Archive for October, 2013

LifeStraw Family Water Filter Review

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

A few weeks ago I did a review on the LifeStraw personal water filter.

I found it to be a fantastic addition to my bug-out bag and highly recommend it.

This week I had the chance to test the latest product from the makers of the LifeStraw — the LifeStraw Family 1.0 filter.

When I first saw pictures of the LifeStraw Family water filter, I thought it was just the original lifestraw with an added hose and container. Since the personal LifeStraw is only around $20 on Amazon, I was a bit taken aback when I saw the Family version selling for around $75.

“$50 more for the same filter, a bucket, and a straw!?”

However, when I got it in the mail and actually unboxed the thing, I realized it’s quite a bit more filter than I originally thought.

Here’s my review:

LifeStraw Family Filter 1.0 Form and Function

Size

The LifeStraw Family water filter is actually considerably larger than the personal LifeStraw that I reviewed not too long ago. You can see in the picture below, it is about 1 1/2 times longer and noticeably thicker than the personal one:

As you’ll read in the “Performance” section, the larger size is not just for looks. It accounts for an exponential increase in both capacity AND effectiveness compared to the LifeStraw personal filter (and that’s saying a lot since I think the personal LifeStraw is a great performing filter).

Design

The design of the filter is, well…unique. Most gravity fed filters out there that I’m used to are similar in design to the Big-Berkey and Propur style filters — basically an upper reservoir that contains the filter element(s) sitting atop a lower reservoir that collects the filtered water.

The LifeStraw Family filter on the other hand is quite a bit different looking. It comes with a container (capable of holding around 2 liters) that feeds the filter via an attached rubber tube. In the container is a removable/cleanable “pre-filter” that I particularly like since it filters out all the bigger elements like leaf litter, dirt, mud and other nasties. This happens before they can contact the main filter which can do a number on shortening a water filter’s lifespan:



I also appreciate the color-coded taps. The blue tap is where the filtered water is drawn from and on the bottom, you’ll find a red tap for purging and cleaning. The bright red color is a reminder not to drink from that tap.

Finally, you’ll find a squeezable red bulb that’s used to help clean and purge the filter. This last component I really don’t like. Although it’s made from sturdy rubber, it seems like it could split over the years (especially if left outside in the sun).

To their credit, the LifeStraw manufacturers have put the bulb and other components through durability testing by simulation of its lifetime use. Still, it would be great if they offered replacement parts of the bulb and tube to stock up on just in case (perhaps they do, I just didn’t see any listed on their site).

Filter Use

This filter is not as easy or straightforward to use as other gravity-fed filters like the Big Berkey — especially for the initial use. Personally it was a bit of a pain to get it going the first time (I had to go through the troubleshooting guide in the manual) and I consider myself to be rather mechanically inclined.

Basically, the process involves closing the taps, filling the container, opening one of the taps for a few seconds, closing it, opening the other tap and sometimes waiting a bit until the water comes out so you can finally fill your drinking container. Then the cleaning process is a whole other set of procedures.

Fortunately they do show simple-to-follow pictures in their manual and on the packaging that you can reference.

I’m sure if you were using this on a regular basis, this whole process would become second nature. However, if you (like me) will be storing this for future use, you want to MAKE SURE you attach the manual or some other instruction sheet to the filter before storing it away

If you’re the visual type, here’s a quick video overview of me putting the filter to use: LifeStraw Family Review

LifeStraw Family 1.0 Filter Performance

Filter Capacity

I thought for such a small filter, the personal LifeStraw was amazing in that it could filter almost 400 gallons (~1500 liters). This filter — although slightly larger — can filter far more at 18,000 liters. In fact, independent testers have even tested it to 20,000 liters. That’s around 5300 gallons!

For a family of four, each drinking/using the recommended one gallon a day, 5300 gallons would last close to 4 years! Not bad at all.

Filter Effectiveness

Similar to the personal LifeStraw, the LifeStraw Family filter has gone through extensive testing to ensure it meets (and in many cases exceeds) expectations outlined by the EPA.

Here are the test results as reported by the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science of the University of Arizona:

  • BACTERIA (i.e. Escherichia coli): Removes 99.9999% of bacteria. It was measured at an average of LOG 7.3 (this is higher than the required EPA standard of LOG 6)
  • VIRUSES: The LifeStraw removes a minimum >LOG 4 (99.99%) of viruses. This meets EPA standards.
  • PROTOZOA (tested against *Cryptosporidium oocysts): Removal of LOG 3.9 (99.9%) of protozoan parasites. This is higher than the U.S. EPA requirement of LOG 3.

*Note: Keep in mind that Cryptosporidium oocysts are much smaller than Giardia cysts (8-12µm vs 3-5µm) so if it’s able to remove Crypto it will have no issues with Giardia. (many testers by the way will test against Giardia and not Cryptosporidium).

From the above studies, we can see that the LifeStraw easily meets or exceeds filtration expectations from the EPA. Also, it’s worthwhile to note that the LifeStraw Family DOES filter out viruses (unlike the personal LifeStraw).

Price

The LifeStraw Family water filter can currently be purchased from many distributors (including Amazon) for around $75. Here’s a link to Amazon.

$75, while not cheap, is not a bad deal when you look at it in terms of performance and capacity. As a quick comparison, the personal LifeStraw at $25 will filter around 400 gallons, while the Family model at 3 times the price filters around 5300 gallons — more than 13 times the capacity!…and, it filters out viruses.

The only other filter out there that competes would be the British Berkefield ones (which I also own and recommend). However, comparing these again in terms of gallons filtered vs price you get the following:

Big Berkey LifeStraw Family 1.0
Price: $258 $75
Capacity: 6000 gal 5300 gal
Cost/Gal: .04 .01

From a pure price perspective, the LifeStraw is around 4 times cheaper than the Berkey. Of course there are other things besides price that people look for so it’s not a complete comparison, but if price is a major factor for you, you’re not going to get much better than the LifeStraw Family. It’s a great deal when you’re looking at the price to performance ratio.

Final Thoughts

For the most part, I really like the LifeStraw Family 1.0 filter and have no qualms about recommending it. It’s very effective, the price is right, it can filter a lot of water before needing replacement, and it’s a whole lot more mobile than lugging along a Big Berkey or other similar performing gravity-fed filters if you needed to take it on the road.

If they do decide to make a 2.0 version someday, there are a few things I’d like to see different:

  • A better string hanger: I know this is a minor flaw, but the string they provide to hang the filter quickly came apart and unwound, making it useless. I know. Not a big deal. I just replaced it with some paracord, but if that’s all I had, it would have been an added headache.
  • Make it simpler: Their personal LifeStraw filter is so easy to operate. Suck the dirty water in when you want to drink. Blow it out, to clean it. I get that with the Family filter gravity is doing the “sucking” and that silly red bulb is doing the cleaning but having two different taps, and a somewhat complicated procedure to get the whole thing going could be problematic if the manual was lost.
  • Make parts available: As a prepper, having ways of fixing/replacing things that wear out is a normal part of life for me. Since I worry a bit about the hose and bulb on the Family filter, that’s something I’d normally buy replacement parts for — just in case. Sure, I could buy a second filter, but why spend another $75 when I could just spend $10 for a few extra parts ya know? Again, not a huge deal but a nice to have.

A Chance to Win Your Own!

If you liked this review and specifically the LifeStraw Family, I have a LifeStraw Family filter that I would love to give away to one lucky winner this month.

To enter the drawing here are the requirements:

  1. Leave a meaningful comment here about anything related to water filtration, or your struggles with water preparations, your experiences with this or another filter, or even why you’d like to have the filter.
  2. In the email field (it’s not displayed to anyone but me), leave your best email so that I can contact you if you win.

Using a random number generator (random.org), I’ll choose one commenter to win a LifeStraw Famly filter ($90 value). More than one comment will not improve your chances.

This Saturday, November 2nd I’ll then contact the winner through that email from #2 above to get the address you’d like me to send it to.

That’s it!

UPDATE: Congrats to “John” (comment #62) for winning the LifeStraw Family!

Be sure to subscribe to my email list (upper right corner) to get instant announcements of future drawings!

Doomsday, World War Z, and Revolution…Oh My!

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Over the last few years there’s been a HUGE growth of interest in pretty much anything dealing with Survival and TEOTWAWKI (“the end of the world as we know it”).

Nobody can doubt the popularity of TV shows like Revolution, Doomsday Preppers, Dual Survival, Man Vs. Wild, Survivorman and many others. And let’s not forget the recent spike in popular movies like The Road, The Book of Eli, and most recently World War Z, and This is the End.

So what do you guys think? Are all these movies and shows good or bad for the prepping movement?

And why do you think these types of themes are gaining in popularity?

I know, when talking with some friends of mine, they think it has to do with people “sensing” that something isn’t quite right in our society. That it’s gonna get real bad real soon and these shows and movies are just triggering what we all know, deep down inside, is going to happen.

Other friends of mine think it’s just a fad.

Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Prepping is a huge part of my life, but whether TEOTWAWKI happens tomorrow, in ten years, or never, I don’t let what I can’t control rule my life.

The only thing I can control is how I respond to the situations I’m faced with — and that’s why I prep.

American Blackout

By the way, I just got word from a Nat Geo representative that they’re releasing a new 2-hour feature on October 27th called American Blackout. It depicts life in the days immediately following a blackout from an EMP cyber-attack.

The film was made in collaboration with expert analysts who supposedly show what would really happen following an EMP attack.

What’s pretty cool is that the film mixes in crowd-sourced material – home footage from real Americans during recent blackouts.

Here’s a trailer to American Blackout

Doomsday Preppers, World War Z…Good or Bad for the Prepper Movement

On a personal note, I love watching these shows and movies. Beyond entertainment, I’ll often become aware of weaknesses or shortcomings in my own preps or plans or it makes me consider scenarios that I’ve haven’t before.

But as far as the “general masses” go, if these shows are what’s needed to wake them up out of their stupor and start preparing for the tough times ahead, then I’m all for them.

After all, the more prepared the general populace is, the better off we’ll all be (and the less we’ll need to worry about when times get desperate).

On the other hand, if these types of shows (like Doomsday Preppers sometimes does) causes people to ridicule prepping and turn away those who otherwise would prep because they fear being labeled as a “doomsday prepper”, then I think it does the movement (and preparedness in general) a disservice.

So how about you guys? Do you think these movies and shows are a good or bad thing for the prepping movement?

Let me know in the comments below…

Upgrade Your Bug-Out Bag with the Kindle eReader

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

One piece of gear that you’ll want to seriously consider adding to your bug-out bag is a Kindle eReader.

When I first mention this to my other prepping friends, I typically get laughed at — after all, relying upon electronics in a survival situation should be avoided, right?

After all, what if there was an EMP or solar storm? Or what if the Kindle got wet? And what about battery life? What will you do when the battery dies?

These are all valid questions but with some proper precautions (which I’ll be getting into in a bit) the advantages of a Kindle (and other “electronic-ink” eReaders) far outweigh the risks of losing it.

Let’s take a look and see why…

The Advantages of a Kindle as a Bug-Out Tool

First off, the Kindle eReader I’m talking about is the “electronic ink” variety that only displays black and white. Not the color “Fire” one that is more like an iPad. These are ok too but in my opinion are not as ideal for a bug-out situation. Here are the top reasons you need to add a Kindle to your BOB…

A Prepping Library in the Palm of Your Hand

The main benefit of having a Kindle in your bug-out bag is being able to access a literal library in the palm of your hand. Kindles can store over 3000 books!

On top of that, you can upload PDF files which lets you take advantage of the huge amount of fantastic (and free) prepping files out there on the web — everything from arrow making to zeroing a rifle.

And since you can print anything into a PDF file (using apps like BullZip PDF Printer) you can also store personal maps, cache locations, inventory lists and more.

Especially if a crisis became long term, having that kind of information at your fingertips is a huge advantage.

Low Power Requirements and Fast Recharge

The big advantage Kindles have over their color-tablet cousins (like the iPad, Kindle Fire, or Galaxy) is ridiculously long battery life.

Based upon a half-hour of daily reading time, a single battery charge lasts up to two months (with wireless off)!

In addition, recharging can be easily done off grid with small solar panels. And using a portable solar panel like the Suntactics sCharger-5 Solar Charger will allow you to keep it charged even while on the go.

Entertainment to Break up the Monotony

If you do decide to store a Kindle in your BOB I’d recommend adding some novels, children’s books (if you have kids) and other “light” reading.

Survival situations are inherently stressful and depending on if you’re holed up in one spot for long it can be monotonous and boring. Having some entertainment to break up the monotony is another reason a Kindle is a beneficial tool for your BOB.

Getting Around the Issues

So we already talked about how to get around the power issue. But what about some of the other concerns that people have, like the elements or an EMP?

Overcoming the Elements

The elements, especially moisture from rain or accidental immersion, are a real issue when it comes to non weather proof electronics like the Kindle.

This can be effectively remedied through use of a Loksak. I reviewed the Loksak last year after seeing it the 2012 SHOT Show in Vegas and absolutely loved them. They’re certified waterproof to 200 feet and the US Army Special Forces Group Dive Detachment uses them to protect their valuable electronics from salt water and hot humid conditions.

If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

What’s also great is you don’t need to remove the Kindle (or any tablet for that matter) from the LokSak to use the electronics. Your finger can still activate the touch screen (if it’s a Kindle touch) even when in the LokSak bag.

Protecting your Kindle from an EMP Attack

Although an EMP attack or solar storm is not a very likely scenario, it’s still a potential threat that many preppers prepare for and worry about.

If this concerns you there are some options that may work for you.

One is to enclose it in a 3M Reclosable Static Shielding Bag. These 3M bags (that I’ve linked to) meet MIL-PRF-81705D Type III standards which are pretty effective against electromagnetic pulse. For added effectiveness you can also wrap it in a few layers of aluminum foil.

Is this proven to work? I don’t know. We really don’t know what the true effects of an EMP surge will be, but we know that using a Faraday “cage” can have the greatest potential and possibility of protecting our electronics gear — whether that is our GPS device or our Kindle e-reader.

Conclusion

Despite the potential downsides electronics like the Kindle bring to the table, the advantages you can gain from adding the Kindle to your bug-out bag far outweigh these negatives.

Although the Kindle is a great tool and I highly recommend it — it is still just a tool. Remember, the saying, “two is one and one is none” still applies here. It’s not a bad idea to add a small survival guide or two as back up just as you should have a compass as backup for your GPS.