There’s nothing quite like seeing the world from high altitudes—with fresh air, nature, and beautiful landscape views. The downside is breathing can become difficult the higher you ascend. That’s because oxygen is concentrated at sea level and thins out as elevation increases.
As such, many people suffer from altitude sickness. Skiing, hiking, climbing, or even just visiting areas of high altitude can bring about altitude sickness. People with respiratory illnesses, like COPD, are more at risk.
Supplemental oxygen can help people breathe properly at high elevations. Two popular sources are oxygen concentrators and oxygen tanks.
In this article, we’ll compare and contrast the oxygen concentrator vs. oxygen tank so you can decide which one is best for your needs. Let’s get started!
What is an Oxygen Concentrator?
First, to better understand the oxygen tank vs. oxygen concentrator, let’s take a closer look at portable oxygen concentrators. These devices take in air from the environment and filter out nitrogen and other gasses, leaving behind concentrated oxygen for the user to breathe.
Pros of Oxygen Concentrators
- Unlimited Oxygen
Oxygen concentrators work by providing a continuous and reliable source of supplemental oxygen from the air.
Unlike oxygen cylinders, which contain already pressurized oxygen, concentrators extract oxygen from the air. From there, it’s dispersed through a nasal cannula or mask at adjustable liter flows.
Since concentrators take oxygen from the air, oxygen is more readily available. As long as there is power, you have oxygen ready—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
- Lightweight and Portable Options
Oxygen tanks are generally larger than other oxygen delivery systems. Luckily, technological advancements have led to the development of lightweight, portable oxygen concentrators.
They are designed to be more manageable and easier to carry, perfect for those who lead an active lifestyle. Concentrators offer users the convenience of supplemental oxygen without restricting their movements.
Oxygen concentrators range in size from 10-liter units weighing 50 pounds for stationary units to backpack battery-operated portables weighing under five pounds.
Not all battery-operated units work for everyone. Please consult a physician or professional service for what may work best for you.
- Greater Versatility
Oxygen concentrators make their own oxygen, and as long as there’s power available, they won’t run out. Their longevity makes them ideal for a variety of uses.
For one, they are a favorite for dealing with altitude sickness, especially when extended use is necessary. They combat altitude sickness by delivering concentrated oxygen while users ascend to higher altitudes.
Cons of Oxygen Concentrators
- Power Dependency
Unlike a cylinder or tank, concentrators require power. The concentrator may become ineffective in situations with emergency power outages or limited battery life. They also may not be suitable for remote regions with no power options.
Battery-operated units are limited depending on the liter flow. Higher liter flows require more energy, depleting batteries faster. So, as the flow setting increases, the battery’s operational time decreases. Therefore, users may need to recharge or replace batteries quicker.
- High Maintenance Costs
Although oxygen concentrators provide an uninterrupted flow of oxygen, they require regular maintenance to remain effective and safe. This can include filter replacements, humidification chamber cleanings, and supply changes like tubing or cannulas.
These costs add up; the price for replacement parts and accessories, such as hoses and cannulas, can be high. But many rental companies take on the cost of maintenance, so users can avoid these expenses.
What is an Oxygen Tank or Cylinder?
Now, let’s turn our attention to oxygen tanks. These devices store compressed oxygen in a high-pressure tank that can be refilled.
Pros of Oxygen Tanks
- Quiet Operation
An oxygen tank stores oxygen in compressed form without a compressor or moving parts. When someone inhales through an oxygen nasal cannula or mask, the cylinder’s regulator releases a controlled oxygen flow. This process is done quietly, with little to no noise. An oxygen tank can be particularly beneficial for individuals who need to sleep without disruption.
- No Power Required
Are you going on a remote hiking or climbing trip? Oxygen cylinders or tanks are a great backup solution if you don’t have access to power. They store oxygen in a compressed form, which is released manually or through a simple regulator mechanism.
Oxygen tanks are an excellent option for outdoor activities like skiing, hiking, and mountaineering. You won’t have to worry about a lack of power sources when you’re out in a secluded area.
- 100% Oxygen
Tanks are filled with pure oxygen during the manufacturing process and sealed tightly. Thus, with no contaminants able to get in, they always contain 100% pure oxygen.
This ensures you receive oxygen without dilution, which is vital for those with altitude sickness or respiratory conditions.
Cons of Oxygen Tanks
- Requires a Detachable Regulator that Can Leak if Not Properly Maintained
Oxygen cylinders require a detachable regulator to control oxygen flow from the cylinder to the user. While this regulator is essential for safe oxygen delivery, it can also be seen as a drawback.
For one, the regulator increases the chances of errors during assembly, maintenance, or disassembly. Improper installation can result in leakage, inaccurate flow rates, or even safety hazards. Moreover, it requires regular inspection and maintenance, which can be a hassle.
- Heavy and Bulky
Cylinders come in different sizes. The smaller ones only hold enough oxygen to accommodate the user for a short period. For longer-duration activities, larger cylinders are necessary. However, they present certain challenges.
The bulkiness of oxygen tanks makes them less portable and more difficult to transport. The largest sizes need to be wheeled on a cart, making them impossible to use during most alpine sports.
- Cannot be Shipped or Transported on an Airplane
Traveling with oxygen tanks, whether by land, sea, or air, can be complicated. Since they are filled with compressed gas, they are potentially hazardous to transport—leading to strict airline regulations and safety considerations.
Cylinders can only be transported by FDA-approved vehicles. These vehicles are specially designed to ensure secure transport, preventing accidents, leaks, or other hazards.
Coordinating cylinder transportation is an extra (and often unwanted) responsibility for people traveling via airplane.
- A Prescription is Required and is Expensive to Refill
Oxygen cylinders must be refilled or replaced when their oxygen supply is depleted. This includes an involved refill process: they need a written prescription and can only be refilled by a licensed operator. They also have to be routinely inspected.
Refills or replacements can be expensive, especially over time. This ongoing financial burden can be challenging, particularly for those on fixed or limited budgets. Additionally, users must coordinate and schedule refills, potentially leading to periods without access to supplemental oxygen.
Basic oxygen tanks may not be a suitable option for those traveling to high altitudes. Tanks require a prescription and can be challenging to transport. Instead, oxygen concentrators provide an efficient and convenient alternative for those needing supplemental oxygen.
At Alpine Oxygen, we provide portable oxygen concentrators for those exploring the high altitudes of Wyoming and Colorado. Not only do we deliver directly to most resorts, but now we also offer affordable servicing and cleaning.
Contact us today to learn more!