Steripen water purifier review

Steripen - a great way to make water drinkable within a minute
Steripen – a great way to make water drinkable within a minute

Last week I drank from my bicycle water bottle on the way home from work. I had that immediate feeling of “that doesn’t taste right”, but it was very hot and sunny, and there was still half a mile of a hill to climb.

Half an hour later at the end of the ride I was at home kneeling in front of the toilet, with my body getting rid of the water as quickly as possible. It wasn’t pleasant.

Three days later I was camping with a few friends and their families. I brought along the Steripen to review. I’d been sent the Steripen a few weeks earlier to review, and it had sat at home niggling me to try it.

The Steripen is a USB charged device which has a UV light at one end. I think it looks like a stubby light saber from Star Wars.

The Steripen’s UV light is automatically activated when immersed in water. While the UV light is on, an LED flashing green, and after 48 seconds you see a constant green light to indicate the water is good enough to drink. The UV light will purify up to half a litre of water at a time.

The UV lamp looks quite delicate although there is a tough cover to protect it when packed. The Steripen also has a black padded carry case as further protection.

Back to the camp just three days after my cycling-water incident, where we found ourselves next to a lake. I asked one of the kids to dunk a plastic cup into the lake and return it back to me full. They obliged and we were soon looking at a cup with lots of sediment and ‘stuff’ floating around.

I immersed the Steripen into the cup and when I saw the solid green light, I dutifully drank the water. The Steripen won’t change the taste of the water, it just makes it safe to drink. I thought that with my stomach still recovering, it would be the best possible test, and I was fine.

Naturally the kids, who up until this time thought I was completely mad, all wanted a turn drinking the lake water.

The bottom line was that no one had any side effects, and there’s no way I’d have drunk the water without some purification method.

The main competitor to the Steripen is chlorine or iodine tablets. The problem with tablets is they take about 30 minutes to activate, plus another 5 minutes if you use a neutraliser to remove the chlorine taste. My experience is that by the time you fill your bottle with water in an environment where you need to use purification, you’re already thirsty. So the Steripen provides an instant solution.

I still struggle to trust anything electrically powered though, and although the Steripen should last 48 purification immersions, it would be a brave sole to leave tablets at home. That’s not such a major problem though, because the tablets are very light and easy to pack.

One drawback of the Steripen is the two electrical contacts either side of the UV lamp both need to be immersed in water. And this makes the Steripen wider than most water bottles.

When Ishai and I walked the second weekend of the South Downs Way, we used the Steripen a few times. To avoid the Steripen width problem, we’d collect some water in a saucepan (what looked like half a litre), and used the Steripen to clean the water. We then poured the water into our bottles. Whilst this might sound a bit convoluted, it’s still quicker than chlorine tablets. And importantly, neither of us felt sick from any of the water than we found in various places (mainly sheep troughs).

The Steripen also has a torch facility. I’m not sure why you’d want to use your valuable electrical charge on a torch over clean water.

The Steripen uses a series of red and green lights to communicate whether it’s on charge, cleaning water, finished cleaning water and some other messages. The lights aren’t obvious though, and short of carrying around the manual, you sometimes find yourself stuck knowing what to do with various light signals. Generally I withdrew the Steripen from the water, waited a few seconds and resubmerged it.

There are other models with LCD displays to indicate any problems – assuming they don’t consume more power, the display would be a welcome additioin.

This is an interesting piece of lightweight kit. Unless you have more faith in electrical goods than I, it won’t replace purifying tablets, although the two work well together.

Ishbish rating

Hiking: 8/10 (light, works well, and cleans water in less than a minute, but the too-wide-for-bottles and strange lights sequencing require workarounds).

Camping: 8/10 (The 500ml limit and 48 uses before a recharge is required should last a whole weekend for a small group of people)

Would I buy this with my own money? Yes.

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