In the LifeStraw we find a seemingly simple device which packs some big implications: equipped with a LifeStraw, one is suddenly able to treat virtually any water source as a safe and viable way to hydrate. Taking the concept of the personal water filter to a whole new level, the LifeStraw incorporates an impressively powerful filter into a remarkably functional and portable design. We’ve talked about the LifeStraw before here on Hydration Anywhere – in our Filtered Water Bottle Buyers Guide – but I wanted to bring our readers a comprehensive review of the LifeStraw, and the folks at Vestergaard were kind enough to provide me with their Lifestraw Go Personal Portable Water Filter Bottle Purifier to review.
So how well does the LifeStraw stack up to scrutiny? Lets have a look.
(New Model! LifeStraw recently released an updated version of the Go Water Bottle reviewed here. Click here to read our review of the new Lifestraw Go 2 Bottle.)
Hands-On Review of the LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle (~$35 on Amazon.com)
In its original incarnation released way back in 2005, the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter was no more than the name suggests it is: simply a highly portable filter in the form of a straw. This design has the advantage of being massively portable, but unless you have another water bottle or other form of container, you will be kneeling or even laying down to access your water source. While the LifeStraw alone provides you with a way to access nearly any water source you find, it doesn’t give you a way to store water, nor make it particularly easy to drink.
Fortunately for anyone who doesn’t look forward to kneeling with their face hovering just above a muddy puddle, the folks at Vestergaard were clever enough to integrate their LifeStraw technology into a 23-ounce Tritan sports water bottle. The LifeStraw Go Bottle is simply an ordinary LifeStraw integrated into a screw-top water bottle. The LifeStraw is fitted to the lid and can easily be removed and even used as a standalone filtering straw without using the water bottle at all.
Filtering On the Go
One thing that is important to note about the LifeStraw Go Water Bottle is that it does not store filtered water. Water is filtered as it passes through the LifeStraw, which requires the force of suction to pass the water through the extremely fine filter. Dirty water is stored within the Go Water Bottle, which is filtered every time the user takes a drink through the straw.
This is an important distinction of the LifeStraw: it is a personal water filter, designed to provide for the hydration needs of its user. Because it relies on suction to move water through the filter, there is no way to pass water through the LifeStraw to be filtered for uses other than drinking. Given the sanitation concerns behind sharing a straw, the LifeStraw is a pretty personal item, one you’ll probably only be using yourself or with whoever you’re comfortable swapping saliva with.
But Vestergaard is a step ahead here as well, having integrated the filtration technology behind the LifeStraw into a gravity-fed unit called the LifeStraw Family. Where the classic LifeStraw makes use of suction to move water through the filter, the LifeStraw Family relies on gravity: pour dirty water in at the top, get clean water out at the bottom.
The Lifestraw Personal Water Filter: How It Works (and How Well It Works)
At the heart of the LifeStraw is a technology known as mechanical filtration. In many ways it is the simplest form of filtration: water is passed through an extremely fine medium which traps dirt, bacteria, and more within it’s pores, leaving the water that exits the filter pure, clean, and drinkable. The LifeStraw uses what is known as a “hollow fiber membrane” which moves water through a series of extremely fine hollow fibers. The LifeStraw can filter down to 0.2 microns, enough to remove over 99.9% of bacteria and protozoan parasites.
The LifeStraw is exceptionally good at getting rid of bacteria and protozoan parasites to render otherwise undrinkable water potable. This been tested time and time again by thousands of LifeStraw users across the globe who have literally entrusted their lives to the technology in LifeStraw by drinking from water sources that would be almost certain to cause severe health problems unfiltered. But in addition to the mountains of practical first-hand experience backing up the capabilities of the LifeStraw, an extensive study published in 2008 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill demonstrated that the LifeStraw lives up to its claims. Among the many experiments conducted, researchers added “1% pasteurized settled sewage” to dechlorinated tap water before filtering it through a LifeStraw. In the tests for two of the most prominent bacterial concerns – E. faecalis, and E. coli – researchers “[demonstrated] reductions of gram-negative indicator bacteria … at or above the target reduction of 6 log10 (≥99.9999%)”
This all comes as great news for anyone planning to rely on the LifeStraw to make bacteria-laden water drinkable. But now that we know what the LifeStraw does well, it’s important to take note of what it doesn’t do. As noted on the Amazon description for the LifeStraw:
“Does not filter chemicals, salt, viruses, heavy metals, taste.”
While the 0.2 micron mechanical filtration is fine enough to get rid of the common microorganisms which cause health problems in drinking water, it is not able to remove chemical compounds, desalinate water, or get rid of water-borne viruses. The LifeStraw is ideal for purifying a questionable water source you find in the wilderness, but it is not able to purify water polluted by chemicals – in fact, it doesn’t even remove things like chlorine, iodine or fluoride. The hollow fiber membrane filtration only removes Particle Contaminants which are not dissolved in the water. Dissolved Contaminants, like salt or chlorine, are not affected by the filter.
Probably the most common question I get when I talk to people about the LifeStraw is: can the LifeStraw filter seawater? Unfortunately, since seawater is full of huge amounts of Dissolved Contaminants, the LifeStraw can neither desalinate nor properly filter seawater. This also means the LifeStraw shouldn’t be used with brackish water (a mixture of fresh and seawater.) A less common, but perhaps equally pressing question would be: can the LifeStraw filter viruses? While the majority of health concerns in drinking water come from bacteria and protozoan parasites, areas where water-borne viruses are prominent also need to account for this additional risk. Viruses are substantially smaller than bacteria and can pass through the LifeStraw filter, meaning the LifeStraw should not be used in areas with high risk of waterborne viruses. Be safe!
About the Taste…
You might have noticed on that list of things the LifeStraw doesn’t filter that “taste” is included. As I found out personally, the taste of the LifeStraw is definitely one of its weak points. I’ve had my Go Bottle for a bit over a month now and have put it through a lot of tests – including taking it camping with me, where I filled it from various muddy puddles and ponds I would never drink from unfiltered. Drinking from these questionable sources came with no negative side-effects, except for one: the taste.
From my very first test of the LifeStraw I ran into some problems with the taste. I opened it up and cleaned the inside of the bottle with soap and water (be careful not to get any soap onto the filter itself or it can contaminate it!) and rinsed off the filter a bit before filling the bottle up to test it out. Immediately after swallowing some water my mouth was filled with a pretty nasty chemical flavor which felt like it was coating the inside of my mouth.
This was a bit worrying: my tap water normally tastes great unfiltered, and the LifeStraw was definitely adding this nasty chemical after-taste. The taste of my daily water is pretty important to me – I’ve tested all kinds of countertop filters and filter pitchers to try to get the best tasting water I can.
Initially I assumed this taste was only present because the filter was new and needed to be broken in. I repeatedly sucked water up into the filter and then forced the water back through by backwashing or “blowing” the water down into the LifeStraw to force it out the other end. This is a recommended cleaning process for the LifeStraw in order to flush it of contaminants and prevent clogging, and I hoped after running enough water through the filter the chemical taste would wash away.
Unfortunately, I never managed to get rid of that foul flavor. I tried flushing it by backwashing it many, many times and even left the filter to soak in the bottle for over 24 hours, changing the water multiple times. No matter what I did, the LifeStraw still had that strong chemical aftertaste.
Now, if the LifeStraw Go Bottle was simply another run-of-the-mill filtered water bottle, this would definitely be a deal breaker. But the LifeStraw is actually a quality survival tool and is able to filter from water sources most filtered water bottles on the market could not hope to purify. So my testing of the LifeStraw could not be confined to the tap!
I carried my LifeStraw Go Bottle over a weekend of hiking and camping. I tested water from puddles, ponds, and a river. The quality of the water source can definitely be somewhat reflected in the taste you get from the LifeStraw: the relatively clean, flowing water from the river tasted the best, while muddier ponds had a foul, acrid taste. As you can imagine, the plastic taste which perturbed me when I tested with tap water was still present and was definitely not improved by the addition of these new flavors.
Despite the plastic aftertaste, I did find myself somewhat enjoying the liberating notion of being able to fill my water from any water source I might encounter. It is remarkably easy to fill the Go bottle and always have clean water to hydrate from throughout the whole day. However, I also found myself wishing the plastic taste would go away. If the LifeStraw didn’t impart my water with that plastic flavor, I would be taking it with me on every wilderness outing! But because of the unfortunate taste, I feel the LifeStraw is more a survivalist or emergency item than something suited to a more casual user like myself.
LifeStraw Shelf Life and Lifespan
Though the LifeStraw is now a very popular consumer item, it was originally designed for use in rugged conditions and climates where water scarcity has the largest impacts. To stand up to the rigors of such environments, the LifeStraw itself is made from an extremely durable plastic and is ready to accompany you anywhere. The LifeStraw Go Bottle itself is perhaps a little less tough, but nonetheless is made from a sturdy BPA-free plastic known as Tritan. Overall, the bottle itself is nothing to write home about – the magic is in the straw.
Because for many the LifeStraw may be part of an emergency kit or not something used frequently, shelf life is a concern. Originally, manufacturer Vestergaard released the LifeStraw with an advised shelf life of 5 years. After extensive real-world experience and testing, the shelf life was removed entirely. According to Vestergaard, if the LifeStraw is stored properly, it has an indefinite shelf life. For best results the LifeStraw should be stored unopened in low light and low humidity, ideally at room temperature between 50 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
As with all mechanical filtration devices, the LifeStraw eventually requires a replacement filter. As the filter is used and begins to fill with contaminants, flow rate and filtration quality gradually decline. According to the manufacturer recommendations, a single LifeStraw can filter up to 1,000 liters (about 264 gallons) in its lifetime. These results have been backed by laboratory studies testing the longevity of the LifeStraw. Once the filter has completed its lifetime, replacement filters can be fitted into the Go Bottle and it can continue to be used.
While the LifeStraw has been proven to be an amazing filter by both real-world experience and by laboratory analysis, I’ve had to dock some points on Functionality because although it does an excellent job of filtering, it imparts a taste to the water. The LifeStraw lives up to its promise of making a huge number of new water sources potable, but has the unfortunate side effect of flavoring the water with its own unpleasant aftertaste.
The LifeStraw Go Bottle is made from a thick BPA-free plastic known as Tritan, which is popular for plastic water bottles and noted for its durability. The LifeStraw filter itself is rugged and designed to stand up to abuse and harsh environments. There isn’t much that would break on the LifeStraw Go Water Bottle, earning it high marks for durability.
At about $35 on Amazon the LifeStraw Go Bottle is quite reasonably priced for what it offers, which is potentially lifesaving. The classic LifeStraw filter with no bottle runs about $20, so the 23-ounce Tritan Water Bottle included with the Go is being valued at about $15, which is a small price to pay if you want a container with your straw.
Overall Rating: 4/5
If my LifeStraw didn’t leave my water with a plastic taste, I would give the LifeStraw Go Water Bottle a solid 5/5 rating. Everything else is stellar: the product does what it describes and is one of the best on the market, construction quality is good, price is reasonable. Unfortunately, the taste means I am not likely to use my LifeStraw unless I am in an actual emergency situation. Yet even with the highly undesirable taste, I still have to give the LifeStraw high marks for being an amazing piece of technology. Dealing with the flavor of plastic is infinitely better than thirsting to death in the wilderness! I will be bringing my LifeStraw along on future outings, but more of an emergency option than my main hydration solution.
But before wrapping up this review, I want to make one important note: the sample LifeStraw Go Bottle sent to me to review is the one and only LifeStraw product I’ve used. It is entirely possible that the sample I received is not representative of the overall quality of LifeStraw products. In exploring other opinions of the bottle online, I found some mentions of a bad taste but also many reviewers who made no note of the taste whatsoever. The issues with taste I encountered with my bottle could be relatively unique.
These days we often have the luxury of being choosy about our water sources: we want only the cleanest, purest drinking water. Yet the reality is that it has only been possible for so many of us to be so picky thanks to some very recent innovations – and in many parts of the world, coming across any clean drinking water can be a challenge. Even in the developed world, those who live in rural areas often rely on small, isolated water sources, while cities and urban areas are almost entirely dependent on water utilities.
In the event of emergency, access to clean potable water becomes a major concern no matter where you live. For this reason alone, it is easy to see why portable filtration technology like the LifeStraw can be a valuable asset. Yet the market for things like the LifeStraw is wider still: outdoor enthusiasts, travelers to places with questionable water sanitation, and folks who just want to take advantage of water sources where ever they go are all likely to be excited at the prospect of the LifeStraw.
Check out the LifeStraw Go Bottle on Amazon for more information, reviews, or to purchase your own LifeStraw.
Want to learn about a filtered water bottle on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the LifeStraw? Read our review of the FIT Top Filtered Water Bottle which incorporates a pour-through filter to make already potable water cleaner and tastier. Or if you’re looking for something similar to the LifeStraw but perhaps with a bit more options, check out our review of the Sawyer Mini Portable Water Filter.
If you’re interested in seeing the LifeStraw Go Bottle in action, check out this excellent YouTube review from Black Owl Outdoors:
UPDATE: Since this article was published, the original LifeStraw Go Bottle we reviewed has been discontinued. However, not to worry: the new Lifestraw Go Bottle 2 includes the same bottle and classic LifeStraw filter, but has been updated with the addition of a second stage of filtration using an activated carbon filter. All links in this article have been updated to the new LifeStraw Go Bottle 2, however please note that this review is about the original model and all information below pertains to our experience with the now discontinued original version. But since the bottles are practically identical, the information below is still pertinent!)
(UPDATE 2: It appears the original Lifestraw Go was not discontinued and has been relisted for sale. We have once again updated the links and this article no longer links to the updated model. Click here to read our reivew of the LifeStraw Go 2 Bottle.)
Quality Lifestraw Filtration
Durable Water Bottle
Plastic Taste When Drinking Through Straw
- Editor Rating
- Rated 4 stars
- Lifestraw Go Personal Portable Water Filter Bottle Purifier
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The Lifestraw Go Water Filter Bottle incorporates a classic, tested Lifestraw personal water filter into a simple Tritan plastic water bottle, allowing for maximum portability and filtration anywhere.