Gadling Gear Review: SteriPEN Ultra Water Purifier

Nothing ruins a great travel experience more quickly than getting sick while visiting some remote region the world. One of the best ways to avoid those kinds of hazards is to be very careful about what you eat and avoid drinking water that isn’t clean. But such water sources aren’t always easy to find or identify, which is why it is important to always play it safe and purify anything you drink. Iodine tablets and filtration pumps are viable ways of creating clean drinking water while traveling, but the safest and most efficient way of doing so is through the use of ultraviolet light. UV lamps are capable of destroying more than 99.9% of all the harmful bacteria and organisms that can exist in water, making the liquid completely safe for consumption.

SteriPEN is a company that is singularly focused on making UV water purification systems specifically for travel. In the past we have reviewed several of their products and have always come away impressed. But the company continues to refine and improve their purification systems, making them more efficient and easier to use. By incorporating those improvements into the new SteriPEN Ultra, they just may have created the best portable water purification system ever.

Some of the enhancements to the Ultra include a greatly improved OLED display, a long lasting rechargeable battery and an interface that is much easier to understand. Separately those things don’t seem to bring much to the table, but together they add up to a better product for travelers, backpackers and campers. One that is highly effective and incredibly simple to use.

Despite these nice upgrades to the device itself, the process for using a SteriPEN purifier remains the same. The Ultra is capable of purifying up to one full liter of water at a time, which is accomplished by simply filling a water bottle with the liquid and then activating the UV light. The user then immerses the lamp into the water and begins to stir until the light turns off on its own. It takes between 45 and 90 seconds to complete the operation depending on how much water is being purified and the current temperature. In colder weather it takes a bit longer for the UV light to warm up, so the system compensates by burning a bit longer. Still, the Ultra does its job faster than previous models, which is helpful when you’re purifying several liters of water per day.In previous SteriPEN products it wasn’t always clear if the process was completed properly and if you didn’t stir the water at a quick enough pace, sometimes you would need to repeat the process. With the Ultra, the company wanted to make it as clear as possible whether or not your water is safe to drink, so they changed up the user interface a bit to make it more clear. Now, after the UV light goes off, the OLED will display a smiley face if it the water is clean, while a frowning face indicates that the process will need to be repeated. These two emoticons will tell users everything they need to know at a glance. Battery and lamp life indicators are also easy to read at all times.

This redesigned interface benefits greatly from new OLED display. It is bright, clear and easy to read even in low light conditions. Previous SteriPEN models didn’t incorporate this technology and as a result, the screen was often difficult to view, and all but impossible to use at night. But the Ultra’s display never leaves any room for doubt and the user will always know if the device is working properly. It also makes it abundantly clear if the water is clean and ready to drink.

The SteriPEN Ultra is powered by an internal lithium battery that is capable of purifying 50 liters of water between charges. That’s enough water to last quite a few days, but in case your journey runs longer, the device can be easily recharged via USB. That means you can power the battery back up using a computer, external battery pack or small solar charger. Actually, anything that will allow you to plug-in a USB cable does the trick. This is a much better option than using replaceable batteries, which can run down quickly and can be difficult to find when traveling in a remote location.

Rugged and durable, the Ultra has been designed to withstand the rigors of the road. But to give it a bit of extra protection, SteriPEN includes a nice travel case. They also throw in a USB cable for charging purposes, just in case you don’t have enough of them lying around your place.

If you’re a traveler who routinely visits destinations where the water quality is questionable, you’ll definitely want to have the SteriPEN Ultra in your pack. But backpackers and backcountry campers will appreciate the device as well. It quickly and efficiently purifies water and provides piece of mind at the same time. I’ve used various SteriPEN purifiers on several of my own journeys and can honestly say that I have never gotten sick. My endorsement of this product comes after extensive use in the field, where these devices have never failed to perform as expected. That said, the Ultra is by far the best SteriPEN product that I have ever used and a must have for adventure travelers. With a price tag of $99.95 and a rated life of more than 8000 uses, this is a product that will earn its keep time and again during your travels.

[Photo Credit: SteriPEN]

Gadling gear review: Camelbak All Clear water purification system

Finding safe and clean drinking water while traveling can often be a real challenge, particularly if you’re visiting some of the more remote destinations on the planet. Wandering off the beaten path may be one of the more rewarding elements of travel, but it can also be detrimental to our health as many of the world’s water sources contain bacteria, viruses and even parasites. Fortunately there are a number of ways to treat potentially contaminated water, making it safe to drink, including water purification tablets, micro-filters and treatments of ultraviolet light. Of those, UV light is the most effective and has become a much more viable option over the past few years.

Camelbak, the company that practically invented the hydration pack, has recently introduced a new product called the All Clear that looks to marry a high-quality water bottle with a UV purification system. The company has cleverly integrated an ultraviolet light into a specially designed lid for the bottle that when activated will kill more than 99.99% of all bacteria and viruses found in water. That makes it an incredibly useful item to have in our bags when visiting destinations where clean water can be at a premium.

Using the All Clear couldn’t be easier. You simply fill the bottle with water from any source you have at hand, secure the lid on top of the container and activate the UV light by pressing the power button. That will initiate a 60 second countdown timer on the integrated LCD screen which serves as a prompt to begin slowly rotating the bottle back and fourth in 180 degree turns. That motion helps to ensure that all of the water inside the bottle receives equal exposure to the purifying light, which is vital for killing off the harmful bacteria. When the countdown has finished the UV light shuts off and the contents of the bottle should be ready to drink.The All Clear is powered by an integrated battery pack, which is recharged using an included USB cable. That means the device can be powered up by plugging it into your laptop, a USB battery pack or even a portable solar panel. This adds a great level of versatility for travelers but brings a bit of unevenness to the process. Recharging from my laptop took about 4 hours but Camelbak estimates that it will take 15-20 hours using the sun. When fully charged the All Clear is good for about 80 uses, which is enough to purify 16 gallons of water.

Camelbak has clearly taken great care to consider the needs of travelers and backpackers while designing the All Clear. For instance, they have included a second lid that is better suited for drinking from the bottle and have added a convenient carrying case for the UV lid to the package as well. They’ve also printed step-by-step instructions on how to use the device on the outside of the bottle making it nearly impossible to get the process wrong. Those little touches may not seem like much, but they are greatly appreciated when packing for a trip.

For many of us a good water bottle is almost a mandatory piece of travel gear these days and having one with an integrated UV purification system is a great option. That said, the All Clear’s UV lid is a bit on the heavy side – especially when compared to the competition – although it isn’t particularly large or bulky. The heavier cap does include a more powerful ultraviolet light, however, and is designed to work well in a variety of conditions including colder weather.

If you frequently find yourself traveling to destinations where the drinking water is suspect then the Camelbak All Clear is the kind of purification system you’ll want to take with you. It is an easy to use system that knocks out nearly all of the harmful bacteria and viruses that we could potentially encounter on our journey and it does so in a fairly compact and rugged package. The system comes with a $99 price tag and includes a good water bottle, two lids, a carrying case and a USB charging cable. That is a very good package for the price and one that I think you’ll appreciate on future excursions.

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.

Gadling gear review: SteriPEN Sidewinder

SteriPEN is a company that has built its reputation on providing products that ensure hikers, backpackers, and travelers safe drinking water no matter where they go. Their products, including the SteriPEN Traveler, which we reviewed here, use ultraviolet (UV) light to kill off 99.9% of all bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and other harmful elements that can find their way into our water. But most of their purifiers are powered by batteries, which can be difficult to come by when traveling through remote areas, and have a penchant for going dead when you need them the most. The company has found a way around that however, in the form of the Sidewinder, a purification system that is powered by a hand crank, and never requires batteries of any kind.

The first thing you’ll notice when you remove the Sidewinder from its box is that it is large, especially when compared to SteriPEN’s other products. That is due in part to the fact that it comes with a 32 oz (1 liter) BPA-free bottle, but the hand crank system is not especially small either. Prior to beginning the purification process, the bottle is filled with water. and then clicked into position on the Sidewinder itself, with the UV light completely immersed in the water. The entire unit is then flipped over, and you’re all set to begin making clean drinking water.

From there, you simply begin turning the crank to generate the power necessary to illuminate the ultraviolet light, and in theory, 90 seconds later you have water that can be safely consumed. I say in theory because it takes a bit of practice before you get the hang of the process, as you must turn the crank at the proper speed in order to get the UV lights working properly. Fortunately, SteriPEN included a pair of red LED’s on the Sidewinder which illuminate when you’re turning the crank too slowly. When the lights are off, you’re doing just fine, and you’ll know you’re finished when the UV lights turn green as well. It is a simple process, but one that requires some practice before putting the device to use in the field.

Once you get the hang of it, the Sidewinder has the potential to provide plenty of drinking water for an indefinite backpacking trip through just about any part of the world. But just because the water is free from harmful bacteria doesn’t mean that it necessarily tastes any better. SteriPEN has helped to address that issue as well by including a pre-filter to help remove particulates from the water prior to purification. The filter fits on to the top of the bottle and is a much appreciated addition to the package and further indicates that SteriPEN has a good understanding of their customers needs.

While the Sidewinder is a well designed and built products, it does come with a few caveats for anyone considering it for their next adventure. For starters, as I mentioned above, it is quite large, which makes it a less than ideal option for those looking to travel light. I personally found it a bit too bulky for my pack, much preferring the smaller Journey LCD, which I carried with me through Nepal last year. It also requires a good deal of physical work to actually purify the water, asking its user to turn the crank for 90 seconds, at a rather brisk pace, for each liter of water cleaned. Considering you’ll need several liters of water per day, possibly more depending on your destination, you may end up getting quite a workout while you’re on the go.

So just how good are the SteriPEN purification systems? In my personal use of their devices, I have yet to contract any kind of water borne illness or suffer any ill effects, even while traveling through locations where several of my companions fell victim to a variety of maladies. The UV light seems to work as advertised, although it is impossible to prove a negative, and perhaps I’ve simply been fortunate. I highly doubt that however, and a SteriPEN purifier of some type will be mandatory gear for all future travels to remote areas across the globe.

Which SteriPEN I take with me is a bit open for discussion however. While I appreciate the eco-friendly nature of the battery-free Sidewinder, its larger size poses a bit of a problem when lugging it around on longer treks. But if you’re going to be camped in one place for an extended period of time, it is a fantastic option for sure. For those requiring a more compact and lighter weight purification system, I’d give the nod to the aforementioned Journey LCD or Traveler however. Either way, you can bet you’ll have safe drinking water no matter which device you use.

The Sidewinder comes with a $99.95 MSRP, which is more expensive than iodine tablets or other similar purification options. But on the other hand, SteriPEN’s approach is also much more reliable and safe as well. Having used both options, I’ll stick with the UV solution for my future water purification needs.

Top five ways to conserve water when you travel

It’s not always easy to be eco-conscious when you travel, especially when it comes to conserving natural resources like water. Over one billion people don’t have access to clean water, says, a non-profit that works to bring relief to global communities suffering from this issue (to donate, click here). Yet, the often-necessary evil of purchasing bottled water in developing nations has made for an environmental nightmare, as anyone who’s ever seen entire beaches littered with discarded plastic containers can attest.

As travelers, we’re fortunate to have the money and resources to obtain clean water, but there are things we can do on the road to conserve this precious resource, as well as minimize the amount of plastic we use. Even better, most of the below tips are just as easily put into action at home. For more ideas on indoor and outdoor water conservation, click here.

1. Turn off sink when brushing your teeth, and washing dishes, your face, or shaving (legs, too, ladies, if you’re in a place with abysmal water pressure). Also be sure to fully turn off taps. Leaking faucet? Unless you carry spare washers with you, it may be tough to resolve this one, depending upon where you are, what type of place you’re staying in, and language barriers. Use your judgement on whether or not it’s worth alerting staff or your host.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Stacy Lynn Baum]2. Turn off the shower while you’re soaping up, shampooing, or shaving/shorten your shower.

3. If your water has been festering in a plastic bottle on a hot bus all day and you can’t bring yourself to drink it, don’t just pour it onto the ground or down the drain. Find a smart place to empty it: a tree, a vegetable garden, give it to a thirsty animal.

4. Pack lightweight, quick-drying, dark-colored clothing that can be washed in the sink, eliminating the need for washing machines. Allow them to soak for awhile (bring a flat sink-stopper with you, or stuff a piece of clothing in the drain, in a pinch). Drain, wring out, and refill sink with clean water, rather than using running water to wash and rinse.

5. If you need to hit a laundromat (even if you’re dropping it off), wait until you’ve got a full load, if possible. If you’re DIY, select the appropriate machine setting to ensure the right water level, and wash your clothes on cold–it will get them just as clean, and conserves energy.

It can be tough to postpone laundering when you’re backpacking, especially in hot, humid climates. I usually sink-wash to get by until the entire contents of my pack are ready for a trip to the laundromat. Yes, it’s kind of gross, but if you can’t handle slightly funky threads, you probably shouldn’t be a backpacker.

Tip: Bring your own water bottle (or reuse a plastic bottle several times). Not only does this save money, but you’re sparing the earth., reports that it takes 1.5 million barrels of oil to meet the demand for U.S. bottled water production, alone. Plastic bottles take thousands of years to degrade, clogging landfills, or releasing toxic fumes if incinerated.

If you’re traveling in a country or region where it’s not safe to drink tap water, and you’ll be staying put for a couple of days, or you need to stock up (for a long bus trip, say), buy a gallon jug(s) and refill your own bottle as needed, rather than purchasing multiple units of smaller bottles. Be sure to pack some purifying tablets to keep it clean (they’re not a bad thing to use in suspect areas, anyway, since bottled water can be contaminated). If you need to purify your own water, there are pros and cons to the various types of filtration systems. An outdoor store like REI is a good place to ask for feedback and advice, as well as purchase BPA-free water bottles

Sigg makes excellent, eco-friendly water bottles from lined aluminum. They’re practically indestructable (mine has seen four continents and a lot of abuse since I got it four years ago, and it’s still in top shape), come in various sizes, have cool designs, and the caps are replaceable/have interchangeable styles.

[Photo credits: shower, Flickr user privatenobby; bottles, Flickr use procsilas]