The Katadyn BeFree water filter is the next generation of safe, easy-to-use, and easily stored water filters. Here's how it works.
I drink plenty of water, but I generally don't drink what I find. Rather, like most people, I take with me what I can carry. With the onset of small, carry-along water filters, outdoorsmen started to realize that water that was once off-limits was now readily available to drink safely.
Now, Katadyn has launched the BeFree system, which is ultra easy to carry and use. First, take a minute and a half to see what they say about it, then I'll tell you what it's really like.
Let's start with the package. Right away, I'm looking for a "made with 100% recycled paper" or something like that, but at least it's small and easy to recycle. It's easy to read and simple to get into (oh dear God, people. don't make us fight to retrieve your product!).
Do not be afraid of the fact that they use the metric system for their measurements. It's basically a half-liter bottle, and it's clear that carrying two of these unique water filters would be quite easy, but at $39.95 apiece, it wouldn't be very cost effective. It is assembled in Switzerland, but I don't care for the fact that it's made in China.
Katadyn claims the filter will remove 99.9 percent of protozoa, 99.9999 percent of bacteria, and will return you a cool 1,000 liters of water over the course of its life. Now, let's get down to it: is it easy to use, and does it do what it says?
It's important that you don't grab the filter by the soft-sided flask before removing the top. Once you're in, filling it is as easy as ever. The large mouth allows water to flow into the 'bottle' and fill quickly. As with any emergency (or otherwise) water filter, you need to be aware that unfiltered water on the outside could get in your mouth, and so it should be dried off before you tip it into your mouth.
It's very collapsible and easy to carry, but you will definitely feel the hard top in your pocket. It didn't leak at all while I was carrying it, and certainly, once it is filled, you'll need a bigger pouch or a pack to put it in.
As with any water filter, a certain amount of trust is needed. At 0.2 microns the filter membrane won't remove viruses or agricultural chemicals, and you need to stay away from salt or brackish water. One sticking point I found: the website I used for some of the information says that it uses a 0.1 micron filter, but the enclosed instruction booklet says "The Katadyn BeFree does not make drinkable water from (some) sources and does not remove chemicals and radioactive materials or particles smaller than 0.2 microns."
I tried it in a pond on my property, and from the stream down the road. It sure doesn't make the water taste any better, but it performed just as well. I used it as much as I could in a short amount of time. The water flow out of the BeFree is terrific so you won't be fighting it to get a drink and cleaning it is as simple as removing the top (with the filter) and swishing it from side to side (vertically only) to remove any possible debris.
Bottom line: it's easy to use, and if you follow all of the enclosed instructions, it will last you for the entire 1,000 liters it purports to clean during its lifetime. At $39.95, it's expensive, but so is a trip to the hospital. There are other water filters that are cheaper, but that are more difficult to use.
Having a good water filter in your pack, like the BeFree, should be standard equipment for all who spend time outdoors.