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Reviews > Water Treatment > Filters > Aquamira Frontier Pro Filter > Test Report by Richard Lyon
Mcnett AQUAMIRA® Frontier Pro Ultralight Water Filter System
Test Series by Richard Lyon
Initial Report August 4, 2008
Personal Information and Backpacking Background: I've been backpacking for 45 years on and off, and regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do a weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500 - 4000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp. In the past few years I've been actively seeking ways to reduce weight, but I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and often I choose a bit of extra weight over foregoing my favorite camp conveniences.
August 4, 2008
Manufacturer: Aquamira, a
division of McNett Corporation.
MSRP: $19.95 US
Weight, listed 2 oz (57 g) dry, measured 2.7
oz (77 g) without the tubing, which weighed in at 0.2 oz (6 g). As noted below
some water may have been in the filter when I weighed it.
Aquamira describes the Frontier Pro as an "Ultralight, Compact, 'Pump Free' personal filtration device that fits in the palm of your hand." According to Aquamira's website and the instructions printed on the product packaging, the Frontier Pro can be used with a hydration bladder or any "conventional" bottle to allow the user to suck unfiltered, untreated water through the filter, or as the filter in a gravity-flow water treatment system.
The diagram at right, from Aquamira's website, illustrates how the Frontier Pro works. Water first passes through a prefilter (at the bottom of the diagram) to remove particulate matters, then through a porous plastic microfilter made of "the finest quality coconut shell carbon." Aquamira claims the Frontier Pro removes 99.9% of Cryptosporidium andGiardia, the same percentage as other filters that this company offers to consumers. The filter media are treated with Miraguard to suppress growth of bacteria, algae, fungus, mold and mildew during both use and storage.
The filter unit does indeed fit in the palm of my hand, and likewise fits easily in a shirt or trouser pocket. While lightweight, it has a sturdy look and feel, not unlike a pump-type filter. This extends to the elastic (called the "Strap Grip" by Aquamira) that encircles the BiteMe valve cap. To open the cap I simply pull the elastic up and set the cap to one side, as shown in another Aquamira diagram: Barring elastic fatigue or a tear the Strap Grip should prevent even this careless camper from misplacing the cap.
The intake end of the Frontier Pro has a female threaded cap that screws exactly on to a Platypus water bottle. It's said also to fit any "standard" store-bought water bottle, and it does so with the one I had on hand. It will not screw on a SIGG bottle, however, the throat of which has its own female threads, or a standard polyethylene molded water bottle, whose-mouth is too wide. Aquamira has included the draw tube for these applications, any other water vessel, or theoretically drinking directly from a spring or other water source. This tube fits over a male fitting in the middle of the intake end of the Frontier Pro.
Whatever the source, the drinker sucks water through the Frontier Pro's BiteMe valve at the end opposite the water source. I found this to work similarly to valves that accompany hydration bladder systems such as Platypus and Camelbak.
Preparing for use. In printed instructions on the packaging Aquamira thoughtfully instructs the user to run some water through the system prior to field use to remove the sooty carbon dust in the filter. After this simple operation the Frontier Pro is ready to go. Unfortunately I flushed the filter before weighing it, and I expect some residual water in the filter accounts for the rather large discrepancy between the weight I took and Aquamira's listed weight.
On long day hikes and backpacking trips I plan to continue using my normal hydration kit: a 2 or 3-liter hydration bladder in my pack and a smaller bottle in a pack pocket or holster. Because the Frontier Pro won't attach to my bottles, I'll begin using it in place of the bite valve on my water bladder system, as in this photo.
Things I'll examine:
Ease of use - individual. Set up on the water bladder is easy; I simply detach the bite valve at the end of my bladder hose with the Frontier Pro, and then fit the hose on to the male connector on the filter. Will the filter stay in place on the hose when brushed by tree branches, careless hand movements, or other objects? Will I need to be sure that the Frontier Pro is secured to a pack strap to avoid unwanted bouncing against my sternum, and, if so, how is this most efficiently accomplished? I will check to see if there is any leakage from the valve connection, body, or BiteMe valve of the Frontier Pro, or any spilling anywhere in the system. Will sediment in the water make it more difficult to suck water through the filter? How easy is it to replace the pre-filter?
Ease of use group. During the test period I will be leading a group of Forest Service volunteers on a seven-day backpack in Montana, so I'll have the opportunity to use the Frontier Pro in a gravity filtration system. How exactly will I accomplish this? Will the two options on intake a specifically-sized cap or short piece of tubing limit the container from which water is filtered? For group use: can I rig it and leave it, as claimed? Gravity system use is said to be "hands-free" but specific directions are lacking onAquamira's website and the package. I am particularly interested in how I'll get a hands-free drip, as the BiteMe valve didn't drip at all on my trial run. Will I need a clamp or other device to keep pressure on the valve? I'll keep approximate track of usage, and will see if there is any means of determining when the 200 liter capacity is met or approached.
Durability. As with any gear I shall report on durability under backcountry conditions, in particular whether the Frontier Pro can be ignored or mishandled and if I will have to pay any special attention to it. Will dents or other accidents adversely affect functionality?
General Utility. What, if anything, limits the Frontier Pro's use in everyday hiking and camping situations? Is special storage, in camp or in my pack, necessary or advisable?
Taste. Does use result in any unpleasant taste or aftertaste? Any taste at all? Will results differ from those obtained using my usual chlorine dioxide treatment?
Protection. I wouldn't have requested this test unless I believed that the Frontier Pro would remove harmful bacteria from untreated backcountry water; giardia is one risk I won't take even for my BackpackGearTest.org team. But I shall report if I or anyone on my group trips takes sick with a waterborne disease.
October 7, 2008
During the past two months I have used the Frontier Pro on several day hikes in Montana and Texas and on two backpacking trips, a solo overnighter in Yellowstone National Park in late September and a seven-day, six-night backpacking trip in Montana earlier that month. Temperatures ranged from 35 F (2 C) at night in Montana to near 100 F (38 C) in Texas. I have thus far strained thirty liters through the Frontier Pro, a bit less than one-sixth of its claimed capacity.
Except when used for group water treatment, I carried the Frontier Pro as part of my water bladder hydration system (described below) or as a back-up stored in a zip-top bag in my day pack.
GROUP USE. Each summer I serve for a week as a U.S. Forest Service volunteer, doing backcountry trail maintenance. This year's trip took place in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Montana. Our group of eight hiked about 7.5 miles (12 km) along the Gorge Creek trail to its junction with Inspiration Creek and the spur trail to Sunburst Lake, and there set up a base camp for the week's work. Each day we hiked to our work site and then worked uptrail clearing blown-down trees and underbrush from the trail and repairing or installing water bars for erosion control. By week's end this meant hiking eight or nine miles a day, carrying our tools and day packs.
Our main means of water purification was chlorine dioxide treatment of creek water stored in two large plastic water cubes, but I did rig a gravity flow system to test the Frontier Pro's ability to treat water in this manner. After removing the shower valve on a sun shower, I connected the outlet hose to the Frontier Pro's inlet port, then removed the bite valve from the Frontier Pro and let the water to drip into a water cube. Removing the bite valve took some effort, as the silicone piece tends to stick to the plastic underneath, but this operation was accomplished with a slight twist to the left followed by a tug on the bite valve. The second time I did this it was much easier. Nineteen liters dripped through in about three hours.
Gorge Creek, our water source, and its nearby headwaters, Sunburst Lake, have very clear water with no visible sediment, and because of this I determined that chlorine dioxide treatment (which requires about half an hour of steeping) was far more efficient for our group than straining through a filter. So I re-attached the bite valve and for the remainder of the trip carried the Frontier Pro in my day pack. Nevertheless, I found that the Frontier Pro did its job well in a gravity system, and I expect to put it to that use in the future, especially on solo trips when I can use it to filter water overnight. Removing the bite valve eliminates any issues of sanitation caused by using one hiker's personal filter for water to be drunk by the group, and the bite valve is easily and safely stored in a plastic bag.
INDIVIDUAL USE. On most day hikes, and on the hike to our base camp on the backpacking trip, I attached the unit to the outlet tubing on my usual hydration system, a Platypus 2+ Liter Platy water bottle stored in my backpack or day pack, by replacing the bite valve on the Platypus system with the Frontier Pro. That's the easy part. More problematic was how to keep the Frontier Pro from bouncing around my chest. Unlike the Platypus bite valve the Frontier Pro is too large to fit easily under a compression strap, and too bulky to be comfortable when tucked under my sternum strap. One of the accessories on my ŰLA Catalyst backpack, which I used on the hikes to base camp and back to the trailhead on my service trip, solved this problem easily and effectively. As the reader may see from my separate review of the Catalyst, the optional water bottle holder on this pack is a pair of bungee cords attached to the shoulder strap (in my case, the left one). I simply tightened up the lower cord at the input end of the Frontier Pro, leaving the lower end (with bite valve) secure and within reach of my mouth when I wanted a drink. My day packs lack this convenient little holder, so I improvised with a thick rubber band around the Frontier Pro and shoulder strap at about the same point.
I have also screwed the Frontier Pro onto the top of a Platy bottle and stored both together in my day pack. The Strap Grip allows me to do this without exposing the bite valve to any sharp objects or pressure that might result in a damp pack pocket. I am pleased to report that I've lost not a drop of water at either end of the Frontier Pro when I used the product in this manner.
DESIGN. I really must compliment Aquamira for a clever and truly functional design. Not only is this little gadget easy to use, several design features appear intended to avoid mishaps I've encountered with other filters or hydration systems. Since there is no intake hose I can't mistake the intake and outlet hoses. Unlike a bite valve on my Platypus system, the Strap Grip can't slip off, and keeps dust and grime off the bite valve when I'm not drinking from it, and it doesn't drip. When on my shoulder strap or stored in my pack the unit is, tortoise-like, fully enclosed in plastic, impervious (so far) to dents or crushing. The intake valve has remained affixed to any hose I've attached it to. And the full kit fits easily into a one-cup plastic bag that's small enough to stash in a shirt or pants pocket if necessary.
The Frontier Pro's small size places some limitations on its use. The only ready access is through the bite valve, so it can't or shouldn't be used for more than one person while hiking. I can't fill a container and then add an electrolyte mix, as I can with water treated with chemical or pump-filtered from the source. As noted, for a large group chemical treatment is considerably faster than using the Frontier Pro and gravity. I have reservations about adding really dirty (sediment-filled) water to the bottle used in my hydration bladder; at the very least it will require more attentive cleaning after the trip. I may have to dedicate (and mark) one of my Platys as the dirty water bottle.
But size has advantages too. On my solo overnighter I could use the Frontier Pro as my bite valve while hiking, then set up a gravity flow that filtered water while I was fishing. It's small enough and light enough, in my opinion, to carry it in my pack as a back-up to the chlorine dioxide that's become my preferred water treatment, just in case I camp near some mucky water.
IT WORKED! Most of my use of the Frontier Pro involved either tap water (Texas day hikes) or treated water (my service trip), but I did use it, with its tubing, to drink directly out of Sunburst Lake on my backpacking trip; from Mission Creek, a mountain stream in the Absarokas; and from Slough Creek in Yellowstone National Park. And here I am alive and giardia-free telling the tale. None of my fellow volunteers was noticeably affected from our one batch of filtered water either.
SUMMARY. At this point in my testing I regard the Frontier Pro as a niche product. I "Dumped the Pump" some years ago for chlorine dioxide, and that remains my preferred water treatment. But the Frontier Pro will accompany me on many day hikes and, as noted, as a safety net on longer trips.
My only criticism is not performance-related. McNett provided no directions on use in a gravity system; so I had to call customer service for instructions. Once advised, it was easy to do. I
LONG TERM REPORT
December 5, 2008
FIELD CONDITIONS. Since filing my Field Report I have taken the Frontier Pro on several day hikes and overnighters in Montana and Texas, adding another sixteen liters (17 quarts) to my total usage. This brings the grand total during the four-month test period of forty-six liters (49 quarts, or just over 12 gallons), about one-quarter of the Frontier Pro's stated capacity. All of this latest use was for me alone, with no filtration for fellow travelers, but I did use the unit for gravity flow filtration on two overnight hikes. At other times the Frontier Pro was attached to the hydration tube of a Platy bottle water bladder system or screwed into the top of a Platy bottle for camp use, in each case in the same manner described in my Field Report,. Temperatures ranged from 50-80 F (10-26 C) except for one night in Montana where the nighttime low was 35 F (2 C) and one night in West Texas when the mercury dipped just below freezing and on the next day's hike didn't exceed 40 F (4 C). Although I didn't really need to (based on visual examination of the one received from the manufacturer), I changed the pre-filter after filtering a total of thirty-five liters (37 quarts). This was an easy operation taking less than one minute. I just unscrewed the intake end of the filter, pulled out the pre-filter, and inserted a new one simple as that.
OBSERVATIONS. During the past two months I have come to appreciate the benefits of the Frontier Pro, and a few of the reservations expressed in my Field Report have diminished. I have less concern about filling a Platy bottle with untreated water for use with the Frontier Pro. Much of my hiking takes place along the clear streams and rivers of the Northern Rockies; it's unusual for me to have to depend on sediment- or algae-filled water. One reason I use Platy bottles is their light weight. I normally pack a spare anyway, and it's been easy to mark one as the "dirty" bottle, which I clean with a bit more bleach after returning home. I have used the two bottles, or the dirty bottle and a cooking pot or other vessel, for a gravity-fed system while I'm fishing or exploring away from camp, and overnight. The two-bottle method was unaffected by near-freezing temperatures that cold night in Montana.
The Strap Grip has made me a fan of using the Frontier Pro with a water bladder hydration system in my pack. Removing the Strap Grip to access the BiteMe valve for a drink, and replacing it after quaffing, have become routine, no more bothersome or time-consuming than turning the valve on a conventional water bladder hydration system. I consider the minor extra weight to be a worthwhile trade-off for a dust- and grime-free drinking port and guaranteed no dripping from a faulty bite valve or not-fully-closed intake valve. The Frontier Pro's intake end fits very securely inside the hydration hose, probably more securely than the hydration system's bite valve fits over the hose. At least I haven't accidentally pulled the Frontier Pro off completely, which when I am careless has been known to occur with an everyday bite valve. Because the Frontier Pro's intake end screws onto the throat of a Platy bottle, I can attach the unit to a bottle for drinking water in my tent overnight, again without fear of a drip occasioned by tipping the bottle over.
Two more months in the field has caused me to refine my view of the Frontier Pro's niche. For sanitary reasons if nothing else, I believe this product should be limited to one person's use. There are other reasons too. A pump is a faster and more efficient means of filling two (or more) hikers' bottles for immediate drinking. For large group water preparation, chemical treatments such as chlorine dioxide are definitely more efficient ten gallons can be treated as quickly as one liter. Chlorine dioxide's half-hour gestation time is about equal to the Frontier Pro's time to filter less than two liters using gravity flow. I own or have used larger filters for large gravity flow systems and all beat the Frontier Pro in speed and capacity (but not size and weight).
But for individual use, especially when solo hiking, the Frontier Pro is a versatile product that allows immediate drinking from a hydration bottle of untreated water or even directly from a water source, and a gnarly one at that. I don't mind the filtration time in gravity flow mode when I'm sound asleep or off fishing, though treatment with chlorine dioxide can match it for time. As I said in my Field Report, it's small enough and lightweight enough to carry as a back-up, and I've come to prefer it as a bite valve when I'm wearing a pack. It'll fit into a pocket of my fishing vest for long days along the river when I don't want to bother with chemicals. I'm looking forward to plenty of use starting with next spring's thaw.
I haven't had any durability issues no chips, dents, or cracks. The Miraguard treatment has done its work well, as I've detected no odor at all after four months' use. As noted I haven't been drinking from any stock ponds, so maybe the Frontier Pro hasn't been put to a real test on this score, but all water I've drunk from the unit has had no noticeable taste.
Nominally this is a throw-away item, but since I've not reached one-quarter of its stated capacity in four months I have little concern about using a disposable water filter. After the test is finished I am likely to use it less, reverting to chlorine dioxide whenever I consider that to be faster or otherwise more efficient. At such a reduced rate my Frontier Pro should last a long time, and it's inexpensive enough that buying a replacement won't be very painful.
The protected BiteMe valve. No dirt and no drip!
Small and light weight
Very easy to use
DISLIKES (really just limitations)
Solo use only
For my style of hiking it's not really the best for any use but it works, and works well, in just about any situation I'll ordinarily face.
My Test Report ends here. My thanks to McNett Corporation and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this cleverly-designed ultralight water filter.
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