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Reviews > Water Treatment > Ultraviolet > SteriPen Adventurer > Ralph Ditton > Test Report by Ralph Ditton

Hydro-Photon SteriPEN Adventurer Hand Held Water Purifier
(Accessory) Solar Charging Case

Review by Ralph Ditton
Initial Report: 12th December, 2006
Field Report: 25th February, 2007
Long Term Report: 27th April, 2007
Update: 26th August, 2008

Personal Information
Name: Ralph Ditton
Age: 55
Height: 1. 76 m (5 ft 9 in)
Weight: 73.5 kg (162 lb)
Email: rdassetts at optusnet dot com dot au
City: Perth. Western Australia. Australia

Backpacking Background
I have been walking the Bibbulmun Track over five years and the Coastal Plain Trail. My goal is to complete the 964 km (603 mi) Bibbulmun Track and become an End to End walker. I am nearly there.
I have evolved from being a heavyweight backpacker of approximately 28 kg (62 lb) including all my water and food to a mid-weight backpacker averaging 18 kg (40 lb). I am still trying to get lighter with better equipment. My trips range from overnighters to five days duration.
SteriPEN and pouch
SteriPEN and pouch
Product Information
Manufacturer: Hydro-Photon, Inc.
Year of manufacture: 2006.
Model: SteriPen Adventurer.
Country of manufacture: China.
Colour: Black and yellow.
MSRP: Not listed.

Solar Charging Case
Year of manufacture: 2006.
Country of manufacture: China.
Colour: Black.
MSRP: Not listed.

Product Specifications
SteriPen Adventurer
Listed weight:110 g (3.8 oz).
Battery type: CR123.
Voltage of battery: 3 volts.
Number of batteries needed: 2.
No specifications were provided for the Solar Charging Case.

My Measurements
SteriPEN Adventurer
Weight of SteriPEN with batteries: 100 g (3.5 oz).
Weight of SteriPEN pouch: 29 g (1 oz).
Weight of CR123 batteries (2): 34 g (1.2 0z).
Weight of cord/transformer: 70 g (2.5 oz).
Weight of Solar Charging Case: 160 g (5.6 oz).
Weight of Solar Charging Case cover: 25 g (0.9 oz).
Length of SteriPEN with cover on wand: 160 mm (6.3 in).
Length of SteriPEN without cover on: 152 mm (6 in).
Length of wand: 54 mm (2.1 in).
Height of handle: 36 mm (1.4 in).
Diameter of wand: 13 mm (0.5 in).
Solar Charging Case
Dimensions: 180 mm x 83 mm x 35 mm (7.1 in x 3.3 in x 1.4 in).

Product Description
The SteriPEN Adventurer hand held water purifier uses ultraviolet light to destroy the DNA of micro-organisms making them unable to reproduce and cause illness.
It works on two volumes of water, although there is nothing to say that it won't work on volumes in-between. The volumes are 0.5 L and 1 L (1.1 pint and 2.1 pint).
The instructions are to push the button twice for the smaller volume and once for the larger volume. There is a fifteen second window of opportunity to immerse the wand into the water. This activation of the button sets off a timer for the wand to light up after being immersed in the water to be purified. Should the fifteen seconds be exceeded, the process will not go ahead and the button-press has to be repeated.

The wand is made out of optical grade quartz and a few flouropolymers in the Teflon family. Inside the wand is a transparent u tube that carries the ultraviolet light.
The handle is comfortable in my hand with the button on the top easily operated by my thumb. There is only one button to operate the unit. Below the button is a light panel that lights up with different flashes indicating different stages of the operation.
button and light panel
button and light panel

The base of the SteriPEN has a coin screw on the battery end cap. Between the end cap and the rest of the handle, there is a rubber grommet to prevent moisture from entering the battery compartment. It appears that it wants to stay in place and not fall off when I hold the unit vertically with the cap off and battery compartment pointing towards the ground.
end cap and battery compartment
end cap and battery compartment
There is a little lug on the bottom of the end cap that slots into a groove in the handle making the end cap much more secure.
Tightening and unscrewing the coin screw is quite effortless when using a coin as a tool. I was able to do it also just using my fingernail.
operating the coin screw
operating the coin screw

The Solar Charging Case is both a carrying case and a battery charger. It is made from ABS plastic with foam inserts that have recesses that accept the SteriPEN with the lamp cover on.
To operate the unit, I have to orient the case towards the sun and open the lid up to an angle approximately equal to my latitude which is about 32 °. The lid will stay open about this angle, but for any other angle I would have to wedge an object into the "jaws" to maintain an angle as the lid wants to fall closed.
charging the batteries by solar power
charging the batteries by solar power

On the right hand end of the case there is a power socket and a LED light panel. This is for wall power only. The LED light will not operate when using solar power because the manufacturer does not want to divert any energy away from the batteries being charged.
According to the literature, batteries may require between 2 and 5 days to fully charge.
Going by our summer heat ranging from the mid 30's C to 43 C (93 F to 109 F), I doubt that it will take anywhere near that.

Expectations from the web site/Initial impressions
The web site had no information on the "Adventurer" model or the Solar Charging Case.
All that was mentioned was the "Classic" model so I had a rough idea of what to expect regarding the SteriPEN. A handle containing the power source and a wand that emitted (UV) light.
The Solar Charging Case came out of left field as I was not expecting it.

My initial impression of the SteriPEN was "wow". I checked it against the web picture of the "Classic" and noted the difference regarding the buttons and power source.
I was very apprehensive about trying to take the lamp cover off the wand. My first effort was to try and pull it off using different energy levels but not being too vigorous in case I damaged it. When I failed to remove the lamp cover I went in search of the instructions which was a sheet of paper measuring 725 mm x 460 mm (28.5 in x 18.1 in) folded up like a road map.
The instructions are in English, German, Spanish and French.
I had to remove the lamp cover in two stages. I had to gently "bend" upward until the lamp cover released with a click, then I removed the lamp cover. I did this a few times to get the hang of it.

The Solar Charging Case looked interesting. It came with a set of instructions measuring 305 mm x 460 mm (12 in x 18.1 in). Again the instructions were in English, German, Spanish and French.
Apart from being able to recharge the batteries from the sun, there was a power cord with an adapter that plugs into the wall socket.
Big problem. American plugs do not marry with Australian wall sockets.
incompatible power cord
incompatible power cord

Looks like I will be using the sun for my power source.
I tried out the unit on a litre of water from my home tap just to see the unit in action. There was a nice violet glow in the water and the unit switched off by itself after the appropriate time of 90 seconds.
There was no difference in the taste of the water and I did not expect there to be any either.
steripen working
steripen working

I was initially concerned with the safety of using UV light as a source. The manufacturer states that UV-C (which is a band of light between 290 nanometres and 100 nanometres) will not pass through most materials. The SteriPEN uses light at 254 nanometres. Drinking containers made from glass, ceramic, metal and nearly all plastics block UV-C transmission. Also, the underside of the air/water surface in a water container acts as a reflector for UV-C. In theory, I should be protected.

One year warranty against any manufacturing defect is very generous considering that it is Chinese made.

Things I like
  • Small and lightweight.
  • Ability to recharge the batteries by solar power.
Things I dislike
Nothing to date.

Thanks to Hydro-Photon and BackPackGearTesters for the opportunity to test this unit.

This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be amended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for further information.


Field Information
My testing area has been on the Coastal Plain Trail and the Avon Valley in the regions north and north east within 100 km (62 mi) of Perth.
The terrain
is hilly with a mixture of dense scrub, grass trees and prickly bushes. The altitude ranged from 10 metres to 270 metres (33 ft to 885.8 ft). As it is summer, the temperatures have been ranging from overnight lows of 18.9 C (66 F) to daytime highs in the high 30's C + (99 F +) with a recorded maximum by me using a Kestrel 3500 unit of 43.2 C (108 F).

The length of the trips have ranged from one day hikes to overnighters and I have been out in the field a total of eight days and five nights since my Initial Report.
The weather, from the above, is in the peak time of our summer so there is no water in the creeks as they only flow in autumn and winter when we get our rains. I had to resort to testing the unit with tank water found at campsites which came in a variety of colours and flavours due to the tannin of leaves and larvae of mosquitoes. The rainwater is collected from the roof of the campsite hut/shelter and is fed into a water tank at the side of the hut/shelter. There is minimal filtering of the rainwater. The rainwater seeps through a shade cloth stretched over the gutters. This is supposed to keep leaves, twigs and gum nuts out of the gutters and washing into the water tank.

Field Testing
At Prickly Bark on the Coastal Plain Trail I used the tank water which is very clear of any colour but does contain "wrigglies". I used my Trangia bowl that was 82 mm (3.2 in) deep and 180 mm (7 in) in diameter. I filled it up to about 50 mm (2 in) as that is the volume of 1 litre (2.1 pint).
I had great difficulty in trying to cover the water sensors. I could only achieve this by angling the SteriPen in such a way that the handle got wet about 1/2 way along the underside. The water sensors need to be in the water for the unit to operate. I was able to reduce the amount of a wet handle by gently tilting the bowl onto one edge so as not to spill the water. Only 10 mm (0.4 in) of the underside was immersed.
I did three water purifications of 1 litre (2.1 pints) volumes at the site on the first day.
The next day when I went to use the unit the Indicator LED was Red and fast flashing. This meant that the batteries were low. I put the batteries in the Solar Charger for 1 hour 22 minutes to see if I could get a small charge into the batteries. The temperature was 35.8 C (96.4 F) as measured by my Kestrel 3500 unit. When I took the batteries out, they were very hot to touch which I guess was from the sun. After inserting the batteries back into the unit I was able to do 1 Litre (2.1 pints) from the short solar charge. Out of curiosity I tried another purification process but after about fifteen seconds the red light came on in the flashing mode indicating low batteries. So at a pinch with about 1 1/2 hours of solar charge I can get one operation from the unit for 1 litre (2.1 pints) of water. As this was my first field exercise after a few trials at home, I had not done any charging of the batteries. I commenced to use it as received.
When I got home I used the home wall socket electricity to recharge the batteries. It took 3 hr 10 min to fully charge.  I had to purchase an adapter plug to accommodate the American wall socket fittings.
I have tried to use the SteriPEN inside my 2 litre (4.2 pint) Flexi Flask water bottle through the side cap opening. Needless to say I did spill some water as I had to lay the Flexi Flask on its side with the cap off, but the SteriPEN did fit through the opening and function as it should. I was limited as to the amount of swishing of the wand through the water to achieve an agitation of the water to ensure exposure of all water to germicidal UV light.
The next trip was an exercise in embarrassment. After fully charging the batteries I had a single test at home to make sure that all was working ok and it was. I left the batteries inside the SteriPEN after they were charged and a fortnight later I went on a day's Geocaching with two fellow testers. I took the SteriPEN along as I was going to find some water somewhere to work on. We were doing a couple of Geocaches in the Avon Valley and we returned to the picnic area where there was a water tank. Right, this will do me for a test. In the meantime the Park Ranger had turned up and was all for a chat with us. Whilst having a chat with us all, I got some water from the water tank into a container (a cut down plastic milk bottle that I carry food in). The water from the tank was the most vile I have ever seen in a long while. It had been heavily discoloured by tree leaves and the mosquitoes had made it their breeding ground, larvae wriggling around happy as pigs in mud. With the Park Ranger and two BGT testers looking on I inserted the SteriPEN into the murky depths of the water to purify it. (God it needed it).
To my embarrassment and ridicule from the other observers the green light came on for about four seconds and then went off. I pressed it again and the red flashing light came on indicating flat batteries. I took the unit out, dried the water sensors and retried again. The batteries had lost their charge whilst in the SteriPEN over a fortnight storage without use. The comments from the observers was not complementary.
Failure of the SteriPEN
Failure of SteriPEN

When I got home I recharged the unit from the wall power socket. This took over three hours to complete, so the batteries were very flat. After the charging process I then tested the SteriPEN on the water that I had brought home with me from the water tank in the Avon Valley including the mosquito larvae. I gave it about six burst of UV light to make sure that the bugs were neutralised and I did have a sip of the water. It was very unpleasant in taste but I did not get sick in any manner nor have I noticed any worms in my stools. The SteriPEN must have worked. There was no apparent effect on the mosquito larvae as they still happily wriggled around in the water and around the UV light source.
Avon Valley water
Avon Valley water

 Subsequent to this test I did test an additional number of volumes of water, ranging from a litre to a half litre (2.1 pints to 1.05 pints) at Prickly Bark. I did six tests over a fortnight period and the SteriPEN worked every time. The batteries kept their charge. As I was off for another weekend trip to the Moore River National Park camping ground I recharged the unit from the wall power source and the recharging took over three hours so the batteries must have been nearly flat.
The SteriPEN worked just fine on the camp water and I did not get sick, just bitten by sand flies.

Outcomes of Test Plan
The instructions provided by the manufacturer on how to operate the unit are clear and concise with no ambiguity. I was not left with the feeling of "What do they mean".
The SteriPEN is very user friendly provided the two water sensors are immersed. If they are not immersed there will be no lighting up of the tube with UV light.
I found the battery end cap very easy to remove and reattach. I can even unscrew and re screw the coin screw with my fingers without difficulty. The battery cap also locks into position by way of a little lug inside the end cap at the bottom. This lug fits into a small slot in the base of the handle. If I do not insert the lug into the slot first, I am unable to refit the end cap correctly.
The treatment cycle is self explanatory, press the button once or twice depending on the volume of water being purified to activate the wand. For really suspect water I always give the water and additional one or two burst of UV light for my peace of mind.
There is no facility such as a meter to indicate how much energy is left in the batteries. It is just a matter of press the button and if the light comes up red then the batteries are flat. There is no warning that they are on the way out. The UV light will either come on or it won't. In the manufacturers information sheet there is mention that many brands of CR123 batteries have built-in protection circuitry that instantly disables battery function when the batteries reach a specific low charge threshold.
Fortunately so far I have not dropped the unit accidentally so I do not have to worry if the unit has been damaged and I definitely intend to keep it that way.
The unit does not need a system reset, just batteries with plenty of stored energy.
I have found that I am limited to certain items that can hold water for the purification process due to the length of the wand, need for the water sensors to be covered by water and the diameter of the handle where the water sensors are. I do not carry wide mouth bottles, just Flexi Flask and bowls but the ideal container is my cut down plastic milk carton which I use to store food in. I have a number of these where I slip one over the top of another to protect food. The photo above is one of my cut down milk cartons.

Additional things I like
  • Able to obtain a quick single use charge to purify 1 L (2.1 pint) from the solar unit in under 1½ hours.
  • So far I have not been sick drinking the water purified by the UV light.
Additional things I dislike
  • The very sudden loss of power. I understand that it is to protect the battery circuitry. There is no warning.
One of the biggest concerns that I have with the SteriPEN is the power source. There appears to be a failure of the batteries to store energy for a long period of time whilst in the SteriPEN and it has not been used for at least two weeks. I now do a trial at home to see if it is working and just to make sure put it on the home power to recharge the day before going camping. Apart from this issue, the UV light appears to be working in that it does what it has to do to the "nasties" in the water as I have not become ill or noticed any worms in my stools. I do not know how scientific the timing of the UV light is to achieve what it is designed to do, i.e. 48 seconds and 90 seconds for the various volumes of water, but I am inclined to give really suspect looking water an additional burst. There is probably no scientific reason for this but it definitely makes me feel better.

This concluded my Field Report. The Long-Term Report should be completed by 8th May, 2007. Please check back then for further information

DATE: 27th April, 2007
Field Information
At the Frankland River Campsite on the Bibbulmun Track, location S 34 57° 003 E 116 48° 657 or 50 H 0482736 UTM 6132485 I went to use the SteriPEN on the camp tank water and river water which was fresh water this far up. As I was going to purify 1 l (2.1 pint) of water I pressed the button once and the light on the handle showed green. I  then immersed the SteriPEN into the water and there was a very brief flash of UV light from the wand then it went out. The Green light changed to a fast flashing red light. According to the manufacturer's information sheet this indicates that the batteries are low. I charged these batteries two days before at home from the wall socket power and left them out of the SteriPEN so there is no way that power should have been drained from them. Needless to say, I kept trying to operate the unit. I would get the initial green light but no flash of UV light. When I immersed the unit into water the green changed to a fast flashing red light. I tried pressing it twice for a ½ l (1.1 pint) but still got the same result. After each attempt I wiped the water sensors dry. This is twice now that the unit has failed to operate in the field. When I got home I tried it again with the same batteries and got the brief flash of UV light on the first try. I replaced the batteries with the other supplied set and the unit worked perfectly after two goes to get it working for both volumes of water. The first attempt I got the green light, brief flash of UV light then the fast flashing red light. My reaction was that the batteries had probably lost their charge since I received them as I had not recharged them. Gave it another go and got the usual green light, no flash of UV light and the fast flashing red light. Third attempt was success, Green light, and the UV light stayed on for the designated time for the volume of water I was experimenting with. In total I did six successful tests with the unit on batteries that had not been charged by me. I did not test until the batteries had run down. I just left it at that. It would appear that there is something wrong with one of the batteries that I was using initially because of the lack of power even though the recharging unit indicated that the batteries were full charged when the red light goes out after about three hours recharging. In hindsight, I should have given the batteries an immediate test after recharging to see if everything was in working order, but I failed to do so. To recharge the new set of batteries, I used the solar charger in the sun from 2.30 pm to 6 pm. The temperature over that time span ranged from 26.1 C to 27. 3 C (78.9 F to 81.1 F). Some time later, around 8.30 pm I tried out the unit for the different volumes of water, ½ l and 1 l (1.1 pint and 2.1 pint) and it worked every time without any mishap. I did four tests of the unit.

The next camping trip was to Mt. Cook where I had to battle the swarming bees to obtain water from the water tank tap at the campsite. The bees were waiting for spilled water as evidenced by the people who had used the tap beforehand. I filled my cut down milk container with water from the tank. I estimate that I collected around 1 l (1.1 pint). Considering my previous attempts at campsites, I was very nervous about whether the unit would work and I had two witnesses. One of the witnesses was there to take photos of the SteriPEN in operation. It was with great relief that the unit worked perfectly and I soon had a little crowd of people around me intrigued by the process.
SteriPen working in the field
                                             SteriPEN working in the field

In the above photo there is a slight blue tinge to the water. This is the UV light illuminating the water. The process took place around 1.30 pm inside the hut. After treating the water, I topped up my FlexiFlask from the cut down milk container. I drank the water on the return trip to the trail head without any ill effect.

My next field trip was a three day two night outing on the Coastal Plain Trail and water was only obtainable from water tanks. It rained just as we got home and has been non stop for over ten hours. (Typical).
I am pleased to report that the SteriPEN worked every time and I did not recharge the batteries since my previous outing twelve days earlier. I even left the batteries inside the unit. As my camping bowls are not deep enough for the treatment without tilting the bowl on one edge, I continued to use the cut down milk container which doubles as a lid for one of my food containers. The water was used for general drinking and hot for cups of soup and tea. There was the usual mosquito larvae present in the water which I filtered out through a piece of stocking.

After sorting out the power source problems, i.e. a faulty re-chargeable battery, the SteriPEN worked every time without fault. I have had confirmation from elsewhere that the silver 750 mA Tenergy batteries were often faulty. Were the bugs in the water rendered harmless? All that I can say is that after purifying the water and not boiling it for drinking purposes, I did not become ill.
This is a great lightweight unit that will go into my backpack for every outdoor venture that I will be undertaking.

Thank you Hydro-Photon for providing this item for testing.

UPDATE: 26th August, 2008

Since my last report in April, 2007, I have used the SteriPen on and off at various campsites around the Perth region.
I noticed that it had started to play up in that it took up to eight attempts to get the unit to complete a cycle.

The matter came to a head when I went on a five day trip to the Nuyts Wilderness and I needed the unit to purify the water from a stream that seeped out through a large sand dune formation.

The unit refused to work at all despite me trying well over thirty attempts to get the unit to function.
The batteries (rechargeable Tenergy 750 mAh) were fully charged and so were the spares. I had charged them a few days before hand and on the day I was leaving for the hike I checked the batteries with my "Battery Tester". I even swapped the batteries to see if the other set would work, but to no avail.

When I pushed the button to operate the unit, I would get a green LED flashing light. As soon as I immersed the unit into the water covering both sensors, the light went immediately to red, sometimes blinking, sometimes staying a solid red. I wiped the sensors every time before trying again and again.

According to the trouble shooting chart it means that the batteries were low. However, when I got home I tested the batteries with my "Battery Tester" and they still were fully charged.

I contacted the manufacturer Hydro-Photon in January, 2008 and advised them of my problem.
Hydro-Photon came back and stated, based on my description of the problem, that the rechargeable batteries that I was using were not able to function well with the Adventurer. The manufacturer had heard of similar issues from others who used the Tenergy 750 mAh Li-ion batteries.
They recommended switching to Tenergy 900 mAh Li-ion batteries which typically resolves this sort of problem. The writer who is their Technical Support Manager stated that he had personally tested the 750 mAh batteries and found that the quality from batch to batch is very inconsistent. The 900 mAh appear to be manufactured to tighter specifications.
They forwarded a set of two Tenergy 900 mAh batteries together with two sets of two Panasonic Lithium disposable batteries after failing to get their Australian distributor Sea to Summit to provide me with the replacement batteries.

I did try to purchase 900 mAh batteries at Battery World without any success as according to their data base, there were none in Australia. Probably why Sea to Summit couldn't provide them also.

As an aside, I note with great interest that now on the manufacturer's web site they state that SteriPen performance is significantly impacted by the quality of battery used and they recommend the use of Energizer batteries for optimum performance.

In between receiving the replacement batteries from America, Battery World got their hands on some 3 V Panasonic Industrial non-rechargeables and gave me a call.
I went to their Welshpool store and we tested the batteries against their super duper battery tester. The charge in both batteries came out at 3.3 V. They were fully charged. I tested the unit in front of two of their staff with tap water in a container.

I started the unit, got the green light, inserted it into the water and the UV light came on for 1 second before the red light came on flashing. We took the batteries out and measured the charge in them. Both batteries came out at 2.81 V. Both of the store people said that to draw such a huge amount of power out of the batteries in such a short time there must be a fault with the unit. We tried other Panasonic batteries with exactly the same result.

Next, we tried a lithium set that they got their hands on also and all it did was light up the green light and went  to red when inserted into the water. Same thing as far as power drain on the batteries.

Upon receipt of the batteries from the manufacturer I tried out the SteriPen with them.
The unit worked for the 0.5 L when I pushed the button twice for that volume but did not work for the 1 L when I pushed the button once. The indicator light started off green, but as soon as I immersed the unit in the water the light went to red.
Once it stayed a solid red and the only way to turn it off was to remove the end cap to break the circuit.

I contacted the manufacturer and advised them of my problems. To their credit they posted a new SteriPen Adventurer to me which I received in late April, 2008. To date the unit has worked without any problems using the new batteries sent to me by the manufacturer.

One operation of the unit was most welcome as I retrieved water from a Gnamma hole (a natural fault in the rock that collects water) in a granite outcrop that showed signs of wild pigs drinking  from it going by the rooting around in the moist moss nearby. We covered up the Gnamma hole with rocks to preserve it from vermin wildlife.

                            covered up Gnamma hole
                                                                                   covered up Gnamma hole

At their request, I mailed the faulty unit back to them.

On the 2nd of August, 2008 I received word that my unit had water inside it so there was no way to positively identify the original problem.
This has me completely mystified as I was most meticulous in not immersing the unit too far so that water would not enter. All that I can think of is that there must have been a slight gap/broken seal where the wand exits the handle allowing moisture to enter into the unit.

I am extremely pleased with the after service that I received from Hydro-Photon and they answered my emails promptly They were a pleasure to do business with.
The person I was dealing with did not know that I was with BGT. I told him after I had received the replacement unit.
The long delay from me initially contacting Hydro-Photon and receiving the replacement unit can be laid at the door of Sea to Summit who had difficulty in obtaining any batteries and did not keep the manufacturer in the loop. Hydro-Photon had to keep chasing them up.

Read more gear reviews by Ralph Ditton

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