The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

SteriPEN Ultra Review

A UV purification system that eliminates the threat of viruses and other pathogens.
SteriPEN Ultra
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Price:  $110 List | $109.00 at Amazon
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
#18 of 18
  • 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.

If you seek a more reliable on-the-go system that can remove viruses check out the Aquamira Frontier Max. The SteriPEN can't remove particulates from the water, so be sure to pre-filter if you think this system is for you. An excellent option for international travel or for sitting by the beach at your favorite resort in Mexico. If you're not sure if the ice is okay in your cocktail, swirl your magic wand for clean, untainted water.


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Pros Lightweight, rechargeable, waterproof, removes viruses and other pathogensLightweight, great price, durable design, fast flow, high volume filtrationInexpensive, fantastic performance, great durability, versatile functionality, good water flow, lightweightHighly versatile, lightweight, in-line use, on-the-go useInexpensive, highly adaptable, lightweight, easy to use
Cons Finicky battery life, unreliable, small treatment capacityDoesn't filter out viruses, no additional storage reservoirClogs easily with lots of sedimentSlow flow rate, easy to lose small piecesSuction required, filter can come loose
Bottom Line A UV purification system that eliminates the threat of viruses and other pathogens.The best value gravity filter on the market.This all-around awesome filtration system is the perfect personal use solution for water treatment.This highly versatile filtration system can be used with in-line systems and filters out viruses.This adaptor kit turns your favorite water bottle into an awesome water filtration solution.
Rating Categories SteriPEN Ultra Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L Sawyer Micro Squeeze Aquamira Frontier Max LifeStraw Universal
Water Quality (20%)
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5
10
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7
10
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7
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10
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8
Durability & Maintenance (20%)
10
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3
10
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9
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7
10
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7
10
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6
Treatment Time (15%)
10
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6
10
0
8
10
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8
10
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7
10
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9
Weight & Packability (15%)
10
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6
10
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6
10
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8
10
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6
10
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9
Ease Of Set Up (15%)
10
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8
10
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6
10
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8
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8
10
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9
Ease Of Filtration (15%)
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9
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10
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7
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6
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3
Specs SteriPEN Ultra Katadyn Gravity... Sawyer Micro Squeeze Aquamira Frontier... LifeStraw Universal
Type of Filter UV treatment Gravity filter On-the-go (straw & squeeze) On-the-go & in-line filtration On-the-go (bottle lid adaptors)
Time to Treat One Liter (Timed Test) 90 seconds 64 seconds immediate 2.5 minutes (gravity set-up) immediate
Measured Weight (entire kit -- oz) 6.65 oz 11.65 oz 3.8 oz 3.15 oz 3.7 oz
Storage Capacity Varies 6L Varies Varies Varies
Removes Bacteria? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Removes Protozoa? (Cryptosporidium, Giardia Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Removes Viruses'? Yes No No Yes No
Removes Chemicals? No No No Yes Yes
Removes Heavy Metals? No No No Yes No
Removes Particulates (sediment, microplastics)? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Filter Pore Size N/A 0.2 microns 0.1 micron Unknown 0.2 microns
Advertised Flow Rate 1 liter per 90 sec 2 L/min Varies 0.5 L/min Varies
Dimensions 7.5 x 2.5 in 10 x 6 x 2.4 in 15.5 x 6 x 1 in 7.5 x 1.8 x 9.5 in 8.7 x 4.5 x 3 in
Filter Media or Active Ingredient UV light Pleated glassfiber Hollow Fiber Unknown Hollow Fiber/ Carbon Filter
# of liters/galloons per lifetime 8000 liters/2113 gallons for bulb, 50 liters/13 gallons per charge 1,500 liters/396 gallons 378,541 liters/100,000 gallons 454 liters/120 gallons 264 liters/1,000 gallons
Water Bottle Adapter No No Yes Yes Yes

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.

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 ultra violet light to get rid of harmful microorganisms.
The SteriPEN Ultra uses ultra violet light to get rid of harmful microorganisms.

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.

It's pretty clear when the Ultra is trying to tell you that you can drink your water.
The bulb and battery are at 100%
The Ultra is trying to tell you something is wrong!

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 plug in. 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 yourself without a purification system.
Make sure you have access to a power source or you might find yourself without a purification system.

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

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.
A look at relative size and profile.
A look at relative size and profile.

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 feels like a long time when you're standing there stirring the water around.
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.

Best Applications


We'd recommend this for international travel and shorter overnight trips for one to two people. Given that the Ultra requires battery power, it's important to ensure this is an option. Otherwise, you'll be without a purifying system. Since it does not filter out debris, we'd advise against bringing it to areas where water won't be clear. In general, because of its lack of reliability, we would recommend an on-the-go filtration system instead of a UV system. However, these options typically can't remove viruses, except for the Aquamira Frontier Max.

The smiley face on the Ultra makes tester Jessica Haist smile.
The smiley face on the Ultra makes tester Jessica Haist smile.

Value


At $110, 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.

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