Review: SteriPEN UV purifier eliminates the need for bottled water

ster1Clean water is one of the major issues facing the developing world. As outsiders, vagabonds typically rely on bottled water in such areas, but plastic water bottles are a major contributor to disturbing things such as the Pacific’s trash island, to say nothing of the strain they put on local landfills.

The far better option — from an environmental point of view — is filtering tap water. But filtering water has its own set of drawbacks for travelers. Filters can clog over time and they’re heavy and bulky — most of them you wouldn’t want to lug around with you all day, which means you need to filter enough water ahead of time.

The alternative to filters are water purifiers, some of which are quite small and lightweight. SteriPEN, makers of a number of water purifiers were kind enough to send us the SteriPEN Adventurer Opti, a lightweight, compact UV filter, for testing.

The first thing to realize about the Adventurer is that it’s not designed to handle muddy or otherwise cloudy water. Because it doesn’t have a filter there’s no way to remove sediment or other impurities. However, it does zap microorganisms, destroying their DNA and making them unable to reproduce or cause illness.

The SteriPEN kills microbes, viruses, and bacteria — including the well-known likes of giardia and cryptosporidium — meaning that tap water from a faucet just about anywhere becomes drinkable. According to the company, the SteriPEN protects against diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis, botulism, cholera, smallpox, typhoid fever and other common traveler ailments.

But the best part about the SteriPEN for vagabonds is that it’s lightweight and compact. At 3.6 oz. (with batteries) and little more than 5 inches long, the SteriPEN won’t weight you down and is even small enough to drop in your pocket for a day out and about. There’s a nice hard plastic cover that protects the UV light source and is secure enough that it’s unlikely to pop off in your pack.

Even better the SteriPEN is dead simple to use. You just stick the pen in water (I used a Nalgene water bottle — the wide mouth variety works much better); push the button to activate the UV light and stir the water until the indicator light turns green. Once the SteriPEN light is green your water is drinkable.

Filtering 1 liter of water takes about a minute and a half; a half liter takes just under a minute. There’s also a handy flashlight mode that turns the SteriPEN into a usable torch.


It’s a little disconcerting to use the SteriPEN if you’re accustomed to filtration systems since there’s really nothing to see here — all the santizing action happens in the UV spectrum. The SteriPEN does output visible light so you can tell that it’s working, but as with any filtration system there is some degree of faith. If you’re worried about the effectiveness you can relax, the EPA has endorsed UV light as an “effective disinfectant.”

On the whole, the SteriPEN is best option I’ve seen for filtering water on the road.

That said, there are a few drawbacks to the SteriPEN Adventurer. The first and most significant is price. At roughly $100 (at REI and other outdoor equipment dealers) the SteriPEN isn’t cheap. However, if you’re traveling for a year or more it’s definitely cheaper than buying bottled water the whole time. The UV light element will last for 8,000 Liters. Disposable batteries will get you 100 1-liter treatments, but curiously the rechargeable variety will only do 50-60 liters.

The other significant downside for vagabonds are the battery requirements. The SteriPEN uses two CR123 batteries, which are common in the west, but less so in other parts of the world. On the plus side there are rechargeable CR123 batteries and there’s even a solar charger (note that that link is for the Adventurer, not the Adventurer Opti which has a few extra features) available though it’ll set you back another $50.

The final shortcoming of the SteriPEN is that its not a water filter. If you’re planning on doing any trekking or hiking you might be better off with a filter to remove any impurities from stream water and the like. There are pre-filters available if you’re planning on using your SteriPEN for trekking.

Despite a few shortcomings the SteriPEN is a very capable, lightweight and easy to use way to avoid plastic water bottles on the road. If price isn’t an issue, I’d definitely recommend picking one up for your next trip.

Posted by | Comments (9)  | March 30, 2010
Category: Food and Drink, Travel Gear, Travel Health, Travel Tech

9 Responses to “Review: SteriPEN UV purifier eliminates the need for bottled water”

  1. Jill K. Robinson Says:

    I love seeing options to bottled water. As you mentioned, they are a massive strain on landfills and as many developing countries don’t have recycling options, you see plastic bottles everywhere.

  2. Warren Talbot Says:

    Thank you for the extremely timely and well articulated review. We are leaving in October for a 3 year trip around the world, with much of it in areas where clean water sources are not challenging to find. We have been debating the best option and you have convinced us. This post made our decision for us.

    Thank you,

  3. Scott Gilbertson Says:


    Glad you found the review helpful. I didn’t mention it, but I did meet couple people in India that swore by them so hopefully they’ll work out for you. Have fun on your trip…

    Also I should note that the SteriPEN would *not* work with a narrow mouth Nalgene bottle… only about a half inch of the wand actually makes contact with the water, so it won’t be effective.

  4. Rod Smith Says:

    Very interesting product. Never knew such a thing existed… thanks for the post.

  5. Rebecca Travel-Writers-Exchange Says:

    Thank you for the review on SteriPEN. It’s nice to know that travelers have options besides buying bottled water. Thank goodness the SteriPEN has a charger because you can save money on buying batteries. Anything we can do to conserve the environment is helpful.

  6. Matt | YearAroundTheWorld Says:

    I love my SteriPen! My flashlight uses CR123 batteries too, so I bring rechargeable batteries for them both.

  7. Catia | Vagabond Roots Says:

    I use one of these and it really does save money in the long run.

    There is a Steri-Pen that includes a filter, that’s the version I bought but I ditched the filter along the way when I found out a coffee filter is effective at filtering out floaties from water.

    Mine also uses regular batteries, it’s either AAA, or AA.. I can’t remember and my backpacks packed to leave so checking isn’t happening right now. 😉

  8. jeff roth Says:

    i think you also have to remember it cannot filter out not only sediment, but also heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxics which are non biological. that’s an important detail to consider i think. then a carbon filter would be useful too. they have something for that.