Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: SteriPEN Classic Handheld UV Water Purifier

My friend Mark has a drinking problem. His problem is that he often forgets to drink enough on our various back country adventures. Today, on our latest trip to Rattlesnake Mountain, this wasn't a problem because I appealed to Mark's love of gadgets. "You can use my new SteriPEN and I'll take pictures and write about it for the blog," I told him. As you can see in the photos below, Mark joyfully accepted this assignment.

The SteriPEN is not a filter, it's a device that purifies water by using ultra-violet light to disrupt the DNA in the various microbes that might be lurking in the water. If the water is cloudy, you'd want to use a pre-filter to get the large gunk out (I plan on using coffee filters for this), but in the case of a clear running stream like this one, the SteriPEN and a bottle is all you need.

The SteriPEN Classic weighs about six ounces and is about the same size as an electric toothbrush. I'd contemplated getting the smaller, lighter SteriPEN Adventurer but it uses CR123A batteries. I decided that the Classic was more practical for me since it uses 4 standard-sized AA cells.

The really great thing about the SteriPEN is that it is fast and simple to use. You take off the protective cap, press the button twice for a 0.5 liter bottle or once for a 1.0 liter bottle, wait for the green light to flash and then push the bulb into the bottle. The nose of the SteriPEN wedges into a small mouth bottle or you can use it as a stirrer in a wide mouth bottle. You swirl the water around while the light zaps the nasty critters that may lurk in the water. The entire process takes 48 seconds for a half-liter or 90 seconds for a full liter.

Unlike chemical purifiers, there is no long wait and the taste of the water is unchanged. At a minute and half per liter of water, the SteriPEN is faster than any filter I've used. Again, if the water is murky I will use a pre-filter, but the SteriPEN is quite handy. And being able to drink that cool, mountain stream water within a couple of minutes of coming to the creek is a priceless joy.

To really do things right, you should carry some kind of pre-filter and be careful to keep your lips off the "unclean" outer portion of the bottle. And in case of battery or other electronic failure, I carry a small stash of Chlorine Dioxide MicroPur Tablets.

My bike headlight, my camera and now my SteriPEN all use AA batteries. I've been using Rechargeable Hybrid NiMH Batteries for the past few years. There are various brands and things are moving fast, but cells of this type will be labled "precharged" or "ready to use." The important thing is that these cells have a low self-discharge rate and I look for the ones that have the highest capacity as measured in mAh.

My devices don't need to have their batteries charged every day but I since I may be away from power outlets for days at a time, I've added a couple of
UltraLast Green Solar 2 AA Chargers to my stash of gadgets.

These small chargers sit in my kitchen window at home, soaking up the sun and charging the batteries that I then swap into whatever device happens to be running low. On my back country trips, I pack the chargers in clear Dry Pak cases that I strap to my pack. Even though it may take a couple of days to charge 4 AA cells, rotating batteries through the various devices and the chargers lets me I keep my gadgets running without the need for wall current.

Returning to the SteriPEN, both Mark and I have been favorably impressed with the ease and speed of the device. Mark pointed out that the protective cap for the SteriPEN's bulb could be easily lost, so I'll be making a small leash to keep the cap attached to the SteriPEN and its neoprene case.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson


Johann Rissik said...

Thumbs up to the gear reviews and the links. Useful stuff.

Anonymous said...

Hi, instead of using coffee filters, you could use a hanky or other cloth. The cloth can be endlessly reused and has a reduced enviro cost.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to move to rechargeable batteries for my bike lights, etc. Apart from the solar charger you mention, what type of regular battery charger do you use/recommend.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kent,

I also like my SteriPEN, I successfully used one on the 08 CTR and some GL pre rides as well as numerous camp trips. It’s light, semi-fast (see comment), and of course you can drink immediately! And as mentioned for ‘clear’ mountain it’s perfect, but imo not so well for cloudy water, even with a coffee pre-filter, I guess I am a bit ‘fussy’ about grit in my water and worry about the UV actually killing all the nastilys in cloudy water. Side note: I used the new super light, long lasting (but costly)lithium batteries for the race but use my rechargeables for camping trips.

However, IMO the ‘best’ feature about the SteriPEN (either size) is how darn ‘packable’ they are!! With just a bit of care for ‘padding’ you can stuff them in any little ol nook. much much better than a filter.

In my experience a filter can be easier/faster than the Pen for 3 liters-if you use a quick disconnect system on your ‘bladder drink hose’ and also on a short ‘filter out’ hoses. Do the entire operation with a ‘filter in’ hose to reach ‘hard to get to’ water say on a steep bank or bridge, and pump directly into your bladder, all without opening or taking off your bladder/pack. Dry hands, dry feet quick and fast –but only if you use a bladder pack
The Pen IS defiantly fast(er) for one bottle. But if filling a bladder it’s another story -- 3X90 sec (assuming you are also carrying a full 1 liter bottle, if not, then even longer) plus kneeling, opening/closing/dipping & poring, spilling, sort of awkward for me, even with a bit of practice. And if you have to break out a pre-filter then it takes even longer

(But I know, I know, it’s totally irrelevant for something like the TD)

Tom said...

I love the Steripen and use on on world travels to purify drinking water from the tap into a re-usable bottle instead of buying an endless succession of water bottles and tossing them out.

I just sent half a dozen Steripens to our office in Haiti. (An Amazon purchase, to benefit the Mountain Turtle Fund!)

For batteries, I've just bought the Powerfilm solar AA recharger, which is light, comes with two AA lithiums, and much faster than the unit you are using - about 6 hours to recharge 2 AAs in full sun. It's ninety bucks, though.

Christine H. said...

There is nothing like drinking cool river from a stream, so I may have to get one myself. i used to just live recklessly and drink the water, but when I saw how sick my brother became after doing the same thing, I learned his lesson. This is wonderful.

Brawny said...

Thanks for the review, Kent!

I'm not sure I'm in the market for a purifier, but I was glad to see mention of your batteries and solar chargers. :-)

Anonymous said...

In my experience, the NiMH batteries are not what I would recommend for the steri-pen. My dad and I used one on a week long trip, and the thing conked out halfway through because the batteries weren't up to the task. It worked fine when we got home and put new (non NiMH) batteries in. The Steri-pen literature recommends that you use the Li-ion AA batteries for max life, and in this case, i'd go with the extra expense of having some Li-ion batteries in the thing just for peace of mind.

Elias Ross said...

I'm guessing you could run the thing off of a dynamo hub. Put the water in a bike bottle, attach the bottle to the frame, stick the pen in, and ride. If you can figure out the wiring for the electronics, it should be pretty easy to do.

And who needs rechargeable batteries for lighting when you have a dynamo?

rickm said...

Nice review. I am a big fan of multi-day mountain bike rides and water purification devices are a must. will check that one out.

Anonymous said...

Would be keen to know if your device it still working?

I was absolutely wrapped with this device for a the first couple of hikes/trips I did with it, but unfortunately I dont think they are reliable yet. My first steripen took started to malfunction early during an extended trip through Morocco. The company was good about sending a replacement unit, but the delay cost us a fortune in bottled water.

The replacement unit I was super careful with, in case the last malfuction was my fault somehow. But it failed as well partway through a lengthy desert walk in Australia, and left me begging for purification tablets from fellow hikers, and eventually drinking unprotected water. Fail, in my humble opinion, until they can make them more robust. I emailed my 2nd disappointment to the company, but they no longer seemed interested in replying.

Kent Peterson said...

So far, so good on the SteriPen, but it will get the big workout in June when I ride the Tour Divide. I am planning on carrying some Clorine Dioxide tablets as a back-up.


Legionella Control said...

I definitely recommend the steripen, and don't think there is anything comparable out there.

Latest gadgets said...

Wow, this is really nice. Cool water purifier!!

Kangen Water said...

I like your steripen very much. this is a great water purifier.

Unknown said...

There are many times that a portable water purifier can come in handy including the aftermath of a natural disaster or while camping. There is, however something that you need to keep in mind when considering having fresh, clean drinking water and that is there is a difference between filtered water and purified water.