We take a look at an interesting option for staying hydrated on long rides .
Words: Toni Walbridge Photos: Toni Walbridge
Ever since I moved from a large riding backpack to a rather compact fanny pack, I’ve mostly been stoked on the freedom of movement and slightly less sweaty back. Despite the fanny pack’s diminutive size, with just a little effort towards organization, I’ve managed to fit everything I need. By everything, I mean a full compliment of tools, spare parts, first aid, a couple hundred calories worth of Honey Stinger waffles, and even a Patagonia Houdini jacket for that unexpected rain storm. What I’ve been left without, is any way to carry more than 1 bottle on my pack and usually 1 bottle on the frame, so maybe 45oz at best. This is all just fine for a couple hours ride, but on those long summer days where the sun just won’t quit, I like to keep on pedaling until my legs are fried. More than once I’ve made it back to the car beyond thirsty. Now and then, I’d even find myself at the finish of a ride, parched but with a full bottle of water left over because I’d been rationing every last drop out of concern for running out.
Recently, it struck me that there’s clear flowing water somewhere along almost every big ride I do. And then came the realization that all I needed was a quick and simple way to make sure it’s safe to drink. Enter SteriPEN. SteriPEN manufactures a line of portable UV water purifiers aimed primarily out travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. Honestly, I tend to associate water purifiers with backpacking and camping so it took a while before it dawned on me that it might be a great option for mountain biking. The Adventurer Opti model which is the smallest UV water purifier offered by SteriPEN is the obvious choice. Weighing in at roughly 100g and measuring just over 6″ long, I hardly notice the weight at all. The bulk is just barely manageable for my uses since I choose to carry such a small pack but it does fit in with my standard kit with just a little patience.
So then the big question is how well does it work? SteriPEN says it’s using technology recognized by the EPA and independent testing entities as a safe form of water treatment. They go on to claim 99.9% effectiveness. While I can’t confirm the science behind it, I did field test the hell out of it, gulping down bottle after bottle of creek water resulting in not a single, um, digestive malfunction. About the only caveat I noticed is that you need a clear flowing water source if you don’t carry a filter. Since I’ve been pulling my water out of flowing mountain streams, this has not been a problem, but if your water sources aren’t quite so pristine you’re gonna need a filter.
Throughout the course of the summer, I’ve used the SteriPEN roughly 20 to 30 times, including a few occasions where I zapped fresh bottles of water for several riders who had run out. Talk about being the hero when the ride has run a little longer than expected and everyone is out of water and there you are with your magic water wand. SteriPEN rates the pair of CR123 batteries for roughly 50 liters of water and the lamp for 8000 cycles so there’s no need to be stingy. Even better, SteriPEN has a program where they will replace your lamp for free once you hit the 8000 cycle mark. Not too shabby.
In terms of actual usage, the SteriPEN couldn’t be simpler. Fill a bottle with water, taking care to wipe off any non-purified water from the rim and lid, insert the SteriPEN, press the one button on the side once for a 1 liter treatment and twice for a 1/2 liter treatment. Once the treatment starts, swirl the SteriPEN in your water bottle to ensure your thoroughly treat the water. In the event that there is a malfunction with water treatment, such as failing to put the lamp completely in the water, the indicator light on the side glows amber to let you know the water is probably not safe to drink yet. The only real limitation is that SteriPEN does not recommend using it in temperatures below 32ºF/0ºC, sorry snow bikers. As a nice little bonus, the SteriPEN doubles as a flashlight which is activated by holding the treatment button down for 3 seconds.
All said and done, I couldn’t be happier with the performance of the SteriPEN. It’s an extra 100g in my pack, but then I’m only carrying the weight of 2 bottles and maybe 45 oz of water instead of a full sized pack and 100 oz for a 6 hour ride. The big down sides I see include the possibility of device malfunction, unexpected dead battery, or not being able to find a water source. Having used the SteriPEN on a regular basis for about 3 months now without a hiccup, my confidence is growing. Battery life appears to quite good as I’m still on my first set but there’s no way to tell on the device how close they are to dying. Living and riding primarily in the PNW and Western BC, finding water is rarely a problem and it’s fairly unusual that I would be on a ride where a lack of water would turn into a credible risk of being life threatening. All in all, I probably won’t grab the SteriPEN for my next trip to Moab, but as long as I’m riding where there’s flowing water, it’s my go to for hydration on big rides now.