SteriPEN: Clean Water in Asia, and Not From a Bottle!

by Nora on June 10, 2008

Living ecologically sustainably in Hawaii really changed us for the better. We think twice about everything we do now, from turning off the water while we lather up in the shower, to choosing what we buy carefully to reduce packaging and waste.

And on our way to Asia, we were very concerned about the fact that you can’t drink the water. We were looking at being relegated to buying large quantities of water in 500ml-1liter plastic bottles. And all in a place where “recycling” is truly a foreign word.

I cringed at the thought of throwing away plastic bottle after plastic bottle, not to mention the money we would spend for this privilege; the privilege of having clean water.

But we managed to find a viable alternative to this wastage: a way to sterilize water on the go, and all in a small compact solution that easily fit into our bags; SteriPEN was our saviour.

SteriPEN uses ultraviolet light to eliminate all the bad stuff that makes water harmful; from bacteria to viruses. The only pre-requisite is that the water be clear to begin with – no muddy creek water allowed. So whatever came out of the taps where we were traveling was more than sufficient.

Initially we were a little apprehensive about using a tiny little light to sterilize water that had the very real potential to make us incredibly ill (even fatally so), and then to have the guts to drink said water. But we’re still here to tell the story, so all I can say is…it worked!

Although we had to pay about $100 for the SteriPEN (editor’s note 2014: we purchased a model with a solar recharging case; the SteriPEN alone costs just over $40) we never had to purchase water in countries where that’s conventionally the only option, and of course saved (and continue to save) the consumption of hundreds of plastic bottles. It took a little extra planning and effort to sterilize a few liters of water (at a whopping 90 seconds a pop) each morning and evening, and then to carry around a bottle of water all the time, but what a savings is brought both our pockets and the environment.

Let’s do some math:

  • We were on the road through Asia for about 45 days.
  • At approximately 2 liters of water consumed each per day, we consumed 180 liters of water.
  • Most bottled water came in 500-750ml quantities, which meant the equivalent of 270-360 bottles of water was consumed.
  • The cost of a bottle of water averaged out to be a little less than 50cents. Which meant that we saved about $150 (300 bottles times 50cents) in buying water.
  • The SteriPEN more than paid for itself during our Asian trip. And now we have it for backcountry camping, and future travels through countries where the water isn’t safe to drink. It’s all gravy from here on.

And yes – we did falter here and there. Some days we didn’t have enough water with us, or forgot to bring it along. During our entire trip, we had to buy a few bottles: 11 to be exact. Which is still better than 360 if you ask me.

We even sweetened the environmentally friendly factor by purchasing it with the solar charging case. Even when the sun wasn’t shining to charge the batteries, we could plug the adapter in and recharge the batteries that way without wasting disposable batteries.

If you are planning a trip that may take you into an area where the water is not drinkable, consider the alternative to buying (and wasting) your way to hydration. I can say from experience: the little light works. Save a few bucks and a few bottles too.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alastair Humphreys August 17, 2009 at 9:15 pm

I came across your blog again through the Lonely Planet winners list – well done! Fantastic achievement. Looks like you’re doing really well in your quest to be a full time vagabond!


2 Laura February 29, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Do you still think this is an awesome or necessary product that you have been traveling longer?


3 theprofessionalhobo February 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm

@Laura – It depends. The last few times I’ve been in Asia, places I’ve stayed have had purified water that I could fill my water bottles with. But they aren’t everywhere, and I hate (with a capital H) buying bottled water – for a variety of reasons.

So it depends on where in the world you’re going. There are plenty of places where hostels/hotels won’t provide purified water (for free, if at all), and having a SteriPen can help you avoid buying/drinking bottled water.

Hope this helps a bit…


4 Brandon August 12, 2014 at 6:18 am

This is amazing. I was actually just thinking about the use of bottled water. It is crazy how much waste is generated by bottled water throughout travel. When I went to Peru I did my best to boil water when I could and use the purified water where I could find it. I kept my Kleen Kanteen with me and bought only the big bottles and only when I had to. Still it was hard. The culture is so pervasive. I used a ceramic purifier in a few of the hostals, but then got myself sick doing that in Bolivia. This is an amazing find! I am so glad. It’s worth so much more than 100 dollars, I am not going to leave for the Phillipines, Thailand, and Nepal without it. Crossing fingers for January! *could also be Morrocco, Spain, Italy, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland. If travel buddy and places to stay hold up for that.

Sorry to be so rambly, your blog is amazing. I am hoping to put your advice to work manifesting full time vagabondish status.


5 Nora Dunn August 12, 2014 at 9:41 am

Hey Brandon,
Sounds like the SteriPEN will be perfect for you! Have at er….and happy travels!


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