A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Woods Monkey got its start in the summer of 2008. Included in the first items we reviewed was Hydrophoton’s SteriPen water purifier. Well, along comes 2010 and Hydrophoton has introduced a new water purifier with a bit of a twist. It’s their new Sidewinder purifier that still uses the UV light bulb to do its job, but this product is powered by a crank on its side.
I’ve always been interested in electronics that offer alternatives for the power source. I guess part of that comes from my preparedness mindset, and if there comes a time when you’re in a long-term emergency situation, the possibility exists that you might not have access to electricity whether it’s via the wall outlet or even batteries. One of the first items I bought with this thought in mind was a Free Play radio. I wanted to have a way to get the news even if power wasn’t available. The beauty of the Free Play is that you wind the crank arm on the back of it for a couple of minutes and the radio will play for around 30 minutes. I’ve had this radio for close to fifteen years and it still works just like the day I bought it. It also has a solar power option, but more often than not I’ll use the crank option. This is a great device for use when the power is out during seasonal events like ice storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, or even heavy snowfalls. If you’re a “Book of Eli” fan like me, then you’ll also see the advantage in something like this for the coming zombie invasion or other such TEOTWAWKI event.
Hydrophoton has taken a similar approach with developing their new Sidewinder water purifier. Instead of using AA or CR123 batteries to power the UV bulb (more on this later) like some of their other products, the user simply has to crank the arm on the side for 90 seconds to purify one liter of water. That’s actually a fantastic step forward on so many levels. Besides the obvious benefit of using something like this on a camping trip or leaving it at your backwoods retreat for use down the road, the development of a product like this has significant benefits for third world countries as well. I joke a little bit with tongue in cheek humor about the zombie invasion, but there are serious problems in the world where people are unable to obtain clean drinking water. The very countries that have problems with obtaining clean drinking water for the people are usually the same ones that don’t have a solid infrastructure for transportation and power. Having a self-powered product like the Sidewinder negates the need for an outside power source to operate the UV bulb which is the key component in the Hydrophoton Sidewider.
I’m not a scientist, but the basic premise behind using UV technology to purify water is stopping the reproductive process of bateria and viruses. When exposed to a certain amount and wavelength of UV light, the DNA of bacteria and viruses are scrambled to the point that they are unable to reproduce. At that point, they are considered dead. From what I have been able to glean, the UV light wavelength used for this type of treatment is somewhere around 254 nanometers. Is that important for this article? Probably not, but I want to come across as sounding very erudite about such matters. Common waterborn microbes that cause problems include Giardia and Cryptosporidum, and viruses can be found in areas where the water is stagnant and/or where human or animal waste can be found.
Yes, there are a large variety of water filters on the market, but the vast majority of the hand pump style filters do not treat viruses. The pores in the filters are simply too large to strain out viruses during the filtration process. Sure, there are other treatments such as iodine tablets or even the newer Chlorine Dioxide tablets. Iodine tablets leave a pretty foul taste to the water, so that’s not a very appealing treatment for your drinking water. If the water is aired properly after treatment, Chlorine Dioxide tablets don’t leave the foul taste, but it takes 4 hours for the treatment to be completely effective. Using UV technology allows the user to sidestep all the disadvantages of the problems listed above. There is no foul taste left behind, and the treatment only takes 90 seconds. So, you don’t have to worry about the logistics of having clean water on hand while letting other water sit around for 4 hours while it gets treated. Another advantage to also consider is cost. I priced some Chlorine Dioxide tablets online and found that the average cost to treat 1 liter of water is around 40 cents. When you break down the costs of using the Hydrophoton Sidewider, the cost comes out to about 2 cents per liter. That’s a huge difference in cost, especially when you consider the savings involved over a period of months or years.
Operating the Sidewinder is a simple affair. You fill up the included Tritan BPA-free 1 liter bottle (with Nalgene type mouth), wipe off the threads, swirl the water around a bit, and then screw the full bottle into the unit. Now, the UV bulb will not light up unless the built in sensors are covered in and detect water, so at this point you turn the bottle and Sidewinder upside down to bring the water into contact with the sensors and to turn the crank arm. Once done, you begin the UV treatment process by winding the crank arm to power the bulb. In the picture to the right, I am actually winding the crank arm, but you can’t see my hand because of the exposure time for the picture. But, you should see the red LED that is lit at the bottom of the unit. You need to watch is the LED indicator lights. If you’re winding too slowly, the red LED’s will blink. The user guide states that two revolutions of the arm per second is the ideal speed. Increase your winding speed until the red LED’s are no longer flashing and continue at this speed for about 90 seconds. Once the green LED flashes, you know that you’ve completed the UV treatment process and the water is now purified. The nice thing is that the Sidewinder will allow you to take up to an 8 second pause to either rest or switch hands during the process without having to start the process again.
That’s all there is to completely purifying a liter of water! Now, before we go any further, there are a few things we need to keep in mind about this treatment process. The reason you swirl the water around before screwing the bottle into the Sidewinder is to make sure the water is agitated enough and that you completely treat all of the water within the bottle. That’s why it’s important to pre-filter your water. Dirty water will not allow the UV light to penetrate completely, thus all of the microbes will not be dealt with in the process–not to mention drinking dirty water is not a pleasant experience. This thought really hit home with me when I took the Sidewinder out the first time. I went to one of my childhood haunts in my hometown, a little area next to a river where I used to go fishing. I took along the Sea To Summit collapsable bucket that I reviewed recently (provided by Going Gear) and used it to retrieve water to purify with the Sidewinder. The first thing I noticed when I bent over to dip out the water were all of the minnows swarming around the bank. Not being one for Sushi, I had to step out a bit to find a deeper hole from which to retrieve the water. Even so, I definitely wanted to make sure to pre-filter the water.
As part of the Sidewinder kit, Hydrophoton supplies their own pre-filter which can be screwed onto any Nalgene type bottle mouth. However, I did not receive this pre-filter with the review unit, but I had my own Hydrophoton pre-filter with me that actually goes with my SteriPen. This prefilter is nice to use when you’re dipping out a bottle at a time from your water source. It has a filtering screen in the middle that strains out the sediment and other gunk as you’re filling the bottle. But, since I was using the Sea To Summit bucket, this pre-filter wasn’t the right tool for the job. When you’re in a pinch like this, you can use something like a hankerchief or even coffee filters. Though I was able to avoid catching any minnows with the water bucket and I got a relatively clean scoop of water, there was still all kinds of fun stuff floating around–none of which I really wanted to ponder too much now that I was thinking about the wildlife in the water. I found that using a cone-shaped coffee filter worked well since it settled into the bottle opening with little movement while I was pouring from the bucket into the Nalgene style bottle.
The Sidewinder worked just like it should. I went through the treatment cycle, got the green LED flash, and then chugged some good country water. Personally, I would still prefer to get the water from rapidly moving mountain streams or the like rather than a relatively slow moving river, but you don’t always get your druthers when faced with an emergency situation. Besides the tests that I’ve done around the house, I’ve taken the Sidewinder with me on 8-10 exursions, most of which were day long outings during the late summer. I took it with me on an overnight as well. In all of that time using it, I haven’t experience any gastro-intestinal disorders that I could attribute to the water I’ve been drinking. For that matter, I’ve never encountered any issues in all the times that I’ve used my SteriPen as well. It’s a smaller form factor using batteries and the same UV technology. So, I’d have to say based on my own experience that the UV technology really works.
The only thing left to talk about is the build quality, size, and so forth. While I like my SteriPen a great deal, I did always have that little niggle in the back of my mind about the possibility of the bulb breaking while being carried about in the outdoors. With the SteriPen, you essentially have a small battery casing with a bulb sticking out on its own. I don’t have the same concerns about the Sidewinder. Besides the rubber sleeve that you slide over the bulb when it’s not in use, the bulb is also protected by the water bottle as well. After you’ve dried off the bulb with a soft cloth and enclosed it in the rubber sleeve, just simply screw your water bottle back onto the unit and the bulb is pretty well protected from normal knocks and bangs. I like this degree of protection quite a bit, and it’s certainly a lot more rugged than the SteriPen that I use.
As for the general build quality, it seems quite robust and I haven’t encountered any issues thus far. I will stipulate that this will not be proven until I’ve used the Sidewinder an extensive amount over a long period of time, but I am favorably impressed by it and confident enough to make it a primary tool for myself in the outdoors. This brings me to another question to consider. Who is this for? Well, the Sidewinder would be great for car campers, people using RV’s or pull-along campers. It would also be great for people that have vacation homes or cabins on a lake or by a river. Hunters that have that little cabin way back in the woods that they only visit a few times a year would also benefit from a unit like the Sidewinder. There are no batteries to go dead and you’ll still have a great way to purify your water no matter where you are located. And, with the 8000 cycle bulb life, you’ll get around 2100 gallons of water purified for consumption. At a gallon a day, that’s almost six years for one person. I’d like to say that you could buy a couple of extra bulbs to really extend its life, but the manufacturer has to replace the UV bulb. Part of the reason, I am sure, is so they can also reset the circuitry that provides a warning via the LED lights when you are getting close to the end of the bulb’s life.
As I mentioned earlier, this would be an excellent product for people in remote areas that need a reliable way to completely purify their water without needing batteries or a power grid. As for hikers and backpackers, I’m not sure if this is the right choice. Most folks who hike or backpack are conscious of the weight they carry and will do anything to shave off another ounce of two. Since you need the included (empty) water bottle attached to the Sidewinder to help protect the bulb during transport, you’ve essentially got dead weight there. You’ll need other water bottles to actually carry your water. You don’t want to travel with a full water bottle attached to the Sidewinder, so you’ve got a bottle that you can’t really do anything with until you settle down into camp. Besides that, the Sidewinder is substantially larger and heavier than Hydrophoton’s other UV purifier models because of the crank arm and the included gears and other parts. It really makes it difficult to recommend the Sidewinder to recreating backpackers or hikers. They’re much better off using one of Hydrophoton’s smaller and lighter purifiers that work on batteries. Since most of them will be out no longer than a week or so, there’s not a real need for a long term power solution since they can just pack 1 or 2 sets of batteries.
Now, if you’re a true minimalist that has lots of outdoors skills and plenty of room in your pack for just the essentials (without all the extraneous gear), and if you’re looking at an 18 month trek across the Alaskan interior, then the Sidewider is a perfect solution for you. Or, maybe you’re going to be a part of that motley band of renegades who are traveling cross country to stifle the zombie incursion with only the gear you’ve got on your back. If you are, you’re going to need of a couple Sidewinders to take with you.
Either way, the Sidewinder is a great and necessary product to have on hand for those times when normal power solutions are not available. Retailing at only $99.5, I think it’s an absolute steal. And, at that price, you could probably afford to pick up 2-3 of them–just in case. Whether you’re setting up your survivalist homestead, outfitting your backwoods retreat, or just putting your family’s emergency kit together, this is a product I would highly recommend adding to your toolbox. Probably the greatest need we have for survival as human beings is water. More importantly, we need potable water, and that’s just what the Hydrophoton Sidewinder provides no matter where you are in the world.