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MSR Miniworks EX Review

MSR Miniworks EX
Price:   $90 List | $89.95 at REI
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Pros:  Effective against chemicals and toxins as well as bacteria and protozoa, long filter life
Cons:  Heavy, ceramic filter needs to be cleaned often, takes muscle to pump
Bottom line:  Heavy, slow and requiring maintenance, the Miniworks is falling behind the times.
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   MSR
By Jessica Haist
Wednesday August 10, 2016

Our Verdict

For the frequent backcountry traveler, the MSR Miniworks EX is a long-lasting filter with the added benefit of cleaning chemicals and pesticides from water. It is on the heavy side for a hiker and requires slightly more time and force to pump than any of the other pump filters. However, it treats more than twice as much water as many of the other pumps at its price point, treating 2000 liters before a replacement cartridge is needed. If you prefer a lightweight model for long distance hiking, check out the Sawyer Mini or the MSR TrailShot. If you need your water treatment to purify for viruses, check out the MSR Guardian, which is even heavier and more expensive, but effective against more pathogens.


RELATED REVIEW: Best Backpacking Water Filters and Treatment of 2017

Our Analysis and Test Results

A long-lasting ceramic filter, the Miniworks is a decent choice for large groups or organizations that need a filter to last over the course of many trips. It is on the heavy side for backpacking.

Performance Comparison


The Miniworks screws onto the top of a Nalgene bottle for ease of use and added stability while pumping.
The Miniworks screws onto the top of a Nalgene bottle for ease of use and added stability while pumping.

Reliability/Effectiveness


This water filter is a workhorse filtration system. The ceramic filter with a carbon core is effective against bacteria, protozoa, and cysts as well as chemicals, herbicides, and pesticides. This ceramic filter is good for up to 2000 liters of treated water, which is more volume than many of the other pump systems we reviewed. This makes this filer reliable for a greater length of time than any of the others. The new MSR TrailShot also lasts 2000 liters and is half as light and just as easy to use.

The long lasting ceramic filter of the Miniworks can take many cleanings before needing to be replaced.
The long lasting ceramic filter of the Miniworks can take many cleanings before needing to be replaced.

Ceramic filters last by far the longest of any other filter media, and this is the only ceramic filter in this review. They may require frequent cleaning if they become clogged, but the filter itself will last longer than any of the other filters we reviewed. This is the main issue with this filter, that there is more regular maintenance required than any other filter in this review and it is annoying to have to clean the filter unit regularly. We prefer the very low maintenance MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter for high volume trips.

The long lasting ceramic filter and the included gauge. This filter can filter around 2000 liters before needing a replacement cartridge.
The long lasting ceramic filter and the included gauge. This filter can filter around 2000 liters before needing a replacement cartridge.

Ease of Use


This filter is easy and intuitive to take apart and put together for maintenance wherever you are. It is field cleanable and comes with a green scrubby to clean the filter and a gauge to measure the filter's life to make sure you haven't scrubbed the filter down too much for it to be effective.

The Miniworks  taken apart for cleaning.
The Miniworks, taken apart for cleaning.

The handle is beefy and thick, which is good for pumping, but it requires noticeably more force to pump than any of the other pump-filters like the MSR Guardian.

The Miniworks is field maintainable  meaning it is easy to take apart and clean while out hiking.
The Miniworks is field maintainable, meaning it is easy to take apart and clean while out hiking.

The Miniworks filters out chemicals as well as pathogens, so it helps to improve the taste of water. It can even remove chlorine or iodine flavors if you treat with one of those methods beforehand to eliminate viruses.

Personal Stories


After polling other people who have used the Miniworks, we got this reply from a frequent camper and hiker, Andrew Reisert, who has owned this filter for around five years: It works like a champ. A tad heavy, and the ceramic filter can crack if it freezes overnight. Certain situations I've run into aren't so great though. Like on the Olympic Coast all the tannin in the water made me clean it between every liter or so. Also in the Yucky Kentucky, but then I also was pumping for two other people."

Treatment Capacity


The filter has a long life and can treat up to 2000 liters in its lifetime. As with many of the other traditional pump filters we've tested, the Miniworks can only pump so fast. It is not a great choice for big thirsty groups, as it takes up to two minutes to pump out a liter. Thirsty hikers will be waiting a long time to drink if you're in a large group and only have this filter to fill each person's bottle. For large groups, we would recommend a gravity filter like the Platypus GravityWorks or the Katadyn Gravity Camp which can treat 4 and 6 liters respectively in a matter of minutes.

Andrew Reisert filtering water in Mt. Rainier National Park. The ceramic filter in the Miniworks has a long life (2000 liters)  but it does require occasional cleaning.
Andrew Reisert filtering water in Mt. Rainier National Park. The ceramic filter in the Miniworks has a long life (2000 liters), but it does require occasional cleaning.

Speed


Since this filter is the hardest to physically pump, it took around 30 seconds longer (two minutes) to pump a full liter than any of the other filters like the Katadyn Hiker Pro, but still does not require a long wait like the chemical treatments. The MSR TrailShot is faster and perhaps the next evolution of pump filters in a smaller, lighter package.

Weight


Tipping the scales at 18 ounces, weight is the biggest downside to the Miniworks. It is the third heaviest filter after the clunky Guardian and Vario - not the most ideal choice to carry with you on a backpacking trip. If you don't mind the weight, we prefer the Vario over the Miniworks.

The MiniWorks isn't that mini and doesn't work the best of all the filters we tested.
The MiniWorks isn't that mini and doesn't work the best of all the filters we tested.

Best Application


Because this is a heavy filter, it is not the thru hiker's or ultra-light backpacker's choice. For other camping trips or shorter hikes, particularly for the frequent outdoor dweller, it is a reliable and economical choice. If you are purchasing a filtration system that you plan to use a lot and for a long time, this is a decent choice. We would still choose something like the TrailShot or a gravity filter over the Miniworks.

Value


This contender is a good value for heavy use. At $89.95, it is average in price, costing less than the Guardian or the SteriPEN Ultra. However, since the Miniworks has a ceramic filter it can filter for over 2000 liters of water before needing a replacement. Similarly priced filters such as the MSR Sweetwater and Katadyn Hiker Pro only treat 750 liters before needing a cartridge replacement, which usually costs around $40, or half the price of a whole new filter. New ceramic cartridges also cost around $40, but need to be replaced much less often. With the long-lastingMiniworks, you can treat the most water for the least amount of money.

Andrew Reisert using the Miniworks in Mt. Rainier National Park.
Andrew Reisert using the Miniworks in Mt. Rainier National Park.

Conclusion


The Miniworks is a time-tested pump filter, but we think it is falling behind the times. Yes, it lasts a long time with a constant amount of maintenance, but we prefer the faster and simpler gravity filters like the AutoFlow and Platypus GravityWorks, our Editors' Choice winner. The Miniworks is heavy and slow, two things that are unforgivable to most backpackers.

Jessica Haist
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