Gear Closet: SteriPEN Ultra UV Water Purifier

We all know that one of the most important aspects of staying healthy while traveling, either in the backcountry or foreign countries, is finding clean drinking water. You can be incredibly cautious and safe in everything you do, but exposure to even a little contaminated water can bring you to your knees. Thats why various methods of water purification have been popular travel accessories for quite a long time. Things like micro filters or iodine tablets, each of which have are helpful, but always effective.

In recent years, a new option for water purification has grown in popularity with many travelers and backpackers turning to devices that use ultraviolet light to kill all of the bad things that could potentially be lurking in our water. Things like giardia, e-coli and salmonella, which can make you incredibly sick or even potentially kill you.

I first became a convert to UV water purification a few years back while traveling in Nepal. While there, nearly everyone else in the group got sick from one thing or another, while I managed to stay healthy the entire time. Whether that was coincidence, luck or the SteriPEN Classic water purification system that I brought along, I’m not sure, but when I came home, I vowed to not travel anywhere without it again.

Since that early model purifier, SteriPen has continued to refine their systems, making them easier to use, keep charged and more dependable. Their latest purifier takes everything they’ve learned from previous products and updates it nicely. The result is the best SteriPEN yet and a must have product for any adventure traveler.

The new device is called the SteriPEN Ultra and it brings a number of welcome refinements to the table. For instance, the Ultra now incorporates a much better display that is far easier to read under all conditions, including bright sunlight. That display has status indicators for battery and lamp life, and indicates whether or not it has successfully treated your water supply. The device also has a built-in rechargeable lithium battery that can be charged via USB, which is a nice upgrade from the older battery operated units.

For those who aren’t sure how the SteriPEN works, it couldn’t be more simple. You start by filling up your water bottle from what ever source is at hand. Next, you power on the Ultra pushing the button once to purify a full liter of water or twice for a half-liter. Then you dip the device into the water until the metal sensors along the base of the UV lamp are submerged. After that, you just stir until the screen indicates whether or not it has successfully treated the water. A smiley face indicates success, while a frown tells you its time to start again.

The Ultra is actually faster than previous models at completing the purification cycle. It takes roughly 45-90 second to do the job, depending on the amount of water in the bottle and the outside temperature. In colder weather, the device automatically adds a few seconds to the process to account for the lamp requiring more time to power up to full strength. This subtle, but nice, touch ensures that all of the unwanted bacteria, viruses and parasites are killed before we take a drink.

As mentioned, the purifier has a built-in battery that can be charged via an included wall adapter, or via a laptop USB port or solar charger. The Ultra can treat up to 50 liters of water before needing a recharge, which is enough to get you through some fairly long trips in and of itself. But if you do find the need to recharge along the way, it’ll take roughly 2-3 hours from a power outlet. Charging times vary a lot more when plugged into a laptop, extending the time necessary to 3-5 hours. Solar chargers are much more unpredictable, as they are often inefficient and don’t always get the light they need. Still, its good to know it is an option should you need it.

As a long time SteriPEN users, I appreciated all of the improvements that come along with the Ultra. It is indeed faster and easier than ever to purify your water, which brings a measure of comfort and security with it when traveling. I also love that it now comes with such a powerful rechargeable battery. My original model used replaceable batteries, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except in this case it was an extremely small and hard to find size. Particularly in foreign lands. Now I have multiple wasy to recharge, even if I’m not close to an outlet.

Using a SteriPEN device in the past wasn’t an especially difficult affair, although when it didn’t work, it could be confounding at times. The company has taken all of the guess work out of the process now however and it is easy to understand what is happening at each stage of the process. I’m not sure it is possible to make using the Ultra any easier.

The SteriPEN Ultra carries a price tag of $99.95, which will obviously buy you a lot of iodine tablets. But considering the fact that this device will kill 99.99% of the harmful things that can be found lurking in our water, it seems like a very wise investment. As is typical with SteriPEN gear, the Ultra is rugged and tough, making it a perfect travel companion and it comes with a nice carrying cast to help protect it further.

All in all, the Ultra is a worthy addition to the SteriPEN line-up and a perfect option for anyone who needs fresh, clean water no matter where they go.

Kraig Becker