Access to clean water is a human right. Around the world and here at home the reality of failing infrastructure threatens access to drinking water. Be it pollution, fracking, or natural disaster, there is a threat of toxins finding its way into our water supply. For me, this all became a reality back in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy reeked havoc on my home in Rockaway Beach, New York - flooding the town and bringing a stop to power and clean water.
There are a handful of ways to purify drinking water. From pump-style and gravity-fed filters to chemical tablets and boiling, each method with its own pros and cons. When I started researching this topic I was blown away by how far we’ve come in battling water born illnesses. This led me to discover the power of ultraviolet light.
Picture this. You’re hiking in some of the most pristine nature imaginable. You’re running low on water, getting pretty thirsty, and at the point where you need to start thinking of a plan of action. Boom! Your eyes light up as you see a stream of water in the distance to re-up your supply, but wait - can you trust it? Do you take the risk? To answer that question, I’ve spent a few days testing SteriPEN, a modern solution to water sterilization. Here’s what I’ve learned.
SteriPEN is like a mini lightsaber. Holding it in your hand you can feel its Jedi powers flowing through you. Bacteria, viruses and vermin around the world fear the SteriPEN. A click of a button and it glows blue (I always loved Luke’s blue lightsaber more than the green. Return of the Jedi was the sh*t.) as you dip it into your soon to be drinkable water. Mix it around like you’re conjuring up a spell out of Harry Potter (Insert magical phrase of your choice), and 48 seconds later as the bright blue glow fades away, you're done. Drink up and let out your He-man war cry. You’ve slain the viruses, beaten the bacteria, and protected yourself from the precarious protozoa.
There are a handful of versions but we tested the SteriPEN Adventurer Opti in a few different environments. Off the grid in the Catskill Mountains we filled up our Nalgenes from a stream. We didn’t get sick! Up in the Hudson Valley we purified water from a nearby lake. Neither of us suffered from the post Chipolte explosive diarrhea we've grown accustom to. Last we scooped out a cup fresh sludge from Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal. We died twice, and our SteriPEN melted. Nothing can save the Gowanus Canal.
During testing we assessed SteriPEN in six areas: size, weight, ease of use, lifespan, taste, and value.
Size - At 6.1 x 1.5 x 1.0 inches or 155 x 40 x 24 mm there is no bulk. It's small and packable.
Weight - SteriPEN Adventurer Opti comes in at just 3.8oz (108 grams). Compared to a pump filters that average at least 12oz, it's light.
Ease of use - Set it and forget it. Select from one of two settings for 1/2 or 1 liter. Swirl the SteriPEN around and when the light switches off in just 48 - 90 seconds you have drinkable water. Compared against pump systems where you need to constantly pump, or fight to make sure your buoy stays afloat, the SteriPEN is quick and easy.
Lifespan - It's durable, but like anything else it can break. Its UV bulb can be activated up to 8,000 times before it needs to be replaced. Each model comes with a 3 year warranty.
Taste - Unlike chlorine tablets, SteriPEN does not effect the taste of the water. Mmmmmm - tastes so good.
Value - Models vary between $50 and $90. The Adventurer Opti retails on the higher end (though at the time of this article Amazon has the model we tested going for $70), but for its weight, size, ease of use, and lifespan, it's a great value.
With all the good that comes from SteriPEN there are a few things you should keep in mind before relying on it.
- You can purify at most 1 liter at a time - but it takes just 90 seconds per liter and the water is drinkable immediately. Each model is different, but with the Steripen Adventurer Opti you can filter around 50 liters per battery, and up to 8,000 liters on a single UV bulb.
- Each model comes with a different battery option: AA Lithium or NiMH (rated 2300 or better) batteries, CR123, and USB rechargeable. Be sure to carry extra batteries because if you don't, you can very well be sh*t out of luck.
- SteriPEN does not filter out heavy metals or chemicals that may be in the your water source.
- While SteriPEN will clean the water inside of your bottle, always remember to keep the mouth of your container free of dirt and grime.
- Cold weather has an adverse effect on electronics. If you're venturing into freezing temperatures, be sure to take this into consideration. Maybe opt for an alternative purification method.
- Anything can happen. Always have a backup plan.
All in all we love the SteriPEN Adventurer Opti. It's as packable as a Leatherman, in the clutch can double as a flashlight, is made to last, and how it works feels like something out of the future. If you’re looking to build up a bug out bag, preparing for the unexpected, or rethinking your backcountry pack - give SteriPEN a try.