MSR TrailShot Review: or why I switched from the Sawyer Mini

I used a Sawyer or Sawyer Mini Filter for years, 4 years to be exact. If there is an en vogue items for thru-hikers or lightweight minded souls, it is the mini. It filters, it’s lightweight, it works and you never have to replace it sans unclogging it from time to time. From day-hikes to weekend hikes to weeklong hikes to thru-hikes, it was in my pack.

Why switch?

I noticed that when I hiked with others, they would often carry an MSR heavy-duty filter or a Katadyn filter. You know the ones I’m talking about? The ones with the levers and piping? 16 oz. for a filter? That’s a pound! Inevitably at camp, I would wait until they were walking down to the water source and would yogi water off of them. Here’s the thing; unless you find a pipe set up at a spring, it is extremely frustrating filling a sawyer urine-like bag. I’ve stood in a beaver pond in Vermont, swirling the bag around the water like a child making a bubble in summer, I’ve stood unsuccessfully at a trickling water source waiting for my bag to fill, bypassing a small pool nearby that I couldn’t tap.

It got so bad on the Long Trail, that I would just ask Magic Mike to borrow his Katadyn filter and then fill up his as a kind of penitence. All of this to say, the major problem with the Sawyer is gravity. If you can’t find a solid streaming/piping source or deep enough creek, you’re S.O.L.

For my birthday in 2017, Emily purchased me an MSR TrailShot (note: she bought this, I’ve not been given one by MSR for review, although I would love if they gave me stuff for free).

The most glaring answer is that it is lightweight and it is a pump style. In lieu of a lever, it has a squeeze ball that draws the water up and then you can either drink it and/or filter it into your bottle. It’s actually quite ingenious. No more cold hands from dragging the Sawyer bag in the water, no more gravitational problems.

Below is a table for comparison:

Filter MSR TrailShot Sawyer Mini
Weight 5.2 oz. 2 oz.
Output 1 liter per minute Depends on squeezing, but about the same.
Filters 99% Protozoa and Bacteria 99% Protozoa and Bacteria
Filter Pore Size .2 microns .1 micron
Life of Filter 2000 liters 100000 gallons
Price $49.95 $24.95

The two filters share a lot of similarities. Both filter at the same rate, both provide roughly the same backcountry protection. Certainly, the mini lasts much longer than the TrailShot.

Subjectively, it boils down to whether spending $25 more and adding 3.2 oz. to the pack weight is worth it. For me, it most certainly is. Firstly, 3.2 oz. is nothing, and I no longer have to curse the Sawyer bag. I’ve been very happy for the past few months with the performance of the TrailShot and can’t wait to test it on the Benton MacKaye Trail in the spring.



5 thoughts on “MSR TrailShot Review: or why I switched from the Sawyer Mini

  1. This seems like a cool filter, first time I’ve heard of it. I like the ball pump idea. Not sure if I’ll be shelling out the extra dough for a new filter though, not with the length of life of the Sawyer Mini. For what it’s worth, I carry an empty soda bottle (1 liter SmartWater to be exact) and use that instead of the worthless bag that comes with the Sawyer Mini. Inexpensive and light. Just make sure to mark it as a dirty water bottle if you use another for your filtered water.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great idea. I wish I had thought of it. For sure, the mini is one long-lasting filter. I had problems with it getting really slow in cold weather, but that’s pretty much all filters. +1 on the uselessness of the bag. It is without a doubt the worst piece of gear that I have ever owned.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. For the mini, what I’ve seen others do is carry around the cut-off bottom of a smart water bottle and use that as a scoop when water is too shallow or not moving well enough to fill the sawyer bag. I haven’t tried it personally though.

    Liked by 1 person

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