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Reviews > Water Treatment > Ultraviolet > SteriPen Adventurer > Colleen Porter > Test Report by Colleen PorterSteriPEN Adventurer Water Sterilizer
Initial Report - December 8, 2006
Field Report - March 5, 2007
Long Term Report - May 1, 2007
been backpacking for about 11
years. I used to pack HEAVY, but then I
had kids. So to bring them backpacking I
reduced my pack weight drastically, and I’m now a quasi-ultralighter
11 lbs/5 kg solo base pack weight). I
sew some of my own gear (tarps, tents, down jacket).
I mostly backpack in the mountains &
deserts of southern California,
with occasional jaunts to adjacent states.
The charging case (open) at top left, wand and cap in center, neoprene case on right,
and nylon carrying case on bottom left.
Initial Report - December 8, 2006
I've only used ceramic filters (MSR Miniworks & EX) and chemical treatment (iodine, Aqua Mira) to treat my water. Compared to those, the SteriPEN concept seems like science fiction – didn't they do this on Star Trek? The wand's UV light renders viruses and other "bugs" in the water unable to reproduce.
I immediately tried the Adventurer out in a bottle of tap water (I didn't have ready access to a "wild" water source). I did it in a darkened room in order to better observe the UV light. The light is blue and glows softly in the water. The bulb must be completely submerged in water in order to work, and must stay in the water until the light shuts off. For treating less than 16 oz/0.5 L of water, the sterilization time is 45 seconds. For testing between 16 oz/0.5 L and 32 oz/1 L, the sterilization time is around 1 minute and 27 seconds. SteriPEN suggests gently swishing the wand in the water during the sterilization process, which can cause a bit of water to slosh out of the top of the bottle if the bottle is close to full. The only problem I have had so far is that sometimes the starter button doesn't register that I have pressed it twice (one press for 1 liter, two presses for 0.5 liters), and so when that happens the UV light shines about twice as long as is necessary. On the handle, the button is labeled as such: "Push twice for 0.5 L Push once for 1 L." Once the button has been pushed, a small green indicator light comes on and blinks, meaning the wand is ready to be placed in the water.
The treatment causes no visible or taste-able change to the water. The process is silent, but puts off a fair amount of light and is very visible in dark conditions.
There is no pre-filter included with the Adventurer, so I will either have to drop $13 US on the SteriPEN brand pre-filter, or else play around with using a bandanna or something else as a filter. Some of my water sources will have debris and leaves floating in them, and others may have fine-grained silt, so some kind of pre-filtering will be necessary.
The solar charger unit is interesting. The lid is hinged and the hinge is designed so that the lid can sit open at a 45, 90, 135 or 180-degree angle. This is a cool accessory, but there is a caveat. According to the product literature, using solar power will take two days to fully recharge batteries under optimal conditions. Under less than ideal solar conditions, charging could take as long as 5 days (or longer under very poor conditions). For quick weekend trips this isn't an issue, but for longer hikes, like the Pacific Crest Trail, a backup pair of batteries (1.2 oz/34 g for the pair) in addition to the charger might be advisable. There is also a plug-in AC adaptor for at-home charging.
Solar charging case open to 45-degree angle,
with the Adventurer nestled inside.
Field Report - March 5, 2007
The Adventurer has proven to be a tough item to test - not because of any problems with the unit itself, but because we are currently having the driest winter ever on record. As of the beginning of February, we had less than 20% of what our average rainfall usually is by then. Creeks that should be running in flood by now were so dry the creekbeds cracked. I've gone on hikes every week, carrying the Adventurer and hoping to find water, but still carrying all the water I'll need because I know the chances of finding water are so remote. I did find water on two of these hikes - in the holding tank at Pigeon Spring (San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, in the Santa Ana mountains) and in lower Borrego Creek (Whiting Ranch Park, Orange County California). Unfortunately, the water at Pigeon Spring was clouded and smelled horrible, and the water in lower Borrego Creek was suburban runoff. I simply couldn't work up the courage to drink from those sources. There is a certain mental bias at work here as well - when I actually see water passing through some sort of filtration device, I have to believe that some of the disgusting stuff in the water (in addition to the parasites) is being removed. With the Adventurer, I know that the "bugs" in the water are being neutralized, but nothing has actually been removed. This may be slightly irrational, but it was enough to dissuade me from drinking the water in Borrego Creek, which I knew had to have pesticides, motor oil and soap in it in addition to any "bugs." The water at Pigeon Spring was what I call desperation water - only if I was in danger of death by dehydration. I would have been loathe to drink it even with a traditional filter.
But finally, within the last 10 days, we have had some rain. I dashed out in a desperate attempt to find water in the wilds. I found a small stream, dipped my bottle, pushed the button on the Adventurer, placed it in the bottle to treat the water - and then the battery died. I had made a test run on some water at home the night before, in order to make sure the batteries still had juice, but apparently they had only enough juice for the test run. Well, I had brought enough backup water that I wasn't in any trouble, but I did bring the "wild" water home so that I could treat it (after putting fresh batteries in the Adventurer), drink it, and offer myself up as a human guinea-pig. Hydro-Photon (the manufacturer of the Adventurer) was kind enough to supply me with an extra set of rechargable Lithium CR123A batteries, which were very easy to put in and worked right away. Since the Adventurer has been very lightly used in the last two months (though not for lack of trying), I must draw the conclusion that it is draining some energy out of the batteries even when not being used. I wonder if storing the Adventurer with the batteries removed is a better idea. I'll be trying this in the next two months.
I have found one problem with using the Steripen Adventurer so far. As a quasi-ultralighter, I have ditched heavy Nalgene-style quart/liter bottles, which weigh around 6 oz/170g, in favor of re-used Gatorade or Vitaminwater bottles, which also hold a quart but instead weigh around 1.5 oz/42.5 g. The problem here is that so far I have not been able to find a re-used, quart-size bottle whose opening is wide enough for the Adventurer to fit through! The Adventurer fits through the opening in a standard Nalgene quart/liter bottle with no problems, but rather than go back to carrying those I have elected to use a Nalgene Cantene, which has a wide opening but is lighter than the standard polycarbonate Nalgene bottles. The problem with this is that a water source has to be deep enough that I can dip the bottle in to fill it up. Very small creeks present a problem, as it is impossible to dip a bottle deep enough. I used a bandanna as a pre-filter, and because of the shallowness of the water there was simply not enough pressure to push water through the bandanna and into the bottle. If I had been carrying a small cup, I could have dipped the cup and then poured water through the bandanna and into the Cantene. It seems I've inadvertently stumbled onto the most clumsy way to use the Adventurer, and I'll have to keep experimenting to see which water containers & pre-filters work best overall.
However, I'm not giving up hope. This is a new process, a new technology for me, and so it's not surprising that I have to re-think the process of how I carry & treat water. The benefits of the Adventurer (light weight, speed of treatment) make it, in my opinion, worth the learning curve. Look for my Long term Report here in early May 2007.
Long-Term Report - May 1, 2007
Unfortunately, we have not had much more rain since I filed my Field Report. So even though I have spent numerous hours on the trail during the test period, I have been able to find suitable wild water exactly three times during the course of my testing. So even though I can't report on much actual outdoor use, I have been experimenting with the Adventurer & the battery charging unit at home, and this is where most of the test data will come from.
First, I have worked out a system that I am more or less pleased with for using the Adventurer. I took a quart-size Gatorade bottle (which the Adventurer will not fit into) and cut the neck off at a point where the bottle is large enough to allow the Adventurer to be inserted into the water. I can treat almost a whole quart in the bottle, and the altered bottle itself weighs only 1.1 oz/31 g. I carry it on the outside of my pack with a heavy-duty ponytail elastic and a mini carabiner (which I carry anyway). I also use the ponytail elastic to hold a bandanna in place over the opening when I need to pre-filter the water.
The biggest problem I have found with field use of the Adventurer is that most of my local water sources tend to be very small & shallow streams, and it is difficult to scoop up anything close to a full liter. The last stream was so small that I had to disturb the streambed and dig a small hole in order to dip the bottle deep enough to get even half of the bottle full. I may have to resort to carrying two treatment bottles - one to scoop up water, and one to collect water in for treatment.
Another problem is battery consumption. Remember, all of my testing was done with Tenergy brand rechargeable lithium 750mAh CR123A batteries. I have been told that 900mAh batteries have proven to be much more reliable than the 750mAh's, but I have tested the Adventurer with the batteries that were provided to me by the manufacturer. The Adventurer definitely drains the batteries even when not being used, and it seems to do this very quickly. I stopped storing the Adventurer with the batteries in, because without fail the batteries were dead or close to it every time I went to use it after it being put away for a couple of weeks. I would actually recommend only putting the batteries in when the Adventurer needs to be used, then taking them back out again, as even this tiny bit of energy savings could net one additional treatment before needing to replace the batteries. When using the Adventurer repeatedly the batteries get hot to the touch - not hot enough to burn, but enough so that even the outside top of the Adventurer is noticeably hotter than the rest of the unit. I have also found that the rechargeable batteries do not provide as many uses per charge as claimed in the Adventurer literature. In my test runs, I have never been able to get more than 20 liter-dose uses out of a charged pair of batteries.
Aside from the battery issues, the only other problem I have encountered is purely theoretical. There is a small o-ring that forms a seal where the battery compartment lid comes off. This o-ring sometimes gets twisted while the lid is off. Very easy to fix, but something that users should keep an eye out for as it could potentially make it easier for water to get into the battery compartment. The Adventurer is made to be placed in water, but the instructions request that it not be completely immersed.
Finally, a purely cosmetic note. The matte finish on the black portions of the Adventurer has begun to chip off in a few places, revealing a shinier black finish underneath. Also, the black finish on the ring around the screw that holds the battery compartment in place has begin to chip just a bit, revealing the yellow finish underneath.
Pros: fast, light, small, effective, no taste
Cons: battery consumption, o-ring tends to twist (easily fixed, but requires some diligence), ineffective in clouded or almost freezing water, deeper water sources are more convenient for this kind of water treatment
Thanks to Hydro-Photon and Backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to test this fascinating bit of technology.
Read more gear reviews by Colleen Porter
Reviews > Water Treatment > Ultraviolet > SteriPen Adventurer > Colleen Porter > Test Report by Colleen Porter
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