The SteriPEN: The Ultimate Ultralight Backpacking Water Purifier

As someone who loves gear and is always looking for the next greatest ultralight backpacking gizmo, I strongly recommend you consider the SteriPEN Adventurer.

SteriPEN by riverThis is Hydro-Photon, Inc’s newest iteration of its proven water purification system, which was first introduced in 2000. I own the first and second generation models, and if you look at an earlier review on this site, you will see that I really love them.

As an ultralight backpacker, the only reservation I’ve ever had has been the size and weight of the earlier versions (about 7.5 inches long and 7.2 ounces with four batteries).

Compared with other water purifiers this is not exactly “heavy,” but in my quest for everything ultra, ultralight, I always wished for a smaller, lighter version. And the Adventurer is it: 6.1 inches long and just 3.5 ounces (on my postal scale) with two lithium batteries; 4.5 ounces with carrying case. The carrying case is only necessary if you want to attach the Adventurer on your belt or the outside of your pack.

The SteriPEN uses ultraviolet light (UV) to purify water. You push the button once, immerse the UV lamp, stir continuously, and you’ve got one liter of pure, safe water in 90 seconds. For a half liter you push the button twice and wait only 48 seconds. You don’t need to remember whether to push once or twice because the instructions are printed above the activation button.

Adventurer and Second Generation SteriPEN What it Kills

The UV light destroys viruses, bacteria and protozoa (such as giardia and crypto), and according to company literature, exceeds U.S. EPA standards for microbiological water purifiers. The company also notes that numerous independent labs have proven its effectiveness (and it has been on the market for eight years).

Something Lighter?

The only water purification system I’ve ever seen that is lighter or smaller is iodine drops or tablets. Problem is, depending on the water temperature, you need to wait 20-30 minutes to drink after treatment and there is no guarantee that chlorine or iodine will kill cryptosporidium. Besides, who wants to wait? When you’re thirsty, you’re thirsty. Of course, you can always boil and wait. With the SteriPEN, you scoop up the water, give it a 48 or 90 second blast of UV and you’re on your way.

I’ve owned pumps, used iodine, tried in-line filters connected to water bags and none of them stack up to SteriPEN, especially the new ultralight backpacking and hiking model.

Field Testing

Since I haven’t taken it into the field yet, I can’t attest to the durability of the case and UV light cover, but it appears to be made of water-proof, high-impact plastic. I’ve dropped both of my other SteriPENs and have never had them break, so I assume they’ve made the Adventurer just as sturdy. The company notes that the U.S. military is using the Adventurer in various locations.

A Downside?

Disadvantages? Well, the company reports that like all pumps or chemical treatments, UV has a problem with treating murky or turbid water and recommend pre-filtering (with a bandana perhaps). However, the Hydro-Photon states that even with turbid water, two doses of UV light (perhaps three minutes worth) will make the water safe to drink.

Another option: Hydro-Photon has come up with a new product: a Nalgene bottle pre-filter. The Pre-Filter filters out particulates and debris. Fits on Nalgene® & wide-mouth water bottles. Water bottle pre-filter: $12.95. Weighs just 1.5 ounces.

As for battery life, my query to the company, drew this response: “In terms of the batteries, the CR123 disposable batteries will provide roughly 100 of the 0.5 L doses and the rechargeable CR123 batteries provide 60 0.5 L doses.”

adventurerinsolarcase.jpgThis is right in line with my second generation model, which I personally tested in my kitchen over two days. (I’ve also used it on dozens of backpacks over six or seven years). It produced 60 1-liter treatments before discharging, which should be adequate for a week-long backpack or more. For longer trips — say the AT, JMT or PCT — you’ve got an optional solar charging case at $49.95. The weight is more than 7 ounces. For an ultralight backpacker concerned about every ounce, this could eliminate the need for taking extra batteries which means extra weight. You would need to balance battery weight versus solar charger wait.

One last thing: the customer service is outstanding. My first generation had a “child lock” which I didn’t want and they immediately fixed it. And responses to my questions have been really fast.

Price: $99 suggested retail with carrying case and non-rechargeable batteries

Options to consider: solar charging case – $49.95

Video Demonstration: follow this link.

In the meantime …

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Backpacker Magazine 2008 Gear Guide Lists A Whopping 480 Bags

That number — 480 — is a bit overwhelming at first glance. But if you apply my 1-15 rule (your bag should not be over 1 pound, 15 ounces), you trim the choices to 129 sleeping bags.

To help pair this list down further, you need to consider temperature rating.

I own a Western Mountaineering Highlite, a 16 ounce, 38-degree bag. Inside the protection of a tent with a jacket, thermal bottoms and socks, I can get that bag down to a 20-25 degree rating. And my bag gets me through three seasons pretty nicely.

Honestly, there have been a few nights when I wished I had something a bit warmer, but I was only “chilly” at worst. You need to ask yourself if you really need a 20 or 30 degree rated bag, 0r if a higher rated, lighter model will do.

You’ve got to balance lightness versus comfort (and safety). There’s nothing worse than a cold, restless night on the trail. If you’re a warm sleeper you can probably get by on a higher temperated rate bag. If you get cold easily, then go for a lower rated bag.

Backpacker Magazine listed 45 bags with a temperature ratings of 30 degrees or less that meet the 1-15 rule. Only 13 bags on this list are rated at 20 degrees or below and still 1 pound, 15 ounces or less. Four of those are made by one company: Nunatak Gear LLC. The quest for lightness often comes with a hefty price tag as well with the 20-degree rated “Alpinist Nunatak” selling for $384.

Because bags are so well made and so light these days by comparison with just five years ago when I purchased my Highlite, I think I might consider a 20-degree bag for seven or eight extra ounces.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Big Sky’s Convertible an Ultralight Winner in the Backpacker Magazine Gear Guide Freestanding Tent Category

In the Backpacker Magazine 2008 Gear Guide is this year’s winner for lightest freestanding tent: the Big Sky International convertible 1-person tent at 1 pound, 12 ounces with tent, outer shell, and carbon fiber poles. Of course, the carbon fiber poles are an extra $100 and you need to add 2.7 ounces for stakes, 3.0 for rainfly and 3.o for ground cloth. That all adds up to 2 pounds, five ounces. Still, it meets my 2-15 rule (if it isn’t 2 pounds, 15 ounces or less it doesn’t qualify as ultralight backpacking equipment). Obviously, that’s arbitrary and some ultra, ultralighters are going to roll their eyes. You can go lower with tarps and bivy sacks, but tarps don’t keep out the bugs and bivvies are coffin-like.
Also worth a look: Big Agnes Seedhouse 1 and the Black Diamond OneShot.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Backpacker Magazine 2008 Gear Guide Lists 363 Tents; Few Meet the 2-15 Rule

Kudos to the editors at Backpacker Magazine who once again have created a must-have annual gear guide. This year, they review 621 packs, 483 boots, 363 tents, 480 sleeping bags and more. As a gearhead and ultralight backpacking hawk, it’s nice to have so much of what’s available out there listed in one place.

In my initial review of listings, I applied Bruce’s 2-15 rule (I will consider no tent over 2 pounds, 15 ounces) and came up with an astounding — compared to a few years ago — 80 tents that qualify.

If you apply the 2-15 rule to freestanding tents, which are those that require no stakes to hold them erect, there are only 13 of 363 tents that meet the rule. The reason for the rule: the lighter your base, the lighter your overall pack. You should keep your base (tent, pad, sleeping bag and pack) under 10 pounds.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.