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: 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.

SteriPEN Water Purifiers

Once, my bus broke down just east of Namibia’s barren Caprivi Strip. Though I was certain to begin any day’s travel with a full water bottle, the break-down occurred late in the day, and I had consumed most of my water already. As we waited for the “mechanic” (read: sweaty African guy with two tools to his name) to cycle to our remote spot and rebuild our axle, I drank my last drop. Parched, I soon succumbed to the pressure: I dunked the ladle into the communal gourd a village woman had brought, and slowly poured the water into my Nalgene, through my t-shirt, pretending it was a filter. I drank deeply and re-filled my bottle. Happily, I didn’t fall ill — and a passing vehicle picked me up soon thereafter — but I sure was nervous for a while.

Had I known about SteriPEN, a portable water purifier that uses ultraviolet light to destroy waterborne microbes, I might’ve bought one before heading to The Dark Continent. The 4-ounce Adventurer Handheld Water Purifier is fast (it only takes 48 seconds to sterilize 16 ounces), and fits easily into a backpack. The optional solar charger would’ve allowed me to drink over and over again without having to buy any of those crummy imported Chinese batteries. What a gip those were!

SteriPEN also makes an all-in-one set that includes the purifier and a special filter for all wide-mouth water bottles. Sure, $120 seems like a lot — until the first time your cracked lips are screaming for a drop of Aqua Vita.