A person can survive weeks without food, but only days without water. When heading out into the backcountry we are often surrounded by water, but cannot drink most of it safely. Bacteria, Viruses, and contaminants are found in most rivers and streams. It is also impractical to pack in all the water we need for a trip. Daily water requirements for a person can vary between 64 and 128 ounces. At approximately 1 pound per 16 fluid ounces of water, 4 days worth of water could easily add up to 32 pounds or more. The question then becomes how to filter and sterilize the water found in the wild so that it is safe to drink. Filters such as life straws, pump filters, and gravity-based systems are good choices, but require a bit of manual labor to operate. All lightweight filter systems are also ineffective against viruses which can be present in waterways west of the Mississippi. Aquapur drops and Iodine tablets are effective against viruses and bacteria, but take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours to treat the water and can leave the water with an unnatural taste. This is where the Steripen comes into play. I recently picked up and have been testing out the Steripen Classic 3 by Katadyn and I’m going to tell you why I think it’s close to the perfect backcountry water solution.
The Steripen is an electronic device that features a UV bulb at one end, and several buttons at the other. It works by using UV rays to sterilize water. Over 99.9% effective at killing all viruses and bacteria, it renders water safe to drink without needing to filter out anything. Of course, this means you may have to come to terms with drinking a glass of water filled with dead organisms, but it is perfectly safe. To use, you remove the plastic cover from the UV bulb, place it in your Nalgene bottle, press the button, and stir. After 90 seconds, the light on the unit goes green and your water is safe to drink. The Steripen is simple to use, effective, and fast.
One of the common negatives cited about the use of a Steripen is that it does nothing to remove sediment from the water you are drinking. The Steripen Classic 3 addresses this issue by including a removable filter that weighs in at only 1.6 ounces. You simply screw the filter on your Nalgene bottle, Dip the bottle in a water source, and then insert the Steripen and activate the device. The Steripen itself weighs 3.6 ounces, making the whole system only about 5 ounces of weight to throw in your pack. By filtering and purifying, the Classic 3 provides the ultimate level of water treatment in a lightweight, compact package.
The other legitimate critique of the device is that it is electronic, requires 4 AA batteries to work, and as an electronic device, it could fail. The good news is that one set of batteries is enough to filter about 50 liters of water, which is more than enough for most trips. Also, the Steripen is currently being utilized by everyone from thru-hikers, hardcore hunting guides, and other wilderness professionals. It is a well-made device that you can count on to work. As a backup, I do always recommend throwing a pack of water purifying drops or tablets in your pack. They are cheap, weigh almost nothing, and provide piece of mind in the event the Steripen stops working.
I think the Steripen Classic 3 is a great device. At about $70, the price is very competitive with other filtration systems and provides better quality of water. The size and weight are next to nothing, which makes it easy to add to your backcountry pack. In testing the device, I have found it to perform flawlessly, and look forward to putting it through its paces this spring and fall.