Remember the last time you saw a really dirty stream or pool of water?
The LifeStraw Personal Water Filter by Vestergaard allows you to drink straight from that potentially microbiologically contaminated water without worrying about getting sick, or dying for that matter.
The filter contains no chemicals or iodine, require no batteries and has no moving parts to break or wear out, all thanks to its hollow fibre membrane technology. And it will allow you to stay hydrated for a full year with its 1,000 liter capacity.
It’s touted as “the most advanced, compact, ultralight personal water filter available”, but is it really?
Walden Labs put it to the test, and the results are in.
Performance – 8
Does it do what it claims?
The short version: Yes.
The LifeStraw exceeds the U.S. EPA water filtration requirements for bacteria and parasites, and independent testing at the University of Arizona showed that the LifeStraw removes at least 99.9999% of bacteria (including E-Coli) and 99.9% of protozoan parasites (including Giardia & Cryptosporidium).
The filter also reduces turbidity (cloudiness) by filtering particles of approx 0.2 microns, meaning you won’t have to filter debris with your teeth.
The filter has seen action in places like Haiti, Pakisan, Peru, Kenya, Indonesia, Bangladesh, as well as pretty much every major international humanitarian disaster since 2005. It’s been used in the field by millions, so you can count on it working when it counts.
But just to be clear, the LifeStraw does NOT filter chemicals, salt, viruses (not the same as parasites), heavy metals, or taste.
As for taste, the filter does not contain any carbon element, which is normally used to remove bad taste. This means that if you drink shitty water with the LifeStraw it will likely still taste like… shit.
During our testing we drank many samples of nasty water, and in some cases it was not a pleasant experience. But on the positive side we did not die, and that’s what the LifeStraw is all about.
Construction Quality – 6
This thing is light at only 56 grams (or 2 ounces), but it still has a sturdy feel with a construction of durable BPA free plastic.
While the LifeStraw was launched with a 5-year shelf life, that estimate has now been revised by the manufacturer who claims an indefinite shelf life for the LifeStraw.
What’s good about the construction of the LifeStraw is that it’s chemical-free, it does not require electrical power, batteries or replacement parts, and has no moving parts. It’s all powered by user-generated suction.
So there’s not much that can break on the LifeStraw, but the manufacture says you have to be careful about dropping it on a hard surface because any drop can compromise the filter.
Ease of use – 9
Anyone who can use a drinking straw can use a LifeStraw. You simply take the caps off both ends and place the larger opening in unfiltered water (a glass, water bottle, river, or puddle!) being careful to keep the mouthpiece dry. Let it sit for 30 seconds to allow water to creep up the membrane, then take 5 quick sucks to get the water flowing. It’s as simple as that.
It takes roughly 3-5 seconds of sucking to start the flow of water through the filter when the membrane is dry.
As mentioned the LifeStraw requires no batteries and there are no parts you have to change. The only thing you should try and remember is to blow air back through the straw after drinking to flush and clear it.
Another important aspect that many people overlook is that a filter is only good if you actually have it with you. A big gravity filter on your kitchen counter won’t help you if you’re out in the field.
The size of the LifeStraw makes it very easy to bring with you wherever you go, so there’s no excuse for not having one in your bag or car at all times.
Maintenance – 8
The LifeStraw stops working after approximately 1000 liters (264 gallons) because the pores will eventually become clogged with debris causing the flow to stop.
One officially recommended way of maintaining and increasing the lifespan of the LifeStraw is to blow air back through the straw after drinking to flush and clear it.
Another simple thing you can do to spare the fairly large intake from larger particles and debris is to strap a coffee filter over the intake before use.
Other than that, there’s really no maintenance to speak of, it’s pretty much taken care of by the design itself.
Brand Reputation – 8
The manufacturer of LifeStraw®, swiss-based company Vestergaard, was founded by Denmark farmer Kaj Vestergaard Frandsen back in 1957.
They started out with manufacturing uniforms for workmen and since 1986 they’ve helped make life easier for vulnerable people, mostly in developing countries.
Vestergaard has a long history of helping to improve the health of vulnerable people by fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases and neglected tropical diseases, and in 1995 they released the first product in the LifeStraw® line and have since then received numerous awards and recognition from Time Magazine, Esquire, Forbes, National Geographic, and more.
They’ve saved millions of lives with their mosquito nets and water filters, which makes me comfortable with trusting the LifeStraw with my life as well.
Guarantee – 5
Vestergaard does not mention a guarantee or warranty anywhere on their website, so I called up their master wholesale distributor in the US, Eartheasy, and found out that the LifeStraw is covered by a 1 year manufacturers warranty.
So if it breaks or stop working due to a fault in manufacturing you are entitled to a replacement or a refund.
However, one thing to note is that Vestergaard does state that “LifeStraw® cannot guarantee the quality of the water filtered through its portable filtration system under conditions other than those described in the Use and Care Manual.”, but you can’t really hold that against them.
Sustainability – 4
There’s two sides to this coin.
On one hand the LifeStraw family of filters help decrease carbon emissions in poor countries by eliminating the need for fuel combustion to sanitize (boil) water and make it fit for consumption.
So from that point of view it has a positive impact on the environment and the economy, because then children can spend more time in school and less time collecting firewood (which also is one of the biggest household expenses for families in some third world countries).
On the other hand the production of the LifeStraw filter, which supposedly takes place in China and/or South Korea, is highly dependent on oil in its production and on a global energy-devouring transportation system.
Vestergaard takes social responsibility seriously and are strong supporters for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), specifically working towards ensuring environmental sustainability.
But let’s face it; water filters of this caliber are complicated things to build and are not something you can put together in your backyard shed using locally sourced and natural materials.
So as long as the oil keeps flowing and freight ships keep traveling the oceans you’ll likely be able to get your hands on a LifeStraw, but the production and distribution is dependent on a fairly fragile global economy.
Self-reliance – 7
In terms of aiding your self-reliance the LifeStraw actually does a pretty good job at it, because instead of being dependent on centralized water utility companies you can quench your thirst anywhere you can find water.
And while these utility companies are highly dependent on a centralized and fragile power grid to provide you with clean water, the LifeStraw requires no electricity or batteries.
$20 bucks can provide you with a years worth of water consumption for one individual, however the LifeStraw is still only a short term solution better suited for emergencies.
For long term and high volume filtration needs there are better solutions out there, for example one of the many stationary and gravity fed filters such as the Lifestraw Family, the Big Berkey, or the Katadyn Gravidyn.
Value – 7
At $19.95 on Amazon the LifeStraw seems like a bargain.
With a 1,000 liter (264 gallon) capacity, that’s roughly 2 cents per liter (7.55 cents per gallon), so it sure beats bottled water.
But it does not come close to higher priced water filters such as the Katadyn Pocket that has a 50,000 liter (12,000 gallon) capacity.
The Katadyn Pocket will set you back $257.58 at the time of this writing, meaning your cost would be 0.5 cents per liter (2.1 cents per gallon), and even lower if you clean the ceramic filter for prolonged lifespan.
But the LifeStraw is still good value, and much more affordable than the more expensive water filters out there.
At less than $20 it’s a very cheap life insurance, and I say this in all seriousness. Contaminated water can kill you.
Excitement – 8
Bottom line: I like the Lifestraw.
It feels good in the hand and having one in my backpack actually makes me feel empowered wherever I go.
It also represent a new kind of highly portable point-of-use water filter that increase your personal resilience and preparedness in a powerful way, at relatively low cost.
And I’m confident that we’ll see even more compact and improved “straw-type” water filters in the coming decade.
One thing I anticipate in improved filters of this kind is an active carbon element that improve the taste of the water.
One could even build an add-on active carbon “module” that you attach to the top of an existing LifeStraw (something to explore for a budding entrepreneur out there?).
Length: 22.5 centimeters (nine inches)
Diameter: 2.5 centimeters (one inch)
Weight: 56 grams or 2 ounces (0.12 pounds)
Capacity: Purifies a minimum of 1000 litres (264 gallons) of water
Filter medium: Hollow-fiber membrane
Effectiveness: 99.9999% bacteria removed; 99.9% protozoa removed (Giardia & Crypto)
Filter pore size: 0.2 microns
Material: ABS plastic