I wish I had known about the SteriPEN water treatment systems when I was backpacking solo around Central and South America in 2006 and ended up in a Cuban hospital, no doubt thanks to some dodgy local water which even made the hardened locals sick. The rest of the three months travelling was an “exciting” series of gastro related adventures…

Cue, the SteriPEN. This little beauty fits easily into your backpack or even handbag (depending on how swanky your foreign travels are) and with a click of a button; a 90 second stir of the UV light; a smiley digital face and Bob’s your Uncle, your water has been treated for “over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoa that cause water-borne illness.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, testing this nifty little gadget requires some blind faith in its effectiveness. I have so far only tested it in the New Zealand mountains, and I won’t ever be able to say for sure that it has worked 100%, but if you believe the scientific claims then it’s certainly a great way to treat water with minimum kit and minimum fuss.

I like the cost saving and environmental side of it too – don’t buy endless plastic bottles of water while travelling; just refill and treat your own container. And, I would consider giving it a go on a wilderness trail run too as it would certainly fit into my Salomon hydration pack without adding too much bulk.

steripen

Sterilising the water in a pot or pan to decant into cups and bottles is an easy way to do it

In summary:

Pros:

  • compact, easy to carry around. One piece of kit that comes in a neat, padded case.
  • Kills both bacteria AND viruses. A lot of treatments at this price point don’t kill viruses too. Look out for that.
  • relatively quick – 90 seconds for 1 litre and therefore great for solo travellers or couples
  • no need to faff around boiling water and then waiting for it to cool. This was the approach most people took while we were camping in New Zealand DOC huts – it’s time consuming and restrictive as you boil one pan at a time and wait for it to cool, unless it’s for a hot drink. Needless to say, there was some sharing of the SteriPEN once fellow campers realised how easy it was in comparison
  • Digital screen with a clear indicator if it has completed the process – who doesn’t love a reassuring smiley face. It’ll be a sad face if it’s not content that you’ve followed the process. Too easy
  • Since a UV light breaks down the bad stuff, you don’t need to add any questionable chemicals to your drinking water. Don’t ask me how questionable the UV light is – we haven’t started glowing in the dark anyway…
  • No need to carry around spare batteries as this model is USB rechargable. This makes it very handy, especially if you’re hiking/camping with solar power. We used this repeatedly morning and evening on a four day hike and just had to charge it on the final day from our Goal Zero power pack.
steripen

A little blurry but spot the smiley face!

Cons:

  • the metal prongs on the wand need to be in the water. This was tricky with narrow necked bottles like my Salomon lightweight collapsible bottles, although still do-able. I often chose to bulk treat water in a pan and then decant into other containers.
  • Doesn’t filter any sediment – although you can buy an attachment for this
  • 90 seconds for a litre of water – can feel like a while that you’re waving the pen around in the water and then need to repeat again for each litre. Still quicker than boiling and cooling water, but slower than chemical treatment and definitely not the speediest way to treat water for larger groups
  • Price – as ever, price is subjective and given that this is USB rechargeable and SteriPEN offer a replacement once the UV light has gone out (apparently after 8000 uses) so I don’t see this going too wrong… but, this is the most expensive model – more so than the battery operated models and alternative treatments.

I would definitely say that this was one of the most useful pieces of kit we recently took on a multiday hike in New Zealand and I wouldn’t think twice about packing it for adventures around the world where access to clean water is limited. Love your work SteriPEN..

Specs and a video of a guy demonstrating the SteriPEN can be found on the product website

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