Gadling gear review: SteriPen Freedom water purifier

One of the bigger challenges for adventure travelers, long distance hikers, and backpackers is finding good, clean drinking water while on the trail. This is a problem that is particularly exacerbated when visiting remote regions of the world where waterborne viruses and bacteria are more common. Many travelers carry water purification tablets to help remedy the situation, but they aren’t always as effective as we’d like and can sometimes leave the water tasting odd. Fortunately, there is another alternative.

SteriPen is a company that specializes in making water purification systems that use ultraviolet light to kill 99.9% of all the harmful stuff that can inhabit our drinking water. Last year, while traveling through Nepal, I used their Journey device and had zero issues with the drinking water, despite the fact that many of my companions suffered mightily. The Journey was definitely an excellent addition to my pack, although I found that it ate batteries fairly quickly and was a bit on the larger size. SteriPen has addressed both of those issues in their new Freedom model however, making it the perfect companion for a trip to the local trail or to the far side of the globe.

The Freedom has done away with the unusual CR123 battery, which powered the Journey but was very difficult to find while traveling through many countries. Instead, the new device uses a built-in rechargeable pack which can be juiced up using the included AC power supply, via a USB port on your computer, or a portable solar charger. When fully charged, the Freedom is good for 40 uses, which results in approximately 20 liters of clean drinking water.The diminutive device weighs in at just 2.6 ounces and measures about five inches in length. While that makes it considerably smaller than the Journey, it also means that you’ll only be able purify a half-liter of water at a time. It takes 48 seconds for the Freedom to remove the bacteria and other harmful items from the water, and a full liter requires a second treatment to ensure that the device has done its job.

As usual with SteriPen purification systems, the Freedom is easy to use. Simply remove the protective cover over the UV lamp, and dip it into the water. The built-in sensors will detect the liquid and activated the light, at which point you simply start stirring. A green light on the top blinks to let you know that you’re stirring at the proper speed, and when the light stops blinking and remains solid green, you’ve completed the process and your water is safe for drinking.

Charging the Freedom from a wall outlet takes just a couple of hours to complete, but charging via USB is a bit less predictable. On full-power USB ports, it didn’t take much longer than the wall outlet, but many laptops use low powered USB in order to conserve battery life. Plugging the device into one of those ports doubles the amount of time it takes to charge. I haven’t had a chance to test it with a solar charger yet, but I imagine it will take even longer using only the suns rays.

SteriPen also included the ability to use the Freedom as an emergency flashlight. It isn’t a particularly powerful light, and obviously it puts a hit on the battery life, but it is a nice touch none the less. Just don’t forget to pack your regular headlamp, as the Freedom won’t be replacing it any time soon.

With an MSRP of $120, the Freedom is obviously a lot more expensive than simple water purification tablets, but it is also faster and more reliable. My experience has made me a big believer of using UV light to make clean drinking water while traveling, and with its rechargeable battery and small size, the Freedom seems like the perfect solution. If you’re like me, you’re not willing to risk the consequences that come along with drinking tainted water, and thanks to SteriPen, we don’t have to.