Water filters versus water purifiers?

4:06 a.m. on August 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Hello all!

Ok, first of all I'm not really a beginner but am when it comes to certain gear. I am looking into purchasing a water filter or purifier but am confused. I know for a fact that I need something that filters out viruses and bacteria especially giardia. But what about chemicals? I know of a handful of places I have my eye on to go backpacking but several of the water sources are contaminated with mercury from mining in the area years ago. Are there any filters or purifiers that remove mercury to make it potable? Would one work over the other? Thanks a ton in advance!

Happy Trails!


8:28 a.m. on August 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Stay far, far away from water contaminated from mining activities. None of the portable filters are going to be effective in removing heavy metals from water. It isn't suitable for drinking, cleaning, or (and I shudder to even think about it) swimming. That doesn't necessarily preclude you from basecamping and day hiking in those areas though. Just understand that mining regions have their own risks in addition to those incurred simply by being in the woods and far from assistance.

10:56 a.m. on August 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Welcome to TrailSpace, Samantha :)

I use the Katadyn Hiker Pro, and love it. There is not much that you can do to purify or filter mineral contamination with any acceptable certainty or practicality.

2:08 p.m. on August 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Kinda along the same lines as others, but you have limited options when it comes to heavy metals and chemicals. Any filter with a avtivated charcoal core will remove chemicals, and some heavy metals, but not all neccesarily. The filter I use is a MSR Miniworks EX, which uses a .2 or .3 micron ceramic filter i forget the exact size, and has a charcoal core.

Activated charcoal will remove any heavy metal in the water that is bound to an organic source. So it's a 50/50/90 situation. Could be if your area that they are all bound and you can filter them out, or it could be that they are all free due to not having been in the water a long time and you wont be able to filter them.

I only use, and have only ever used filters that in some way use activated charcoal. They remove any bad taste, odor, bacteria, chemicals, some heavy metals.

Viruses! First off, if you in the US you are about 99% likely to never encounter a virus in the water unless you are hiking near a volcanic vent or in a jungle/true swamp where there is alot of deomposting material/animals in the water.

Secondly, viruses are like heavy metals, they will often bind to other organic compounds. In this case the filter will filter out these viruses. If you do some research you will see that in a large (about 85% or more)percentage of the locations where there are viruses in the water that they are bound to other organic compounds.

Bottom line is, use a filter with at least .3 micron, .2 is better. Activated charcoal core or element will remove any chemical, and alot of heavy metals/viruses.

Water Purification: Water purification can only be done by boiling, or using a UV treatment like a steripen, or a chemical treatment like bleach or aqua mira. These methods only kill bacteria and viruses and does not remove them, if that bothers you. These methods also will not remove or otherwise inactivate any chemicals or heavy metals.

I prefer to use my MSR Miniworks EX, and if i am really worried about the water containing viruses for whatever reason I would either boil it or add a tab of aqua mira in from my survival kit.

Hope this helps some, happy trails!

6:32 p.m. on August 4, 2010 (EDT)
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7:02 p.m. on August 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Filters-how serious of safe drinking to be?

If I carry a filter, I don't mess around with most filters, as their prone to clogging, etc. I use to have a MSR MiniWorks EX. Have reviewed newer versions, and other types.

I use a Katadyn Pocket. Yelp! It's a heavy one, but the BEST for safe water, used by many military & International-bound relief groups.

If on a fast-paced hike, I use my UV Steripen Opti

Sometimes I use both, first filter with the pump, then sterilize with the pen.

8:43 p.m. on August 4, 2010 (EDT)
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I have been using the Mini Works and I have had 0 problems with it.

TheRambler is spot on with what I have learned over the years. No real point on reiterating on it.

2:01 a.m. on August 6, 2010 (EDT)
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I use a Katadyn Pocket filter, and always add a orange flavor Vitamin-C supplement to my drinking water. The vitamin give the water little taste, second kill any bacteria left ( if any )... For my food, filtering the water then boiling it for the making of my meals and coffee.

Hanen't had any problems so far...

10:39 a.m. on August 6, 2010 (EDT)
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I backpack in areas with mine runoff too. No filter, purifier, or other method such as boiling can be trusted to make the water safe for drinking when there's chemical or heavy metal contamination. Filters with carbon will remove some of the contaminants, but there's no way to know how much remains. The options are:

- carrying water (ugh!)

- caching water along the trail

- higher elevation seeps and springs are less likely to be contaminated, but still somewhat of a gamble and guess

- transpiration bag (not very productive)

This is why I like to get away to true wilderness areas (such as in WV) where the water is often so pure that I only treat or filter as a precaution rather than necessity.

2:24 a.m. on August 7, 2010 (EDT)
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Thanks ALL for the replies.

I'll be honest I'm not overly concerned with bacteria and viruses being in the US and getting sick from them in the water or getting sick from Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever is treatable. I assume some degree of risk when backpacking. I mean it is the wilds and well, for lack of better terminology, sh*t happens. I don't mind the idea of boiling water but it really is the chemicals that concern me; be it from fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or the result of long ago mining. How contradictory would it be to die from cancer as a result of chemical exposure while hiking/living in the wilderness! What is this world coming to?! Well, that's humans for you.

Hikers around the Linville Gorge/ Linville river in western NC are advised to not imbibe the water from the river due to mercury and I have read that springs are ok (after treating for the creepy crawlies) but that they are few and far between on that hike. The 20-some mile loop trail around the river is a strenuous hike from what I hear and I hate the idea of trying to pack in two days worth of water before hitting the first spring or tap.

I think I was most confused as to the difference between water filters and water purifiers.

You guys are great and thanks for the info. I am grateful for such a community all-be-it online. *Hugs all around*


3:57 a.m. on August 7, 2010 (EDT)
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I recently saw a You Tube video where the guy used a modified filter he bought from a hardware store. He said it filtered down to 1 micron (.1?) and that giardia was 3 microns (.3?) and that worked fine for him...I use tablets or boil it, but then I don't go so far that I can't carry most of the water I need (yet!).

8:33 a.m. on August 7, 2010 (EDT)
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Your welcome Samantha, if you have any other questions feel free to ask.

9:26 p.m. on August 8, 2010 (EDT)
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There are standards for boiling (heating water), filters, chemical purification tablets, and UV treatment with respect to critters (protozoa, bacteria, viruses). However, there are no clear standards for the performance of these approaches for industrial and agricultural runoff. No filter manufacturers are willing to make statements about removal of chemical contaminants.

As mentioned, activated charcoal (activated carbon) will remove some percentage of these contaminants, but will not remove enough from heavily contaminated sources to make them safe for human consumption. The only treatment readily available to the backpacker that will remove most heavy metals and agricultural and industrial runoff is the family of flocculation methods, and at that only from one company, Pur (a division of Proctor and Gamble at present). However, you have to treat 10 liters (2.5 gallons) at a time. And even then, since the standards are not well established, Pur does not make statements about the removal of heavy metals and such.

The bottom line is, as stated above - be aware of the area you are going into, and avoid drinking any water from sources in areas known or suspected to have agricultural or industrial (including mining) runoff. You can successfully treat for cryptosporidia, giardia, campylobacter, bacteria generally, and viruses with the well-known backpacking methods (some take longer than others, some are affected strongly by factors like turbidity, temperature, and pH of the water).

Repeating what I have posted many times before, there are several terms with respect to drinking water that many people confuse -

Potable - safe to drink

Purified - presence of contaminants (biological, chemical) is within established standards.

Sterile - all critters (protozoa, bacteria, viruses, etc) killed or removed to surgical standards.

9:01 a.m. on August 9, 2010 (EDT)
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Thanks again everyone! The info was great and really helped clear up some "shady" areas when it comes to the filters and purifiers. *Hugs* to all!

Now, which one to buy...


9:27 a.m. on August 9, 2010 (EDT)
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Th'art welcome m' lady


Joking aside, welcome to trailspace and good luck choosing a filter. I would stay away from the new MSR Hyperflow...seems it has a high failure rate. That could be because of user error, but if that is the case you might want to go for something easier to operate.

3:23 p.m. on August 15, 2010 (EDT)
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I've been using a First Need XL filter/purifier for a few years now, and I find it better than all other filters I've used. It's easily maintained in the field, is very durable, and pumps on both strokes (push and pull). You can fill a nalgene in under a minute, and hook it up gravity-filter style once you get into camp. It does have an ample charcoal core, and a pre-filter. I've sucked up some of the nastiest puddle water through it--the kind of stuff you avoid walking through if possible--only to have clear, great-tasting water come out.

Yes, it is one of the heavier, bulkier options out there, but it's advantages far outweigh these concerns, in my opinion. It was designed for, and tested by, US special forces, so there's that too...

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