How safe is it to rely on Steripen when traveling?

I’ve just bought a Steripen but have been unable to find independent tests on how effective they are for killing bugs in water. I’m going to Mexico in January. I don’t want to come back with Mentuzma’s revenge


Hi @marie.belcredi, it’s not something we’ve tested at CHOICE to my knowledge, but I’ll add it in for future consideration. In the meantime, hopefully there are some people in our @Travel-Campaigner group who can share their experience.


Sorry there was a fire alarm here at work and I had to leave. Of course there are other precautions that have to be taken while travelling with uncooked food etc. But for the purposes of the water, I just want to be able to make sure my drinking water was clean.


Thanks Brendon, I’ll give that group a try

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We travel a reasonable amount and either…boil water if the locals also drink the water and appears to be of okay quality…boiling changes the taste and makes it drier in the mouth…or buy bottles water (in sealed bottle) from known suppliers. I don’t like buying bottled water because of the waste but try and reduce this by taking our own reusable bottles and buying the largest container we can based on the time staying in the place. Recently in the Atacama Desert (where water has elevated minerals and metals) we could purchase 6L bottles which we used for refilling our reusable bottles…creating less waste. We also ensured the 6L bottles wwre placed in a local recycling scheme (which was available in some local supermarkets).

I personally wouldn’t rely on a straw or chemical based steriliser as water can contain things other than ‘bugs’ such as metals or chemicals, which may only be removed by osmosis or special filters (such as those used to make dionised water). One would need to make sure that the treatment was suitable for the particular water source, removing anything from that water which could potentially be unsafe. I am not aware of any portable ones that does such. I would only potentially use such devices if there was no other option for water and it was a life and death situation (could die if one didn’t drink water).


You can buy small pump type sterilisers with ultra-fine filtration that supposedly remove everything down to protozoans (check bushwalking suppliers), and you can add Iodine tab for extra purification. I once bought a water bottle with a similar fine filter in it, but never actually used it when bushwalking, due to the near impossibility of sucking enough water through it before dehydration set in!

The reviews I have seen all reckon the Steripen is great, and there are a number of different models available.

Another, possibly more useful, but also more expensive option is the Camelback All-Clear:

I don’t have one myself, as the need didn’t justify the cost, but use other Camleback equipemnt and have found it to be well made and reliable.

You may find useful background info here:


Hi @marie.belcredi, I recently spent four months in Samoa, as part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development program.

It was sponsored by the Australian Government, and the third party organisation that ran the program recommended these -

I bought one, used it religiously and never came down with any stomach issues (whereas everyone I knew who didn’t use the water bottle did get very ill on multiple occasions, even when they exclusively drank bottled water).

However, I’m not sure how much of it is down to the water bottle, and how much is because I was generally pretty cautious about food and mosquito bites.


I think it all depends where you are … I have a Lifestraw - where I am (Outback/Remote Australia) sometimes stagnant or unpleasant water (like waterholes we swim in) or an abundance of water due to floods but just very dirty it seems to work well.

When reading some of the marketing words I wonder what the real risk/mitigation equation is. There are a number of manufacturers targeting third world/low income markets, like Vestergaard, Tata and Folia Water to name a couple, and another group who seem to have shinier products targeting first world travelers to the third world, or wherever. It would be very interesting to see a choice review with all these filters in the same lineup and a real assessment of the real world occurrence of the threat they mitigate (for example, filtering out radiological contaminants might be important in Fukushima or Pripyat, but there are other priorities elsewhere and this might need to be balanced against cost …)

This is what the ADF says for its ground personnel..

The ADF also use small deployable reverse osmosis plants, which can be airlifted, for temporary water supplies in say the case of a natural disaster relief where local supplies are likely to be contaminated (e.g. biological or chemical) or generally unfit for consumption (e.g. high salts/sediments).

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Thanks all for the very useful information that you all posted. I’m going to look at the filtration solutions but it looks like a good subject for a choice review.



I spent 6 weeks in remote West Africa (Kagbere, Sierra Leone for anyone interested - probably the most remote place I’ll ever go in my life) and there was no running water and only a very dubious well in the village. The group of us all had different methods for purifying our water.

I used iodine purification tablets and I didn’t get sick - followed the instructions to a tee. Downside is that you can’t drink your water straight away. One of the other women had a Steripen and she didn’t pick any bugs while she was there, she takes it backcountry hiking a lot and has always found it sufficient. I believe you can drink your water almost instantaneously as well. A few people did pick up bugs from the river and were quite sick on return with parasites so I guess that goes to show if you weren’t careful, you could get really sick. This was 7 years ago so I would imagine the technology has improved dramatically since then as well.

All anecdotal, obviously, but I mostly commented to say that there are a huge range of products out there so it would be interesting to see how effective they are. Particularly important for camping where you can’t boil water (e.g. fire bans).

However, for your trip: unless you’re in remote Mexico I’d suggest sticking to bottled water (most countries with unsafe drinking water will have up to 10L containers you can buy, so you’re not wasting packaging). It’s cheap and easy to buy on the road and you can always supplement with boiled water (if you’re staying somewhere with a kettle) each night. I relied on boiled water and bottled water on a recent trip to Kenya and had no issues at all.

Have an amazing time in Mexico!


I’d like to suggest you include the Black Berkey purification filters. These seem to be quite popular and are now being sold in Australia. Also the SCP Flouride Plus as sold by Southern Cross Pottery. Both these filters claim to remove just about all the nasties including a range of heavy metals and chemical pollutants. Given the major problems facing many countries regarding Arsenic in the water I’d want something that works on more than just the particulate matter and bugs.


Haven’t tried that device but been to Mexico often. Drank bottled water and have been caught eating salad washed in untreated water at the best hotels. A pregnant woman in our party came armed with peptobismol and took it every morning just in case–she was fine as it turns out. Montezumas is hard to avoid but after a few trips I’ve become inured I think–still careful–still brush my teeth with bottled water. China is just as bad BTW. Best of luck


Pepto bismol is one of those products I truly miss. Getting it shipped from the US is a ridiculous expense so I don’t, but any time I am in the US or have a visitor coming I get a supply.

Australia apparently considers it old technology but for my dollar it beats Gaviscon hands down as often as not.

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That would be a fairly good way of impressing the new lady your’e out hiking with - calling in a Herc to airdrop an RO plant if she’s thirsty.

… a bit out of my price range tho … :slight_smile:


Only if there was something to mix with the water to take away the shock of the RO plant cost.

There however are handheld and operated RO pumps which can be bought, but these are quite expensive to buy and maintain and still not small enough to be travel companion.

Having travelled lot, I wouldn’t rely on basic purification say using tablets or UV to think water is fit for consumption. Possibly these purification techniques are okay if one is in the upper catchment or a reasonably undeveloped area (e.g. national park or high altitude) and needs a drink. Then in such cases, basic treating of spring or stream water which looks okay to drink would still be advisable to remove any microbe infections from animals/wildlife.

They possibly have a purpose where one doesn’t fully trust the local treated tap water, even though the locals drink it. The purification techniques would provide a final treatment process to remove any lingering microbes which the locals may have built up some resistance to.

In my travels water which contain a lot of things which may not be obvious to the naked eye and would remain in the water after these simple purification techniques. A recent example as I alluded to above was in the Atacama Desert where some of the natural water sources are very high in copper and other minerals…so much so that tiles in showers are stained a green-blue. The water coming out of the tap looks fine, but if one didn’t know and used one of the purification techniques, they would still be consuming water very high in copper and minerals. Drinking high copper water can have acute affects on the body. Our host in San Pedro de Atacama warned us not to drink the water as a result (and confirmed independent information we had received elsewhere).

Chemicals such as pesticides or other inorganic compounds can dissolve in water or can bind to clay in water. The water may look relatively clean but again purification won’t remove such compounds.

Also, while a UV or tablet treatment may have an effect on disinfecting the water, any toxins resulting from these microbes may still be there…an example is blue-green algae.

If anyone is interested in reading some general information on UV treatment, information can be found here.