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Reviews > Water Treatment > Ultraviolet > SteriPEN Journey > Test Report by Derek Hansen
SteriPEN Journey LCD
HANDHELD WATER PURIFIER
Test Series by Derek Hansen
20 Sep 2008
The SteriPEN Journey LCD showing the protective plastic cap removed and the black neoprene case. The two water sensors are indicated by the arrow. The batteries are included with the Journey. The Bic-brand lighter and ruler are just shown for scale and measurement purposes only.
A new product for 2008 from Hydro-Photon, Inc.—the SteriPEN Journey LCD (hereafter referred as Journey or SteriPEN). The Journey is a handheld water purifier utilizing ultraviolet (UV) light to “[destroy] viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.” The Journey comes packaged in an attractive box and comes with the SteriPEN product, a neoprene carrying case, a user guide, and two disposable Lithium batteries.
The Journey is shaped like a wand and is ergonomically molded for easy handling. The product has a dark blue handle with orange and gray highlights. The wand cover is also orange. At the base of the UV-light wand are two small metal water-sensors. Below the sensors is a gray tapered rubber neck. On the sides of the handle are two small rubber pads for thumb and finger gripping. On the side opposite the rubber grips is the LCD screen and operating on/off button. Simple operating instructions are printed near the gray operating button.
On the bottom of the Journey is the battery case. There is a single screw that holds the battery lid closed. There is a small black rubber ring that helps to seal the battery lid when it is secured.
The included user guide is detailed and covered everything I might want to know regarding the SteriPEN, but the operating instructions are actually quite simple. In fact, the instructions are printed directly on the pen: “Push once for 1 L (33.8 fl oz); push twice for 0.5 L (16.9 fl oz)” In addition to the simple operating instructions, the Journey also features simple universal display symbols that appear in the LCD to indicate the volume selected (1 L/33.8 fl oz or 0.5 L 19.6 fl oz), the countdown timer, battery life, and lamp life.
On the packaging is printed the “three easy steps” to operate the SteriPEN Journey: push the on/off button to select volume and activate; place the lamp in clear water; stir until LCD screen indicates dose completed.” The user guide includes instructions for installing the included batteries as well as details on the LCD screen’s universal symbols. The user guide instructions are printed in English, German, Spanish, and French on one large sheet that is folded down to pocket size.
I visited the SteriPEN website a few times to learn more about how the product works and I found the frequently asked questions section very informative. The website also has a product comparison chart to see the other models available from the manufacturer.
SETUP AND USAGE
The battery enclosure is easily opened with a coin. There is a small rubber ring that helps to seal the case, but it is not waterproof. After first opening with a coin, I was able to easily open the case with my fingernail.
The SteriPEN Journey is simple to set up. Using a small coin or screwdriver, loosen the screw holding the battery compartment closed. Once opened, place the included lithium batteries into place, following the instructions printed directly on the SteriPEN. The operating instructions are printed directly on the SteriPEN. To use, first push the button once or twice for the chosen volume level and then “dip the UV lamp into the water to be treated so the lamp and water sensors are completely immersed.” When water is detected, the lamp turns on automatically and the LCD will indicate a progress timer and other symbols.
One note about the battery cover and tightening screw. When I received the product to test, the manufacturer had already installed the batteries as a courtesy. When I tried to open the case for the first time, I tried using my fingernail, which didn’t work. The screw was very tight, so I used a tool instead. Opening was easy enough, but when I closed the battery case and tightened the screw, I made one too many turns and the screw “popped,” obviously slipping on the threads. The user guide warns about over-tightening, and it appeared that I had done so inadvertently. It was surprisingly easy to over-tighten, and perhaps I don’t know my own strength. The case is not damaged and the lid remains secure, but I know I must be careful in the future so I do not strip out the threads completely.
When taking out the batteries, the small black rubber “O-ring” popped out. It took some dexterity to get the ring back in, primarily because the ring has small rubber points that fit into holes in the side of the case. The batter cover, once installed, does not make a completely water-tight seal and the user guide warns about water entering the battery chamber. The SteriPEN battery enclosure is not water tight, and I had to satisfy myself with a “soft seal” when I realized the fastening screw could not be overly tight.
The SteriPEN fits easily into the included neoprene case which has a hook-and-loop fastener to attach to a belt loop or strap.
In my excitement to test the product, I pulled out several plastic water containers to give it a try, including a recycled 0.5 L (16.9 fl oz) bottled water container. Perhaps instinctively, I put the UV light bulb/wand directly into the filled water bottle and pressed the button twice for 0.5 L (16.9 fl oz). The LCD indicator came back with a frowning face. I tried this again a few times and even checked the battery wondering why this brand-new product wasn’t working. I finally read the guide and realized my mistake: press the button before placing the wand in the water. I tried again using the correct method and the SteriPEN worked as indicated.
I should also note that the orange plastic wand cover was difficult to remove. In fact, I worried that the force I applied might damage the UV light wand. The cap doesn’t twist off, it pops off. I pulled straight out and eventually got the cap off, but it was difficult. So far, I’ve seen no damage to the wand.
The simple instructions and combined LCD screen make usage a snap. 1.) Instructions on the SteriPEN 2.) The sad face when I attempted to start the Journey while in the water—don’t do this; always push the button before putting it in the water. 3.) 1 L (33.8 fl oz) indicator. 4.) 0.5 L (19.6 fl oz) indicator. 5.) The countdown timer. 6.) Treatment complete with happy battery to boot!
The first thing I noticed in the LCD screen was the dose activation showing “1/2 L” and then the “purification timer progress” symbol animated a countdown timer, showing the number of seconds remaining in the cycle. After the cycle was complete, the LCD showed a smiling face in a circle and a smiling battery symbol, indicating the dose was complete and the battery is good. I tried this process over and over on a few containers including a 1 L (33.8 fl oz) Nalgene bottle, recycled 1L (33.8 fl oz) and 0.5L (16.9 fl oz) energy drink bottles, a recycled 0.5 L (16.9 fl oz) bottled water container, and a 2.5 L (85 fl oz) Platypus bottle.
The Journey fit in all the bottles I tested: A.) The SteriPEN fits snugly on a 0.5 L (16.9 fl oz) bottled water container; B. & C.) Recycled 0.5 L (16.9 fl oz) and 1 L (33.8 fl oz) recycled energy drink bottles provide room to twirl the wand; and D.) a 2.5 L (85 fl oz) Platypus bottle. The Platypus bottle fit was snug, but did not provide much room to twirl, but shaking and moving the water about was easy enough.
After my first operational faux-pas, I read through the entire user guide and learned one or two more important facts. First, the SteriPEN does not purify the threads of a water bottle. This may be obvious, but it is important because all efforts to purify the water in a container can be thwarted by water-born pathogens in un-treated water on the bottle threads. The manufacturer recommends using a finger or a piece of cloth such as a bandana to wipe off the threads of a bottle before drinking.
The manufacturer sells an accessory that aims at solving this issue:
I was given a Pre-Filter as part of my test kit, and while I may use it, I will not be reviewing this piece of gear as it is outside the scope of my test. I plan on pre-filtering my water with either the SteriPEN Pre Filter I was provided, or a simple home-made screen. I will also take care to wipe off the threads before drinking.
The manufacturer also has a few more warnings in relation to the SteriPEN that I found interesting and/or important to this test. First, the Journey is not designed to purify murky water. The user guide reveals the reason is because the particles may render the UV light less-effective. While there are instruments to measure the turbidity of water, the guide gives some layman language as a guide such as “obviously not clear,” “obviously cloudy,” and “as cloudy as weak lemonade.” If pre-filtering and source selection does not provide “clear” water to treat, the manufacturer recommends performing multiple treatments to the water.
Also good to know: do not use the Journey as a light source and do not insert into bodily orifices. Check. Check.
Overall, I am impressed with how the Journey operates with its simple push-to-operate instructions and easy-to-understand LCD symbols. Also, it's FAST! One minute and 30 seconds for 1 L (33.8 fl oz) is remarkable.
This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be appended to this report in about two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for more information.
I would like to thank Hydro-Photon, Inc., and BackpackGearTest.org for providing me with the opportunity to test this product.
26 Nov 2008
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
26-27 Sep 2008: Appalachian Trail (AT), near Bluemont, Virginia. Drizzly rain and thick fog with an overnight temperature of 55 F (13 C). The next day was clear and warm with high about 75 F (24 C). This section of the AT was very rocky with several “pointless ups and downs” (PUDS) earning the monicker, “the roller-coaster.” I enjoyed a peaceful night in my hammock. There were plenty of water crossings along the trail and I used the SteriPEN multiple times to treat not only my own water, but also several containers for the Boy Scouts.
10-11 Oct 2008: George Washington National Forest, near Front Royal, Virginia. This was a beautiful day with a high of 74 F (23 C) and 45 F (7 C) for the low. I took the day off on Friday and took a friend backpacking. This was his first time backpacking and his first time sleeping in a hammock (he was a little cold, unfortunately). Water was sparse on the Signal Knob Trail, but I was able to purify water at a small creek we found on the other side of the mountain. Although the water wasn’t running very clear, we were both grateful for the drink because we were getting dehydrated.
21-22 Nov 2008: Prince William Forest Park, near Dumfries, Virginia. Clear and very cold conditions with a low of 15 F (-9 C) and a high of 42 F (6 C). Had some brand-new Scouts with us and we did a hike around the park. I slept under a tarp this time because hammocks were not allowed in the backcountry area. There were a few creeks still running with water that I was able to make use of on the hike.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Taking the Scouts on the Appalachian Trail was a real treat and one they will remember for some time I hope. Our night was spent near a stream where we had relatively easy access to water in the morning. The young men opted to skip making their breakfast (cereal with powdered milk) while the adults cooked a delicious meal of biscuits and gravy (aren’t backcountry ovens great?). I refilled two extra water bottles for the Scouts in addition to my own in the morning and I was competing with my Assistant Scoutmaster who brought along a pump filter. I noticed that the SteriPEN took about the same amount of time to treat 1 L (34 fl oz) as the pump filter, but it was helpful to have a few methods going to speed our trip in the morning.
On our first big water break down the trail, I treated seven containers (most were 1 L (34 fl oz), including my own 2 L (68 fl oz) Platypus and my 25 fl oz (730 ml) steel water bottle. The Scouts had fun twirling the SteriPEN in their own containers as I talked about treatment methods. Some Scouts had already added some drink packets into their water, so I dutifully treated those containers twice since it was less transparent. After filling and treating my 2 L (68 fl oz), I decided that it was kind of a pain to hold the Platypus upside down for four minutes while trying to agitate the bag and hold the SteriPEN in place. Using the SteriPEN in a smaller container, or one with a wide-mouth opening, was much easier. I treated my 2 L (68 fl oz) Platypus last after helping the Scouts, but everyone was already hitched up and on the trail while I was left twirling the SteriPEN.
The SteriPEN performed wonderfully on this first trek. I noticed no aftertaste and, thankfully, no one felt ill from the water.
In October, I had a blast backpacking with a friend in the George Washington National Forest. I felt confident we would find water on the backside of the mountain from what I could tell from the topo map I brought with us. I only brought 3 L (101 fl oz) with me and I needed every drop. The first part of the hike was absolutely spectacular, but both of us ran out of water and were dehydrated by the time we came back down the other side of the mountain. The water source we eventually found was a small, debris-filled creek that eventually drained into a reservoir. Our hike wouldn’t bring us to the reservoir so we followed the creek looking for an open patch where we could draw water. I’ll admit I wasn’t looking forward to drinking this water, but as it was the only source we encountered, we didn’t have much choice. After crossing this creek, the trail went back up the mountain where we planned to camp, so we had to take what water we could get.
Where the trail eventually crossed the creek, I found a spot where I could collect water. Using a 1 gallon (4 L) plastic bag, I was able to collect water and then strained it into our water containers. The creek opened up in this spot so it wasn’t as bad getting the water as I had thought, but I knew where this water had come from, so I put a lot of faith in our treatment methods. I used the SteriPEN to treat 4 L (135 fl oz) of water between the two of us. We drank much of this water immediately. It was nice to have a quick method, relatively speaking, so we could hydrate. Once filled with water, I refilled and treated another 3 L (101 fl oz) in the smaller bottles we had with us. For my larger 2 L (68 fl oz) Platypus, I opted not to use the SteriPEN and instead used chlorine dioxide drops. Since I wasn’t drinking this water immediately, I could put it back in my pack and let it treat while we hiked. I preferred this to holding the flexible plastic bladder upside down and twirling it as I had done before.
In November I took the Scouts backpacking in the Prince William Forest Park. With the new Scouts, we opted to leave the heavy packs and do a circuit hike. The boys enjoyed the trail, and with all the leaf litter, we were able to help most identify the native plants to pass off additional requirements. There were a few streams along the path and I needed to refill my 25 fl oz (730 ml) steel water bottle. The streams were almost saturated with leaf litter, but I did find a spot that was clear and open. The treated water had a slight “leafy” taste, but otherwise was fine. I have come to expect that the SteriPEN leaves no aftertaste or smell.
The only thing of note was that the batteries died while trying to treat this water in November. The unit went through the start-up sequence and when I pushed the button again to start the treatment, the countdown began but stopped shortly after. I got the “sad face” indicator and “sad battery” signal. At first I was disappointed that the batteries were gone so soon (since September), but after a rough count of all the usage I had out of it (~35-40), I think the batteries have done fine. But since the unit came with the batteries installed, I have no way of knowing if they were used before I got the unit.
The new set of batteries worked fine, and I was able to use my fingernail to open the back case to extract the old batteries and retire them. The rubber o-ring popped out of place and it took a second or two to fiddle with it to get it right again.
FIELD USE SUMMARY
The SteriPEN has worked great over multiple uses. I am confident in its ability to purify the water and make it safe to drink. I love how quick it is to use without much effort, especially when purifying several bottles one right after the other. Where the SteriPEN was very useful was getting a liter (34 fl oz) ready to drink in a few minutes. And while it was possible to treat my 2 L (68 fl oz) Platypus bladder, the flexible plastic container and small opening made it difficult to hold and agitate. I found using chemical drops were more efficient at the time.
LONG TERM REPORT
31 Jan 2009
Field Locations and Conditions
28 Nov 2008: Pohick Bay Regional Park, Virginia. Deciduous forest with pine and holly intermixed. Elevation 500 ft (152 m). Temperature was a reasonable 40 F (7 C) with slight wind. This was a 4-mile (6 km) day hike with the family. I collected and treated water from one of the streams we crossed along the way.
27 Dec 2008: Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, north of St. George, Utah. Clear and cold conditions with about two feet (61 cm) of snow on the ground. I was going to attempt an overnight camp, but I wasn’t prepared for the deep snow (no snowshoes!), so this solo expedition (I was determined!) turned into a painful 6-mile (10 km) slog. The temperature hovered around 40 F (7 C) with a slight wind. The rough mountain landscape was punctuated with red cliff faces, juniper, pine, and cedar trees. Elevation was 4,500 ft (1,372 m).
14 Jan 2009: Bull Run Occoquan Trail, Virginia. I had a lot of free time in January, so I hiked 14 miles (22.5 k) of the BROT from Fountainhead Regional Park. Elevation was from sea level to about 500 ft (152 m). Deciduous forest with occasional pine and holly trees. This is a beautiful trail with lots of stream crossings and ample water. The trail was clear, which made hiking easy, but temperatures remained around 25 F (-4 C) during the hike with cooler wind gusts. I used the Journey to treat my 1 L (32 oz) Nalgene from one of the streams.
Performance In The Field
I packed very little water during our day hike in Pohick Bay and I was hopeful we would find water along the way. The first stream we crossed was filled with leaf litter and I had to hike upstream for a while before I could find a clear opening. The source looked pretty good and the Journey functioned great as I had expected. As we drew nearer to the bay, we crossed a connecting stream and saw some of the debris that was feeding into the stream. The mix of rusting metal and garbage made me think twice about drinking the water and I opted to abstain simply because we weren’t too far away from civilization.
I talked with my wife along the trail and I wondered about the different toxins and possible poisons in the water I almost drank. We speculated about how well any portable treatment would clear toxins in the water. Up to this point I have had no doubts about the reliability of the SteriPEN product, but I don’t think it was manufactured to clear toxins from the water.
I’ve carried the SteriPEN with me on a few other day hikes, most notably my overnight-turned-day-hike in Utah where conditions turned me back to the trail head. I was so excited to be among the red rocks of Southern Utah and took a chance to hit the trail while visiting family, but the area had been hit by an unprecedented amount of snow before I arrived making even the lower-elevations fill with snow. There were no water sources where I could use the SteriPEN, and in these conditions, I would have most likely had to melt snow. Even though I didn’t have a chance to use the Journey, I didn’t mind having the product in my backpack. It doesn’t weigh too much and I liked having the back-up water treatment.
On the Bull Run trail, I took WAY too much water with me, considering how many water sources are available. I hadn’t hiked the lower portion of the trail before and didn’t realize how many stream crossings there were and how the water was available so easily. After crossing a number of streams, I finally gave in and got rid of some of my water and began refilling as needed along the way.
From my experience back in November with dead batteries, I decided to keep the batteries in a separate bag and put them in the Journey only when I needed to use it. Using my fingernail again, I was able to easily open the case and insert the batteries. With the low temperature and wind chill, my hands were very cold and it took some time to get everything in place to treat the water. When the treatment was done, the battery indicator gave me a “straight face.” I wasn’t sure if the batteries were drained (I haven’t used the new batteries much), or if it was the cold. My guess is that it was the cold.
The best news about the SteriPEN Journey is that I feel confident that the unit works. I never got sick from the treated water I drank and I felt reassured with the research that has been done on the product. During my field usage, I was able to use the product many times, even successive uses when I treated many bottles at a time. The Journey worked well and was reliable, although I will always keep a spare set of batteries with me.
I think this product shines when treating one or two liters (32 or 64 oz) of water at a time. The wait is reasonably short and I can drink water fairly quickly. When I had to treat multiple liters/fl oz the process was tedious and didn’t really beat out other methods like chemical treatments or pump filters that my comrades used. In comparison to a pump, the Journey is light and streamlined and fits well in my pack. However, the SteriPEN is bulky and large compared to my usual chemical treatment.
When treating a large bottle with two liters (64 oz) or more of water, I will stick with chemical treatments, especially if I don’t need to drink the water immediately. Where water is plentiful and I can refill more often, the SteriPEN shines because I can drink immediately and not worry about waiting.
Worrying about battery life was a small issue for me, and I would consider carrying a spare set of batteries on every trek. I think the first set I had lasted pretty well considering how many times I used it, but I wasn’t able to really determine the absolute lifetime during my field use.
This concludes this test series. I would like to thank Hydro-Photon and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.Updated: Saturday, January 31, 2009 12:22:08 PM
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