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SteriPen Classic: On Track Review
We purchased our SteriPen Classic in March 2011 from our local Mountain Designs store.
It was actually during another purchase from their Sydney store that the salesman mentioned that in his opinion the SteriPen was cheaper than tablets. A (very) quick calc in the store proved the statement and I was sold.
SteriPen make quite a few different models, so which one?
We did quite a bit of research and review reading. The idea of a solar charger was very tempting and kept us thinking for a long time... but in the end the idea of getting another gadget to charge a unique (for us) battery type didn't make sense. We were also researching other solar chargers for our other powered devices (GPS, SPOT Messenger, unfortunately the best bushwalking camera doesn't have AA batteries) so we decided to go with the Classic because of its use of AA batteries.
The Classic is a bit heavier than the other smaller batteried models, but we figured the AA's outweighed that issue ( pardon the pun).
How much cheaper?
Using prices from Paddy Palin's and WildEarth's webstore, we have:
SteriPen Classic: $99.95 @ 8000 1ltr treatments = $0.0125 per Litre
MicroPur Tablets: $37.50 @ 100 1ltr treatments = $0.375 per Litre
OK... that calc's pretty much a no-brainer. But in reality you'd have to add batteries to that figure, and if they're recharables, electricity to charge the batteries.
So, if we include batteries using SteriPen's figures (4 x Lithiums each 200 treatments) we get a total cost of:
SteriPen Classic: $99.95 + (4 * 8000 / 200) * $4.125 = $759.95
MicroPur Tablets: $37.50 / 100 * 8000 = $3,000.00
My numbers are probably out a little bit: I've not allowed for tablet wastage, battery failure, etc, etc. But the comparison is not close... so who cares?
Out of the Packet
Mountain Designs had to get the SteriPen from their Perth store, so it was a little late getting to us, but thankfully it arrived before the walk we were going to test it on. We got the SteriPen home and were in a very excited state, so we put some rechargable batteries in and set about learning how to use it.
It's not that hard, and they have the important instructions printed on the pen: "One press for 1 litre, Two presses for 0.5 litre".
Even so, it took a slightly awkward moment to understand how far is not too far but far enough when inserting the globe into the water. But we quickly became comfortable with using it, treating our tap water in the kitchen over and over, so finally put it away ready to pack feeling pretty satisfied with our purchase (and knowing that we had a glass of super-purified water ).
The SteriPen on the Track
We tested the SteriPen on the Mittagong to Katoomba walk in preparation of the much longer walk of the Bibbulmun Track. I wanted to get a pretty accurate estimation of what the battery usage was going to be, as we were going to be using the Voltaic Fuse Solar Charger to charge our batteries for the duration of the Bibbulmun (I wanted to make sure that the Fuse was going to cope with our charging requirements).
As detailed in the Track Diary for Day 1 we had a few problems with the SteriPen.
We'd arrived at the campsite on sunset and it was getting pretty dull down by the Nattai when treating the water. It's almost funny remembering now, but at the time it was very distressing: we were rushing to get the water so that we could get back to our packs and set up camp, and the SteriPen kept failing! What made it slightly worse was that we didn't bring the instruction manual with us and I wasn't sure I was remembering the error reported by the lights correctly.
In the end we treated the water with tablets and bundled everything back to the campsite. After supper I attempted the SteriPen again. I changed the (newly charged batteries) with the spare (newly charged) batteries and got the same error (which I was remembering as a battery error). I was desperately trying to remember all the reviews I'd read on the internet... and at one point I tried letting the SteriPen go through a cycle without a treatment (by not putting it into the water). Immediately after that I managed to get one treatment successfully, but none after that.
Our attitude was not very bright at this stage. I put the original batteries to charge on the Fuse, which topped them up very quickly; this tempered our disappointment slightly, and we just had to put the SteriPen into the "to be sorted out later" basket.
SteriPen Customer Care
When we got home we set about sorting out the SteriPen problem. I confirmed that the flashing lights did indicate a battery problem: Replace or recharge batteries. This made me wonder if the problem was with the rechargeable batteries? I'd specifically bought new PowexEx batteries from ProTog, and Jeff was extremely helpful in helping me to try and sort out the battery problems.
I charged up the batteries, which didn't take long (funnily enough) and set up the SteriPen in the lounge room with a glass of water and paper for recording the tests. These are the results of the tests:
OK: Successful Treatment
FAIL: Unsuccessful Treatment (Red flashing LED)
TEST: Test Battery=#Volts
OPEN: Remove & Replace Same Batteries
16/04/2011 07:28 PM - OK / OK / OK
17/04/2011 08:00 AM - OK / OK / OK
18/04/2011 07:10 AM - FAIL / FAIL / FAIL / OPEN / OK / FAIL / OK / FAIL / OPEN / OK / FAIL
At which point I decided that I should get in contact with SteriPen Customer Service.
I received a response to my email the following day (emphasis mine):
I am sorry that you are having issues with your SteriPEN Classic. I will do everything that I can to ensure that you have a working pen back in your hands.
The Sanyo batteries that you are describing should be great with the SteriPEN. For a sanity check, would you be kind enough to try using lithium batteries so that we may rule out the rechargeable ones that you are using?
I would also like to recommend that you use 2300 mAh Energizer batteries. We have found that NiMH batteries with a larger capacity often have a high self discharge rate, and are unable to provide sufficient power for the SteriPEN.
Please let me know how the lithium batteries work out, and I will be glad to provide further assistance.
I was greatly encouraged by their commitment to getting a working SteriPen into my hands! In fact in subsequent emails I realised that they didn't know I was at home (rather than out and about) and were planning to get the replacement to me where ever I happened to be!
I asked Jeff at ProTog about his batteries and SteriPen's concerns. He confirmed:
- Healthy batteries will charge to 1.45V, and discharge to 1.0V. As they age, the maximum voltage they will charge to will decrease. If they are only charging to 1.30V, they are not very healthy, or the tester is not accurate.
- AA & AAA rechargeable battery capacities have increased over the years, their self discharge rate has also increased. Powerex 2700mAh perform better than most high capacity AA batteries; they will only discharge about 15% in the fist 2 months after a charge. For low drain devices, where the full power of the battery will not be used within 3 months, the 2400mAH IMEDION AA batteries are a better choice, as they will only self discharge 15% in 12 months.
OK, I'm happy with my batteries so back to the testing... I bought 4 Energizer Lithium Ultimates (as suggested) and tested the SteriPen:
19/04/2011 07:28 PM - OK / OK / OK / OK
20/04/2011 07:17 AM - OK / FAIL / TEST=1.4V / FAIL / FAIL / WAIT=30 / FAIL(1) / FAIL(1)
1. There was a noticeable pause between immersion and failure where the light was on. On the other batteries there was just a brief flash of light from the bulb then the flashing Red LED.
I'd bought a little battery tester, which proved to be highly inaccurate and has been returned and a proper multimeter bought (the batteries are charging up to 1.45V).
At this point I felt very relieved (although I felt very nervous after the first success and was strangely happy when it failed), so I emailed SteriPen the news:
OK -- Good news and bad news...
- Bad news is that the SteriPen also failed with the Lithiums: There's a problum with the Pen.
- Good news it that the SteriPen failed with the Lithiums: We don't need to sort out battery issues.
Their response was to accept full responsability and get a new SteriPen to me where ever in the world I was:
It looks like you may need a replacement SteriPEN. We do have an Australian distributor that can help. I recently have had a computer explosion, so please forgive any repeated questions.
- What address may I have a replacement SteriPEN Shipped?
- What phone number may I associate with this address?
- How long will you be available at this address?
- Which country and retailer did you purchase your SteriPEN from?
- About when did you purchase your SteriPEN?
- Please look inside the battery compartment and read me the full serial number on the sticker.
So within a week of the initial enquiry I knew I was getting a new one!
I sent my SteriPen to the distributor in Perth, who probably had a play themselves, and a week after sending it I had a new SteriPen Classic in my hot little hands.
I still need to know what our battery life is going to be, so it's set up in our lounge room with a glass and paper for recording...
I guess the SteriPen gets a Did Not Finish for this review, but their Customer Service gets 5 out of 5!
Unfortunately we don't have any track time to do testing before we head out on the Bibbulmun Track, so all the testing will be in the lounge room; but that will have to do.