by Zach Ehlert
As someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, when I first heard of the Steripen, I thought it was too good to be true! A lightweight, easy-to-use UV water purifier sounded so much better than pumping away on the edge of a creek or lake for hours (or at least what seemed like hours) just to get one bottle of drinkable water. With the Steripen, it’s so much easier. I can quickly fill a 32 ounce Nalgene bottle, take it back to my campsite and then use the Steripen to purify my water in about a minute and a half. All you have to do is stir the pen around in the water.
The newer models, the Adventurer and Traveler (which, except for their coloring, are identical), lend themselves perfectly to travel as you can easily carry one in your pocket or day-pack and purify a glass of water anywhere. And, the Traveler is on sale right now, for an amazing 20% off.
Instead of pumping water through various tubes or adding iodine or salt, the Steripen uses UV light to destroy waterborne microbes (which is the same system many cities use to purify their water). The C Wavelength ultraviolet light the pen emits is a short wave light (between x-ray and visible light) that is able to destroy the DNA of microbes in seconds, including Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Without functional DNA, these microbes can’t reproduce or make you sick.
While exposure to ultraviolet light may cause skin cancer, the Steripen is designed in such a way as to make exposure virtually impossible. The UV light does not activate until its sensor is fully immersed in water. In fact, one of the main things to remember is that if the sensor is not completely under water, or if it comes out of the water, the Steripen will shut itself off and give an error signal that it did not complete a full dose of UV light.
The Steripen has been independently tested at A&L Laboratory, as well as numerous universities (University of Maine, University of Arizona, Oregon Health Sciences University, Ryerson University—Toronto Canada), and has been proven to be 99.9999% effective at killing disease causing microbes.
I have used the Steripen to sterilize over 75 liters of water on backpacking trips in Oregon and while traveling through Thailand, and the Steripen has only given me an error a couple of times. If you do get an error, remove the pen from the water and completely dry the sensors before trying again. I also received a low battery error once, which was easily fixed by removing the batteries and warming them up in my hands for a few seconds. Once I completed a dose, it was time for fresh batteries.
(As a side note: I have read reviews on other websites where people have problems with the Steripen. The few times I have gotten an error message were completely due to user error, and not to any problems with the device. That’s why, when people in our store are interested in the Steripen, we take the time to explain exactly how it works.)
Each of the Steripen models function in the same way, but there are some small differences. The original model uses four AA batteries while the newer models (Adventurer & Traveler) use two CR123 batteries. The CR123s are smaller and last longer than AAs, but are not as readily available. The Adventurer and Traveler are the smallest and lightest weight models at 3.6 oz, and the Classic weighs in at 5.7 oz (weights include batteries).
The sensor on the Traveler (and Adventurer) is on the side of the unit (as you can see in the picture above – the small, silver oval near the top of he “handle” portion of the unit) while the sensor on the Classic the end of the unit, facing toward the light source and sticking down into the water. This allows the classic model to be used with a small-mouth water bottle, like a Sigg or the disposable plastic ones that are available anywhere in the world.
For the Steripen to be effective, the water you’re treating needs to be clear so the light can hit all of the water molecules and kill any microbes that may be lurking inside. Depending on where you’re getting water, you might want to use the Steripen Prefilter to remove any particulate matter in the water. The Prefilter is designed to fit snugly on a wide mouth water bottle (like a 32 ounce Nalgene) and allows you to fill your bottle with ease while keeping out any dirt or debris, or allowing untreated water to come into contact with the threads on the bottle. The Prefilter forms a small basin on top of your water bottle that you can pour water through to filter out particulates. Voila, “clear” water that can be sterilized using the Steripen!