SteriPen really that good?

1:43 a.m. on April 14, 2010 (EDT)
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ok, im planning a hike on the laurel highlands trail.....im planning on starting at the 70 mile marker and heading toward ohio pyle. the only problem is there is no water for over 20 miles. there is a very promising looking stream that runs down aside the trail. theres a sign posted near the campsite where the spring comes from the ground stating its not for public drinking.

after further research i found the epa deemed it undrinkable for people due to bacteria.

my question is will the steripen make this water safe. My plans were to use the steri pen and then filter it through a msr filter.

Is it worth taking the risk. or is there even any risk at all after using the steripen/msr?

also i guess i should ask if boiling the water will make it safe too. Im not sure what kind of bacteria is in the water but im also not sure if any of these water borne bacteria can survive purification methods, and maybe this is why they post it to be undrinkable?

some help please.

10:30 a.m. on April 14, 2010 (EDT)
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Welcome SP99,

May I direct you to a very well written article right here on Trailspace that covers that topic in depth. Written by Bill Straka.

http://www.trailspace.com/articles/backcountry-water-treatment-part-1-hydration.html

This is a 4 part series, part 3 & 4 probably deals with what you are asking. This is a link to part 1, there is a link to the next part on the page. In order for water filtration or sterilization to be effective you first need to understand how to avoid cross contamination, so I would recommend reading all four parts of this article.

I do not know the details of the contamination in the stream you are referring to, so I would hesitate to assure you of which course of action would be safe. Could you post a link to any online info about this stream? Or give us the name of it?

Very smart question though, you are wise to figure this out before heading off.

12:57 p.m. on April 14, 2010 (EDT)
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As trout says, read my series of articles. Since the contamination is supposedly bacteria, any of the good filters should remove them - Katadyn (I use a Hiker Pro), MSR, Sweetwater, etc. The SteriPen will also kill the bacteria (and viruses), though it will depend on how murky the water is (I have used my SteriPen in Africa and other Third World locations - but then I have never gotten sick from the water, even when others in my party have spent several hours in the bathroom). You should probably let the water settle for a while (overnight if possible) and decant it before filtering or using the SteriPen. Using a coffee filter will often remove enough of the suspended junk to minimize clogging of the filter or to allow full effectiveness of the SteriPen. Even for boiling, pre-filtering through a coffee filter at least makes the water aesthetically less disgusting (boiling does not remove the sand, silt, and twigs).You do not have to actually boil the water - pasteurization of water, milk, etc takes place at temperatures above 150F, if you keep the water that hot for 5 or 10 minutes. There are some bacterial and parasitic cysts that can survive that temperature, and some viruses. But most of those will also survive 10 or 15 minutes of boiling. They are pretty rare, though.

You mention using the SteriPen, then filtering. Actually, since the water should be somewhat clear, you should filter first, then use the SteriPen if you are going to do both - that way, small critters like viruses are taken care of by the SteriPen.

As for risk, there is no such thing as zero risk. Boiling, backpacker filters, SteriPen, and most other methods for backpackers will not remove chemical contaminants, such as mine and agricultural runoff (there are areas of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Montana, and Almaden Valley almost in my back yard that I would not take a chance on because of abandoned mines - Almaden for the mercury mines). Even commercially bottled water is not always completely safe. All you can do is reduce the risk. The alternative, of course, is to die of dehydration.

1:01 p.m. on April 14, 2010 (EDT)
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it isn't so much a "stream" as it seems more like a spring which originates near where the first campsite on the trail. Im not sure if your familiar with the laurl highland trail, if you are its close to the end ( or begining if you live where i do) mile 70.

There is a weird thing made of red brick with a cement slab overtop of it where the water spewes from. this covering makes it hard to tell if it was drilled there for a spring or some sort of control device they have in place over the natural spring.

there is however a spring that comes out of a spigot nearby road that is at the bottem of the mountain. it is called Heffley spring. Which the epa test regularly and as of a few days ago when i drove by it was still running with no locks on the spigots or signs posted as a warning. I couldnt imagen the water im seening at the top of the mountain dosnt run somehow into heffley spring they run in the same direction down the mountain.......what im trying to get at is if the spring along the road is good for use, wouldnt the spring im reffering to at the top the mountain also have to be good? I know its not good to assume but you would think the water would run together toward the bottem of the mountain.

anyway before i do anymore rambling, Im not sure how i could find a name for this mystry spring which might be unsafe....any direction on who i could contact that might know information about it ??

thats for all the other info.

these are both photos of heffley spring which runs along Rt 56 near the trail head mile 70.


1:59 p.m. on April 14, 2010 (EDT)
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Hi SP99,

What MSR Filter do you have?

If you have a Sweetwater like me you might wat to think about getting the SweetWater Purifier Solution, it's supposed to help with viruses and bacteria

http://cascadedesigns.com/msr/water-treatment-and-hydration/basecamp-water-treatment-and-hydration/sweetwater-purifier-system/product

or

Katadyn Micropur Purification Tablets to complement the good filter you already have.

7:12 p.m. on April 14, 2010 (EDT)
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i have a msr sweetwater on order now, but was thinking about being repetitive with the purification of the water. basiclly i guess my question now is would using both the sweetwater and the steripen be a waste or does one kill more than the other?

10:48 p.m. on April 14, 2010 (EDT)
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I think it would be a waste of good money, my reasoning is that they do very similar things. The SweetWater is a filter, and the SteriPEN is a purifier. So, the SteriPEN does kill more stuff than the SweetWater, but with the combination of the SweetWater and the purifier solution or the Katadyn micropur purification tablets they are supposed to have about the same affect a.k.a. water that is 99.99 % clean from bacteria, viruses, and protozoan parasites.

I considered getting a SteriPEN myself but after reading several reviews saying that they can be problematic such as: breaking during a hike, running out of batteries, making sure your water is clean enough of silt, the water temp is high enough and so forth i decided to keep it old school.

1:23 a.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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.... I couldnt imagen the water im seening at the top of the mountain dosnt run somehow into heffley spring they run in the same direction down the mountain.......what im trying to get at is if the spring along the road is good for use, wouldnt the spring im reffering to at the top the mountain also have to be good? I know its not good to assume but you would think the water would run together toward the bottem of the mountain.

If the water runs underground from the top of the mountain to the bottom, the sand, gravel, dirt, acts as a filtration system to a certain extent. In principle, the water coming from the spring at the bottom can be more pure than the water at the top. However, there are others things that can happen on the way - like contamination from mine and industrial runoff.

You won't know unless it has been tested, and even then, there are seasonal variations.

1:34 a.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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The Sweetwater (or any filter) does different things from the SteriPen, or from chemical treatment. Filters remove contaminants that are large enough to be trapped - some of the particulate matter (sand, gravel, dirt, some organics), parasites and protozoa (giardia, for one), and bacteria. Some filters will remove some viruses. The SteriPen kills or inactivates bacteria, viruses, protozoa, but does not remove them or particulates. Chemical treatment (iodine and chlorine in their various chemical compound forms) acts similarly to the SteriPen in their results (kill or inactivate). The end result of each is to make the water more safe to drink.

I have been using a SteriPen for several years. I have never had any of the "urban folktale" problems - no breakage, no operational problems, and I carry extra batteries (I use rechargeable batteries and use SteriPen's solar charger and/or my Brunton foldable solar panel which I often take to recharge camera batteries). Every case of problems I have seen with the SteriPen has been (if I got sufficient information, other than "it failed") operator error. Use it correctly (follow directions), and it works just fine.

9:53 a.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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I have a Sweetwater and a Steripen and use/carry either depending upon where I am going. If I know the streams in the area are going to be running clear (high lands), the Steripen is light and kills off all the nasties in the water. If I'm hiking lower, I often carry the Sweetwater (with purifier drops) to help filter out some of the tastes and particulates.

And, if I'm heading into an area that has serious water contamination (cows) I carry both... filter with the Sweetwater, then purify it with the Steripen. A little added weight, but the one-two punch ensures extremely safe water (and it tastes DARN good!).

1:40 p.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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Sorry,

I guess I should have went into more detail explaining the products differences instead of taking the knowledge for grandted, but thanks for clarifying Bill S.

2:14 p.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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Just to touch on what Bill said about mountain springs and aquifers, I have done a good bit of backpacking in the Waldens Ridge section of the Cumberland Plateau. In particular a watershed near the town of Soddy Daisy TN.

The main stream draining that watershed is of course fed by many smaller streams. The larger stream spends a good bit of time underground in the lower sections, and the creek bed appears to be dry during part of the year.

The main trail there traverses the eastern slope of Montlake Mountain which has several coal mines. There are many tributaries that cascade down the mountain and cross the trail, so you can fill filter & fill your water bottles or bladders any time you wish, or so you would think.

Problem is that some of these tributaries contain acid mine runoff and have a strong sulfer smell & taste terrible.

One of the local hikers taught me to look for a brown discoloration of the rocks in the tributaries that indicated acid mine runoff. If you saw that discoloration you knew the water was contaminated.

Water coming from areas upland of the mining area was generally good, and the water well below the watershed area tested good also.

I usually carried enough water to get me above the mines and then used a filter with activated charcoal followed by chemical treatment.

But still, you don't know for sure unless the water has been tested and you have access to the results.

6:51 p.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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so overall is useing both a waste or is there no real best option. would useing both be repetivite

11:20 p.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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hmmmm, i dont know how to put this without seeming like a dick....i already know how the filter works and how the steripen works......i know that the steri pen dosnt remove particulates and the filter does.....i got all that.

what i really am searching for is if i use both the msr and steripen, would it be the same as just running the water throught the msr twice. i guess how i should ask this is does the msr do any more than the steripen as far as water borne nasties, i get that the pen wont take out the particulates

and the stream im thinking of in this situation runs clear and is clear where you can see stone wash in the stream bed.

11:57 p.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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For what is worth, thats why I answered your question the way I did, I don't think you will get anything extra out of using both filter and SteriPEN in the situation you described as long as you do also add a chemical treatment with the filter as I already mentioned.

12:23 a.m. on April 16, 2010 (EDT)
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Naaah, you aren't being a "dick". You, like many others, are looking for a simple "yay or nay" answer. Problem is it isn't black or white. It ain't binary. The answer as I and others said, it depends on the situation. As the characters in The Musicman said "Ya gotta know the territory".

As trout pointed out, if you are in territory with abandoned mines (West Virginia or out here in the Almaden Valley), filters, Steripen, and halogens (iodine or chlorine compounds) don't work. The mercury-contaminated water in Almaden Valley runs crystal clear - clearness is not a guarantee at all.

My point about the underground passage is that in many places, this provides a natural filter.

In Third World countries, you have a high probability of encountering all sorts of viruses (Hep A, B, C, and I now read a D variety). In disasters, you will encounter cholera and other nasties that filters may not take out (but UV from the Steripen and iodine, chlorine as chlorine dioxide and hypochlorous acid, and boiling will).

Possibly in the situation you describe (a clear stream), one or the other of Steripen or filter will suffice (remember that you can't see giardia, crypto, bacteria, viruses with the unaided eye in clear water). Viruses are pretty rare in streams in the US - not non-existent, since there have been disastrous outbreaks in municipal water supplies, just rare enough to generally not worry about it.

But given that you are worried enough to bring up the question, I would recommend for your and your companion's peace of mind, you better use a filter, then use the Steripen (belt and suspenders, ya know). And keep in mind, it still isn't guaranteed.

Actually, the main source of backpacker digestive system diseases is lack of personal sanitation. This outranks waterborne sources by a huge margin. Wash your hands and/or use hand sanitizer after relieving yourself every time (number 1 and number 2), and the food prep person should also wash hands and use hand sanitizer before handling the food (and after wiping your hands on your clothes - just like they do in restaurant kitchens).

12:24 p.m. on April 16, 2010 (EDT)
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thanks for all the input, it cleared up alot of my questions. most importantly proved there is no 100% right way to make water safe in every situation, only certain systems for each individual situation.

1:57 a.m. on April 18, 2010 (EDT)
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Does anyone know if there is any difference between the steripen "emergency" and any other steripen?

2:44 a.m. on April 18, 2010 (EDT)
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streetpunk, here is a link where you can compare the different models. The Adventurer is what I read most people saying they have (maybe because it's been around longer) but after reading reviews and comparing I bought the Journey. Mostly because it is liter than the classic and unlike the Adventurer it is round and should work better with the pre-filter.

http://www.steripen.com/outdoor

11:21 a.m. on April 18, 2010 (EDT)
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Mostly because it is liter than the classic and unlike the Adventurer it is round and should work better with the pre-filter.

Huh, I hadn't noticed that the Adventurer doesn't have a nice round shaft in the middle... that doesn't make much sense. Does it still mate up with the prefilter at all?

I have the classic. Bought it over the other two because it uses AA batteries and I like redundancy in my batteries. If I get in a bind, I can swap between my flashlight, GPS, water purifier... whatever is needed for the situation. Also, there is additional weight, but it has double the treatment numbers per battery change. That is all worth the two ounces extra to me.

12:03 a.m. on April 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Cleric,

As far as I know you can only dip - stir with the Adventurer, no inverting the bottle with pre-filter and only wide mouth bottles. I was thinking the same way as you about staying with one that uses AA's but realized I've already changed everything else. My camera takes a special battery, headlight AAA, and now the Steripen something else. I'll probably get PO'd one day in the middle of nowhere and throw them all in the lake. :)

12:21 a.m. on April 21, 2010 (EDT)
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might be a little late but heres the stream im talking about in my original post.

like i said it dosnt look nasty but is posted not for public use.

11:40 a.m. on April 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Gary C,

You are correct that the Adventurer does not work with the "fits all containers" rubber device. SteriPen had gotten a number of complaints from people who had problems using the Adventurer type configuration (virtually all "operator error", such as not making sure the electrodes were continuously in the water). So they did the redesign and brought out some new models with the adjustable gasket (which is the real purpose) that allows inversion of a range of bottle sizes and reduces the incidence of operator problems. But there were further operator problems (READ THE MANUAL!), so the new Adventurer uses a light sensor to detect that the pen is in the water (along with some other new versions).

It is not correct to say "only wide mouth bottles", though. I have used my old-style Adventurer in pots, Camelbaks, large glasses (in a restaurant in a third world country - the waiters gave me a totally baffled look). The thing to remember is to keep the electrodes in the water (the photocell versions are more tolerant) for the proper time and keep the water circulating, whether stirring with the Adventurer or inverting and swirling with the gasket (yeah, yeah, it acts as a prefilter, too, but the real purpose is as a gasket to allow inversion and swirling).

Batteries - That's why I carry a magnetic compass, paper maps (waterproof paper and/or ziplok cases), and an analog mechanical altimeter. I travel only in daylight or in polar regions to minimize the need for flashlights/headlamps. Yes, I do use battery-powered devices, but where possible, I carry the non-battery dependent alternatives. Most of my widgets use AAs, but there are things that offer no alternatives - watches, GPSRs, recording watch/altimeter/HRM, flashlight/headlamp, etc. Luckily, most of those are not critical items. Sometimes you can't avoid travel in the dark and the headlamp requirement. Some places, a GPSR is very useful, though never absolutely required (unless geocaching - hmmm, maybe not even then). There are some situations where radio communications are required (on Denali, for example, and some places in Antarctica). In most of those cases, if you start out with fresh batteries, one change is the most required for a one month expedition. For a weeklong trek, one backup set is about it. And with the camera and some other devices that have rechargables, my 26 watt solar panel covers all that is needed.

6:39 p.m. on April 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Bill, you are right about the Adventurer not just working on wide mouth bottles. What I should have said was that the Adventurer does not work well with standard.

6:49 p.m. on May 18, 2010 (EDT)
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Late arriving here.....

I was wondering if anyone has checked out the Lifesaver bottles? A friend discovered them and was going to take it to Africa but he ordered it too late.

They claim to filter all viruses, bacteria and heavy metals.

Pricy (and a bit heavy) but look liike it does a pretty good job. This is the link to their site: http://www.lifesaversystems.com/

8:06 p.m. on May 18, 2010 (EDT)
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This is what little I know about the Lifesaver bottles:

http://www.trailspace.com/gear/lifesaver-systems/lifesaver-bottle/

If anyone else has some first-hand experience, please share here and/or in a review.

2:30 a.m. on May 19, 2010 (EDT)
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.. theres a sign posted near the campsite where the spring comes from the ground stating its not for public drinking.

after further research i found the epa deemed it undrinkable for people due to bacteria...

The thing that grabs my curiosity is that the spring is specifically signed as non-potable. Out west – my stomping grounds – I have not encountered such signage on a trailside water source. Usually the officials post a general notice in a hiking permit that you should suspect all water sources, and leave it at that. In this context your spring with its specific notice makes me wonder if there is more to this situation that is not disclosed (e.g. toxic metal contamination). You said you did research. Was your information source of an official, accountable entity? Lacking such an information source, I would pass on second guessing this water source.
Ed

8:48 a.m. on May 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Like others have said, it's really a crap shoot. My suspicion is that the source is easily enough reached that they're concerned about people happening upon it and not thinking twice about taking a sip. That being said, they are sufficiently vague in their signage that it borders on irresponsibility.

The best course of action would be to contact the managing agency and ask specifically about the contaminants found in the source and if they can be filtered or neutralized. If they can't answer that question, put a request in writing that they more rigorously test the water and publish their findings. As it stands right now, no one has any way of knowing if the water can be made safe in a true emergency situation. That's a problem.

11:32 a.m. on May 19, 2010 (EDT)
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... In this context your spring with its specific notice makes me wonder if there is more to this situation that is not disclosed (e.g. toxic metal contamination). You said you did research. Was your information source of an official, accountable entity?...

streetpunk did say it was a trail in Pennsylvania (Big Red Flag to me - lots of mining history => probable contamination with all sorts of nasty chemicals, including toxic metals), and did say he checked with the EPA, which said "bacteria". In principle, the EPA is an "official, accountable entity". I'm not sure what the EPA is doing looking at individual, local springs ("not in their job description" to do local stuff). Plus, given a lot of recent stuff dug up by the media, I personally cast a wary eye on anything coming out of the EPA - like most government agencies, it is awfully politicized (at least according to the media, both left and right - not that you can believe the media, either).

Personally, in places where there is a history of mining (like Pennsylvania), I would pack in all my water, even though I do have and use methods that deal with most toxic runoff contaminants.

7:29 p.m. on May 20, 2010 (EDT)
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I think you should just drink whatever, then when you get home, put the steripen under your toungue for the recomended amount of time, then you should be parasite free!

9:27 p.m. on May 20, 2010 (EDT)
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Haha....well at least you don't have to stick it somewhere else.

I had no idea they worked that way.

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