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Reviews > Water Treatment > Filters > Sawyer 4 Way Water Filter > Owner Review by Ray Estrella

Sawyer 4 Way Water Filter
By Raymond Estrella

July 21, 2013


NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 52
LOCATION: North Western Minnesota, USA
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 225 lb (102.00 kg)

I've been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, Minnesota, and many western states. I hike year-round in all weather, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I make a point of using lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. Doubting I can ever be truly ultralight, I try to be as light as I can yet still be comfortable. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring/chilling. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot evening meals. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or my twin children.

The Product

Manufacturer: Sawyer Products, Inc. 4 Way or the highway
Web site:
Product: 4 Way Water Filter
Year manufactured: 2005
MSRP: US $59.99
Total weight listed: 14.4 oz (408 g) verified
Weight of bottle and filter: 5.4 oz (153 g)
Height of closed unit: 11.5 in (29 cm)
Diameter, widest point: 3.5 in (9 cm)
Image at right courtesy Sawyer Products

Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty

Probably the most flexible filter I have ever owned, the Sawyer 4 Way Water Filter sat in my gear room for a year before I finally took it out. Then it quickly became a favorite and even changed the way my brother-in-law looked at filters. It is still my favorite of all my Sawyer products. Please read on for the details.

Product Description

The Sawyer 4 Way Water Filter (hereafter referred to as the 4 Way) is a very interesting multi-use filter. While it looks like a water-bottle filter system (which is what I bought it for) it also come with the instructions (and most pieces) to make it do much more.

The heart of the 4 Way is the Sawyer filter cartridge. This 3.3 in x 1.5 in diameter (8.8 x 3.8 cm) black cartridge houses the thousands of strands of hollow fiber membranes that do the actual filtering. Think of a straw with a bunch of tiny holes punched through it, and the open end sealed in a container. Water forced past the straw would seep through the holes, pouring through the end. Anything bigger than the holes would stay in the container on the outside of the straw. Now multiply everything and you get the idea of hollow fiber technology.

Sawyer Products (like their owner who I have gotten to speak with a couple times) is very confident in their version of this tech. They say, "We're so confident in our filter technology, most Sawyer Water Filters come with a 1 million gallon guarantee. Our proprietary hollow fiber membrane filters are small, portable, easy-to-use, reliable, inexpensive, and can last a decade without needing to be replaced." While most who read my reviews know I don't repeat manufacturer's marketing hype, I have been nothing but impressed with the Sawyer filters I have owned.

2 x 4 Way equals 8 Way

The filter cartridge sits inside a blue plastic bottle. The bottle is shaped kind of like a large version of a bike bottle (or sport bottle). It holds 36 fl oz (1065 ml), and when in place the filter displaces exactly 4 fl oz (118 ml) of liquid bringing the volume to an even quart (946 ml).

The head of the 4 Way is a pretty intricate piece of work. It is made of hard black plastic and is dome shaped. It both looks and opens like one of the observatories on Mauna Kea. But instead of a telescope, a silicone straw pops out.

The threaded cap seals to the bottle with a flat white O-ring. A valve, seen close to the O-ring, relieves pressure when liquid is removed by sucking on the straw. The filter cartridge hangs from a piece of tubing spaced to keep the pick-up barb just above the bottom of the bottle. I can get all but about 1 oz (30 ml) of water from the bottle.

The 4 Way comes with a great backflush device. It is a faucet adaptor that slips over a kitchen sink faucet with the white rubber hood seen above. (Some of my faucet adaptors have been black too.) The end of the clear tubing is placed on the "clean" barb (the one that goes to the straw) and the water turned on. Clean city water then pushes through the filter in reverse of the way it goes in the field. The resulting backflush pushes the microscopic particles back out of the holes in the hollow fibers where they exit and run down the drain.

When being used with the bottle there is no good way to backflush the 4 Way in the field. But as trips relying on a bottle filter alone are no longer than three days' duration before getting back to a sink this is not a problem.

Other ways that Sawyer suggests using the 4 Way are as an in-line filter, placing the filter in the middle of a tube running from a hydration reservoir to a bite valve, and as a gravity filter placing it between a dirty reservoir above and a clean reservoir below.

The manufacturer says that the 4 Way comes with tiny zip ties to use when making an inline or gravity filter out of it. One of mine did come with them and one didn't. It didn't matter as I have never used them anyway. They also come with extra straw replacements.

Field Conditions

Mmm, hot green river water...

I used the 4 way on many dayhikes and "almost" UL backpacking trips over the past few years. Stand out trips were three days along the North Country Trail through Itasca State Park and the entire Park's own trails too. This trip saw hot humid weather and a major thunderstorm. Water came from lakes and the Mississippi River whose headwaters I hiked along. The picture above is filling the 4 Way in the middle of the Mighty Miss. Well maybe not so mighty 2530 mi (4073 km) from its end. In other words a very short distance from where it starts in Lake Itasca. ;-)

A couple stand-out California Sierra Nevada excursions I used it on were some three-day backpacking trips on the east side. One 60-mi (97 km) hike in the area above Bishop and another almost as long further north. Water on those trips came from creeks mostly and maybe a high lake or two.

I used it on an interesting three-day bushwhacking hike looking for an old cable crossing over the Kern River in the southern Sierra plus a couple other hikes in the same area in Sequoia National Forest. All water on those trips came from creeks or the Kern River. Here is a shot of it near Dave's tent near Piute Pass in the Sierra.

Water on the rocks


I had been seeing water bottle filters for quite a long time before I decided to try one. And as usual it was Dave, my UL brother-in-law and long-time hiking partner , who pushed me to it. I have always been quite fine with the idea of stopping to treat water once in a while. But when planning a long fast hike that we saw would run along water sources almost continuously Dave said he was using a water bottle filter, so for me not to plan on him needing, or sharing the weight, of one of my filters. Hmm, OK. I looked at his and did not care for how little water it actually held (only 24 oz/0.7 L after filter displacement) plus the filter life was abysmal. Hmm, 75 gallons (284 L) or a million? Let's try the Sawyer.

I had already been quite into the early adopters of hollow fiber technology and the robustness of the Sawyer product blew me away. Being able to backflush under pressure was awesome. I was hooked at first sight. Well first suck.

After my first two trips, which saw me just dunk the bottle to fill it, I saw some of the gunk that came out when backflushing at home. That made me decide that I should take a little more care what was going inside just to avoid the nightmare of clogging the unit in the field. I started using a bandana or more often a MSR Nano PackTowl as a prefilter. I would just hold the corners and scoop water up, letting it drain into the open 4 Way bottle. This works very well. Here is a shot collecting water from Durwood Creek on the Rincon Trail high above the Kern Valley (southern Sierra).

My bandana has a leak

It should be noted that the cartridge does not dry out very quickly once used. I make sure to put some chlorine tinged water through it after a trip and then don't worry about it. The weight of the unit should really be called 6.4 oz (181 g) when not filled as that is as light as it gets with regular use.

Sawyer says that it can be used in other ways and we have. I say we because on two 3-day trips (one in the northern Sierra and another with his daughter along on the Pacific Crest Trail down south) Dave borrowed one of mine to rig in-line to see how it works. While I did not use it that way, once in camp we added our Platy bottles to make it a gravity system. That was especially nice on the trip that we needed water for three people in camp. After the second trip Dave went and bought a 4 Way for himself and probably uses it about 35% of the time.

The suction needed to draw water is a bit hard, but by squeezing the sides of the bottle it will assist the flow. I even squeeze it to force water out for making my no-cook freeze dried meals and cups of flavored beverage. That I need to add stronger beverages to, you know? ;-) Here is a picture getting clean water at dinner time on the North Country Trail at De Soto Lakes.

Sqeeze the 4 Way, hmm, good filter name

There have been times that I needed to worry about water sources being too far apart to constantly refill the 4 Way. On those occasions I just brought an extra bottle and filled it at each creek to carry along to refill the 4 Way with.

I had the 1st generation Squeeze from Sawyer and found that I liked my old 4 Way better. While not the fastest filter out there it is the most robust I have found. I don't think there is a more versatile filter on the market, at least not that I have found, and I try a lot of them. I leave with a shot of the 4 Way at a cool camp by an old mine shaft in Sequoia National Forest.

I got the shaft

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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