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Reviews > Water Treatment > Filters > Katadyn Vario Filter > Test Report by Ray Estrella

November 26, 2007



NAME: Raymond Estrella
AGE: 47
LOCATION: Huntington Beach California USA
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, and in many of the western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I have made a move to lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or fiancée Jenn.


The Product


Manufacturer: Katadyn Products Inc
Web site:
Product: Vario Filter
Year manufactured: 2007
Weight listed: 15 oz (524 g)
Actual weight with hoses and pre-filter 17.8 oz (505 g)
Size listed 7.5 x 4 in (19 x 10 cm) Verified accurate


Product Description

The Katadyn Vario Microfilter (hereafter called the filter or Vario) is a multi-stage water filtration system. This model is the flag-ship of the company's Backcountry series of filters. The main unit is comprised of a black plastic body and head. Lots of goodies are inside!
Sticking out to the side and connected to the top cap is a grey and black pump handle. A raised portion hits the side of the body to lessen the incidence of smashed fingers. The handle is thick enough to be comfortable for my big hands.

The handle works the dual action pump. There are two pistons in the top of the cap that force water through the unit. Whereas the Hiker (the Katadyn unit that I have been using for almost 4 years) has a single action pump, working only on the down stroke, the Vario works on both directions of travel. It accomplishes this by using a cam on the "axel" of the pump handle. It has tabs on either side at 180 degrees from each other. When the handle is pumped one of the pistons attached to each cam tab is moving in a downward motion, forcing the water through. The top cap is clear allowing the process to be viewed while filtering. Who needs TV? I am watching my filter.

The water input barb is on the upper portion of the unit also. It has a red protective sleeve to keep dirt out of it.

The lower flared body is comfortable to hold. This unit is a bit beefy, which is why I am finding it nice. Inside of the body is the multi-stage filter system. The main filter is a pleated glassfiber cartridge that I am so familiar with from the Hiker/Hiker Pro series. It does not use the pre-filter sleeve that the Hiker Pro has.

But this one does add something different. Replaceable activated carbon inside of the core works to remove odors and tastes that otherwise get past conventional filters. This has me excited to use this feature. I drink from a lot of high glacier fed lakes that get pretty warm in the summer. Even after filtering they can be pretty swampy tasting. I can't wait to see how the carbon does for this. The company recommends replacing the carbon every 50 gallons (200 l).

At the top of the filter unit is a ceramic pre-filter disc. This will filter very fine and is used in dirty or silty water to keep the bulk of the yuck from having to go through the pleated filter. The ceramic disc is cleanable. So when it gets slow to pump the included green scrubby pad is used to clean the surface of the ceramic allowing for more dirty-water filtration. The glaciers that I mentioned have this habit of grinding perfectly good granite into dust finer than flour. This dust is carried away in the melt-off to the lakes and streams that I have to drink from. It makes for some very interesting looking water and will drastically shorten the life of a filter. The ceramic disc will be put to use at these water sources.
ceramic disc
Why these and not all? Because I don't have to use it all the time. Katadyn has made this filter variable (Vario, get it?) by allowing the top ceramic filter to be bypassed. The body opens with an eighth-turn counter-clockwise and then a pull downward to access the adjustment area at the top of the filters. The ceramic disc sits on the top of the pleated filter. A white arrow shows where to set it for "longer life" or faster flow". There is a hole and tube running below the ceramic filter, through the housing of it. In "faster flow" mode this tube allows water to bypass the ceramic filter going mostly straight through to the pleated filter (and of course the carbon core). They say that it can filter up to 2 qt/l per minute in this mode. In "longer life" mode the tube is blocked (and sealed with two O-rings) forcing the water to go through the ceramic disc before making to the pleated filter. This is a picture of the ceramic filter upside down showing the water way.

The adapter base, at the bottom of the Vario is said to be able to attach directly to a Nalgene bottle (it does) along with some other bottles with the same size/thread set-up. Unfortunately I have given up Nalgenes in favor of Aquafina water bottles, or hydration bladders.

The bottom of the filter has a hose barb allowing the provided silicone tubing output hose to be attached, which can then be put into any container I would like. To help keep it in place they have provided a spring that clips to the tube and slides over the opening of a pop-bottle. I love this! Here is a shot of it on one of my bottles.
Katadyn has the bladders accounted for too. They have a rubber protective cap that covers the bottom of the filter, keeping dirt out. By turning this cap a port is exposed that allows filtered water to travel through a tube in the cover, out the port. This port narrows as it goes towards the center allowing for a good seal. They say that the tubes of most brands of bladders should be able to plug into this port. I have five different bladder or bag brands here. All but Nalgene are able to plug into the port.

There is a supplied pre-filter made of very fine mesh screen that goes at the bottom of the supply hose. A bell-cover weight is supplied that will go over the screen filter to protect it from big junk in the water and help keep it in place. The bell-cover has slots in the side to allow water to come from there and the bottom. A closed-cell foam float is provided too. This slides over the intake hose and can be slid up and down to allow the pick-up to be kept off the bottom of the lake, river or creek.

A bunch of extra O-rings came with the filter, along with some silicone lubricant and the green scrub pad mentioned earlier.

The "clean" output hose and bottle clip are kept in a slide-zip plastic bag. It and everything else can be stored in the black nylon storage bag provided. This bag has a zipper, and a large pull/hang loop on the side of it.

This concludes my initial report, the following are the results of the first two months of testing.


Field Conditions

I used the Vario on a 42-mile (68 km) overnight backpacking trip in the eastern Sierra Nevada. Our camp was at Crabtree Meadows at 10600' (3231 m) and I filtered water from Whitney Creek, which drains Guitar and Timberline lakes.
Vario on log
I also used it at Fisherman Camp in the Cleveland National Forest on an overnighter at our camping spot at Fisherman Camp. This was our low spot of the trip at 1100' (335 m). Temps got up to 90 F and a low of 55 F (32, 13 C). The water was a bit yucky as it has been very warm and there is not much water running.

I carried it on an overnight hike to the North Fork of the San Jacinto River which was dry. On the way out I stopped at Lake Fulmore to use it on some very cruddy water.


This is one fast filter. I used it for the first time at Crabtree Meadows in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range. I filtered water from Whitney Creek. I used a collapsible bucket to gather the water letting it flow into the bucket to keep any sediment from being gathered too. So the water was pretty clear. California is having a very hot summer, and had a terrible winter and spring as far as snow levels went so the lakes that feed the creek are lower and warmer than usual. The creek itself it much smaller too. Because of this there was a bit of "swampy" smell to the water. Here is a picture of the Vario and a full bucket of water.

Once I filtered it through the "faster" setting the smell was gone and the water tasted great. And they do mean fast. I pumped the first liter/quart of water through to flush the filter for the first time and poured it out. Then I had Dave time me with the second hand of his watch. I pumped for 60 seconds at a normal pace. When the minute ended I had just over 2.5 liters (2.6 qt) of water in my Platypus. That is even better than Katadyn said it does.

I used the cap to fill straight from my Platypus Hoser's drinking tube. I popped the bite valve off and stuck the end of the tube in the hole. It works awesome. I had brought a 1 liter/quart Platy bottle for use in camp and in my tent at night. I just put the cap and hose from the Hoser on the smaller bottle to fill it rather than dig out the bottle clip and output hose for the Vario. It was sweet. Dave only had a Platypus Hoser with him so it was a very easy filtering job this trip.

To see how the Vario would work on cruddy water I stopped at Lake Fulmore in the Black Mountain Scenic Area. This lake is small and shallow and is never good quality water in the best of years. It is posted warning of water quality for swimmers. With the drought we are having this year (2007) the lake is pretty bad. The lake is green as can be seen below.

I scooped half a bucket of water out and hung it from a lakeside tree to pump from. I had the setting at Longer Life to run it through the ceramic prefilter. It still pumped quite fast. I filtered 1.5 l/qt of water. It came out nice and clear. But it smelled bad, and had a funky taste. I ended up pouring it out. I was surprised that the charcoal did not remove more of the smell and taste. I have pumped water as bad as that before with better results with other filters.

Green lake

On this trip I only used Aquafina bottles so I used the outflow tube and bottle clip with the Vario. It worked great. I like the way the tube can be slid through the clip to let it go further into the bottle. This keeps it from tipping over as easily.

When I got back from that trip I cleaned the Vario well to get the gunk out. I scrubbed the ceramic disk which I was surprised to see only had a few spots on it. I was expecting to see it slime covered.

This concludes my Field Report, the following are the results of the final two months of testing.


Field Conditions

I went on a 78 mile three day trip from the Rock Creek Lake area down to Glacier Lodge in the John Muir Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada range of California. The temperatures ranged from freezing to 70 F (21 C), elevations ranged from 7800' to 11800' (2380 to 3600 m). Terrain consisted of dirt and exposed rock at the lower elevations and snow and ice up high. My pack weight at the start of the trip was 23 lb (10.4 kg). There were lakes, creeks and springs all along this hike.


On my last big 3-season hike of the year I had more water sources than any trip I have ever taken. We were next to lakes, creeks, tarns, and springs just about constantly. Because of this we carried no more than two qt/liters of water at a time. I carried two bottles and my brother-in-law Dave carried a 2 l (70 oz) platypus Hoser. I carried the Vario at the very top of my pack with the intake hose left hooked up and wrapped around the body. For Dave's Platy all we had to do was plug his tube into the hole at the bottom cap. This is the fastest way to go.

I use bottles on long trips so that I can mix electrolyte powdered drinks with my water. So I had to pull out the tube and bottle clip which adds a little more time to my refills.

The area had just received snow earlier in the week so the water was pretty good quality and cold. I did not use any water from tarns as they we pretty yucky. My favorite spot was the coolest spring that we found by hearing it as we hiked. A use trail led down to the excellent spring that may be seen below.

Sierra spring

I used the filter on the Longer Life setting this entire trip. I had no clogging and again noticed that it pumped very fast.

I have been prepping it for storage between trips by putting a bit of bleach in a pot of water then pumping it through the unit. I then take it apart and let it dry well before reassembling and sticking in the gear room.

I have been very impressed with the Vario. I like the way that it fits my hands and how fast it pumps. The ability to just filter directly into a hydration bladders hose is a major plus. The only thing that I can complain about is the weight and bulk of the unit. I think that this filter shines for group hiking. Next year will see me hiking with three or four of us and I expect the Vario will be quite welcome in those situations. I will use my Katadyn Hiker for solo use now that this test has ended. My thanks to Katadyn and BackpackGearTest for the oppertunity tp test this filter.

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.

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