The MSR Guardian Purifier is a water filter and purifier which is able to not only remove unwanted particles from a water source but also bacteria, protozoa and viruses. Originally designed for the US military it is able to pump 2.5 litres per minute through an advanced hollow fibre filter and doesn't require any chemicals, bulbs or batteries.
It's easy to use; just place the end of the hose into the water source, connect the base of the filter to a wide mouthed bottle (fits Nalgene wide mouth bottles) and start pumping. Another great innovation on the Guardian filter is the self cleaning feature; each pump stroke self cleans the filter without impeding the flow rate so that you never have to backflush or remove the filter for cleaning. It's able to pump up to 10,000 litres of water before the cartridge needs replacing and the entire purifier has been tested to withstand heavy use, harsh environments and even dropping it onto a concrete floor from 6ft. For backpacking, travelling or trekking the Guardian Purifier is a brilliant solution.
Please read How to Choose a Water Filter for more information.
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I've used a few water filters over the years - in particular:
I actually had two First Need Deluxes. The first broke without me realising it - at the end of the season I did an integrity test ( blue dye ) - which it failed spectacularly! Thankfully I'd been using it in combination with the SteriPen. I don't remember ever dropping it or mis-treating it - I'm very careful with my stuff and didn't use it that often to be honest. It had filtered no more than 100 litres of water during its life. I did buy a new First Need Deluxe - which has passed the blue dye test. But it did leave me a little concerned about how tough it is.
The SteriPen is great - but not with muddy water - you need a clean source of water. Plus it does take a minute or two to do 1 litre of water.
The Sawyer Mini also seems good - but doesn't filter out viruses. And there has been some suggestion of exaggeration of its capabilities - which led to them downgrading its claimed lifespan. But still a good and very lightweight option.
Trouble with all of these things is you are taking it on trust - not easy for the average person to really properly test efficacy. MSR do have a good reputation - and have put it through some stringent testing and meets NSF protocol P248. They also claim its drop proof to 6 feet on concrete and can survive freezing. After my apparently fragile First Need Deluxe this was important to me.
Ok on to how it actually performs:
In terms of ease of water extraction its so much easier than the First Need Deluxe. With the First Need Deluxe you pump the handle up and down - it requires reasonable force and if on unstable ground on the side of a stream I never found it that easy. Even on stable ground it tended to wobble when pushing down. After you've finished doing a 1 litre bottle you feel like you've had a good work out with the First Need Deluxe. Perhaps they should sell it as a water filter and gym work out combo!
The MSR Guardian on the other hand is so easy to pump. Its easier to hold while pumping as well as requiring much less force. I timed myself pumping a 1 litre bottle right up to the brim (probably 1.1 litres to the brim). Taking it at a steady pace the MSR Guardian took 35 seconds. And this was steady pace - not going at it like its an Olympic event. The First Need Deluxe took 59 seconds for the same volume of water. The biggest difference was the MSR Guardian hardly felt like any work at all. The First Need Deluxe made me realise I really ought to do more weight training. And during pumping the force required combined with the difficulty of holding the First Need Deluxe did make it even more challenging and there may have been some swearing on my part. It reminded my why I didn't use the First Need Deluxe as much as I should.
One thing I did notice is the water of the First Need Deluxe had no taste. The MSR Guardians had a slight plasticy taste - a bit like the taste when you buy a new plastic kettle. My MSR Guardian is brand new, maybe in time the taste will go. It wasn't so bad to be an issue - but it was something I noticed.
In other respects there's not much between the First Need and the MSR Guardian. Similar weights and both reasonably bulky. The biggest issue is the price - the MSR Guardian is at least twice the price of the First Need Deluxe. But I have to say despite that I still prefer the MSR Guardian - its just so much easier to pump water with. Also no need for backflushing the the MSR Guardian - unlike the First Need or Sawyer Mini.
Its hard to compare the MSR Guardian and the Sawyer Mini. With the Mini you drink the water as needed from the bottle - so no pumping - just the sucking a lemon look on your face as you use it. The Sawyer Mini is also much, much lighter - and much cheaper! But it doesn't remove viruses and you can't use it for getting clean water for cooking or other uses. And collecting water is not always that easy. With a deep fast flowing stream its ok - but a small shallow puddle is much harder. You can of course suck the water via the Mini directly from the puddle rather than filling a bottle - but it means water now but no water for later if you don't come across any other sources of water. For short hikes the Sawyer Mini is a good option if you will pass a few streams.
The SteriPen is only really useful with clean water sources where you just want to stop the bacteria/viruses. Not good from a muddy puddle!
Overall I'm pleased with the MSR Guardian. Its easy and quick to use and purifies to a high level. Great for getting high volumes of clean water. I've given it four stars rather than 5 due to the price, the plasticy taste and its weight.
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Maintenance kit to keep your Guardian Purifier running smoothly.