The Ultimate: Backcountry Travel Gear

Happening Issue 82 Jul, 2010

Having as many things in the rucksack as possible and,at the same time, staying light is every adventurer’s dilemma while packing for a trip. And if you are someone who loves to trek in the Himalayan country like Nepal, travelling light becomes all the more imperative. Apart from the handy trekking gears and personal things you can’t afford to leave behind, there is something else that worries you every time you pack your bag—carrying safe and clean drinking water.
While trekking around the countryside and hills in Nepal, the availability of drinkable water is bleak. The thought of local water gives you headache before and several bouts of runs after you consume it due to stomach infections. Trekkers mostly rely on stove that is difficult to carry or chorine tablets that are expensive. And there are others who carry loads of packaged water bottles that are, both, heavy and expensive, not to mention the baggage of environmental nightmare they create in the places where they are disposed haphazardly.

But there are trekkers who have learned

smart way to avoid all these problems and still keep themselves well-supplied of safe drinking water wherever they are. They have got hold of a magic wand called ‘SteriPen’. Though it is named so to imply that it is as convenient as carrying a pen, SteriPen literally works like a wand. Explaining the ease of using the product, Tim, who has circled the globe three times and travels internationally several times a year, writes in his blog: You just turn it on, stick it in water, and a minute later the possibly scary liquid in front of you is water you can drink without worry.

SteriPen can sterilize a glass of water in 45 seconds. Bacteria, viruses and protozoa present in a liter of water can be destroyed in mere 90 seconds using SteriPen.

So, just how does SteriPen work? The technology used in making SteriPen is employed by most water supplying agencies in the cities and towns worldwide. As you dip the muzzle of SteriPen into the water and press the button, it flashes purple colored ultraviolet rays—it will remind you of sci-fi films like ‘Star Wars’—which kills all the harmful micro-organism. The best thing about the product apart from a germ free water is that it does not change the taste of the water, something unthinkable with chlorine tablets or boiled water.

“SteriPen is already popular with American and British travelers and slowly catching up with other European travelers,” says Mahadev, proprietor of Peak Promotions, the authorized dealer of SteriPen in Nepal. Though Peak Promotion has been selling the product for more than a year, they haven’t spent a penny on advertising. “We get a lot of customers who have heard or seen fellow travelers using it,” says Mahadev. One SteriPen purifies 7000
liters of water in its lifetime.

There is a steady flow of foreigners during trekking season at Holyland Hiking Shop, a shop in Thamel that sells trekking and mountaineering gears. “When they glance at SteriPen they react in shock and awe,” says Lal Kumar Rai, the owner of the shop. “Most of them are already aware about the product, but they give up the thought of searching it in Nepal thinking it would not be available here.” The fact that the sales of stoves and chlorine tablets have gone down at his shop speaks of the rise in the popularity of SteriPen.

But SteriPen is not just becoming popular with individual trekkers. Several tour and trek organizers have made it mandatory for their guides to carry at least one SteriPen for each group of trekkers. “It is our responsibility to ensure that safe water is available all the time for the tourists who sign up with us. But making it available round the clock in far flung
areas is difficult,” says Keshav Prasad Dahal of Rainbow Trek & Expedition. “Since our guides have started to carry SteriPen, however, we have never received a complaint from our

Hari Dharel of Highlander Trekking, on the other hand, has gone as far as asking his guides to use the water sterilized by SteriPen for all cooking purposes. “Earlier they were using waters from tube wells and taps that are not always safe for cooking. Since SteriPen, we are not taking any chances,” he said. 

There is already acute shortage of kerosene and one is never sure if chlorine tablets are available everywhere. And if you are environmentally sensitive kind, you would end up wounding your conscience after each bottle you dispose in the very beautiful surrounding you took pains traveling. Whether or not you are environment conscious traveler, SteriPen comes across as smart device for water purification, making all other alternatives look clumsy in terms of convenience, reliability and design. The only concern with the product right now is, perhaps, the batteries. But there are too many users who have said that one set of batteries usually covers expeditions spanning weeks or even months, depending on how you use. If you can buy a solar charger accessory that slowly recharges standard re-useable batteries, the problem of batteries running out, too, would be solved. 

All these features make SteriPen a handy trekking gear as well as a personal thing that you cannot leave behind. So next time you are on a trekking or any kind of backcountry expedition in Nepal, do not waste time worrying about safe drinking water. Just fasten SteriPen in your trouser’s loop or clip it anywhere it is appropriate. With this ultramodern travel gear, you will never have to postpone your thirst again.