Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $100 | Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros: Quick treatment, doesn't change taste of water, lighter than all the pump filters, effective against viruses.
Cons: Not very durable or reliable, expensive and hard to find battery, doesn't filter out particulate unless you buy a separate pre-filter, only works in certain containers, does not treat water on threads of bottle.
Best Uses: Backpacking, hiking, traveling.
The SteriPEN Journey LCD is a light, fast, and high tech system for purifying water, using UV light technology. Though the SteriPEN does not filter out particulate unless you purchase a separate pre-filter, it does treat viruses, which is more than most pump filters, and it does so without adding chemicals to your water like the Katadyn Micropur Purification. At 7.82 oz. for the device, batteries, pre-filter, and case, it is far lighter than most other filters, which average around 11 to 13 ounces. The SteriPEN is also one of the fastest treatment systems for a single liter of water, taking only 90 seconds, with the Platypus GravityWorks working slightly faster. Unfortunately the SteriPEN has a list of limitations. The batteries require frequent replacement, the water on the threads of your bottle are not treated, it only works in certain sized bottle openings, and multiple backcountry users have reported device malfunction with this model. It seems that SteriPEN has resolved some of these issues in some of their other models, such as the SteriPEN Adventurer Opti and the SteriPEN Freedom. If you prefer something that does not require charging or changing batteries but that also treats for viruses, check out the First Need XL pump filter.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The UV technology of the SteriPEN is fast and effective against viruses as well as protozoa and bacteria, which is an advantage over all the pump filters besides the First Need XL. The question is do you trust it? Waving a wand around in your water somehow doesn't inspire as much confidence as a pump or chemical tablet. However, this method has been used for many years by large water purifying facilities. The way UV light works is that it does not kill bacteria, viruses, etc. Instead it scrambles the DNA of the organisms so that they cannot reproduce, rendering them harmless to you. One thing to note is that since the organisms remain alive in your water, if the treated water is exposed to visible light for a length of time before drinking, the microbes can essentially heal and reactivate.
There are still a few drawbacks: it only works in bottles with openings at least 1.75 inches wide and the pens are finicky and tend to malfunction on occasion, requiring the user to carry a backup method of treatment (see "personal stories" below.) Also, it does not treat the water on the threads of your bottle, which chemical treatments do. This is not an issue with pump filters since your bottle never touches untreated water, but with the SteriPen you dip your bottle right into a water source, and where you sip is not sterilized.
If you are looking for a lightweight, chemical-free purification system, the SteriPEN Journey is one of the best options. Including batteries, case, and additional pre-filter, the system only weighs 7.8 oz., much lighter than most pump filters, though the other SteriPEN model, the Adventurer Opti, weighs even less. However, the SteriPEN requires specific accessories to be carried along with it, such as a Nalgene or similarly sized bottle. This is heavier than a hydration bladder or a collapsible bottle, neither of which work with the SteriPEN. Once you add the weight of the bottle, extra batteries, and possible back-up treatment method, the system gets heavier.
Time Before Drinking
With it taking only 90 seconds for a liter and 48 seconds for a half-liter, this one of the simplest, fastest ways to treat a single bottle of water, even though 90 seconds can seem like a long time during treatment. The Platypus GravityWorks system actually treats water fasterm taking 1.05 min for one liter and 4.50 min for four liters.
Ease of Use
The SteriPEN Journey is very easy to use. It involves filling a bottle from a stream, pushing a button, and waving the wand through the water. A smiley face or frowning face on the LCD screen lets you know if it worked or if you need to do it again. The maintenance replacing the batteries adds more work to this purification system than with some of the pumps like the Katadyn Hiker Pro, that only require maintenance when the filter life is maxed out.
Durability/Uses Before Maintenance
The batteries in the SteriPEN wear out quickly and require frequent charging or replacement, which can be a pain on a multi-day trip in the backcountry. On the plus side, there is no complicated backflushing or filter cleaning work that ever needs to be done, but if the batteries run out while you still have days to go on your trip, you will be bummed.
Also, for an item that is meant to be dunked in water, the whole device is not water resistant and can break if it is completely submerged or drenched in a rainstorm. This makes it less reliable and durable than other methods such as a pump filter.
The SteriPEN treatment does not affect the taste of the water, which is mostly a good thing. Unless the water is particularly gross, the fresh flavor of mountain water, absent of added chemicals, is appetizing. Some of the pump filters actually improve the taste of the water, but the SteriPEN leaves the flavor the way it was originally.
If you just use the SteriPEN on its own, it does not filter out particulate the way that all of the pumps do. A separate pre-filter can be purchased as an accessory, but that is just another piece that needs to be carried.
Because of its light weight and fast treatment time, the SteriPEN is ideal for trips where weight and/or speed is a concern. It is advisable to bring a back-up emergency method along, such as the Katadyn Micropur Tablets, just in case the lithium batteries quit working and you cannot find replacements.
We interviewed a couple who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail to see what they used for over 2,000 miles of hiking. They started their trip with a SteriPEN Journey as their water treatment method because it was lighter than all the pump filters on the market, worked fast, and treated viruses. However, they soon became frustrated because the batteries would wear out very quickly. They needed to carry extra batteries with them or a back-up treatment because it would stop working, which added the the weight of the whole system. The lithium batteries were very hard to find in towns along the trail, and were expensive to continually replace.
One day, they got caught in a rainstorm while hiking. The SteriPEN was packed away in a backpack, but still got wet through the pack. The device was broken and would no longer turn on. Ironically, the water purification device was ruined by a little water. The couple ended up ditching their SteriPEN and switching to a Chlorine Dioxide purification method, Aquamira Water Treatment Drops, for the remainder of their hike. They said it was a more reliable system.
At $100, the SteriPEN is slightly more expensive than the average water filter, which typically sell for $80-$90, but is the same price as other UV light purification systems such as the Camelbak All Clear. Keep in mind that during use you will have to shell out money for new lithium batteries, so the cost of the whole system is in reality slightly more.
SteriPEN has a few different models of their UV light purification system.
SteriPEN Adventurer Opti
— McKenzie Long
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: May 21, 2013
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