SF International Travel Examiner gives up plastic
to travel with SteriPEN

Inga Aksamit Reviews Classic 3

Inga Aksamit - Photo Gallery

On a recent adventure in Peru, Inga Aksamit put SteriPEN Classic 3 to the test in the cities and on the trails. In her in-depth review, Inga tells us why she’s chose to skip the plastic water bottles and travel with SteriPEN.

Dispense with plastic water bottles
with SteriPEN Classic 3: Gear review

SteriPEN Classic 3 can purify water when traveling overseas, eliminating the need to purchase an endless stream of plastic water bottles. A scourge in rivers, estuaries and empty lots in third world countries, the detritus of plastic is the result of tourists and residents seeking purified water. There is a better way. The SteriPEN is a small, lightweight device that purifies water in less than two minutes using ultraviolet (UV) light.

Water safety

Travelers visiting many third world countries are warned by the CDC not to drink tap water due to health risks. It is estimated that approximately 80% of travel-related illnesses are related to drinking contaminated water. Back in the old days, before the 1980s, overseas hydration was often accomplished by drinking soft drinks (available everywhere), beer (a popular choice, but not practical for brushing teeth) or boiled water (used to make tea or for those who had access to a kitchen). In the late 1980s, PET plastic was developed which is inexpensive and very clear, so it makes water look good. Suddenly water bottles started proliferating around the world. The benefit of having safe drinking water is enormous, but the resulting mountain of plastic, which can take 450 years to degrade, is concerning. There are other ways to purify water, including filtering, using chemicals and using a device that emits UV light, such as the SteriPEN.

Travelers Against Plastic (TAP)

SteriPEN, along with tour and hotel operators and environmentalists, is a supporter of TAP (Travelers Against Plastic), an initiative to reduce the use of plastic and encourage travelers to take responsibility to purify their own water through various means. Founded by Chris Mackay of Crooked Trails and Kurt Kutay of Wildland Adventures, the organization seeks to educate global travelers about the harmful impacts of plastic water bottle usage and encourage travelers to be prepared to purify their own water. Travelers are urged to take the pledge to avoid buying bottled water when traveling, and instead plan to carry a reusable bottle and treat their own drinking water.

UV Light

SteriPen devices are small, pocket and purse size water purifiers that make it easy to treat tap water in a hotel room, restaurant or train—even camping. SteriPEN uses UV light to purify water, which destroys 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoan cysts (includes giardia and cryptosporidia). It sounds high-tech, but the technology has been around for over 100 years and is often used in home and city water systems. Recognized as effective by the EPA it works by emitting UV energy which is absorbed by microbial cells. The cell’s DNA is affected so the organism can’t reproduce and cause illness. One advantage of UV light technology is that it does not alter the taste, pH or other components of water and is free of chemicals. The CDC recommends UV light as one way to purify drinking water while traveling.

SteriPEN Models

SteriPEN has a variety of models (see comparison chart) for different uses but they all use UV light to purify water. Some are smaller than others and they use different kinds of batteries. Weight ranges from 2.6 ounces for the Freedom model, which is USB chargeable, and 6.3 ounces for the Classic 3, which uses four AA batteries. Some are better for remote locations as they can treat up to 150 liters of water per set of batteries versus rechargeable models that can treat 20 liters per charge. Availability of batteries is a consideration: AA batteries are widely found in village markets around the world while the CR123 batteries used by the Adventurer Opti may only be found in large cities or electronics stores.

SteriPEN had some performance issues with their early models but improvements have been made and those problems are in the past. The electronics have been reworked, the sensor design has changed, battery life has been improved and the controls are easier to understand. They recommend using brand name batteries such as Energizer Ultimate AA, Energizer Rechargeable AA or Energizer CR123 (also known confusingly as 123, 123A, SF123) Lithium Photo batteries, depending on the requirements of the model.

SteriPEN recommends the Adventurer Opti, Freedom and Aqua models for travel and the Adventurer Opti, Classic 3 and Ultra for outdoor recreation. Military grade models are also available.

Field Test

After using the Adventurer Opti successfully on several backpacking trips, the author had the opportunity to test the Classic 3 on an overseas trip to Peru. The Classic 3 was a better choice for this type of travel because the AA batteries were easy to find. Two sets of rechargeable batteries and a charger ended up being adequate for the entire trip, which included stays in the cities of Lima and Cuzco, two backpacking trips and a homestay at Lake Titicaca.

The Classic 3 performed quite well in the city and no bottles of water needed to be purchased. A reusable Nalgene bottle sat on the bathroom sink and tap water was purified within 90 seconds. The batteries were going strong after a week but were preemptively recharged prior to a four-day backpacking trip. While the Classic 3 was a little heavier than the Adventurer Opti it was still a reasonable size and weight to carry in a wilderness backpack. Water from streams and lakes was purified. The sources of the water were glaciers and springs so they were crystal clear but frequent sightings of a variety of stock animals in the rivers, including horses, mules and llamas, made it obvious that the water was contaminated. The author and her husband had no signs of intestinal illness and maintained good appetites throughout. Later in the trip on a guided hike the author’s husband became ill with diarrhea, but the food and drink had been prepared by a Peruvian cook. The timing of the illness was consistent with drinks that were prepared in the camp kitchen. The lemonade wouldn’t have been able to be purified by the SteriPEN as it was opaque and the SteriPEN only works with water. For the remainder of the trip, the Classic 3 worked well. The SteriPEN was even used on a train ride between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, purifying a tumbler of water that was served at lunch. At least one extra set of batteries was available at all times. A 40×40-micron screen pre-filter came with the SteriPEN but was not used since all water was clear.

The SteriPEN Classic 3 is a lightweight, compact device that purifies water and eliminates the need to buy bottled water. It is a good choice for overseas travel as the AA batteries can be found widely.


SteriPEN Classic 3

Weight: 6.3 oz (per manufacturer); 7.1 oz (user verified, with batteries); 8.1 oz (user verified, with batteries and neoprene carrying case)

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to travel with SteriPEN

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