Summit County Gear Guide: Sunlight in a bottle: CamelBak uses UV light to purify water
November 14, 2013
On Friday afternoon, I plugged my water bottle into a laptop USB port for a charge. Saturday found me in the woods of Wisconsin, dipping the bottle into a lake then pressing a button to purify its contents for a drink.
CamelBak makes the $99 bottle, called the All Clear UV Microbiological Water Purifier. It uses UV light to render microbes harmless, letting you grab a drink almost anywhere.
Specifically, the UV light "destroys microbe DNA," as CamelBak puts it. Bacteria, water-borne viruses and protozoan cysts, including the troublesome cryptosporidium breed, are rendered benign by the light.
This technology is not new. Municipal water plants have long used UV light to make mass quantities of water safe.
In the outdoors industry, Hydro-Photon has sold its UV-based SteriPEN product for more than 10 years. You dip the wand-like SteriPEN device in water and stir as UV light streams and purifies.
CamelBak's All Clear is a similar concept but with a different design. The all-in-one bottle and purifier comes as a kit with two caps — one with the lamp mechanism, the other a normal plastic lid.
The goal with All Clear is simple and quick purification. You fill the 0.75-liter bottle up to near the top, then screw the cap on tight. Press a button and gently shake the bottle as light glows and a digital counter ticks from 60 seconds to 0.
That's it. The water is rendered drinkable in a minute, CamelBak guarantees. You can pour it from there into another container or drink straight from the bottle.
The system is slick. But there are a few caveats. Make sure to wipe off the threads of the bottle, for example, so that you don't ingest untreated drips.
Also, not all water works in the system. Water must be mostly transparent for the All Clear to function — it's not a filter, and any sediment or floating specs will remain. (The company sells a $15 optional filter cap if "chunky" water is likely on your trip.)
CamelBak recommends water that is "at least as clear as lemonade." Anything funkier and you need a pump filter or other product to work the H2O clean.
Personally, I've used UV purifiers around the world, from Patagonia to Nepal.
My test this week was not as exotic. But even water from a lake in northern Wisconsin can make you sick.
How do you know it works? CamelBak cites independent lab tests and EPA protocols. You can open PDF documents on the company website and read detailed reports on "ultraviolet light as a sanitizing agent," stats about reducing bacteria by 99.9999 percent and so on.
In the end, you need to trust that the brand is telling it straight. I drank a few bottles' worth of lake water and am still standing three days hence and functioning fine.
As for the All Clear design, I like the integrated form of the purifier and bottle in one. But it is heavier than SteriPEN products — the UV cap weighs 7 ounces, which would look heavy to a backpacker counting every gram.
The All Clear was designed more as a camping and traveling tool, not necessarily for the ultra-light crowd. You can use it in iffy hotel rooms or at water pumps in remote villages, as well as at wilderness lakes and streams.
Its lithium-ion battery lasts for 80 purification cycles, CamelBak cites. You can plug it into a wall outlet or laptop via USB for a charge.
The company notes 16 gallons of water can be made pure for each battery cycle. That's a lot of liquid — a lot of Wisconsin lake water for me to drink.
Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at http://www.gearjunkie.com.
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