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Gear Review: SteriPEN Traveler 3-in-1 UV Water Purifier

I know shouldn’t let the fact that the SteriPEN Traveler 3-in-1 lights up like some kind of lava lamp drive my review – because, really, that’s just a fun bonus. The tool has to work, and work easily, or no number of bells and whistles is going to make up for the space it takes up in your pack.

SteriPEN doesn’t need my endorsement to let you know that its UV water purifiers work. You can read the scientific information about how and why ultraviolet light works, and you can see the company has been around since 1999 as a testament to its effectiveness. What I can offer is the first-hand experience of carrying the SteriPEN Traveler 3-in-1 with me to South Africa, using it when we were told the tap water was iffy, and not getting sick.

On a previous trip to another country where drinking the water is sometimes a no-no, I’d borrowed a water filter and pump from my intrepid traveling mother. It turned out I didn’t need it, and I’d reserved quite a bit of space in my bag for this bulky piece of equipment. (And yes, the fact that I couldn’t use that space for a bottle of tequila on the way home was regrettable.) When I got a SteriPEN Traveler 3-in-1 sent to me by the kind folks at SteriPEN to take on my South Africa trip, I was immediately very pleasantly surprised by its small size. Even if it turned out not to be a life-or-death requirement, I wouldn’t resent having it in my bag.

Then I tested it out at home, and I can’t help it – I giggled.

See, the SteriPEN Traveler 3-in-1 is designed to be used in plaster water bottles and even in canteens. You fill the bottle with water, you put the tapered end of the SteriPEN Traveler 3-in-1 into the mouth of the bottle (firmly, to seal it around the rubber part underneath the light), you turn the whole thing upside-down and you push the button. The light on the SteriPEN Traveler 3-in-1, which is now inside the water bottle, turns on and, thanks to the water, kind of makes the whole thing glow.

It’s fabulous.

Okay, I know, it’s not a toy, and it’s not a disco light. Also, you don’t get to enjoy the glow for very long, since you have to make sure you’re swirling the water around the light for the whole 48-90 seconds it takes to purify (depends on whether you’re purifying 16oz or 32oz). Then the show’s over, the light’s off, and your water is ready to drink. It seems a bit like magic – a light making impure water safe for consumption – and with the lava lamp effect, it actually kind of looks like magic, too.

Here’s a video showing how the SteriPEN Traveler Mini works (it’s a different model than the one I had, but the same facts about how the UV light works apply):

The SteriPEN Traveler 3-in-1 isn’t the smallest SteriPEN they make – there’s a newer model that’s about the size of your iPhone – but this one certainly earns its place in your luggage at only 7.5 inches long and 5.7 ounces. SteriPEN recommends using Lithium batteries with it instead of regular ones (it takes 4 AA-sized batteries, which aren’t included), as you’ll be able to purify about 100 liters of water with the Lithium batteries and only 10 liters or so with the regular ones, but both will work.

You need to make sure water is touching both of the metal points (one on either side of the light) for it to work, so if you’re using it in a regular glass or a wide-mouthed bottle that won’t seal over the SteriPEN Traveler 3-in-1 so you can’t turn it over, you’ll just need to make sure you’ve immersed the SteriPEN Traveler 3-in-1 enough so that the light and those points are under the water for the whole time.

>> The SteriPEN Traveler 3-in-1 retails for $49.95, but you can buy it on for $43.99.