Sawyer Gravity Water Filter Review

Since we were going camping in the Porkies as a group, we decided to get a larger gravity style water filtration system. It would be easier to share a larger quantity of water among three people, than having to mess with a bunch of smaller bottles or pump filters. We did a bit of research and decided on the Sawyer brand gravity system, specifically, the 1 gallon, 2 bag setup.

The package comes with everything you need to create a full gallon of water, in an easily dispensable format. You start by filling the dirty water bag with your source water. My only complaint was that this took a bit of practice to get right. You have to hold the bag under a water source, and at the same time make sure that no air bubbles push the bottom of the bag up out of the water, thereby dumping out your water. I found what worked best was to use a scooping motion to quickly dunk about 3/4 of the wide mouth opening under the water, gathering up as much water as I could in a single swing. I was usually able to get 2/3 to 3/4 of a gallon of water that way, without having to dip a second time.

WaterFilter.jpgOnce you have your bag of dirty water, you then need to hook up the hose and filter that will lead to the lower bag. It’s important to practice this at home a couple of times, so that you’re not scrambling to figure out which ends connect to which, while standing in the wilderness. Once you bleed the line of aid (lifting it above the level of the bag and then lowering it until water comes out), you hook up the filter, and the attachment that goes to the lower bag.

img_3308There is a clever little stopper on the line, similar to what you see in medical IV systems, to control the flow of water into the clean bag. Once everything is hooked up, you open up this stopper and the flow of water begins. It only takes about 15-20 minutes for the bottom bag to fill, at which point you have clean, filtered, water for whatever you need. The real beauty of this system, is that once you have finished filling the “clean” bag, you then can hang it up where the dirty bag was, and you have a dispensing system.

Anytime you need water, you just walk over to the hanging bag and open up the stopper. This made camping with a group incredibly easy. Anytime someone needed water for drinking, cooking, or cleaning, they just walked over and grabbed some from the bag. We always filled up the dirty bag right away so that we were never more than 20 minutes away from another bag of filtered water.

img_3309This is the first gravity system that I’ve used, but I have to say that I’m impressed. The flavor of the water wasn’t chemical or metallic at all (which goes to show how long it’s been since I’ve drank filtered camp water). We also had some good water sources that helped with overall flavor. This included Lake Superior herself, which not only tasted good, but was nice and cool.

The entire setup is incredibly easy to work with, and the plastic bags are very malleable and durable. Since they’re just plastic, they will be easy to replace if they tear or become damaged. We kept all of the tubing in it’s own sealed ziplock baggie, and made sure to clean and dry everything before we put it away at home. There is a flush kit included for backfilling the filter and cleaning out any gunk that’s gotten in there.

Once we were done with 5 days in the backcountry, we all agreed that this was an incredible system, and loved using it. It gave us tons of water, in an easy to use format, and packed down nice and light. For those who are weight conscious, the kit comes in at 12oz. If you’re traveling even lighter, you can cut that down by leaving the clean bag at home, and only bringing enough tubing to get water to the filter. From there you can attach a sport-cap to the filter, and drink directly from it. The filter is a standard Sawyer MINI filter, which means you can use it in a lot of different configurations, depending on how you’re traveling.

I’m certainly a believer in this system, and I’ve heard from others who have used it that they love it as well. It’s one of the best camping investments we’ve made, and I’m sure it will give us many years of outdoor fun.

Going slow for better results

Since my running goals this year have been mostly intrinsic, and not heavily reliant on races, I’ve been able to do things that I normally hadn’t tried before. Once of those things is running with my wife more often.

My wife Lisa is one of the people who was instrumental in getting me in to trail running, but unfortunately, we run at very different speeds. It’s a rare occasion when I run with her, because it involves slowing down a lot more than I’m used to. However, that changed this summer. She’s been working with a coach, and has prescribed workouts 6 day a week. Since I didn’t really have any speed goals this year, I decided to join her for some of her early morning runs.

From a practical standpoint, this means that I’m running closer to a 13:00 min/mile pace, vs. my usual 10:30 min/mile. That’s a significant slowdown, but it’s come with some great benefits. First and foremost, it means that I get to spend more time with my wife, which is always a good thing. Two to three mornings per week we head out together for a run together, and get to spend some time chatting and simply being with one another without any obligation, other than run.

Secondly, I’ve gotten to benefit from some of the speed and hill workout reps that her coach is putting her through. I’m not trying to leech of her plan, but if we’re together, I’ll join in. In particular, some of the speed reps have been incredibly fun. I showed my wife that we have a track nearby, and so we’re able to do 4×20 second reps on a steady surface. I’ve managed to pull myself down to around a 5:20 min/mile pace for my best 20 second reps, and it’s helped me focus on good cadence and form while I sprint.

Finally, I’ve seeing great benefits to myself from a performance and injury prevention standpoint. For those of you who are into low heart rate training, running with my wife has been incredible. I’m able to keep my heart rate solidly in the 130s for 6-7 miles, and finish up feeling great. When I go out for runs on my own, I’m finding my heart rate is in a much better place, usually in the mid 140s. Even when I do a speed run I see improvement. A few weeks ago I did 4 miles and negative split the run, starting at 10:24 min/mile and finishing the final mile at 8:33 min/mile. My HR eventually climbed into the 170s towards the end, but my average over the entire run stayed in the solid 150s. I know that this type of progress is a great benefit to my overall endurance, and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable running longer distances, even at a reduced pace that takes me longer.

Injury prevention has also been a lot better this year. I’ve topped 1000 miles without any significant issues in the first 8.5 months of the year. That’s a first for me, as I’m usually dealing with some manner of ‘niggle’ or repetitive stress injury by this point in the year. However, all the slower runs are really helping me keep my form in better shape, and reduce the strain I’m putting on my body. At the same time, I’m still hitting better mileage goals than I ever have before.

So there you have it. Going slow is working for me, and it’s great for my marriage. I still get my own runs 2-3 days per week where I can work as hard as I want, but they’re getting better and better because of how I’m treating my body the rest of the time.

I still need to work on nutrition, but that’s a whole different can of worms…

Hitting 1000 early

This year my running has been in a new place. I’m feeling strong, I’m logging miles, and I’m avoiding injury. My attitude is completely different, and I’m finding joy in running that I hadn’t had for many years. As a part of all of this, I’m reaching goals a lot sooner than in previous years. In fact, today was the day that I hit 1000 miles for the year.


This is 53 days sooner than 2016, and 95 days sooner than 2015. In fact, veloviewer is predicting that I’ll be hitting a new all time mileage goal by the end of the year, close to 1500-1600 miles. I’m sure I’ll slow a bit towards the end of the year as holidays and winter weather take hold, but so far this is looking like my best year yet.

I realize that 1000 miles is just an arbitrary number, but it’s awesome to see that number hit four digits.

Porcupine Mountains, Night 4

As my wife and I waited at the Buckshot Cabin, we started to hear the telltale sound of thunder again. I walked over to the lake and saw that there were some small thunderheads moving in from the lake. Nothing too terrible, but we were concerned that Mike was going to get soaked again.

Thankfully, the rain didn’t last long, and for Lisa and I, the cabin was a beautiful place to wait it out. There wasn’t any wind, so we were able to keep the windows open and enjoy the smell of fresh rain in the woods. Soon the rain let up and we started checking out what time it was. It was then that we realized that Mike should be back any time now, but we weren’t seeing any sign of him. I realized that we never made any plans for how to handle an emergency, without any cell phone connection, so I made the decision that if Mike wasn’t back by 7pm we would pack up the cabin and hike back out to the car. The assumption was that if something had gone wrong and he wasn’t able to hike down after his run, he’d just wait in the car.

Soon enough though he came down the trail, ready for some supper. He had managed to get back to the car just as the rain started, so he decided (wisely) to just wait out the rain before heading out on the hike. After almost 18 miles of running, and a 2.5 mile hike to the cabin, he was justifiably wiped. We started up a dinner of pancakes and sat down at the table to enjoy one final camp meal. I enjoyed a beer while we ate, and then headed to bed to finish my second book of the trip.

Morning came, and I was awake early (as usual). I headed down to the lake to get a nice sunrise pic (in the header above), and then we started our packing for the trip home. Maybe it was a bit of caffeine in my system, but the hike out to the car went super smooth, and I was feeling on top of the world. We managed to hike UP the hill 12 minutes faster than it took Lisa and I to hike down. We arrived at the car and drove back to the modern campground for a quick shower before the long ride home.

IMG_20180806_090941.jpgI feel like I learned a LOT on this trip. Mike was an excellent guide, and taught us solid Leave No Trace principles. I also learned about what I like and don’t like, and how I’d plan the next trip that we take.

Some of the lessons:

  • ALWAYS pack for rain. It doesn’t matter what the weather forecast said two days ago. Always bring your pack cover.
  • I know how to poop in the woods now.
  • Packing gear for both back country camping and running is tough. Many things are shared, but when you’re running long distances in the woods, you need the right gear.
  • There’s a lot you can do for food beyond just dehydrated camp meals.
  • You don’t need as much as you think you do, and you can get by with a lot less.

Overall, this was an amazing adventure. It wasn’t much like a vacation, because we were working hard a lot. But, it was something incredible and memorable. I commented to our group that it felt like running an ultramarathon. It was tough and difficult, but incredibly fulfilling. I just needed a few days to recover when I got done!

I’m not sure what the next back country trip for us will be. We’ve got some camper trips coming up soon, but at least we have all the right gear for when we want to venture out again. I’ll be posting some reviews of our gear in future blogs, as well as a list of all the things we brought. I’m very happy with almost all of our gear, and frankly, I don’t think we need to change much.

This was an incredible adventure, and I’m so happy that we did it. It’s OK that it was tough, because the memories will last for a lifetime.

Porcupine Mountains, Night 3

We awoke on day 3 to the sound of light rain. In reality the rain had pretty much stopped at that point, but the tree canopy was continuing to drip water on us from its water laden leaves. We had decided, the night before, to start our hike early and then eat a later breakfast when we got to the other side. We grabbed some snacks to tie us over, and then started packing up. Unfortunately, I forgot my pack rain cover in the car, so we arranged our things so that anything that could get wet was in my bag.

As we headed out the rain stopped, and we thought that perhaps we’d be spared a completely wet hike. However, I managed to catch a sliver of cell signal and the weather report informed us that more rain was on it’s way. All of the water overnight had made the trail much more muddy and soft than the day before, so the hike became a bit more of a slog. The gullies that we had to cross were slick and difficult to climb out of, but we managed to get through it. A few spots were showing signs of pretty bad erosion, and hopefully the park can take care of that sooner rather than later. I doubt parts of this trail will be usable in the near future if they don’t do something about the washouts.

One of the most memorable parts of our hike was a couple of miles in. Right before the rain started to pour again, we heard a cracking sound. I looked to my right and saw a tree starting to sway. I pointed and yelled to everyone to “Look out!” We jumped off the trail as the tree fell about 20-30 yards from us. Thankfully, it fell towards the direction we had just come from, and we weren’t really in any danger. However, it certainly got our blood pumping, and kept us on high alert for any cracking sounds for the rest of the hike.

The hike took around 3 hours, and when we arrived the rain and finished. Our original plan had been to wander around some of the waterfalls on that end of the park, but all we wanted to do was get somewhere to eat and dry out our things. We opt’d for a picnic shelter nearby and spent some time getting ourselves repacked and organized. Unfortunately, I believe that this was the time when I forgot my running hat on a picnic bench, and it got left behind.

The next night was our planned night of comfort. We had a reservation at a yurt near the modern campground. This meant that we got a nice shower, and could dry things out. We brought Mike to the Lake of the Clouds overlook so that he could start his next long run, and we got to look around at this amazing site.


Mike headed out his run, and my wife and I started to do a short run of our own. However, part way through the run I felt my stomach turn south, and so I headed back to find a bathroom. I’m not sure what hit me, but for most of the rest of the evening my stomach was not feeling good, and I ended up not even eating much in the way of supper. It might have been some exhaustion, or a slight bug of some kind, but either way, it made me glad we had a more comfortable bed for this night.

I managed to sleep pretty well that night, and the next morning my wife treated us to a wonderful eggs and potato breakfast. Mike’s plan for this day was to run close to 20 miles and then meet us at our final site, a remote cabin in the woods, right on the shore of Lake Superior. We dropped Mike off at his starting run location, and then my wife and I headed back for a run of our own. With my stomach I decided to stick to a simple run along the roads, and banged out a 6 miler before cleaning up and packing up the yurt.

Since we had some time to kill before we could begin our hike we headed into a nearby town and got a decent lunch at a small restaurant at a hotel. Because of the way that the time zones work out, the park is split by eastern and central time. That meant that we were checking out of the yurt, but had to kill some time because the cabin was in central time. A meal we didn’t have to cook sounded good to us, so we took advantage of it.

IMG_20180805_150421.jpgOnce we were done with lunch we parked the car at the final trailhead of the trip and began a 2.5 mile hike down to the lakeshore. This part of the Lake Superior Trail was rocky, and it took us some time to work around all the loose rubble. We weren’t in a rush though, and we took advantage of that fact to simply enjoy ourselves. We arrived at the cabin, mid-afternoon, and settled in. This was a beautiful, rustic, cabin right near the shore, and it was the perfect place to simply relax. We unpacked our gear and fell into our cots to read.

img_3232Eventually, Mike showed up, but that’s the story for next time…