The Renovo Trio is a triple-stage water filter that its manufacturer says is for “emergencies, survival, hiking, camping, hunting, or travel.” That covers a lot of territory, but given the Trio’s relatively compact size (7.1 in./18 cm.) and weight (4.13 oz./117g after use), there is no reason one couldn’t employ it in all of these endeavors. I’d been curious about this filter since I first heard about it, so when I had a chance to test it, I jumped at the opportunity (Thank you, Brian).
I conducted initial tests in my local creek before engaging in actual backcountry use during a four-day backpacking trek in the Linville Gorge Wilderness of North Carolina. [Note: Because the Trio is in a market in which the Sawyer Mini has gained recognition, I have contrasted these two filters on certain salient points to offer readers a frame of reference.]
What You Get
The Trio comes in a hermetically sealed bag to extend the shelf-life of its carbon filter, which evidently gradually degrades when in contact with air. The contents of this unassuming bag include the three-stage filter itself, a direction packet, and four replacement pre-filters. A light-colored rubber strap holds a cap onto the body of the filter to prevent loss of this cap (see image below), but the filter itself is basically self-contained. The Trio does not come with a dirty water bag or syringe for back flushing as does the Mini.
What It Does
Obviously water filters filter contaminants from water source to make the water potable. The Trio’s most notable claim is that it bills itself as providing “industry leading filtration”–a .05 micron pore size on its “medical grade UF (ultra-filtration) membrane filter.” Untreated water flows first through a replaceable pre-filter in the bottom of the Trio, then through the UF filter, and lastly through a third (hence “Trio”) carbon fiber absorption filter. Below is an image of the pre-filter, removed from its housing. Its most recent exposure was to the Linville River, and clearly one can see the discoloration caused by the river water (other uses came from clear mountain springs and creeks). As anyone who has played with water filters knows, it is nice to have a pre-filter to screen out large particulates, and this pre-filter (and the 4 replacements that come with the Trio) is rated at 5 microns. What does that mean? Well, I discovered online that a coffee filter, in contrast, averages 50-100 microns, if that gives you a frame of reference.
The UF filter (.05 microns) is next in line, seen above in the top left. Below it is viewed from the top with the third stage carbon filter removed. This second stage removes “the bacteria, protozoa, turbidity and some viruses,” according to Renovo literature, and–if maintained and cleaned properly by back flushing, “won’t ever need replacing.” But if it does, it will set you back a modest $12.
The third and final element is an activated carbon impregnated filter, seen below.
This fits in the mouthpiece of the filter, and Renovo claims it allows the Trio “to maximize exposure so the carbon can absorb harmful chemicals, metals and even most viruses.” Replacement cost here is $10. Eventually, the clean water will proceed through the three-stage filtration to emerge through the Trio’s shaped mouthpiece (seen below; note rubber retainer strap for cap).
Though larger in size than the popular Sawyer Mini (which measures 5.38 in./13.67 cm; 1.8 oz./51g after use), the Trio’s .05 micron filter pore size is twice as small as the .1 micron filter on the Mini. This allows Renovo to boast on the Trio’s packaging that it safely removes “Bacteria (Salmonella, Cholera, E.Coli), Protozoa (Cryptosporidium, Giardia), Heavy Metals (Lead, Mercury, Cadmium)” and “Organic Chemicals (Pesticides, Chlorine).”
A significant difference between these two filters is filter life: the Trio indicates a 1000L (about 264 gallons) while the Mini claims a life of 100,000 gallons (378541L). That means that the Mini claims a life span 1400 times that of the Trio. Keep in mind, though, the Trio also removes contaminants that are half the size of what the Mini removes: it seems logical that with finer filtering materials would come a price in terms of life span. And speaking of price: the MSRP for the Trio is $43.00, but it can be found online for $33; the Sawyer Mini’s MSRP is $24.95 but can be found for around $19, less during sales.
The Trio is designed to be used in a gravity system, as a bottle filter, or as a straw filter (analogous to the LifeStraw). I tested it with my old MSR hydration bag, removing the mouthpiece and attaching the hose to the filter housing (see below).
This was easy to do, and the flare on the Trio’s connector ensures a good seal on the hydration bladder’s hose. I presently use two 20 oz./591.5ml) water bottles when hiking or backpacking, so I decided to see how long the Trio would take to fill one of these. My aftermarket hose on the MSR is at least three feet long, and soon the Trio was functioning in gravity feed mode (see images below; note that I am having to hold the cap out of the way on the second photo).
The Trio packaging indicates a filter flow rate of 200ml/min., or 3.33ml/sec. That translates into 6.8 oz./min., or .11 oz./sec. The Trio took 2.75 minutes to fill the 20 oz. bottle, a rate of 3.58ml/sec. (or .12 oz./sec.). That is better than advertised, but then again the filter is relatively new, too. Flow rate, of course, degrades with any filter over time, even with back flushing.
I then tested the Sawyer Mini with the same gravity set-up for comparison. The Mini filled the 20 oz. bottle in 1.02 minutes, a rate of 9.7ml/sec. (.33 oz./sec.)–that’s a little less than three times faster than the Trio. It seems reasonable to assume that the larger filter pore size of the Mini and its fewer filtering stages contribute to the Mini’s faster flow rate. Again, then, the finer filtration system of the Trio comes at a price.
Used with a bottle, the Trio filters water when one exerts pressure on the bottle or bladder connected to the Trio. In the backcountry, I used my Mini’s dirty water bag successfully in this role as well as an empty water bottle; any similarly threaded container would work (make sure the threads match, though, before you get into the backcountry). Renovo simply recommends attaching the Trio to “a standard 28mm bottle.” Both of the containers I tested worked, but I found I had to exert greater pressure on the containers with the Trio than I did with the Mini–I’d go out on a limb and say about three times the force. Again, this makes sense.
I was curious to see if I could record any obvious visual difference between unfiltered and Trio-filtered water. This taxed the limits of my photography skills. The first shot below is unfiltered, and you can see particulate matter in the wine class. The second shot shows water draw from the same source after I squeezed it through the Trio: particulates are gone (and presumably other potential nasties, too).
I also used the Trio as a straw to sip from a spring (see below).
It wasn’t the easiest thing to do–the filter stages cause resistance to the sucking effort–but certainly I was able to drink water through the filter in keeping with the manufacturer’s claim. Once again the Mini requires less effort to get water when used in straw mode.
I think filter choice probably boils down personal needs and preferences. The Renovo Trio appears to be a durable, quality filter that does what it claims to do. Access to individual filter elements is simple, and the fact that these elements are replaceable is a nice feature. The water I drank from Trio seemed clean (to all taste and appearances and–given my health since the trip–in reality, too), and it definitely was nice to have the Trio when I was forced to drink from a source of questionable water. I did find it a bit more of a hassle to use than the Mini, taking up more space, weighing more, and requiring more time to use, but perhaps I shouldn’t complain–I was once happy to tote about a Katadyn Hiker Pro!
Conventional wisdom holds that–under normal circumstances–microfiltration is generally sufficient to eliminate harmful bacteria and protozoa in North American waters, meaning that both the Trio and the Mini are likely to get the job done in North America (see CDC information here; the CDC calls filtration a “pathogen reduction”–not elimination–method). But the Trio may be an intriguing option for those who may be traveling in areas where other contaminants could threaten water sources. I am certainly not an expert in such matters; I offer no advice on this: consult an expert, authoritative source before relying on any method of filtration or purification.
In use, a few things became apparent to me about the Trio. First, the cap gets in the way. Used in gravity mode, I had to make sure the cap was outside the neck of the bottle that I was filling because otherwise the rubber retaining strap acted as a mild spring to push the cap back in place, hampering my efforts to fill the bottle. I also found that the presumably ergonomic design of the mouthpiece was impractical–the curved ramp of the mouthpiece slipped when inserted in the neck of the bottle I was trying to fill, causing it to fall out and preventing me from being able to walk off and leave the bottle in gravity mode.
I must confess that I can be impatient. As ludicrous as it is to begrudge a few minutes extra to filtering water when one is savoring the wilderness, I preferred to use the faster, lighter, and smaller Mini. I am a sometimes traditional but more often than not lightweight backpacker who prefers filters to chemical water treatments, so the Mini is a better match for my own backpacking ethos.
But I also try to be prudent, so this was not always true: carrying both the Mini and the Trio, I opted for the Trio when I was forced to drink from a river, a body of water I felt to be more likely to contain contaminants than the highland springs and creeks I had elsewhere used as water sources. Take a look below at the image below and you will see why I made this choice. That isn’t exactly some pristine, virgin spring! And while the clothes I wore in this river crossing (and subsequent swimming break) smelled of the river, the water I filtered through the Trio was basically tasteless, a vast improvement over the smell of the river itself. This taste factor, while wholly unscientifically observed, is a consideration for those pondering a filter system. If I had concerns that I might be drinking from murky puddles or suspect water sources, I’d take the Trio with me for greater peace of mind and more drinking pleasure. After all, some things are worth the wait.
Contributor Bio | Robin French
Editor’s Note: Please join me in welcoming Robin French as a contributor to Brian’s Backpacking Blog – Robin is a teacher living in High Point, NC. As a youth he didn’t have a TV, so he grew up using nature as his playground. This play evolved into camping and skill development as a scout, trekking about the world during college, and chaperoning students at adventure camps and on weeklong backpacking trips as a high school teacher. A love of nature is the common thread of his experiences: if he has free time, he is in nature, alone or with friends and family. He enjoys DIY/MYOG projects and fiddling with his gear, and these pastimes led to his reviewing of gear to clarify for himself the benefits and drawbacks of what he owns. He writes about his experiences and projects on his blog and YouTube channel and shares his reviews as a member of the volunteer Review Corps at Trailspace.com. He has followed Brian’s blog for quite some time, and we are thrilled to finally have him onboard as a contributor.