Gear Review: Katadyne Vario Water Filter

No other item you pack is as important as your water filter. After years of testing, we break the silence on the Katadyne Vario and it's pros and cons.

December 30, 2019 2:14 PM

Insofar as used and abused gear goes, the Katadyne Vario has about as much as anything in my current pack. It's been in there for a while, too. When I began this review, it was hard to determine exactly how long i'd been using it, but the first mention I found of it was 2013, but I'm pretty certain it started it's testing in '12, which makes it 5 years old now. Despite that, It hasn't broken while living in a soft sided back that gets thrown, dropped, and used extensively....I have replaced the carbon media and filter, so that's enough to get us started.

‍Notoriously not great tasting Texas lake water. Tasted fine after filtration.‍

KATADYNE Vario Water Filter

Duration of Testing: 5+ Years

Utility – 7

Durability – 7

Comfort – 5

Weight – 4

Cost – 4

Overall – 6

Bottom Line: Recommend

McKinney Falls during a flood. Tasted fine. Didn't die.

Here's the short of the review: the Vario does what it was designed to do, and does it well. It's notable for it's fast output, ease of use, and I commend Katadyne for making what I think is a very durable product.

When looked at alongside other, comparable filters, I didn't find anything that looked chincy or prone to breakage... and indeed, after ~4+ or so years of use, nothing has broken.

On the back end of the bottom line, however, there are a few issues:

1. It leaks like crazy when you're using it. This is a common complaint you'll find in box reviews, and it's no joke; it really does ooze. Not a huge deal, but in colder climates, it *really* dampens the level of comfort when you soak your hands and pants when you're trying to get water. It makes up for it by threading on to Nalgene (large) and Camelbak reservoir threads. This is a terrific feature that you don't realize how much you appreciate until you're comparing other products.

2. It's not light... at 1.45lbs, it's probably not going to be your heaviest item, but it does take up space, and it isn't as light as the Hiker Pro (0.5lbs) or the MSR Miniworks Ex (1.3lbs).

One of several side-by-side comparisons between the Vario and the Sawyer‍

3. It's more costly than the other options. This is where I finally get to mention Sawyer "Lifestraw" type filters. I often hear people say stuff like "I'll just use my Sawyer" but this advice comes from people who haven't used it much, or at all.

If they had, they'd know what a poor job it does filtering out that muck taste, and how few gallons you get through them before they're disposable. Don't fall in that trap; water is a high priority consumable that you'll need until you die. Don't get a water filter that's "good enough", or justify it because it's lightweight, and even if you're looking for a lightweight option, we recommend getting a pump style filter.

All water filters will over-estimate their life expectancy, even this one. Get a replacement cartridge or two, and a good filter that will last you a long time. A final word on comparing the bag/straw filters with the pumps is you don't get to choose your water source all the time. Getting on your belly to drink out of a puddle sucks, and puts you in a position in which you risk exposure.

The no BS answer is this is a good filter. Just watch your hands in that cold weather, and know going in that it's a heavier item. That said, while the MSR and Hiker Pro weren't as easy to pump, had lower output, and didn't attach directly to the Nalgene/Camelbak reservoirs.

We also found the speed of the Vario to be sufficient to refill a small team's water supplies very quickly, making it a good choice for those who are traveling in a group.

Happy adventuring,

ISG Team

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