User Review: Katadyn Vario Microfilter
Price Paid: $56 per unit
I am a wilderness trips coordinator. We send trips into the BWCA. I purchased the Vario filter for our trips program after using the Katadyn Pocket filter for years (it worked and was field cleanable but was labor intensive to pump and clogged more and more quickly) and after hearing that other organizations had used the Vario successfully.
And because Katadyn rates the filter up to 500 gallons. I thought hey, that sounds like the right amount for our groups. Plus it has two settings, longer life with the ceramic filter, and faster flow using only the pleated glass filter. Sweet, right? Sounds great, right? Well...
I sent it out on several BWCA trips. Each of my experienced trip leaders came back with the same complaint — after filtering approximately 5-10 liters on longer life setting, and trying to clean the ceramic filter, water began to shoot out the top pump housing due to pressure. They tried switching to faster flow and found the same problem.
So I called Katadyn. They told me, "Oh yes, our microbiologist, who tests for us, reports red algae blooms in the BWCA — that is the problem." Red algae is not actually red — it is clear and acts like glue and sludge in the ceramic and pleated glass filter element. I then asked about the filter's rating of 500 gallons, and the rep corrected me, "up to 500 gallons."
Oh. So let me get this straight. Katadyn America, who is located in MN and retails and markets their product locally for users interested in BWCA travel, has a paid expert reporting that there is (and has been) a microorganism gumming up their filters, rendering them useless, and yet they continue to happily sell this product to people who want to use it per its stated capacity in the place (BWCA) that Katadyn knows will be problematic, if not impossible to use it. For shame. So, I went online, and a little more research reveals multiple and similar instances from many different users, dating back.
Katadyn's solution seems to be (as it was with me) an attempt at appeasement (they call it a customer service gesture). They offer a few filters. But I say, "How about you tell the truth about your product — put a consumer warning on it locally, like at the REI in Bloomington, MN, that says, "will not work reliably at all in the BWCA. Capacity of up to 10 liters during red algae blooms. Red algae is all but invisible to the user, which in effect makes using the Vario in the BWCA a crap shoot." Buyer beware.
Unless I can figure out a way to pre-filter out red algae, this unit is a piece of junk to our program. Currently, I have purchased some qualitative filters (10 micron pore size) to try to screen out the algae (reported 30 micron average size) by rubber banding them on to the existing pre-filter, but I am awaiting results from that experiment.
I am also awaiting reports from groups filtering Lake Superior water, Isle Royale water and Superior Hiking Trail river water. I would like to know if they have the same problems. I have a sneaky feeling they will.
I cannot stand the complete misrepresentation of this product. They use the capacity of 500 gallons as a selling point, but then throw the "up to" back in your face when it barely filters five liters, implying that it is the consumer's fault for not being aware of its liability and limitation. Come on!