Water Filters vs Purifiers - What's the difference?

Embracing the thrill of exploration is at the heart of travel, but your sense of adventure shouldn't extend to your stomach. Few things can put a damper on your journey quicker than falling ill from tainted water or food. With that said, many travelers wonder which portable water filtration system to pack for their adventures.

When it comes to the best travel water filter, a water purifier takes the crown as it's effective against viruses, commonly found in water supplies in developing nations.

Purifiers vs. Filters Waterborne illnesses are caused by microscopic pathogens. The distinction between a filter and a purifier lies in their ability to remove the tiniest threats—viruses. Found in abundance in the water sources of developing nations, viruses are stealthy foes, capable of turning a dream vacation into a nightmare

Derived from animal or human contamination of water sources, the following trio of culprits are listed from largest to smallest:

  1. Protozoa and cysts, such as cryptosporidium and giardia lamblia.
  2. Bacteria, like E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter.
  3. Viruses, such as hepatitis A, rotavirus, and norovirus.

While some Water filters may be able to physically remove minute pathogens like protozoa and bacteria, viruses will slip through their pores. To combat viruses, water purification is necessary, achievable through various methods:

Pump Purifiers: Certain top-tier filters feature elements with pores small enough to capture viruses. These purifiers require pumping contaminated water from one container to another before consumption. Alternatively, you can opt for a purifier system that combines a filter with chemicals to neutralize viruses after removing protozoa, cysts, and bacteria.

UV Light Purifiers: These handy wands emit UV rays to neutralize protozoa, cysts, bacteria, and viruses. Simply insert the wand into a water bottle, turn it on for a brief period, and voilà!

Water Purifier Bottles: With an internal cartridge that traps protozoa, cysts, bacteria, and viruses, these bottles offer a convenient solution. Fill the bottle, insert the cartridge unit, and enjoy clean water from the top.

Chemical Purification: Effective against bacteria, viruses, and most protozoa and cysts, chemicals are a budget-friendly option. Simply drop a couple of tablets or a few drops into a water container, wait, and you're good to go. They also serve as a backup treatment option for other purifiers.

Choosing the Right Purifier for You The following chart provides a quick overview of your purifier options:

Purifier Types Pros Cons
Pump Purifiers Quickly clean large volumes of water Effective in murky water Expensive and bulky Requires cleaning and eventual replacement of the element Requires a compatible water container
UV Light Purifiers Simple and fast No element replacement or cleaning required Compatible with various water containers Requires batteries Bulb may break Ineffective in murky water
Bottle Purifiers Simple and fast Includes a water container Cartridge requires periodic replacement Filters only one bottle at a time
Chemicals Small and inexpensive Easy to use Slightly effective against cryptosporidium cysts Requires waiting time before consumption May impart a slight chemical taste


Boiling As a last resort with basic cooking facilities, boiling water for a minute effectively eliminates the major pathogens: protozoa, bacteria, and viruses.

Other Risks for Travelers In addition to waterborne illnesses, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises travelers to avoid:

  • Raw fruits and vegetables unless they can be peeled and cleaned with purified water
  • Street food, as food handling standards may be lacking
  • Tap water in developing countries
  • Fountain drinks made with local tap water
  • Ice made using local tap water

By taking these precautions, you can minimize the risk of falling ill during your travels and focus on enjoying your adventures.