The Difference Between a Water Filter and a Water Purifier

Water dripSome people use “water filter” and “water purifier” interchangeably, not realizing that they are two different things. Others might know that the two things are different, but they might not know the difference between a water filter and a water purifier. They might even believe that their filter can safely purify water because it popped up on a Google search for “hiking water purifier”.

The truth is that even though water filters can often make water potable, they are not the same thing as water purifiers and should not be treated as such. Not knowing the difference between the two – and drinking water you mistakenly thought was safe – can lead some real problems on the trail or around camp.

So what’s the difference between a water filter and a water purifier?

The names say it all, really.

  • Water filters remove particulates, bacteria, and protozoa by filtering them out of the water. They do not, however, kill or remove viruses, chemicals, and heavy metals, which are too small to be filtered out of the water (although filters with activated carbon can help pull metals from water). Most water filters remove harmful giardia and cryptosporidium. However, you can filter a bottle of water that looks crystal clear, but it could still be contaminated with harmful chemicals or viruses.
  • Water purifiers make water safe to drink by removing/killing viruses and chemicals. While water purifiers make water potable, many do not filter out dirt, sand, bugs, moss, etc. In other words, a purifier might make the water safe to drink, but it could still be murky and a little gritty.

Water filters do not guarantee that your water is safe to drink because they do not remove viruses, chemicals, and heavy metals that can make you ill.

Most water purifiers do not filter out particulates; however, water purifiers guarantee that your water will be safe to drink.

To put it simply, water filters remove the big stuff and make most water safe to drink. Water purifiers actually purify water, making it potable and completely safe to drink.

OK, so now you know the difference between the two. But which one is right for you?

  • Traveling abroad to developing countries with questionable water: Water purifier
  • Hiking familiar trails with running water: Water filter
  • Stumble across a stagnant pool with a dead water buffalo regardless of location: Water purifier

For most wilderness pursuits in North America, a water filter will be adequate in making your water safe to drink. This isn’t always the case, though, as viruses can be swimming in even the clearest lakes.

Some hikers like to carry both water filters and water purifiers to ensure that water is 100% potable, and to remove all the murkiness from the water as well.

We carry water filters as well as water purifiers for camping and hiking. Stop by and see us sometime!

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