The SteriPen Sidewinder is a portable, hand-powered UV water purifier. It safely harnesses the strength of powerful ultraviolet light to kill just about anything and everything that may be lurking in your water. The Sidewinder runs on a completely renewable source of energy: your muscles. Taking its name from the small hand-crank on its side, which is the power source for the entire device, all you have to do is turn the crank for a bit and await the Sidewinder’s green LED indicator to declare your water purified. After 90 seconds of cranking you’ll have cleaned out over 99.99% of any bacteria, protozoa, and viruses – but you might have also got a bit of a workout!
I got my own and what I find to be the main appeal of the Sidewinder – the battery-less, hand-powered wind-up crank system – is also what will probably deter me from frequently using it as my go-to purifier. Let’s delve deeper into the SteriPen Sidewinder to see if it’s right for you.
Reviewing the SteriPen Sidewinder: What You Get & How It Works
The entire SteriPen Sidewinder pack will cost you about ~$70 and includes the crank system, complete with the purifying UV bulb, a wide-mouth BPA-free 1 liter bottle, and a 40 micron pre-filter mesh cap. One UV lamp will last you roughly 8,000 liters, and since it is advised to fill up the 1 liter bottle completely for each use, the UV light will last you 8,000 full uses. The pre-filter will pretty much only remove larger items and sediments – the rather large 40 micron pore size easily allowing finer material through. This can be a problem, due to the nature of UV purification, which works best in clearer, less polluted waters. If your water source is too murky, you might need to clean the water with a filter offering a smaller pore size for a more comprehensive filtration before sterilizing with the UV light on the SteriPen Sidewinder. Something like the Sawyer Mini Filter is a great low-cost option (read our complete review of the Sawyer Mini.)
I was pretty unimpressed with the included 40 micron pre-filter, but luckily have fairly clean water sources around me. I could see this being a big problem for people traveling, who may not know what kind of water they are going to be dealing with, and unfamiliar with exactly what the Sidewinder does. It is always important to make the distinction between UV purification and filtration. Occasionally the misnomer “UV Filter” is used, adding further confusion. Devices like the SteriPen Sidewinder which rely on UV purification don’t actually remove anything from the water. The UV light is effective at sterilizing the water by killing microorganisms, but it doesn’t remove them, or anything else in the water.
This means that a device like the Sidewinder is best put to use somewhere where the water is either already potable but there is still concern for contamination by pathogens. Or at least relatively clear, unpolluted running waters – not murky ponds or stagnant puddles, which can be rendered potable with an actual filtration system.
Hand-Powered Water Purification with the SteriPen Sidewinder
As we’ve noted, the SteriPen Sidewinder runs completely on man-power. Which is great, right? In a disaster situation, often times the first supplies your local superstore will run out of are clean water and batteries. The Sidewinder is a fantastic emergency water purification tool in such scenarios. However, if you are out camping or backpacking, the Sidewinder’s hand-crank system can be quite a hassle. This isn’t a leisurely crank in the park, it can actually be physically exhausting. To be precise, it requires a full 180 revolutions at 120rpm. The system allows for 5 second breaks (roughly every 30 seconds) to relax or switch arms if needed, but other than that it is 90 seconds of intense rotating. The device will let you know if you are slacking in the speed department with a red LED flash, which turns green once the 90 second allotted time has finished.
The SteriPen Sidewinder purifies considerably more water than its little brother, the SteriPen Adventurer Opti which we reviewed earlier this year. Where the little handheld SteriPen is designed to purify a glass at a time, the hand-cranked Sidewinder purifies an entire liter. The inclusion of the BPA-free Tritan plastic bottle with a 1 liter capacity makes it super easy to use the SteriPen Sidewinder without having to switch bottles or go through too much extra hassle.
While the kit itself seems to be pretty durable, it is rather large (8.6 in. x 5.5 in. x 3.8 in.) and clunky, taking up a sizable portion of your backpack. And while it is made of pretty tough plastic, it is plastic nonetheless – and plastic with moving parts at that. This necessitates a bit of gentle handling, but if you don’t go too crazy on the hand crank it should last a long time of regular usage. I would say to keep it in your house, car, boat, or cabin, where it will be there for you in case of emergency. Ideal for preppers or home emergency preparedness kits.
SteriPen Sidewinder: Final Thoughts and Review Summary
I really enjoyed the idea of not being reliant on batteries and being able to purify water with my own two hands, but after getting getting those two hands on the SteriPen Sidewinder for myself, I can only suggest it for semi-niche emergency survival and last resort situations. It is too large, clunky, and physically intense for backpacking or any kind of leisurely travel travel – especially if you are far away from home in an unfamiliar location where you might not find water suitable to purify without filtering first. I don’t see the included 40 micron pre-filter as being reliable enough to be my only way to get clear, UV ready water.
That being said, the safety net of having a hand-powered purifier stored away in an emergency kit does put my mind at ease. If you are looking for something with a small footprint, the Sidewinder is probably not the device for you (the handheld, battery-powered SteriPen might be a better pick.) The real utility of the Sidewinder comes with the fact it is entirely hand-powered, which can make it a truly vitally helpful piece of equipment in emergency situations – especially when paired up with a decent filter.
Overall the SteriPen Sidewinder isn’t a bad piece of technology, but its usefulness in everyday life might be a little questionable. But it certainly performs as advertised and is well put together. We award it 4/5 stars.
Learn More About the SteriPen Sidewinder
To get more specific details, check current prices, read other customer reviews, or get your own SteriPen Sidewinder, be sure to visit the Amazon listing.
Probably the best way to learn about the Sidewinder is to see it in action. Check out this great review from YouTube survivalistboards user as he demonstrates his SteriPen Sidewinder and offers his thoughts.
Purifies up to 1 Liter in 90 Seconds
Difficult To Use
- Editor Rating
- Rated 4 stars
- SteriPen Sidewinder Hand Powered Water Purifier
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A 100% Hand-powered ultraviolet sterilization system from Steripen.
Jacob Hatch is the author and founder of Hydration Anywhere. He has been actively writing about drinking water since 2013. These days Jacob spends most of his time investigating water related news, studying environmental issues, reading health studies, and reviewing products like water bottles and water filters.