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Reviews > Water Treatment > Filters > Aquamira Frontier Pro Filter > Test Report by Kurt Papke

Aquamira Frontier Pro Water Filter

Test Series by Kurt Papke

Initial Report - July 11, 2008
Field Report - September 26, 2008
Long-term Report - December 10, 2008

Initial Report

July 11, 2008

Tester Information

Name: Kurt Papke
Age: 54
Gender: Male
Height: 6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight: 220 lbs (100 kg)
Email address: kwpapke at gmail dot com
City, State, Country: Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
Backpacking Background: Mostly in Minnesota - have hiked all of the Superior Hiking Trail and Border Route.  Preferred/typical  backpack trip is one week.  Dayhiking in Utah, Colorado and Oregon.  Mostly Spring/Fall seasons.  Comfort-weight hiker: I try to carry as few items as possible, but do not go to extremes to reduce weight of items carried.  Because of my physical size & weight I consume a lot of water when I hike, at least 1 gallon (4 liters) per day including meals.  Tasting water from different sources is one of the joys of backpacking for me, so I never chemically treat, always filter.

Initial Report

Product Information

Manufacturer: Aquamira
Year of manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer website: http://www.aquamira.com/
Listed weight:  2 oz (57 g) dry
Weight as received:  2.65 oz (75 g), plus draw tube at 0.25 oz (7g)
Unfortunately, I used the unit before weighing, so the weight discrepancy may be accounted for by retained water
Listed Dimensions:
1.25 in outside diameter (OD) x 5.5 in long (L), 6.75in^3 total volume
(3.17 cm x 14 cm, 111 cm^3)
Measured Dimensions:
1.25 in OD x 5.5 in L (3.17 cm x 14 cm)
Total volume = 6.75 in^3 (111 cm^3)
Filtering capacity:
50 US gallons (190 L)
Draw tube Dimensions:
3/8 in OD x 7 3/4 in L (0.95 cm x 19.7 cm)
MSRP: $19.95 US

Product Description

Frontier Pro in packageThe Frontier Pro is an inline water filter: water is filtered and purified as it is consumed.  This differs from the traditional pump filter which purifies in bulk as the storage vessel is filled.  It also differs from some other inline filters in that it is standalone, not a component of a water bottle.

The components of the system, as packaged in the picture at left consist of:

1. The filter system.
2. Draw tube.
3. Four spare prefilters.  The packaging stated there are only three replacement prefilters, but mine came with four.

The filter is designed to draw water in one of three ways, but in all cases the water is sucked directly from the filter bite valve after removing the valve cap (pulling on the cap and pushing it to one side) and biting down on the bite valve:

1. Directly from the source using the supplied draw tube (the tube is seen to the right of the filter in the picture).
2. From a hydration bladder that is connected to the bottom of the filter.  The bladder feed tube is connected to the filter after removal of the hydration system's own bite valve.
3. From a water bottle or hydration bladder directly threaded to the 28mm female connector.

Aquamira Frontier Pro directions from package backThe picture to the left shows the back view of the packaging which were the only directions supplied with the system - there were no printed instruction sheets included.  The system is very simple to configure and use, and I found the package-back directions in conjunction with the usage pictures on the front of the packaging to be sufficient for me to employ all system features.

Some of the features described on the packaging and website worth pointing out:

- The valve cap (prevents cap contamination) is attached with two elastic bands to the filter body making it impossible to lose the cap.

- The "Bite Me" valve: like many hydration systems a bite valve is used to open the flow.  Unless the valve is bit down on, no water flows from the vessel.

- "Miraguard technology" is used to suppress any growth in the filter media.  The documentation does not explicitly state so, but this should obviate the need to flush the system with bleach or other disinfectant between uses.


Aquamira Frontier Pro componentsThe picture at left shows the system broken down into its components.

At bottom is the main filter system with the valve cap removed showing the integrated Cap Strap grip system: the black elastic in the picture is all one piece, and serves a dual function of permanently strapping the cap to the filter body and also acts as a non-slip grip.

In the middle left is a prefilter disk.  This is inserted into the tube adapter in the middle right which is then threaded onto the bottom of the filter.

The draw tube above inserts onto a fitting on the bottom of the tube adapter as shown in the picture below.  A hydration bladder would be attached using the same fitting. Draw tube attached to adapter

Initial Impressions

My first impression holding the system in my hand was of quality and durability.  The unit has a feeling of "heft" despite its light weight, and the Cap Strap provides a soft non-slip grip.  An aggressive pull on the cap gave no signs of possible strap failure.

The first thing I tried to do with the unit was to attempt to attach it to two drinking water bottles (Dasani, Kirkland) I happened to have at hand - neither fit the adapter threads.  Next I fitted it to a full one-liter Platypus soft-sided vessel, which mated perfectly with no leakage.  I did notice that I was tightening two sets of threads: filter-to-adapter, and adapter-to-Platy.  Not an issue, but I made a mental note not to overtighten and possibly strip threads.  I then pulled off the Cap Strap, pinched the bite valve with two fingers, and pressed on the Platy.  A thin stream of inky black water emerged into the sink, the black from the carbon dust warned of by the last note on the rear of the packaging.  I was glad I followed the initial use instructions, as I've heard that the carbon dust can stain teeth.

Once satisfied that the unit was safe to use I inserted the Bite Me valve into my mouth, bit down and sucked some water.  It took about 20 seconds to suck a reasonable gulp of water through the filter.

Next I inverted the Platy (with the cap still off) and pressed hard with both hands - not a drop emerged from the bite valve (or anywhere else) despite substantial pressure.  Clearly, water leakage was not going to be an issue.  I then did a quick flow rate check using pressure on the Platy: 3.4 fl oz (100 ml) in 13 seconds.  I then sucked (no pressure on the Platy) for 40 seconds and extracted about 1 oz (30 ml) of water.  Lastly I combined suction with Platy pressure, and received a satisfying gulp of water.  Clearly, manual pressure combined with suction looked to be the efficient method of getting water through the filter.

One of the concerns I have going into the test period is that I will need to contaminate my water vessels with impure water to properly test the system.  This is not a big issue, as they can easily be sanitized with a little bleach, I'll just have to remember which ones are clean and not.  It may be that this is a long-term concern, time will tell.

Test Plan

During the month of July 2008 I will be staying with family in Portland, Oregon.  During this month I will be doing frequent car camping and dayhiking outings, and some short backpack trips.  August will bring me back to Minnesota by automobile where I hope to test the filter in several venues en route and at home during the Field Report period.  I will attempt to assess:
  • Usability: I will test the filter using the draw tube drinking directly from water sources - can I draw enough water in a reasonable time to avoid frustration, and do I find it convenient to carry the draw tube in an easily-accessible location?  I will test the filter connected to my 2L reservoir - does the filter hang conveniently from the hydration tube, do I lose patience trying to suck 2L of water through the system, do my cheeks get tired?  Lastly, I will test using direct-connect 1L Platy bottles.
  • Accessibility: do I find it convenient to access the filter and draw tube while on a hike?
  • Reliability & robustness: any leaks? Does the bite valve get teeth marks from me biting down on it?  Does the filter clog from any particular types of water sources?  How frequently do I find I have to change out prefilters?  Any wear and tear on the adapter threads?
  • Functionality: how do I like the taste of the filtered water?  Do I get sick from drinking contaminated water during the test period?
  • Aesthetics: how do I feel about using the unit in areas where other people are present?
  • Packability: do I find the unit is light enough to carry in a pants pocket?  Does it fit in my hipbelt pockets?  The draw tube seems like it might be easy to lose: it is small and translucent - do I still have it at the end of the test period?
  • Weight/benefit ratio: the Frontier Pro is substantially lighter and smaller than my current filter.  After several months of use do I find that the weight and space savings are worth the downsides?
This concludes my Initial Report on the Aquamira Frontier Pro water filter system.

Field Report

Field locations/conditions

I used the filter system during the a month-long camping excursion to Oregon in July; most uses were during car camping or 1-night backpacking trips, though I did use it on some multi-day backpacking trips to the Wallowa Mountains and to Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  This included several days in the Columbia River Gorge, 2 days on the Pacific Crest Trail sections near the Gorge, several days in the Coastal Range just west of Portland, and several days on the western slopes of Mount Hood.  Temperatures ranged from a low in the mid-30's F (2 C) in the mountains where I camped in the snow, to highs in the mid 90's F (35 C) in Teddy Roosevelt National Park.  Altitudes ranged from sea level on the Oregon Coast, to just under 5000 ft (1500 m) on the slopes of Mount Hood.    Finally, I carried the filter with me on a week-long trip to Isle Royale, Michigan in early September.  The terrain varied widely, from Minnesota and Michigan lake shores, Cascade ridgelines, to the Columbia River gorge.

The water I filtered with the Frontier Pro included mountain streams and lakes in Oregon.  Isle Royale waters included Lake Superior, inland lakes and ponds.  I did NOT attempt to use the filter with the nasty-looking beaver ponds on Isle Royale, as I had neglected to bring the spare pre-filters with me and didn't want to clog up the system.

Usage modalities

One of the strengths of the Frontier Pro is the many ways it can be employed - it has great flexibility, as illustrated in the following pictures:
Direct sippingSipping water directly from a mountain stream in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallowa mountains of Eastern Oregon.  I liked the instant gratification of this mode - whenever I was thirsty and saw water I wanted to drink I could just get out the filter and tube and drink directly.

I didn't like having to take my pack off and bend over to drink.  Drinking in this position with a heavy pack on is tough.  Few places are as convenient as this one was - in this case I was lower than the water source.  In most cases I had to kneel on rocks or mud to drink directly.
Use with platyFrontier Pro attached to a 1L Platy container in my pack water bottle holder.

From an ease-of-drinking-effort perspective, this is what I found easiest.  I can use my hands to pressurize the Platy and assist my mouth in drawing water through the filter.

As is obvious from the picture, this has the disadvantage that the long filter tube wants to flop over.  As the container became more empty, it got really floppy and I was concerned that the container would fall out of the holder.

What I ended up doing is using this configuration in camp where I wasn't carrying the filter attached to a container in my pack.

Attached to reservoir drinking tubeThe last mode is attached to a reservoir drinking tube, as in the picture at left.  This was probably my least favorite way to use the filter.  I didn't like the big filter flopping on my chest when I walked, and I was concerned it would fall off.  I didn't use it this way for very long.

I also didn't like contaminating my hydration reservoir with unfiltered water.  Yes, I can sanitize it with bleach, but I don't like the wear and tear that puts on a water supply system.

Other observations

  • Water quality from the filter was excellent - no aftertaste or any other issues
  • Reliability was good - absolutely no problems with the system.  This was not surprising to me, as there are no moving parts.
  • Packing: the filter itself packed easily - I normally carried it in my pack lid.  The drinking tube was a problem - I was constantly misplacing it or digging for it in my pack.  It is small, narrow and translucent, so its not easy to see, especially in poor light
  • Doesn't work when water is needed for powdered drinks or cold cereal.  I often carry powdered electrolytes and Tang for a cold beverage, and I eat cold cereal with powdered milk every morning for breakfast when backpacking.  I could not use the Frontier Pro for this use.  Hot beverages are OK, as the water can be used without filtering as it is boiled, but cold drinks don't work as the filtered water goes right into my mouth.  I suspect filtering Tang through the filter would greatly shorten its usable lifetime.

Summary

My feeling to-date is I am unlikely to "dump the pump", despite the low weight and small size of the filter.  My bottom line is that the muscles in my arms are a LOT stronger than those in my cheeks - I can filter a lot more water with less effort with a pump than I can with an in-line filter.

What I am likely to end up using the filter for long-term is as a backup water source in my daypack.  It is perfect for this use.  I will test this during the Long-Term Report period of the next two months during some dayhiking in Utah and Colorado.

Likes:
  1. Small, lightweight, easy to pack and carry
  2. Reliable
  3. Instant gratification - don't have to drag out and assemble a pump
  4. Good tasting water
Areas for improvement:
  1. Effort required to draw water through the filter
  2. Some of the connection modalities, e.g. attached to reservoir, seemed not very useful to me
  3. Need a solution for clean cold water for powdered beverages

Long Term Report

Field locations/conditions

Water from Wilson CreekDuring the Long Term Report period my principle use of the Frontier Pro filter was on a 4-day backpacking trip along the Southern end of the Superior Hiking trail in Northern Minnesota in early October.  The rivers of this section of the trail have a high concentration of tannins, and they were quite muddy and swollen from several days of substantial rain.  An example of the water is shown at the picture at left, taken at Wilson Creek.  The muddy/tannin-filled water is in the background, and the unfiltered water is in the Platypus container.  The water on this trip was the worst I filtered during the 4-month test period.

This trail section varies in altitude from 650 to 1200 ft (200 to 365 m).  The terrain is forested with granite outcroppings.  Temperatures ranged from a high of 60 F (16 C) to a low of 28 F (-2 C) at night.  Water sources were major rivers such as the Split Rock and small streams.

During the Long Term Report period I also carried the Frontier Pro on dayhikes through the Black Eagle Wilderness in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and several dayhikes in Colorado and Utah.  Unfortunately, there was not much water on these trails so my use on these dayhikes was negligible.

Test results

During the LTR period I used the Frontier Pro solely attached to a Platy container.  I did not attempt to drink directly from water sources, nor did I connect it to a hydration reservoir.  The reason for the latter is I was also testing the PolarPak MoFlow reservoir, and its connections were incompatible with the Frontier Pro.  The reason for not drinking directly from water sources were:
  1. I found it too difficult to bend over far enough to drink from streams
  2. The effort required to suck water without any mechanical assistance was too tiresome.  I preferred to use my Platy where I could pressurize the filter with my hands.
On one day I tried to supply all of my water needs using only the Frontier Pro or boiling -- no pump.  During this day I filtered 4 L (about 4 qt) though the system.  I was able to use the Frontier Pro to filter water for my morning cold cereal -- I filtered a mouthful, then spat the clean water onto my cereal.  It took about five mouthfuls to get enough for breakfast.  Though this method may not be for everyone, it worked for me.

Frontier Pro in packI also used the Frontier Pro with a different backpack which seemed to better accommodate the filter protruding from the top of the Platy.  See picture at left.  The compression strap holding the filter in place was better positioned, and the side pocket (which can be seen in the upper left of the photo) is farther away than the prior pack used.  My conclusion from this is that all packs are not created equal when it comes to carrying the Frontier Pro connected to a water container.

PrefiltersWhen the trip was over I removed the prefilter and compared it to a clean one as shown in the photo at left.  Clearly, the prefilter picked up a lot of the mud in the water.  What I could not see is the effect of the tannins on the filter element.  My experience with other filters is that the tannins will pass through any prefilter, and slowly clog the filter element until the pressure required to move water through the system becomes excessive.  In fact, that is what happened on this trip.  By the last day it was getting quite difficult to filter water through the Frontier Pro, even with the assistance of pressure on the Platy container with my hands.

Summary

In addition to what I stated above during the Field Report period, what I learned about the Frontier Pro filter during the LTR period was:
  • My favorite way to use the system was attached to a flexible Platy container where I could use my hands to provide pressure.  I found this configuration worked OK with the side water container pocket on one of my packs.  In this configuration I could go a whole day without using my pump.
  • I did not achieve Aquamira's claim for a capacity of 50 gallons.  I filtered at most 5 gallons through the filter, and the suction resistance is high enough now that I am reluctant to depend on it in the field.
  • I filtered some really nasty water through the Frontier Pro, never had a bad-tasting drink, and never got sick.
  • Not all reservoirs will fit the Frontier Pro, at least not without some major plumbing modifications.
My bottom line after this test is: how will I use the unit now that the test period is over?  I am thinking I will make it a permanent fixture in my daypack.  I will use it to reduce the amount of water, especially emergency water, I carry on my dayhikes in areas where water is accessible.  With its light weight, it weighs only a fraction of the water I would have to carry for backup purposes, and is a good way to lighten my load.  This is a stellar product for day hiking backup water.  I am unlikely to use it on many multi-day backpacking trips, as I find I really prefer my high-volume arm-powered pump filter for filling up a hydration reservoir.

Many thanks to Aquamira and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.


Read more reviews of McNett Corporation gear
Read more gear reviews by Kurt Papke

Reviews > Water Treatment > Filters > Aquamira Frontier Pro Filter > Test Report by Kurt Papke



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