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Easy to use and effective, a SteriPEN is a great way to ensure you have safe drinking water wherever you travel.

Now with three models to choose from, there's a SteriPEN to suit all needs.

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SteriPEN Traveler Water Purifier

A compact lighter version of the classic SteriPEN

The compact sized SteriPEN units - the Traveler and Adventurer - work identically to the original SteriPEN.

Simply place the unit in a container of up to one liter (or one quart) of water, push the button, and stir while the UV light is illuminated.

When the light goes out, your water is safe to drink.  You've added no chemicals, and the water hasn't acquired any new tastes.  What could be quicker, easier or better than that.

Part 2 of a series on SteriPEN products.  Part 1 reviews the SteriPEN Classic model, Part 3 reviews the solar charger.



The original SteriPEN was and still is a wonderful item to provide you with safe drinking water.  Since its release, the Steripen people have been working on a smaller more portable version of this unit, available as the Steripen Traveler or the Steripen Adventurer (identical units other than for their color schemes and names).

The new units work almost identically to their older larger sibling, are priced slightly higher, and of course are smaller and lighter.  They also come with a very useful option - a solar recharger.

Which is best for you?  Read on to find out.

About Water Purification in General

Even inexperienced travelers know to be careful when drinking water in much of the rest of the world.  Experienced travelers also know to be careful with bottled water – unless you are drinking name brand water, and break open a clearly sealed bottle yourself, you may be drinking tap water that was put into the fancy bottle out the back of the restaurant, hotel, or store.

At best, contaminated water can ruin part of your travels, and at worst, you may catch a life threatening infection in a part of the world with poor health care, or perhaps suffer long term ongoing problems.  This is definitely a situation where prevention is vastly better than an uncertain cure.

There are many different types of devices to treat water available for travelers, but most of them do not provide the comprehensive protection you need.  You should seek a unit that has been EPA certified as an effective water purification system.  Don’t confuse water purification with water filtration – a filtration device does not filter out small viruses, only larger bacteria.  A purification process eliminates both.

There are three main approaches to water purification.  The simplest is very low tech, but impractical for most people while traveling.  Simply boil your water for several minutes before drinking it.  A second approach is to use chemicals – tablets or liquids, usually containing a chlorine or bromine chemical.

And now, a company in Maine is offering a third solution, one that is convenient, quick, simple and safe.  Their Steripen series of units use ultra-violet rays to kill viruses and bacteria in the water.  To use a Steripen, you place the unit into a container of water, press the on switch, and stir until the UV light switches off at the end of its cycle.  It takes about 45 seconds to treat a pint of water, and 90 seconds to treat a quart (or liter) of water.

How the SteriPEN works

The Steripen uses ultra-violet (UV) light (better to use the term 'radiation' rather than light, perhaps) to sterilize the water.  UV light is the same type of radiation that causes sun-burn, and, in large doses, skin-cancer.  The same dangerous properties of the light are put to good use with the Steripen to simply kill any bugs and germs that might be in the water.

Although direct UV light is dangerous to people as well as to bacteria, by a happy trick of nature, the UV light is completely contained within water, and so you're at no risk when using the Steripen.  You can see a blue glow, but this is not UV light (which is invisible) but visible light that is also generated at the same time.  More than 90% of the output of the unit is in the form of invisible UV light.

UV radiation is used by many town water supplies to sterilize their water.  It is an accepted, safe, and reliable solution, and although we're using the term 'radiation' it is nothing like radioactive radiation and water that has been exposed to UV light is totally safe in all respects.

The Steripen does not neutralize any poisons or other bad chemicals.  It kills living things, but doesn't do anything to inert poisonous substances.

Neither does it precipitate out any suspended solids, such as in a glass of muddy water.  In fact, if the water is not clear, the UV radiation does not penetrate as efficiently through the water and the Steripen will not work as reliably.  For this reason, the instructions say to only use it with clear water, and if the water is muddy, you should let the water settle first, or pre-filter it.

The SteriPEN - What You Get

The new SteriPEN Traveler and Adventurer units come in an attractive box.  Inside is the SteriPEN itself, a set of batteries, a nylon carry case, and a short instruction guide that is easy to understand and follow.

All SteriPEN units have a lifetime warranty, offered to the original owner only.  The lifetime warranty excludes the replaceable lamp, which is warranted for its 5000 use life.

The new SteriPEN models (identical except for their name and color) measure 6” x 1” x ” and weigh only 4 oz (complete with batteries).  This is about half the size and weight of the earlier SteriPEN.

Using the SteriPEN

Although the SteriPEN is a very high tech and ingenious device, using it is as simple as can be.  Simply press the button on the unit - once for up to a quart/liter of water, or twice for up to a pint/half liter, then place the unit into the water.

When the SteriPEN senses it has been placed in the water, it switches on.  You then stir the water with the SteriPEN until the light goes out, some 45 seconds later (if on the one pint setting) or 90 seconds (if on the one quart setting).  A green light on the LED indicator signifies a successful treatment, a red light would indicate an unsuccessful treatment.

The unit also counts how many times it is used.  Because the UV light tube wears out over time, when the unit has been used 5000 times, it gives an error and requires you to replace the light tube.  This involves returning the unit to the factory, where they replace the assembly and return the unit for a $40 fee.  The unit gives a warning at 4900 uses so you can plan for the replacement at a convenient time.

Discreet in Use

We like the fact that these new SteriPEN units are compact and lightweight enough to be carried in one's day carry bag.  This means if you're having lunch at a restaurant in an area where the water is of dubious quality, you can ask for a glass of regular water with your meal and use your SteriPEN at the table to sterilize it without drawing a lot of attention to yourself.

This is possibly even a better alternative than asking for bottled water (which anecdotally is often filled from the tap out the back of the restaurant!).

Battery Life

One of the strategies to reduce the size and weight of the Traveler and Adventurer SteriPEN models has been to use smaller sized batteries - CR123 batteries (each about half the size of an AA battery).

This means the batteries last for fewer uses than with the full-sized Steripen Classic.  You can expect to get about 100 uses on the 1 pint setting from a set of two batteries.

If you use rechargeable Li-Ion batteries, you can expect 40 - 50 uses before needing to recharge.

The unit has a low battery indicator - a fast flashing red light, advising you to replace the batteries.

CR-123 batteries cost about $1.50 or so each, depending on where you buy them, which means you are paying about 25c to treat each gallon of water, or 3c per pint.  This is vastly less expensive than buying bottled water, and of course, in some places, bottled water is not available or is of uncertain purity.

Which SteriPEN Model is Best for You?

The Classic SteriPEN is less expensive, but is also bulkier and heavier than the new Traveler and Adventurer model SteriPENs.

With airlines increasingly reducing the amount of luggage you can take with you for free, and with weight and space considerations also being critical for backpackers, the smaller and lighter units more than justify the $20 extra cost for most people.

Two SteriPEN accessories to consider

The SteriPEN only works in reasonably clear water.  Cloudy (ie muddy/dirty) water prevents the UV light from shining evenly through the water.  If you encounter muddy water, you have two solutions.  You can simply let the water sit for some time so the dirt settles, then carefully pour the clear water on the top into a container and then use the SteriPEN on that clearer water only, or you can pre-filter the water to strain out the dirt.  Pre-filtering the water is a faster and simpler solution.

Water Prefilter

There are many different water filters (and even a paper coffee filter would work in an emergency) that can be used, including SteriPEN's own Water Bottle Prefilter, which lists for $12.95 and is available from Travel Essentials for only $9.95.  Travel Essentials stock the complete range of SteriPEN products.

Battery Charger

The second accessory to consider is the battery charger to be used with rechargeable Li-Ion CR-123 batteries for the Adventurer and Traveler.  SteriPEN's battery charger can work either from mains power anywhere in the world, or from solar power using its built in solar panel.

This is reviewed separately (review pending) and can be purchased for $49.95 (this includes a set of rechargeable batteries).

Where to Buy

Steripen is manufactured by Hydro-Photon in the US.  They have retail distributors spread around the US.  Alas, Hydro-Photon forbid discounting.

Travel Essentials offer all SteriPEN units, with no sales tax and give you free shipping, which is probably the best deal available.  And should you want to buy more than one, they offer a $5 per unit discount on multiple orders.

SteriPEN 'Classic' for $79.95

SteriPEN Adventurer for $99.95

SteriPEN Traveler for $99.95

SteriPEN Prefilter for $9.95

SteriPEN Charger for $49.95

For More Information about SteriPEN and Water Purification

Please read our review of the original SteriPEN Classic model which contains more information about water purification, the important differences between filtration and purification, and more information about the SteriPEN units in general.


Clean safe drinkable water is something we take for granted in the US, but is often a rarity in much of the rest of the world.

With a SteriPEN

But whether you now feel this might be useful when hiking outdoors, when traveling overseas, or just to keep in your household emergency kit, you probably now agree that a Steripen is a very convenient and effective solution to the problem of how to ensure you have reliable access to safe drinking water, wherever you are.

The Steripen is now a regular part of my international travel kit.  Recommended.

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Originally published 18 May 2007, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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