, when it becomes increasingly difficult to pull water through the filter you’ll know that it’s time to throw it away.
Brand Reputation – 7
Aquamira, headquartered in Logan, Utah, is part of the McNett portfolio of brands that consists of Aquamira water treatment products, Gear Aid repair products, M Essentials diving products, Outgo towels, and the McNett Tactical range of military gear.
McNett exports products to over 70 countries and field test their products “in the most demanding conditions from the high altitude extremes of Nepal to the freezing condition in the Artic Circle.”
While I can’t find much information regarding the companies themselves, neither Aquamira nor McNett, my research does indicate that their range of products across all brands are well regarded by customers. They also sell a fair amount of products to the military and disaster relief organizations, which if anything is an indicator of good quality gear.
As for the Aquamira products in particular, the Aquamira water treatment drops were introduced to the outdoor market in 1999 and since then they’ve built on their success and have expanded with other products.
Guarantee – 4
Aquamira does not mention a manufacturers warranty or guarantee on their website for the Frontier water filter, but the disposable nature of this item lessens the importance of this. Of course if your filter arrives broken into a hundred pieces you should have every right to return it to the seller, but that’s not product specific so it’s not something I consider when setting the score.
Sustainability – 3
At the low price and low capacity the Frontier water filter should be seen as a disposable item used for short term emergencies or travel. It’s not a sustainable way of providing clean water for the long term.
Self-Reliance – 5
Same thing here as above. The Frontier filter is only suitable for short term water treatment needs, and as such it won’t help you much with your self-reliance in the long run.
With that in mind, this filter can still be useful in just those situations, e.g. short term emergencies or camping trips. Having one of these in your backpack or in your car does not hurt, in fact it does aid your self-reliance in certain situaitons.
Having one of these filters in the event of an emergency is certainly better than having no filter at all, so if you have $10 and only $10 to spend on a water filter then you might be able to justify this purchase.
As you’ll see in the next two sections though, I think there are better alternatives out there.
Value – 4
The Aquamira Frontier Water Filter will set you back $10 on Amazon.
With a 30 gallon (113 liter) capacity that translates to 33 cents per gallon (9 cents per liter), which is expensive.
Compare that to the LifeStraw that I’ve reviewed here, which at $19.95 and a 264 gallon (1,000 liter) capacity put your cost at roughly 7.55 cents per gallon (2 cents per liter).
I won’t even compare the Frontier filter to more expensive filters because the LifeStraw proves my point sufficiently.
The Aquamira Frontier might be one of the cheapest and lightest filters out there, but in this case you really get what you pay for, which is not that much.
Excitement – 3
This product does not excite me. The two-part build lowers the feel and ease of use of the product, it does not live up to the US EPA water purifier standard thus putting you at risk of bacteria and viruses, and the price per unit of filtered water is way higher than other sub-$20 water filters such as the LifeStraw.
If you want a small and portable straw-type filter then I’d recommend you get the LifeStraw instead. It’s twice the price but you get almost nine times the capacity and superior filtering capabilities.
Assembled length: 24 cm (9.45 inches)
Disassembled length: 15.3 cm (6 inches)
Max diameter: 2.5 cm (1 inch)
Weight: 29 grams (~1 ounce)
Capacity: Purifies 30 gallons (110 liters) of water
Filter medium: Carbon impregnated filter block
Effectiveness: 99.9% protozoa removed (Giardia & Crypto)
Material: Unknown plastic