I must admit, it was a bit scary to take a sip of our drinking water the first time we tried our purifier. Delhi had not treated our tummies nicely, and still recovering, we were hesitant of everything we consumed. We were halfway through a 40+ hour train ride in India. Our sleeper train compartment was packed with way more people than was comfortable (eighteen instead of the supposed eight to be exact), and outside it was hot, really hot. A fifteen minute stop gave us the opportunity to refill our bottles at the station and here was our moment…
Our previous experience traveling had shown us how much waste we could produce just for the sake of safe drinking water. Especially in warmer countries, we easily bought three or four bottles every day. In the Moroccan Sahara, the number escalated to eight. A simple calculation, assuming we together consume four litres of water a day give or take, led us to the conclusion that in a year’s time we would be responsible for the waste of 1460 plastic bottles. Yikes!
And there was another factor to consider; buying multiple bottles a day would also have an impact on our budget. In India, for example, spending 80Rs a day on water would mean spending 365 euro every year on water alone. Trying to limit unnecessary costs, changing our water drinking habits could actually also save us some money.
There are basically two ways to ‘clean’ your dirty drinking water on the go: filtering and purifying. While many people think they are practically the same, and in some way they are as both take contaminants out of the water, there are some key differences.
Filters work with a fine mesh. Think, for example, of your coffee-pad. When making your coffee, the coffee grounds stay in the pad, while the water runs through it. Filters, nowadays, have improved a lot and, besides removing sand, gravel and dirt, also have pores small enough to filter out bacteria, viruses and all kinds of invisible creatures that can give you the emergency royal flush. Thus, the filter does not actually kill the funk, it simply removes it.
Purifiers don’t actually remove (read filter) any contaminants out of the drinking water, they solely kill what is alive. The best example of purification is boiling water. But there are other methods around, more easy to do whilst waiting at the train station, sitting on a busy bus ride or hiking through the mountains. Iodine or chlorine tablets are most known, but exposing your water to ultraviolet light also does the job.
It was all a little confusing when we started our research. The varied options of filters and purifiers, all with their pros and cons, ranging from the utmost basic to survival 2.0, made us doubt what would suit us best when traveling. Knowing we would be traveling through many countries notorious for their polluted water, it was essential to find something that would remove any viruses and micro-organism that could do us harm. At the same time we were looking for something lightweight, durable, straightforward, low-waste, without batteries, and healthy. After some deliberation we chose the Steripen. And now, half a year later, we can safely say, it is one of our travel essentials!
How it works and why we love it
It’s a very easy to use system. Take the cap off your water bottle, put it in, turn it on and stir. After one and a half minute it shows you a happy smiley face, meaning the water is ok to drink. Of course you will have to take a reusable bottle with you, preferably one with a big mouth, to facilitate the steering.
There are different Steripen models to adapt to different needs. We choose the Steripen Ultra because of it’s USB charger and it’s ability to purify one litre at a time. It can be used 50 times before needing charging and lasts up to 8000L, meaning 7 years of purifying fun. If you are able to make it last it’s lifetime, before dropping it or leaving it in your last hostel, Steripen will replace it for you, free of charge. Challenge accepted?
We also like that you can add anything you like to your water once purified, from the sometimes much needed electrolytes, to fruits and sugar for a lemonade. And we also like to use our water bottles for other drinks. We’ve bought lemonades, ice-tea, and juice on the streets, and having the option of putting them in our bottles guaranteed we didn’t have to use single-use cups. This for us was an advantage over the other option of self-filtering bottles, as most of the time you can only drink water with them.
Another important factor for us was being able to stock up for longer trips (we carry two 1,2L reusable bottles), as finding a source of water is not always easy. This was the main reason we didn’t go for the Lifestraw Go, a bottle with integrated filter. Its limited size just didn’t seem realistic for the way we travel. And also the sucking, not really into that.
The not so positives
The downside of this pen is that it doesn’t filter your water, therefore, the water always needs to be see-through. Really dirty water is a no-go. Steripen sells additional filters for that. Personally this isn’t a huge issue as we don’t plan on going hardcore off the grid when being on the road, so scooping water out of rivers will be a rarity for us (and in case of dire need a cloth on the bottle opening will probably already do the trick).
The Steripen also doesn’t change anything to the water’s taste and smell, so sometimes your water can be a bit funky. Getting over the mental barrier with drinking some waters has been the biggest challenge. But knowing we’ve survived some of the worst options possible, makes us trust it wholeheartedly now.
Being an electronic device, you have to keep track of charging it. And it can of course have some hiccups. Steripen recommends to always carry backup purifying tablets for when it fails, and of course we obliged. Luckily we never had to use them.
Having to stir for 1,5 minute when you are completely dehydrated can sometimes get to your nerves. But the biggest drawback perhaps is having to make sure that the water is filled to the brim, so that no drop of water is missed out on when purifying. Also, it’s a must to avoid all the water not directly reached by the pen. We frantically dry the bottle opening and the cap, but it makes the process feel a bit less secure than it should.
What will be your choice?
Whether you’re planning to travel the world like us, or like your occasional holiday, thinking about how you’re going to get safe drinking water beforehand can help guarantee you don’t end up contaminating the planet (and your tummy!). The options are plenty, so its best you do a bit of research and choose what suits you best. But for us, the Steripen was definitely the best solution.
If you choose like us, you’ll for sure find yourself stirring it in your bottle whilst curious faces look at your doings; you may even get a crowd of mesmerised kids standing around. Just like a sort of small lightsaber, the pen will light up, and you will have the feeling that something magical is happening when looking at the blue glow; creating safe drinking water without waste.
Let’s keep on stirring!
This article is not sponsored, and contains no PR samples or affiliate marketing links. We actually bought all articles mentioned ourselves.
All the photographs were taken in Midigama Beach, Sri Lanka.