Backpacking Water Filters vs. Water Purifiers

So, what really is the difference between a backpacking water filter and a backpacking water purifier and why might you opt for buying one over another? To put it in the simplest terms, a water filter gets rid of protozoa and parasites, even bacteria, but it does not remove viruses. A water purifier eliminates all of these plus viruses. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has set standards that require water purifiers to eliminate 99.9% of all viruses. Chemical contaminants are another story and there is no sure way to remove them. The good news is that hiking trails rarely are below areas where hazardous chemicals have been released. If you are planning a backpacking trip in a foreign country buying a water purifier is a must. You just never know what might be in the water.

Viruses can also be killed by boiling the water or by using iodine tablets or chlorine--however, each of these methods has its own disadvantages. Boiling water requires use of a stove or fire, uses up fuel you could otherwise use for cooking, and it takes up valuable time which could be better spent checking out the views, going for a swim or trading stories with other backpackers. Iodine and chlorine change the color and smell of the water and leave a taste in the mouth most hikers dislike. Some people are allergic to iodine and it should not be used by pregnant women. Alone, neither iodine or chlorine will remove the parasite that causes cryptosporidiosis. And, if your water supply is not clear but full of sediment and particles, tablets won't remove these elements and you could be left with safe but dirty-looking water. Grit in the teeth is not a particularly appealing prospect.

A water filter does not change the taste or color of the water and is easy to use. Most utilize a type of small pump mechanism similar to that of a bicycle pump. Some take more energy than others to pump the water through the filter. All require periodic cleaning. They can have plastic, ceramic or even metal internal parts. Plastic ones are the easiest to break, especially in cold temperatures. Take care not to drop a ceramic one because it will shatter. It will also add weight to your pack.

There are several things to consider when buying a water filter: pore size, chemical treatment type, the average life of the filter, how much time it takes to filter one liter of water, how much weight it will add to your backpack, how easy it is to get replacement parts, and price (of both the filter itself and the replacement cartridges). Also, when comparison shopping take a look at reliability and endurance. You might be in the middle of nowhere and dependent on that little filter for your survival.

With each increase in water filtration system technology has come more and more products from which to choose. While ten years ago the technology in water filters could eliminate protozoan cysts and bacterial down to 1 micron, now they can eliminate them down to .02 microns. And, if you want to think of how small this is in another way, just consider that one human hair is 80-100 microns. The period at the end of a sentence is 500 microns.

MSR, Katadyn, Pur, General Ecology, Timberline, and Hydro-Photon, are among the most popular manufacturers of water filters and purifiers. The innovative Hydro-Photon Steripen water purifier was introduced in 2000 and was the first to use ultraviolet light to destroy viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, including giardia and cryptosporidiosis. It is battery-operated. Several companies now also manufacture water purifier tablets and drops made of stabilized chlorine dioxide. These get rid of contaminants and are easy to take with you. Water filters without pumps are also now readily available. These can connect to water bottles or hydration bladders, and can be used in any available container or in open water.

All pages on this topic:
Water Filters | Backpacking Water Filters vs. Water Purifiers | Backpacking Filters/Purifiers Reviews (Top 10) | Bad Backcountry Water: Giardia, Crypto, Bacteria, Viruses
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