(optional solar charger $49.95)
LIGHT MAY GIVETH LIFE, BUT IN THE CASE OF THE SteriPen, it taketh away. With the push of a button the battery-powered unit emits a burst of germicidal UV light that destroys the DNA in 99.9 percent of water critters such as giardia and cryptosporidium. With scrambled DNA, these little gut busters can’t reproduce, and die. It’s beautiful. The ray also nukes e-coli, staph and horrors such as cholera, typhoid, botulism and other nasties you’d rather not have inside you.
It all sounded too good to be true, and I was reluctant to guinea-pig myself with a water purifier that used invisible light instead of chemicals or pumps that you can actually see or taste doing their thing. Using UV light to purify water, however, is nothing new and is often used in home systems, bottling plants and hospitals. To some degree, we’ve all unknowingly trusted the technology for years.
So, with trepidation I dipped the light stick into a bottle of backcountry creek water and hit the switch. An eerie blue light cast from the SteriPen’s clear plastic tube, killing everything in its wake (or so I really, really hoped). After about a minute the light snapped itself off, indicating it was done dispensing death. I lifted the bottle to my parched lips and drank. Two weeks passed and my plumbing seemed fine. I repeated the test several more times, once in an area where, years before, the water had given me giardia, and can report no ill effects. Now, the 4-ounce SteriPen has a regular home in my pack. I like it because it’s faster at treating water than chemicals, less of a hassle, and smaller and lighter weight than filters.
The SteriPen may not, however, be the ticket for you. It requires clear water for proper UV light penetration. Murky water may let a few survivors slip through. SteriPen does have a “prefilter” unit ($6.95) for such a contingency, and which I didn’t test.
With disposable AA batteries, the unit delivers between 25 and 50 16-ounce doses. Lithium batteries can double output, according to the manufacturer. Green-minded folks will be psyched to know that an optional solar recharger case is available. Keep a set of batteries, and swap them out when the ones in the unit die, and you’ll never want for water again.