Blue Ridge Hiking Co. by Jennifer Pharr Davis

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Sawyer: Water Filters and More

By Jennifer

Gear Review: Sawyer “Mini” water filter, Picaridin, Permethrin and Deet

Sawyer Products

When I began my first thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, I did not carry a water filter. Warren Doyle, who has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail more times than anyone else, told me that I didn’t need a filter. I trusted Warren. (And I still trust him.)

But what I didn’t understand was that when Warren said that he didn’t use a filter on the A.T. he meant that he drank directly from good water sources,which consist of streams or springslocated above livestock, roads, and development. But you would need Warren’s encyclopedic knowledge of the trail to only utilize high quality water sources along the trail.

I didn’t take into consideration the fact that there were also BAD – very BAD – water sources on the A.T. Sources like the brown colored creeks that run through the agricultural valleys of southwest Virginia and flow besides cow pastures and fields filled with pesticides. As an A.T. virgin I didn’t know how or where to choose my water sources. And after five months, I successfully made it to Katahdin without filtering my water and with several intestinal parasites.

The next year, when I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, I brought a 10 oz. Pump Water Filter. It was time consuming, heavy and it got clogged and broke after a few hundred miles. Next I tried the very cool Steripen, which resembled a Lightsaber from Star Wars. It was super cool technology, but I always had to worry about batteries and I am not sure it worked in murky water. Finally I went to chemicals, iodine first and then straight-up bleach. It was cheap, light, and a little daring to consume something with a poison control warning on the bottle.

Then, after many years and many miles, I got pregnant. That changed everything. I wanted to keep hiking but I didn’t want to poison my body or my baby. I was also extra concerned with the weight of my gear because now I had a frontpack and a backpack. I went to Frugal Backpacker near Asheville and looked for a new water treatment option.

The Sawyer Squeeze was brand new at that time. At only 3.5 ounces it claimed to filter over 1,000,000 gallons of water with the finest filter on the market, and it was the most affordable option on the rack. It seemed too good to be true. But I got it and used it for 600 miles of hiking through farmland and grazing pastures on the GR 11 in the Pyrenees, and then used it hiking through the alluvial planes, glacier melt, and volcanic ash in Iceland. And it never broke! It was fast, easy and kept me and my baby healthy.

Now Sawyer has come out with the 2 ounce MINI that can screw on a water bottle. It still uses the finest filter on the market and it is guaranteed for 100,000 gallons. Plus as of 1/14 the MINI comes in multi-color 4 packs (time to accessorize).


I definitely became a Sawyer fan based on the filter. But, recently, I was surprised to learn how effective Sawyer bug sprays and sunscreen can be on a camping trip. And I learned a few things that could revolutionize my battle with black flies, mosquitoes and ticks. So here are a few tips…


Not All Bug Sprays are created Equal!

  1. DEET: Is great for most bugs and especially mosquitoes. The concentrations of DEET vary and the lower liquid concentrations will have to be applied more frequently.  100% liquid DEET can be harmful on, some of your synthetic gear, but it has been tested and approved for use on our skin and on children, in fact our pediatrician told us to use it for Charley when she was just 6 months old.
  2. Picaridin: A new alternative to DEET. Picaridin is a natural repellent that will not harm your synthetics. It works by interfering with the insects’ sense of smell. And it is supposed to be especially effective against black flies (even more so than DEET) and also repels mosquitoes.
  3. Permethrin: This repellent should be used on camping gear and clothes (including your pack and tent). The treatment does not adversely affect the water resistance of a product and Permethrin kills ticks and mosquitoes on contact!! It is especially effective for preventing lyme disease, since most ticks jump or crawl onto your clothes before finding your skin.
  4. Sprays vs. Lotions: Sawyer’s Insect repellents come in a liquid spray or a lotion. The advantage to Sawyer’s lotion application is that it gradually time releases DEET to provide longer protection.  Sawyer offers both topical insect repellent sprays and lotions.
  5. Sunscreen + Bug Spray: Okay, we’re hikers right? So I know that everyone here is concerned about saving weight. Sawyer’s sunscreen + bug spray is dual use. Meaning you carry one tube instead of two, and the product lasts such a long time that you won’t have to carry as much as you would need of other brands!


So yes, I’m sold. I love Saywer. But if you don’t believe me, that’s fine. However, I’m not the only person who loves Sawyer. The U.S. Military uses Sawyer products, and REI contracts with Sawyer to provide sunscreen and repellent under their label. Plus the primary focus of Sawyer products is to prevent water-borne and insect related illnesses in developing countries. As first world backpackers, we are fortunate to benefit from such amazing technology!


  1. Thank you for this review! I just bought a Sawyer mini and I can’t wait to use it. I also have the Permethrin and will be treating my clothes, backpack, and tent.

  2. by Art Wray

    Thanks , I needed that ! I’m sold on the Sawyer Mini and I’m gonna take insects & sun more seriously and look into those Sawyer products also . I thoroughly enjoyed your book ” Called Again ” and your talk in Front Royal Virginia recently so your endorsement of Sawyer’s products is all I need !

  3. I’d like to thank you for your website. My wife is considering a bid at the AT and then some – you have provided an excellent source of inspiration.

    Your comments on water purification and bug repellants are useful as well. Sawyer does, in fact, make some wonderful products. We use Sawyer products in our own guide business frequently.

    However, I’m not sure I agree with all the information provided. For example, I would NOT recommend 100% DEET to anyone, especially a 6 month old. The existing body of literature clearly supports the use of approx 33% DEET in a polymerized “time release” state – such as that developed by DARPA in association with 3M for military use (essentially the same product now sold by Sawyer).

    In the case of DEET, more is not better. You do no more to deter biting insects with 100% compared to a 33% product. More only increases your risk of experiencing side effects from an otherwise safe product carrying an excellent 50+ year safety record.

    Safety, by the way, is dependent upon correct application. Too infrequently, we don’t read the directions for application. For example, you are not supposed to apply DEET to most of the head, especially near mucus membranes. The head of a 6 month old comprises significantly more body surface area than an adult. This increases the risk of toxicity. So it is extra important to appropriately and completely counsel parents on use of DEET products.

    If you have any interest in learning more, I would be happy to forward you some detailed information (note I have no disclaimers to announce – absolutely zero connection to any of these companies).

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