Things You Don’t Need: CamelBak’s All Clear UV water bottle

4 April, 2012
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What is it? The CamelBak All Clear is a medium-sized water bottle (.75 liters) that has an integrated UV light system in the cap. The light is powered by a USB-rechargable battery system and is estimated to be good for about 80 uses per-charge. When used as directed the UV bulb and gentle agitation from the user kills off harmful organisms in the water in about sixty seconds. Pour in unclean water, flip the switch & shake, then enjoy safe, clean water.

Or do you?

UV light *is* sometimes called a weapon of mass destruction, especially for bacteria, viruses, etc. At a very high-level, and without going off on too much of a tangent, the light acts by damaging-beyond-repair the (relatively) delicate cellular structures within the organism. This same mechanism is the reason we’re advised to wear sunscreen on a bright day. For big humans, it’s a nuisance, and occasionally, a source of skin cancer. For smaller organisms, it can be lethal.

The CamelBak All Clear is isn’t the first device designed to conveniently add UV-based protections to the hiker (or survivalist) water-purification arsenal. UV light *is* a proven method for killing off biological contaminants. But just as we humans do better against UV than your average virus, some bacteria/viruses/etc do better than others against UV damage. If the organism has any amount of protection from the light, this system will be completely ineffectual. If the water, for example, is heavy with silt or even a bit of ice, the UV light will be blocked.

Other bad news: Like some other kinds of purification systems, like iodine tablets for example, this system does nothing for non-biological contaminants. Even if you manage to perfectly hit every virus, protozoa and bacteria in your water sample with enough UV to kill it, you’ve done nothing about other threats. Chemical run-off, sewage, mud and silt, and other non-biological toxins can get into water rendering the water unsafe for human consumption (especially after a major disaster). All the UV in the world isn’t going to help in this scenario.

Then let’s look at the specifics of the this device, the All Clear. There are a lot of pretty ill-considered and unsupported claims. My favorite, just as an example, “LCD screen verifies success”. No, actually, it does nothing of the sort. It’s just a timer to ensure you shake & glow for sixty seconds. CamelBak’s own product literature shoots holes in the product. Quoting from their FAQ, “…you should not use the All Clear on water with ice in it because the UV light cannot pass through the air bubbles or impurities in the ice”[1]

The batteries that power this device are rechargeable, but only if you have access to a USB port. Otherwise they are not user serviceable. So even if you have extra batteries handy, you can’t swap them out without damaging the unit via some serious MacGyver’ing.

But all that aside, the real deal breaker for me came when I saw the price tag. This is a plastic bottle with a light bulb and a battery, for which CamelBak wants….wait for it…. $100. Bwahahaahahahaahahahahahaahahaha. $100? For THIS? For give me this unprofessional chortle, but this is just embarrassing on their part. I’m sorry, but for $100 there are a LOT of other, better alternatives for clean water. $100 USD could buy you: 800 iodine-based treatment tablets (good for about 375 liters of water), or 9 or 10 “water straws” (~720 liters), or any of several light-weight water filtration systems (~1900 liters).

Conclusion: This is just a bad idea. Just horrible, really. It won’t make your water safe, it’ll just bleed out your budget for emergency supplies with false promises. I’ve used a number of CamelBak’s products and have generally been very happy with them in the past, but this is just shameful on their part.

Links for Reference:
CamelBak All Clear
CamelBak Products at Amazon
Other water purification products at Amazon:
Tablet-based Treatments
Water Filter Straw
Light-Weight Water Filtration Systems

Footnotes/References:
[1] Retrieved from http://www.camelbak.com/Sports-Recreation/Bottles/2012-All-Clear.aspx on 28 MAR 2012, 19:37 PST

 

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2 Responses to Things You Don’t Need: CamelBak’s All Clear UV water bottle

  1. 4 April, 2012 at 6:41 am

    I could not agree more. I once got in a heated debate with someone who was pushing a similar product. They had no suitable reply for “So you want to drink sterile mud?”. II’m primarily a hiker, so my needs are often not directly in line those of disaster preparedness, but even I know you’ll be fortunate to find physically uncontaminated water under MANY common disaster situations.

    • sotladmin
      4 April, 2012 at 11:12 am

      Yeah, it’s rough enough on hikers. In a large-scale disaster, even a small scale scale disaster, water quality is one of those first-things-to-go. The very places you want a device like this most are the places this device (and those like) will do the worst.

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