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Gadling gear review: SteriPEN Sidewinder
The first thing you'll notice when you remove the Sidewinder from its box is that it is large, especially when compared to SteriPEN's other products. That is due in part to the fact that it comes with a 32 oz (1 liter) BPA-free bottle, but the hand crank system is not especially small either. Prior to beginning the purification process, the bottle is filled with water. and then clicked into position on the Sidewinder itself, with the UV light completely immersed in the water. The entire unit is then flipped over, and you're all set to begin making clean drinking water.
From there, you simply begin turning the crank to generate the power necessary to illuminate the ultraviolet light, and in theory, 90 seconds later you have water that can be safely consumed. I say in theory because it takes a bit of practice before you get the hang of the process, as you must turn the crank at the proper speed in order to get the UV lights working properly. Fortunately, SteriPEN included a pair of red LED's on the Sidewinder which illuminate when you're turning the crank too slowly. When the lights are off, you're doing just fine, and you'll know you're finished when the UV lights turn green as well. It is a simple process, but one that requires some practice before putting the device to use in the field.
While the Sidewinder is a well designed and built products, it does come with a few caveats for anyone considering it for their next adventure. For starters, as I mentioned above, it is quite large, which makes it a less than ideal option for those looking to travel light. I personally found it a bit too bulky for my pack, much preferring the smaller Journey LCD, which I carried with me through Nepal last year. It also requires a good deal of physical work to actually purify the water, asking its user to turn the crank for 90 seconds, at a rather brisk pace, for each liter of water cleaned. Considering you'll need several liters of water per day, possibly more depending on your destination, you may end up getting quite a workout while you're on the go.
So just how good are the SteriPEN purification systems? In my personal use of their devices, I have yet to contract any kind of water borne illness or suffer any ill effects, even while traveling through locations where several of my companions fell victim to a variety of maladies. The UV light seems to work as advertised, although it is impossible to prove a negative, and perhaps I've simply been fortunate. I highly doubt that however, and a SteriPEN purifier of some type will be mandatory gear for all future travels to remote areas across the globe.
Which SteriPEN I take with me is a bit open for discussion however. While I appreciate the eco-friendly nature of the battery-free Sidewinder, its larger size poses a bit of a problem when lugging it around on longer treks. But if you're going to be camped in one place for an extended period of time, it is a fantastic option for sure. For those requiring a more compact and lighter weight purification system, I'd give the nod to the aforementioned Journey LCD or Traveler however. Either way, you can bet you'll have safe drinking water no matter which device you use.