(A great review by one of our buddies, Box Car Willy)
I bought a Vario filter by Katadyn few years ago, and have only recently felt that enough field use and interaction with Katadyn's customer service has taken place to supply me with enough information to write a review. I have pumped roughly 50-70 gallons of water through my Vario, and have suffered one catastrophic failure, and no minor failures.
First the specs of the Vario according to Katadyn's website (http://www.katadyn.com):
Weight of just under a pound (15 Oz) dry, with no extra filter, cleaning components, extra tubes, etc.
Provides "AntiClog Technology with 0.2 micron glassfiber (no cleaning needed)Activated carbon granulate, Ceramic pre-filter"
Pumps up to 2 quart/min on the highest setting, of which there are two, with a pump action occurring upon BOTH strokes.
7.5" tall x 4" at widest point, which is at the handle body. The main body is about 3.5" in diameter.
Filter life of 530 gal (glass fiber) and 106 gal (carbon), my kit included a ceramic filter as well which extends the lives of the filters.
My Vario kit weighs about 1.5 pounds, which includes the filter with all its elements, hoses floater and prefilter, an extra ceramic disk, proper mechanical cleaning items, a handkerchief and soft sided carrying case.
The filtering ability of this pump is as advertised, having the ability to turn slightly cloudy river water clear (I have not pumped mud water yet).
The pumping was tested using a gallon (4 quarts) of still tap water with a dry, unprimed pump. It took one minute sixteen seconds of pumping to go through the entire gallon of water, with a small loss of time at the beginning and ending of the test due to activation of the timer being used. A vigorous pumping action was used to give a baseline of one to two minutes to pump a gallon of water using Katadyn's time as the high limit and my test as the low limit. Also available with this filter is the ability to switch between longer life filter with larger micron limit or the smaller micron limit which shortens filter life.
This kit really comes into its own when on long trips with multiple people where water is expected to be available, but quality is questionable. When not observing the "two is one, one is none" mentality this pump is all you need. It supplies water on both strokes of the lever and this feature is greatly appreciated, as it does not waste my motion or time. The bottom of the pump body is threaded to accept Nalgene/Kleen Kanteen type bottles, HOWEVER, this unit does NOT create a water tight seal when a bottle is screwed onto it. Do not submerge your bottle or pump when using this system if you don't want to take the risk of getting sick. The plus side to this feature is not having to worry about pressure buildup when operating as well as its low tech way of letting you know when the bottle is filled (assuming your bottle is not clear). Or you may use a length of 1/4" tubing to pump into a bladder or other container.The Vario can be a little bulky when packing for a light trip, but i find the size to be acceptable when on an overnight or longer trip with questionable water sources.
Vario is a good to great tool for water purification, but most definitely does have an Achilles heel. It is located on the side of the upper half of the unit which holds the internal pump mechanism and attaches to the pump handle. Of course I am mentioning the intake tube, where water is drawn into the pump mechanism via flexible tubing. It sticks out from the main body of the pump about a half inch and is of course made of plastic. I am always careful of this portion of the pump, because failure of this component causes the entire pump to be submerged in order to use it. This may cause cross contamination at best, and failure to be able to pump at all if the source of water is not deep enough. Breaking of the intake may cause catastrophic failure to occur. This happened to me on an overnight hike whilst refilling my bottles, it slipped from my hand and fell on a rock, basically turning my overnight to a day hike as at the time I carried no extra flexible tubing.
The new component did not include instructions, or a sticker. I was a little bummed about no sticker since take down videos are readily available online. Replacing the housing took about 15 minutes, not including overview of a video. The assembly is simple enough that anyone can replace any component of this pump with a moderate difficulty for someone with no mechanical experience. I compare disassembling and reassembly of this unit to putting an OtterBox onto a smartphone. The internals seem to be plenty strong enough withstand dis assembly and reassembly with no issues.
I now carry extra clean tubing in my kit with me always (not available when pump broke) in case this scenario happens again. This instance happened about a year, maybe ten hikes, after purchase. Instead of contacting Katadyn immediately, my Vario was put in a container with all of my "extra" camping equipment. I rediscovered my Vario a few months ago while cleaning out my gear, and decided it wouldn't hurt to send Katadyn an email prior to throwing the pump away or selling it on the cheap and boy, was I surprised. Katadyn was in contact via email the NEXT day, and I had a brand new pump housing within three business days!
In closing I definitely recommend this pump to people due to its water output, ease of use and longevity of life. However, as with any piece of gear, users should know and understand any faults inherent in their equipment, and should take specific action(s) to minimize if not remove faults completely. The true value of not only the Vario, but of all Katadyn systems [I assume] is the exceptionable customer service. Typically, in my experience, when it comes to backpacking and hiking, this type of nonjudgmental replacing of components is rare and of great value to a ham fisted person such as myself. Cheers, and remember to "Get the Fox out there!"