Steripen Ultra – Junk?
Oct 17, 2023 at 1:37 pm #3791188
Is it just me or are Steripens basically unreliable junk? I went on 3 day trip in VA with no issues with my Steripen Ultra, then immediately loaded up for a 7-day trip in the Smokies. 1st night of the Smokies trip, the Steripen display indicated that everything was working fine, however, there was no blue UV light emitted. I actually started the unit out of the water and it sequenced through a successful cycle, again with no UV light emitted. I treated my water with backup tablets (less than full strength) and continued the remaining hike….hope I don’t come down with something.
This particular Steripen was a warranty replacement for a Steripen Ultra that ceased working on the 1st day of a Sierra’s trip in 2019. I wound up sharing a Sawyer Mini with a buddy for 10 days…boy was that fun!
For the recent failure I worked with Katadyn customer service and they basically confirmed that is was a bulb or circuit board issue, but since they replaced the unit in 2019, it is out of warranty. I mostly use filters and tablets so I should have only used about 1% of the claimed UV cycles the pens are supposed to have.
My position is that I’ve had 2 major breakdowns with 2 Steripens, of which the consequences could have been horrible. This isn’t a risk I plan to take again and I wanted to relay my sad experience to the rest of you.
Anyone have any similar issues or is it just me being smited by the UV gods?Oct 17, 2023 at 2:06 pm #3791191Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Many, many people seem to have had great success with their Steripens. Thousands and thousands at least. I have several models which have all worked very well over many years. I have but have not used much an Ultra. I favour the Classic 3 for when we need one, but previous (large) models have also been fine.
I am disappointed with Katadyn’s response. The original Steripen company was far more responsive and helpful.
CheersOct 17, 2023 at 3:05 pm #3791207
Timing.. i have 2 steripen ultras that i have been using for a few years now. Last week before my trip, I pulled one out to charge it.. the display is dark. Uv bulb works, but no display. Fortunately I had the other one and used it with no problems. Thankfully it happened at home before i left. I emailed customer service and they told me nothing they can do, it’s out of warranty. Im sad but what are my options? I have used Sawyer squeeze and been stifled on trail with stupid slow flows and too much squeezing. I then loved my Be Free.. eventually that slowed down too.. i actually own 3 of them because I just would buy new filter.. but.. got tired of slowimg flow no matter what I did.. i always used a steripen in winter and decided to just use it full time all year. I carry Katadyn aqua tabs ( whatever they are called ) for backup if needed. I wish there was a better option, easier option too.. but I figure I will continue to take my chances with the steripen.Oct 17, 2023 at 3:11 pm #3791208baja bobBPL Member
I could not tell you. I bought a Steripen Ultralight packaged new at the REI Garage Sale. Dropped it on the floor from about 2 feet up and the bottom busted off and the circuit board came out. No way to put it back together to function. Never got to use it.Oct 17, 2023 at 4:34 pm #3791212
Russ = Junk
Dirtbag = Junk
Baja Bob = JunkOct 17, 2023 at 6:05 pm #3791221
Thanks Russ W, that was gold:-)Oct 17, 2023 at 7:05 pm #3791224
Junk possibly. I have gotten a few years use out of mine, purifying many many liters of water. So honestly I would use the term junk loosely. Like I said, I had PITA problems with Sawyer and Be Free.. So it has become a pick my poison type of situation. I still think its my best option.. But I am Leary every time I use it.. Even more now that I actually had a problem with one of mine.Oct 17, 2023 at 7:32 pm #3791226David SugenoBPL Member
@davesugenoLocale: Central Texas
I have an Adventurer Opti that I bought used over 11 years ago. Still working fine (or, at least, as of the last trip I took it on, which was this past January). It doesn’t get a ton of use, mainly in colder temps when I am worried about a filter freezing. I have certainly heard stories of Steripen failures, but I have also experienced such failures with filters. No matter what I’m carrying to treat my water, I always carry chemical tabs as a backup. They weigh almost nothing, so I guess I don’t see any problem. If anyone finds a perfect and foolproof water treatment method, I would like to hear about it.Oct 17, 2023 at 8:01 pm #3791230
OK, I’ll be serious for a minute. While hiking a long trail this year I got a decent feel for why filters fail. Initially there were people who switched from the ubiquitous Sawyer squeeze to the BeFree because the flow slowed down to what they deemed unacceptable. I brought the blue coupler that lets you back flush from an outdoor spigot and mine lasted the whole trail. Later hikers were buying the “Squeeze” because their BeFree “sucked”. The BeFree works better initially because it filters (to keep it simple) one decimal point less than the “Squeeze”. But in the end it’s reliability that matters to hikers. (thru or otherwise). So the reasoning against electronic devices is a function of reliability. Phones and gps have proven fairly reliable. The steripen models only moderately so. Not good enough for a long hike. Maybe ok for shorter ones. Possibly even moderate ones where you can bail and buy another filter if your filter fails. Hell, most thru hikes you can do that too. But it sucks to have a filter fail. More than a leaky tent or a malfunctioning stove or deflating mat.
You could turn this into a long discussion involving freezing temps, earlier models, silty water, whatever.
Bottom line, can you trust your water filtration system. I stayed healthy using a my choice for 1000’s of miles. You do you.
I still think The OP’s breakdown of responses was awesome though.Oct 17, 2023 at 11:40 pm #3791234Sam FarringtonBPL Member
@scfhomeLocale: Chocorua NH, USA
Have noted that the Steripens have become popular; but do not use them because there are issues: 1) The don’t clean the water the way a pump does; and 2) They don’t always work.
So long ago decided to: 1) Always carry enough iodine tablets; and 2)
Use the pump, and replace the Sawyer Mini cartridge every trip, and every couple of weeks on longer trips. Don’t mind the expense, as it is minor compared to infection if the filter fails, and the pumping is always easy. The pump is described in more detail at:Oct 18, 2023 at 12:20 am #3791235Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
Never had a failure with Chlorine Dioxide. Sure, there is a wait time for cold water that is easily overcome with a little planning.Oct 18, 2023 at 8:29 am #3791246Terran TerranBPL Member
If I’m filtering water, it’s usually pretty mucky or full of decomposing vegetation. I found the Steripen was too heavy. Then I had to worry about batteries.Oct 18, 2023 at 2:49 pm #3791292jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
I’ve never had an issue with my Steripen. Ever. Sometimes issues have to do with user failure–that is, dropping a steripen that was bought at a garage sale and breaking the bulb–and then calling the device “junk”.
ah, come on!
I’m careful with the unit and, again, it’s never failed. I hiked for many years with early iterations of squeeze style water filters, and liked them, until they clogged. After getting a Steripen, I never looked back. I carry it on a two ounce belly pack along with lunch and a map. Easy access, no waiting. No issues.
And yes, I bring some iodine tablets as back up.Oct 18, 2023 at 3:33 pm #3791296JCHBPL Member
Warning, thread drift ahead.
Anything with a battery will fail, and more often than not it will do so at a most inopportune moment. Yes, things without batteries fail as well, but more often than not that is a result of misuse or inadequate maintenance.
If one knows how to clean, store and test a Sawyer Squeeze, in my experience it is the best water filtration system.
As always, HYOH.Oct 18, 2023 at 3:38 pm #3791303
Thanks for all of the responses. It sounds like some folks are happy with the Steripens but there seem to be plenty of problems as well. I treated my devices well and they simply quit working. You can literally say I’m not a happy camper. Steripen – you’re fired!
So here are the choices:
- Steripen with chlorine dioxide backup. Expensive ($130), requires charging and battery source, and turns into a 5 ounce brick when it dies.
- Use a Sawyer, Be Free, Platy Quick draw or similar option with chlorine dioxide backup. $20-$40 and only 2 ounces dead weight upon failure. Replace with some level of frequency and it shouldn’t be an issue on the trail.
- Chlorine dioxide – Inexpensive but longer wait times for purification.
My failures with the Steripen are telling me to choose option 2. Only use case for a Steripen seems to be winter hiking, but I have zero trust at this point.Oct 18, 2023 at 3:42 pm #3791309
When I did my NPT thruhike last September, 143 miles over 7 days I actually packed my Sawyer Micro for backup to my Steripen. It only weighs what 3 ounces and is pretty small. I was concerned if my Steripen failed me on my first night out there.. i would have been in a predicament.. not really any town crossings or gear stores along the way.. and PLENTY of beaver damn crossings. It was worth it for me @ 3 ounces. Again. All my years never had a my steripen fail, but I always read about others.. and it finally happened to me last week. I didn’t drop it or abuse it. Last time a few weeks ago I used it just fine. Cleaned it up and put it on my gear shelf in its case. Went to charge it last week.. no screen illumination. For a short weekend or overnight trip, it wouldn’t be a big deal, carrying a few tablets would get me thru.. but if that happened on say day 1 or 2 of a 6 + day backpacking trip with no resupply options.. well that would be a problem for me.Oct 18, 2023 at 3:52 pm #3791317
Wouldn’t carrying 2 sawyer micros even be lighter then 1 steripen Ultra?
Or a Mico and a mini? Lighter weight and less space too no?
I mean, for weekend trip or overnighter its overkill.. a few tabs for backup would be fine.. but for mutli day trips, 6+ days with no resupply options.. kinda makes sense to me. If Im using two, 1L smartwater bottles ..Oct 18, 2023 at 4:47 pm #3791321Jon Fong / Flat Cat GearBPL Member
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
The BeFree works better initially because it filters (to keep it simple) one decimal point less than the “Squeeze”.
Did I mess something here? It looks like the specs are the same: 0.1 micron. Now, Sawyer says 0.1 micron absolute, I didn’t see anything on Be Free. Just curious.Oct 18, 2023 at 5:57 pm #3791323Terran TerranBPL Member
Absolute vs. nominal microns
Sawer advertises that no pore is larger than 1 micron. Others are nominally 1 micron which means the vast majority of pores are not larger than 1 micron, though a small percentage may be larger.Oct 18, 2023 at 6:13 pm #3791324Jon Fong / Flat Cat GearBPL Member
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
Got that: absolute / nominal. But the quote inplies an order of magnitude difference between the 2 filters and I wondered where that came from.Oct 18, 2023 at 7:32 pm #3791332Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Went to charge it last week.. no screen illumination.
Rechargeable battery failure. Happens all the time to all sorts of devices.
This is why I use either an Adventurer or Classic 3: both have replaceable batteries.
I did have rechargables in the Adventurer at the start, and yes, the batteries failed regularly. So now I only use primary (ie non-rechargable) batteries. Never any problems since.
CheersOct 18, 2023 at 9:34 pm #3791335DanBPL Member
Did I mess something here? It looks like the specs are the same: 0.1 micron. Now, Sawyer says 0.1 micron absolute, I didn’t see anything on Be Free. Just curious.
I agree, Jon. The specs say 0.1 µm for both filters.
And as someone who does some research in the area of viral filtration in the context of pharmaceutical processing, I will say that there is no such thing as “absolute” removal of pathogens. Specifying a “pore size” is not meaningful. Removal is typically characterized using log-retention-value (LRV), and an LRV of 5 is good, which means that 99.999% of a given pathogen is removed.
In principle, these companies should be reporting effectiveness of their filters using LRVs for various pathogens, but they don’t. Probably because they want to give the impression that the filters are completely removing all pathogens of a particular type, which is simply not true.Oct 19, 2023 at 8:49 am #3791365Ben H.BPL Member
@bzhayesLocale: No. Alabama
I bought a Steripen Adventurer over ten years ago (just after they fixed the issue with battery discharge) and has been working fine since. I like it a lot better than filters like the BeFree. Pump filters are nicer in certain circumstances but heavier. I think the inherent unreliability of electronics (though true) is over emphasized in water treatment. Electronics break/loose charge. Filters clog/become punctured. Chemicals lose potency/aren’t used properly. They all have issues.
Pick your poison. In my opinion, if you are dealing with relatively clean clear mountain water, the steripen is great. If your dealing with mucky, silty, hard to reach water, use a pump that is easy to clean. If your dealing with something in between BeFree and Sawyers excel. If your dealing with off tastes and forever chemicals (which we probably all are dealing with :( ), use a GAC filter with other treatment techniques.Oct 19, 2023 at 9:05 am #3791369Dave GBPL Member
I wonder if this might possibly work as an alternative?
One would obviously have to take care to avoid self exposure and calculating dose time is beyond my technical expertise, but 15.5 grams is light if already carrying a powerbank.
DaveOct 19, 2023 at 10:17 am #3791370
You are right, for some pathogens BeFree and Sawyer are roughly the same. For protozoa (cysts) the Sawyer shows higher filtration rates. I believe 7 log for cysts versus 5 log. I let gear skeptic do the leg work for me rather than chasing it myself when I was choosing filters. He referenced the Sawyer mini but at the end points out the Squeeze filters the same. This was third in the series on microfiltration and showed sources. Around 20 minutes in to the you tube video. He also pointed out the difficulty he had in tracing testing sources. Possibly data is available now in easier to access formats? The whole video is worth watching if you have the time. Worth repeating that Dan is correct about these filters only removing some pathogens. Know your area water when hiking, especially outside of of the U.S.
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