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Gravity vs pump water filter for backpacking

Gravity vs pump water filter

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One of your main and important pieces of equipment while backpacking is a water filter. Filtering out all the nasty bacteria and parasites that live in waterways is very important. But with all the options for water filters, how do you know what is right for you? I’m careful not to say one type is better than the other because we all have different preferences. So I comprised the pros and cons of the different types so you can come to your own conclusion on a gravity vs pump water filter. Or maybe you just prefer to use purification tablets.

Weight–Purification Tablets

As backpackers, we love to count every ounce. Because, let’s face it, carrying 18 ounces versus 20 ounces only matters when you’re hauling it uphill both ways.

If weight is most important to you, you might consider purification tablets. This is going to be the lightest option because you only have to pack the tablets. However, tablets are less convenient than a gravity water filter or pump water filter.

A waterfall is shown as a good source of flowing water

The process for purifying water with tablets goes something like this: You fill your bottle up and drop in a tablet; then you swish it around and only close the lid a little; as the iodine purifies the water from germs, it turns brown (ironic, right?); then you add the neutralizer to get rid of the iodine taste and color; then your water is ready.

Another thing to consider is tablets will not filter out silt and dirt. They only purify the water.

I used to solely use tablets. Then I went backpacking with my brother who had a pump water filter and I was sold on how much easier it is!

Convenience–Gravity Filter

So that brings me to my next comparison for a gravity versus pump water filter versus tablets. When you spend all your energy hauling your heavy gear up and over rocky terrain, you don’t want to spend a lot of effort on the little things.

A woman hanging a bag of water to filer

A gravity filter by far takes the least amount of effort because, well gravity does the work. With a gravity water filter, you scoop up the water into a bag and hang it from a tree or rock and let it drip through the tubes, and filter into your container.

But gravity filters are not ideal for every situation. First, you need a tree or rock to hang the bag. If not, you have to hold it up, and that’s not convenient. You also need a good pool of water or cascade to be able to scoop it into the bag. A slow or small cascade will work, but it will take a little time. I once backpacked and only had small shallow pools in which to gather water. A gravity filter would have been difficult there.

A woman scooping up water in a gravity filter. Gravity vs pump water filters

Best for low water supply–Pump

There’s not much difference in weight with a gravity versus pump water filter. Depending on what brand, how much you much can spend the weight can vary. The main difference between the gravity versus the pump water filter how much water is needed to gather. The pump is good for hiking where you might not have ample water sources. If the water source is not deep or wide enough to scoop it up, you may want to consider a pump filter. A pump can utilize a pool the size of your palm as long as it’s deep or running.

A woman pumps water into a bladder. Gravity vs pump water filter
Here I am using my pump water filter in a shallow, small pool. Photo courtesy The Car Camping Queen

Depending on how strong my arm is feeling and how thirsty I am my pump speed varies, but it is usually is pretty quick. If you are wanting to cut weight and gather water as you go instead of hauling a ton of water, a pump filter would be the easiest to use.

The last time I went backpacking I knew our campsite was not near a water source. So the creek we crossed just before camp, we went a head and topped off our water. A pump worked better for me here because I was able just squat down by the water, only removing my pump and reservoir and fill up quickly.

Other considerations

The gravity and pump filter and water tablets are three main ways to filter water in the backcountry, however not all filters are created equal. There are some other things to take into consideration when choosing a water filter.

The first thing is you want to make sure it filters out all of what you don’t want. The second is how much does it weigh. You may want a more stringent filter and it may be worth the extra weight to you. Another thing to consider is how long the filter lasts.

A gravity filter is shown for an illustration of gravity vs pump water filter

Some water filters can be fixed in the field, while others can’t. If your water filter gets clogged with silt or dirt, you may want to be able to take it apart and clean it out. Or you may be OK with carrying tablets as backup.

Gravity vs pump water filter versus tablets

When choosing a water filter, it’s really a personal preference. They all have their pros and cons. You just have to weigh the options and find the one that’s the best fit for you.

Pin it! Gravity vs pump water filter

Gravity vs pump water filter or tablets? It’s really a personal preference. I've compiled the pros and cons of each of them so you can weigh your options.

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