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SteriPEN Ultra Review

A UV purification system that eliminates the threat of viruses and other pathogens
SteriPEN Ultra
Photo: SteriPEN
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Price:  $110 List | $109.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, rechargeable, waterproof, removes viruses and other pathogens
Cons:  Finicky battery life, unreliable, small treatment capacity
Manufacturer:   SteriPEN
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 6, 2019
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60
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#23 of 24
  • Water Quality - 20% 5
  • Durability & Maintenance - 20% 3
  • Treatment Time - 15% 6
  • Weight & Packability - 15% 6
  • Ease of Set-Up - 15% 8
  • Ease of Filtration - 15% 9

Our Verdict

The Ultra SteriPEN is a unique purification rechargeable system that utilizes UV light. The wavelengths emitted decimate the DNA in these organisms, not allowing them to reproduce. While it does seem a little like magic, pressing a button, and waving a wand, this unit has a few shortfalls. While we appreciate its lighter weight, slim profile, and fast treatment time, we wouldn't usually reach for this filter simply because of its lack of reliability that is a result of it using a battery. This is an excellent option for international travel or for sitting by the beach at your favorite resort in Mexico.

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Pros Lightweight, rechargeable, waterproof, removes viruses and other pathogensEasy to use, fast flow rate, collapsible, lightweightLightweight, great price, durable design, fast flow, high volume filtration, use for cold weatherLightweight, adaptable, easy to use, lifetime guaranteeLightweight, inexpensive, kills all pathogens (including crypto), reliable
Cons Finicky battery life, unreliable, small treatment capacityLacks durability and reliabilityDoesn't filter out viruses, no additional storage reservoirNot great for group use, better if you replace the bagsTakes a long time to kill crypto, slight taste to the water, chemical treatment
Bottom Line A rechargeable UV purification system that is great for international travelA soft bottle filtration system designed for lightweight travelThe best value gravity filter on the marketThis lifetime guaranteed product is easy to use on the trailThe best chemical treatment option that will kill all pathogens when given enough time
Rating Categories SteriPEN Ultra Katadyn BeFree Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L Sawyer Squeeze Water Treatment Drops
Water Quality (20%)
5
8
8
8
5
Durability & Maintenance (20%)
3
1
7
5
10
Treatment Time (15%)
6
10
8
9
2
Weight & Packability (15%)
6
10
6
7
9
Ease Of Set Up (15%)
8
9
6
7
8
Ease Of Filtration (15%)
9
9
9
8
9
Specs SteriPEN Ultra Katadyn BeFree Katadyn Gravity... Sawyer Squeeze Water Treatment...
Type of filter/purifier UV treatment Squeeze & on-the-go Gravity filter Squeeze, in-line, on-the-go Chemical treatment
Time to treat one liter (timed test) 90 seconds immediate 64 seconds 40 seconds Clear Water - 20 min
Turbid Water - 35 min
Measured weight (entire kit, oz) 6.7 oz 2.1 oz 11.7 oz 5.7 oz 3.0 oz
Total cost per 100 L ($) $1.38 $4.00 $6.00 $0.01 $13.16
Replacement cartridge cost per 100 L ($) $1.38 $2.50 $2.67 $0.01 $13.16
# of liters (L)/gallons (gal) per lifetime 8,000 L/2113 gal for bulb, 50 L/13 gal per charge 1000 L/264 gal 1,500 L/396 gal 378,541 L/100,000 gal 114 L/30 gal per package
Filter media or active ingredient UV light Hollow Fiber Pleated glassfiber Hollow Fiber Chlorine Dioxide
Effective against bacteria? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Effective against protozoa? (Cryptosporidium, Giardia) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Effective against viruses? Yes No No No Yes
Effective against chemicals? No No No No No
Effective against heavy metals? No No No No No
Removes Particulates (sediment, microplastics)? No Yes Yes Yes No
Filter pore size N/A 0.1 micron 0.2 microns 0.1 micron N/A
Advertised flow rate 1 liter per 90 sec 2.11 L per min 2 L/min 1.7L/min N/A
Dimensions 7.5 x 2.5 in 9.05 in x 2.73 in 10 x 6 x 2.4 in 11 x 6 N/A
Storage capacity (L) 0 0.6 L 6 L 0 0

Our Analysis and Test Results

This UV light purification system requires a power source and water to purify. It can immobilize bacteria, protozoa, and viruses with a simple whirl of the wand, just like magic. While we appreciate this technology, we question its reliability. It has a short battery life and has a reputation for not working at inopportune moments.

Performance Comparison


A look at what comes with the SteriPEN Ultra.
A look at what comes with the SteriPEN Ultra.
Photo: Amber King

Water Quality


Almost like magic, you touch a button, swirl, and voila…clean water that is free of bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. The UV light sends out intense wavelengths that decimate these pathogens' DNA so they cannot reproduce. That means that even if they enter your system, it won't supposedly cause you any harm.

The SteriPEN Ultra uses ultraviolet light to get rid of harmful...
The SteriPEN Ultra uses ultraviolet light to get rid of harmful microorganisms.
Photo: Jen Reynolds

Since this isn't a filtration system, it does not filter out particulates and sediment. If you plan on traveling where the water is full of sediment, consider a filtration system instead. Though, if you know that clear sources are what you'll primarily encounter, this unit should work like a charm.

Durability & Maintenance


This system supposedly can filter up to 50 liters per charge, though we noticed our battery running low before this claim, getting about half that, especially in colder weather. The company website says that one bulb can purify up to 8000 liters which we don't know is true or not.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

SteriPEN offers both options that are rechargeable or with batteries. Depending on what you prefer, you should get the appropriate option. One of the most significant issues with this filter is reliability. We've experienced the SteriPEN glitching out on longer runs, leaving us without a water filtration system. If it's freezing, the battery will drain quickly. We also noticed that after several uses, the battery charge does not retain as it does at the beginning.

As a result of this lack of reliability, we can't wholeheartedly recommend it for extended backpacking trips. It's a good option where you can get back to a power source to the plugin. There are solar chargers that work nicely on the trail, but those require sun. If you are without that for a few days, you might get skunked. Even then, with a full charge, we've experienced the sad face for no reason, which left us frustrated and without clean water. Luckily we had a chemical treatment backup. Like everything electrical, it's not the most reliable in the backcountry and more suited for situations that won't leave you wondering if you'll survive or not.

Make sure you have access to a power source or you might find...
Make sure you have access to a power source or you might find yourself without a purification system.
Photo: Amber King

Treatment Time


This unit counts down your purification time. It takes 90 seconds and some swirling to purify one liter of water. There is also the option to do a half-liter which takes half the time.

The Ultra has simple directions on the unit, push the button once to...
The Ultra has simple directions on the unit, push the button once to treat 1 liter and twice to treat half a liter.
Photo: Jen Reynolds

Weight & Packability


The SteriPEN Ultra is a meager 6.65 ounces including its squishy carry case. Of the SteriPEN models, it's the heaviest, but it's much lighter than pump filters that treat viruses. The profile is narrow, which fits nicely into a backpacking pack or even a running pack. It's a little large for ultralightweight missions that might go for 20+ miles, but, for a trail run where you need water on the go, it works just fine.

Relative weight with the case.
Relative weight with the case.
Photo: Amber King
A look at relative size and profile.
A look at relative size and profile.
Photo: Amber King

Ease of Set-Up


The Ultra is very simple to use. Turn it on, place it in your bottle. Water retrieval depends on your storage container. If you are taking from a water source with lots of sediment, make sure to pre-filter your water or consider a filter instead.

Ease of Treatment


Treatment is also easy. Wait for 90 seconds per liter purified. Swirl it around. When you see the smiley face, your water is ready to drink! If you see a frowny face, it means either your battery isn't working, or something is wrong.

The Ultra takes 48 seconds to purify half a liter, which actually...
The Ultra takes 48 seconds to purify half a liter, which actually feels like a long time when you're standing there stirring the water around.
Photo: Jen Reynolds

Value


It is pricy. Given that it's not super reliable, even though it does remove viruses and other stuff, it's not our first recommendation for most things. However, if you like the idea of it, and you'll be around power consistently, it is quite convenient, fast, and easy to use.

The smiley face on the Ultra makes tester Jessica Haist smile.
The smiley face on the Ultra makes tester Jessica Haist smile.
Photo: Jen Reynolds

Conclusion


The Ultra does best for international travel or super short trips into the backcountry when it's not cold. This UV filter eliminates everything including viruses, but its short battery life and inability to treat large amounts of water does limit its use.

Amber King