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Reviews > Water Treatment > Ultraviolet > SteriPEN Journey > Test Report by Pamela Wyant


Ultraviolet Handheld Water Purifier

SteriPEN Journey with protective cap

Initial Report - September 22, 2008
Field Report - November 25, 2008
Long Term Report - January 26, 2009

Tester Information:
Name:  Pam Wyant
Age:  51
Gender:  Female
Height:  5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)
Weight:  170 lb (77 kg)

E-mail address:  pamwyant(at)yahoo(dot)com
Location:  Western West Virginia, U.S.A.

Backpacking Background: 

Pursuing a long-time interest, I started backpacking four years ago, beginning with day-hiking and single overnights.  Currently I’m mostly a ‘weekend warrior’, hiking and backpacking mainly in the hills and valleys of West Virginia, but have started a project to section hike the Appalachian Trail (AT), accruing a little over 200 mi (300 km) in the last two years.  My usual shelter is a hammock, but occasionally I use a tent. In general my backpacking style is lightweight and minimalist and I try to cut as much pack weight as I can without sacrificing warmth, comfort, or safety.

Initial Report - September 22, 2008

Product Information:

Manufacturer:  Hydro-Photon Inc.
Year of manufacture:  2008
Model:  SteriPEN Journey LCD

MSRP:  US$ 99.95

Listed weight: 
4.5 oz (128 g)
Measured weight: 4.5 oz (128 g)
(includes batteries and lamp cover)

Measured accessory weights:
Neoprene case: 0.9 oz (26 g)
1 Liter water bottle: 4.9 oz (140 g)
Prefilter & assembly: 1.5 oz (42 g)
Pair of extra CR123 batteries:  1.2 oz (34 g)

Listed dimensions: 
Length: 7.3 in (18.6 cm)
Width: 1.6 in (4.1 cm)
Measured dimensions are
consistent with those listed.

SteriPEN and accessories

Product Description:

The SteriPEN Journey LCD is a portable ultraviolet water purifier designed to treat up to 1 L of water at a time.  In addition to purifying water in outdoor situations such as hiking and backpacking, it can be used to treat water while traveling in areas where water might be suspect.  The size and shape are convenient to pack, and the Journey weighs less than typical water filters.  The actual product is consistent with what I expected from the website description.

The SteriPEN website has some interesting and useful information on how the SteriPENs work, using UV-C light to render harmful micro-organisms sterile so that they cannot create reproduce to create havoc in the human digestive tract.  Of interest to me is how the SteriPEN is more effective on a wider range of micro-organisms than other methods of water treatment.  Filters often will not screen small viruses, while the SteriPEN is effective against them.  Chemical treatment can take up to 4 hours to incapacitate some protozoa such as Cryptosporidium, while the SteriPEN renders them sterile in 90 seconds.  Another simple option, boiling, takes time and extra fuel.  Hence, the SteriPEN seems like a great solution for effective, fast, easy, and relatively light weight treatment.

The Journey has a dark blue handle with a gray battery compartment cover at the lower end, which is held in place with a single screw that can be twisted open and closed with a coin or screwdriver.  A small semi-rectangular O-ring is positioned around the battery compartment area to help seal it when the lid is screwed in place.  An orange colored section on the front surrounds the LCD screen and the on button.  The screen is used to display several symbols to let the user know if the Journey is working properly, is set for the correct water volume, needs new batteries, etc.  Above the rubbery gray treatment button are the words "Push once for 1 L Push twice for 0.5 L".  And that is pretty much how simple it is to treat water. 

Two small sections of a gray rubbery material are inset into the sides of the handle, which provide a good gripping surface.  The rear of the handle has the company logo and the product name imprinted.

The lamp unit is positioned at the upper end of the handle.  The lamp has a thin elongated U-shaped tube that glows bright blue when treating water, covered by a larger clear optical grade quartz tube (similar in size and appearance to a test tube).  Quartz is one of the few materials that UV-C light will pass through, hence its use to protect the lamp.  At the base of the lamp are two small metal sensors embedded in a tapered rubbery base.  The sensors must be immersed fully for the lamp to work.

SteriPEN's website indicates that the lamp is safe when used with metal, ceramic, glass, and nearly all plastics since they and the surface of the water contain the UV light, and the lamp can even be looked at when in use.  It should not be use with quartz containers or some fluoropolymers in the Teflon family, both of which they state are unlikely to be used for drinking containers.

Pre-Filter unit piecesAn orange colored hard plastic protector snaps in place over the UV lamp and sensors to protect them when the unit is not in use.  A black Neoprene case with mesh sides and a hook and loop fastener to go over a belt is also included with the Journey.  The manufacturer website indicates that the SteriPEN can be taken on a plane with carry-on items, recommending that the user manual be taken to show what it is.

SteriPEN also sent me a Pre-Filter unit and a 1 L Nalgene style bottle imprinted with the SteriPEN name and directions on using the SteriPEN and Pre-Filter on one side and graduated measurements on the other side.  The directions appear to be for the SteriPEN classic or Adventurer since they refer to an indicator light that the Journey does not have.  The Pre-Filter unit (shown disassembled at the left) consists of a plastic fitting that screws onto a standard wide mouth bottle such as the one provided, and has a small filter insert with a 4 micron screen and a pull-top cap that fits into the center of the fitting.  The pull-top cap is used to allow air to escape while the water is trickling into the bottle from the filter.  The filter insert can be removed and the SteriPEN Journey will fit into the hole for treatment.  This allows the bottle to be held upside down and gently rocked instead of having to stir with the pen.  It seems this will be an advantage to help ensure the sensor pins remain immersed during treatment.  The Pre-Filter also will cover the threads on the wide-mouth water bottle and can prevent them from being contaminated if it is in place when the bottle is filled.  The Pre-Filter will sit on top of an energy drink style bottle, but will not screw into place.  It does not fit with a narrow mouth bottle such as the Platypus bladders.

Trying it out:

Used with filter assemblySteriPEN was kind enough to ship the unit to me with a set of batteries already in place, so trying it out was very simple after a quick reading of the included instructions.  The hardest part was pulling off the orange plastic protector, which pulls off rather than being threaded, and has a very tight fit.  The first time I took it off, I was afraid I would break the lamp before getting it loose.  This has gotten slightly easier as I've used it a few times, but it still seals very tight.

Basically, the button on the handle is pressed once for 1 L and twice for 0.5 L then the SteriPEN is inserted into the water container.  As soon as the button is pressed, the company's logo comes up for a brief period and then the dosage size and an empty timer ring appear.  I first used the included 1 L bottle with the Pre-Filter fitting in place, and simply inserted the pen in the middle and then turned the bottle upside down and rocked it gently.  The LCD screen then displayed and counted down the seconds remaining to complete the treatment in the center of the timer ring.  On completion of treatment a happy smiley face appeared at the top of the LCD screen indicating successful treatment.  The bottom of the LCD screen indicated a smiling cylinder, indicating good battery life.

I next tried it inside a 0.5 L Platypus bladder.  The pen fit perfectly inside the narrow mouthed opening, and the tapered base creates a seal that allows the Platypus to be turned upside down to allow the water to contact the sensor pins fully.  About an inch (2.5 cm) or so of the lamp tube protruded into the container past the bottle neck, so I was a little worried as to whether it would work, but I swirled the upside down container and the water seemed to treat properly, based on the happy smiling face symbol.

Used with Platypus bladder

Preliminary Impressions:

No water treatment system that I have found is completely perfect, but so far I am very impressed with the SteriPEN Journey LCD.  It was very simple and fast to use, and being quickly effective against all nasty organisms means I can be assured my drinking water is safe without the need to both filter and chemically treat for maximum safety.

A few cautions will be needed when the unit is in the field, which are detailed in the directions.  First, water needs to be clear to be effectively treated, hence pre-filtering may be necessary.  This should be relatively easy with the neat Pre-Filter unit, although the website indicates that water with silt too fine to filter out may need to settle before being treated. 

An additional caution is to keep the batteries warm since their performance can be adversely affected in cold weather, and to bring the Journey itself to a temperature above 32 F/0 C before using.  So, I won't be able to plan on filtering water first thing after a sub-freezing night and will need to plan to warm the unit up a little before using it.  The provided Neoprene case clipped onto my belt may be just the thing for that. 

Neither of these cautions are that unique, since filters also have to be protected from freezing and cloudy or dirty water should be pre-filtered when either a filter or chemical treatment is used, so they should not really be a down side to using the SteriPEN Journey LCD.

The one thing that I would like to see available is a Pre-Filter that would thread onto energy drink style bottles and narrow mouth bladders, since these are the types of containers I typically favor while backpacking.  I gave up carrying Nalgene style bottles long ago due to their weight, but I do plan on using the included bottle for at least part of the test due to the nifty Pre-Filter unit.  I will also be testing the SteriPEN Journey LCD with a variety of other water containers in order to determine my favorite method considering both ease of use and weight savings.

More To Come:

This concludes my Initial Report.

Field Report - November 25, 2008

Field Conditions and Use:

In early October I used the SteriPEN Journey on a 5 mi (8 km) day hike in central West Virginia.  I packed the SteriPEN and pre-filter unit in a large pocket on the front of my daypack along with my snacks for the day, and carried the Nalgene bottle provided in the body of the pack.  Temperatures were in the 60 F (15 C) range.  I used the Nalgene bottle and pre-filter to filter 1 L (1 qt) about a third of the way into the hike at a small clear running stream.  I found the bottle easy to fill, and the SteriPEN easy to use by removing the pre-filter from the threaded top that holds it, and inserting the SteriPEN in the resulting hole, turning the bottle upside down, and gently shaking it.

In late October I used the SteriPEN Journey on an overnight backpacking trip on the Kanawha Trace Trail.  Temperatures were in the high 40 F (9 C) range during the day, falling into the high 30 F (4 C) range during the night.  The hiking was relatively short, only about 5 mi (8 km) on the first day, and about 1 mi (1.5 km) on the second.  Due to the cooler temperatures and the short distance hiked, I didn't use a lot of water, and having carried in about 3 L (3 qt), I only treated 1/2 L (1 pint).  I opted not to bring the Nalgene bottle or pre-filter.  I tucked the SteriPEN in its Neoprene case on the inside of my pack between my food stuff sack and my ditty bag stuff sack which contained a few odds and ends as well as a hat and gloves.  It was easy to carry and relatively protected and arrived at camp intact.

The water came from a hand-pumped well near a shelter, and was slightly discolored in appearance.  I first started to treat the water in the energy drink bottle I normally carry, but found that the SteriPEN would not work well with this type of bottle.  The mouth of the bottle was not wide enough to insert the pen far enough to cover the sensors for stirring, and yet it was too large to form a seal around the pen in order to turn it upside down to shake.  I ended up borrowing a friend's 1/2 L Nalgene bottle, which had a mouth wide enough to insert the pen, immerse the sensors, and stir the water.

Experiences and Conclusions:

So far the SteriPEN has worked reliably each time I have used it.  I think it is a little more secure to use with the Nalgene bottle and pre-filter assembly since I don't have to be as careful to make sure the threads stay in contact with the water while shaking an upside down container as I do while stirring the water in a right side up one.  It's also probably a bit more effective since untreated water does not touch the threads of the actual bottle when the pre-filter assembly is in place

The SteriPEN Journey has been easy to carry.  At first as I worried about it being fragile and needing to be carefully packed, but while I've been cautious not to pack it where it is likely to suffer a direct impact if I casually toss my pack down, I've found it easy to tuck into a space between a couple of stuff sacks or in with my snacks for safe transport.

I really like the way the sloped base of the lamp fits snuggly into the pre-filter assembly once the filter is removed, or into the mouth of a standard 0.5 L (1 pint) water bottle.  I do wish it worked with an energy drink bottle though, since I prefer their light weight over a heavier Nalgene.  These seem to be pretty popular with other light weight hikers too, so Hydro-Photon may want to consider making a pre-filter unit to specifically fit this type of bottle.

The LCD display is clear and easy to read, and so far has been all smiley faces.  I also really like that the directions are printed right above the on button - "push once for 1 L, push twice for 0.5 L".  This means right from the start I never needed to carry the instructions, which I appreciate.  I also like that the protective lamp cap is bright orange.  This is a nice touch that makes it easier to spot the cap when I've laid it to the side among duff and small sticks or a clutter of other gear.  The cap remains a bit tight, which is probably a good thing as it does not accidentally dislodge in my pack, but thankfully it is a little easier to pull off than it was the first time I tried it.


So far the SteriPEN Journey seems to provide a nice balance of ease of use, quick effectiveness, and reasonable carry weight.  The unit has been well designed for convenience, from little details like the easy to spot color of the lamp cap and the way the base of the lamp slopes to fit snuggly into a bottle mouth to more integral parts of the design such as the easy to read screen, conveniently located directions, and easy to press on button.

The provided pre-filter assembly is an ingenious idea that makes the Journey simple to treat a liter/quart of water with minimal fuss.  It's great to be able to drink safe water as quickly as 48 seconds after filling my water bottle, without the tiresome process of pumping a filter.

The one recommendation I have for improvement is to make a pre-filter assembly to fit standard energy drink bottles.

More to Come:

This concludes my Field Report.  Please check back in early February for final testing conclusions.

Long Term Report - January 26, 2009

Field Conditions and Use:

Treating water in the snowIn mid-December I used the SteriPEN with the provided Nalgene bottle and pre-filter unit on an overnight backpacking trip of approximately 9 mi (14 km) in the Wolf Gap/Big Schloss area along the border of Virginia and West Virginia.  It was definitely a frosty trip, with temperatures hovering just above freezing during the day and falling to around 20 F (-7 C) during the night.  There was about 1 in (2.5 cm) of snow on the ground and a lot of  ice on the tree branches.  With temperatures so cold, I was worried about keeping the SteriPEN and batteries warm enough to work properly, but this turned out not to be a problem.  Due to the cold conditions I did not use as much water as I would on a summer trip, so I found I didn't need a lot of water.  I only treated 1 L (about 1 qt), obtained from a flowing spring, for dinner the first day.  I used a shallow cup to collect the water and poured it over the pre-filter into the Nalgene bottle for treatment.  After filling the bottle, I took the pre-filter unit out, turned the SteriPEN on, inserted it in the opening, then turned the bottle upside down and gently rocked it as the SteriPEN treated the water.  In spite of having been in my pack all day in temperatures just above freezing, the SteriPEN worked reliably the first try and I got the happy smiling face symbol on the LCD screen. 

To keep the batteries in the SteriPEN from potentially draining during the night in temperatures around 20 F (-7 C), I wrapped the SteriPEN inside my hiking pants for cushioning and placed the bundle in a stuff sack that I placed beside me in my hammock.  At first I put the stuff sack under my sleeping quilt, but this kept the insulation too far from my body in that area for comfort, so I moved it out from under the quilt.  I was pleased that when I treated 2 L (about 2 qt) from the same spring the next morning the unit still worked great!  About the only problem I had was determining what to do with the various pieces I used in the treatment process since the spring was on sloping ground and anything I laid down had the potential to roll down into the stream and become contaminated. It's a bit of a juggling act to handle the treatment bottle, the bladder from my hydration system, the pre-filter unit, the SteriPEN, SteriPEN cap, and the neoprene holster, especially when wearing a jacket with the pockets already stuffed with my warm gloves, and while standing on a sloping hillside.

Collecting water from a cold lakeIn mid January I took the SteriPEN on two day hikes.  One was to Charles Fork Lake in west/central West Virginia.  Since this hike was relatively short at only 4 mi (6.5 km), and I knew I could access the lake at several points, for my water needs I carried only an empty 0.5 L (about 1 pt) water bottle and a knee hi stocking to use over the top of it as a pre-filter when I filled the bottle from the lake.  The SteriPEN fit handily inside the main compartment of my relatively small fanny pack.  Not having to carry water made me feel like I could just fly up the trail unencumbered, which was a really good feeling.  I purposefully hit the trail a little thirsty, and soon dropped down to the lake to fill my bottle and treat it.  Here I ran into a few problems.

The day was about 20 F (-7 C) and it had been this cold for several days, so the lake was partially frozen around the edges.  I had to find a somewhat deep area along the bank and break ice to get to liquid water underneath.  This stirred up a little sediment from the larger pieces of ice moving around and touching bottom, so I chose a deeper spot and again broke ice to get to the water.  I proceeded to dunk the bottle, covered by the knee high, into the icy water.  The stocking really slowed down the speed of the water filling the small-mouthed bottle, so I had to help it along a little by pushing on the stocking at the top of the bottle to make it flow better.  This was still pretty slow, and my hand was getting pretty cold holding the bottle under the water, so I called it quits with the bottle about 2/3 full and decided that was enough to treat. 

Although the stocking kept out the larger sediment, the water still looked a little cloudy.  I pushed the button twice to get the 0.5 L setting, but apparently didn't push it quickly enough in between, so the setting stayed at 1 L.  I decided treating the water longer wouldn't be harmful and considering its cloudiness might be a good thing, so I went ahead and inserted the SteriPEN into the bottle mouth.  It snugly fits this size bottle, so I could turn the bottle upside down and shake it without worrying about drenching myself.  At the end of the treatment I got the happy smiley face.  I was still a little leery of the cloudy water, so I decided to treat it again for the proper time at the 0.5 L setting.  This time I pushed the button twice in rapid succession and it changed from the 1 L to 0.5 L properly, and I treated the water in the same manner and got the smiley face again, indicating proper treatment. 

Treating lake waterAh, ready to drink.  What I hadn't counted on was that the lake water simply tasted nasty.  It had an earthy taste, and I wasn't sure if this was from stirred up sediment, fish living in the water, or something else.  I took a couple of sips to give it a proper test, but poured the rest out.  I was glad it was a short hike in cold weather and the couple of sips were enough to get me through.

The second day hike was about 3 mi (5 km) in a nearby State Forest.  Temperatures were around 30 F (-1 C) I took a 0.5 L (about 1 pt) water bladder, and was able to obtain good drinking water from a small stream, using a small plastic cup to fill the bladder.  I did not use any sort of pre-filter since the water was clean and clear.  This worked much better than my previous experience of dunking the small mouthed bottle.  Again, the SteriPEN worked reliably and soon I was contentedly sipping nice cold stream water.

Experiences and Conclusions:

From the trips I've taken, I've learned that even though it's so easy and fast to treat water with the SteriPEN, I want to make sure I have a good tasty water source before I decide not to pack at least a liter of water.  I'd never really had to treat lake water before because stream water is so prevalent in West Virginia, and I simply had not thought that the taste of the water might be so objectionable that even if a water source was present I might not want to drink it after treatment.  So while the SteriPEN could in theory save me from having to carry any water, in some areas I hike that simply isn't practical.  When there are good sources, the ease and convenience of the SteriPEN means I can carry a lot less water than I normally would if I am using a filter or chemicals.  With a filter the inconvenience of having to assemble, pump, drain, clean, and pack it up means I try to carry enough water to last through most of the day, or not have to filter more than once while hiking.  With chemicals I have a wait period, which means I am carrying extra water so that I always have some in reserve to use while the chemicals treat the new batch.

I was really pleased with the battery performance of the SteriPEN.  I did not get to use it as much as I had hoped due to the time of the year the test ended up spanning, but I did not have to change the batteries at all, even using it in cold temperatures and leaving the batteries in the unit over the entire test period.  Apparently the SteriPEN does not drain the batteries when not in use, so it's good to know that unless I am storing it for more than a few weeks I don't have to take the batteries out to spare them.
Convenient to pack
The SteriPEN works most conveniently with a Nalgene bottle and pre-filter assembly since that's the easiest way to get rid of the floaties and make sure that threads of the bottle aren't contaminated and the water is swirled thoroughly to expose all the nasties to the UV light.  It also works pretty conveniently with a standard 0.5 L (about 1 pt) water bottle  or a small mouthed water bladder as long as the water doesn't need pre-filtering.

The SteriPEN Journey has been very easy to pack and carry.  On the backpacking trip I carried it in the front pocket of my pack, tucked between the folds of my hammock tarp.  The Neoprene holster has been sufficient padding when carrying it in my fanny pack or day pack and the rigid protective cap has kept the lamp safe and unbroken.  The design makes the SteriPEN pretty sturdy and I've found no need to worry about treating it as if it were made of eggshells and likely to crack at the slightest provocation.

I also like how the LCD display makes it simple to make sure the treatment is for the right length of time for the amount of water, and to make sure the treatment was effective.  The directions printed right above the on button as a reminder are also very handy.  And, as I found before, having the cap that protects the lens in bright orange makes it a lot easier to find when I've laid it down somewhere on the ground as I'm treating water.


Happy smiling face for successful treatmentOver the course of the test I only needed to treat about 6 L (about 6 qt) of water during my hiking and backpacking, mainly due to using less water in colder weather and a lack of water in some areas where I hiked which meant I had to carry in my water in these areas.  I also treated about 3 L (about 3 qt) trying the unit at home.  While I had hoped to treat more, I found the SteriPEN Journey was really convenient to use, easy to pack and carry, and efficient.  It also worked much better in sub-freezing temperatures than I expected it would.  I was really pleased that even with lows at 20 F (-7 C) I did not have to spend a lot of effort getting the unit warm before I could use it.  The simple precaution of wrapping it in some clothing that I kept by my side during the night kept it warm enough to operate effectively the next morning.

I really like the way the base of the lamp fits snuggly into a small mouthed water bottle or bladder and the center of the pre-filter housing making it convenient to rock or shake the water while it is being treated instead of having to stir it.  I only wish that SteriPEN made a pre-filter unit that would fit an energy drink style bottle since I prefer using that type of bottle for the weight savings when I am backpacking.

I have also enjoyed being able to drink safe water so quickly after collecting it, with minimal fuss and effort.  Being able to check the LCD screen to make sure the proper treatment time is selected for the volume of water and that the treatment was effective has been very reassuring.

I plan to continue using the SteriPEN Journey for all my future backpacking trips and on longer day hikes.  I'm sold on its convenience, light weight, and efficiency.

This concludes the test series.

Thanks to Hydro-Photon and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test the SteriPEN Journey LCD.

Read more gear reviews by Pamela Wyant

Reviews > Water Treatment > Ultraviolet > SteriPEN Journey > Test Report by Pamela Wyant

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