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A Proposal: Frontier Pro Filter and Steripen Combo
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James Dubendorf

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
A Proposal: Frontier Pro Filter and Steripen Combo on 02/23/2009 14:10:55 MST Print View

I am working on a water treatment plan that is appropriate for my particular needs, and hope I can get thoughts and feedback from you all. Some folks have strong feelings about water treatment, and many other threads have inspired interesting debates about water treatment in the backcountry. For the sake of this discussion, let me say that this system is intentionally designed to be very cautious and redundant. I hope you'll accept it on those terms. Second, it is designed to satisfy water needs for two people, 2-5 nights out, in desert areas such as southern Utah where water sources can be scarce, and there is often little choice in the matter where you get your H2O.

I own a steripen and like it, both for the ease of use and effectiveness. However, the steripen does not do well in the presence of sediment and particulate matter, and does not deal with issues of taste since there is no carbon filter. So I would like something to complement the steripen to deal with these issues.

The steripen pre-filter seems to be roughly comparable to a coffee filter or bandana, and does not address the taste issue. The frontier pro, however, does both these things for just a little more money. The filter size of the frontier pro, however, is less than ideal- I see it as a complement rather than replacement to the steripen.

Here is how I see the system working: in relatively clear water, steripen works alone. With mild sediment but fine taste, bandana w/ steripen does the trick. In the case of bad taste and/or high sediment, frontier pro and steripen (w/ possible bandana pre-filter).

I would also carry a bit of aquamira drops as a very light redundant option, and could also use the frontier pro and aquamira together with good success (I just like the lack of wait time and ability to avoid chemicals w/ steripen).

So, this rig has the potential to kill most if not all potential unwelcome creatures, deal with high sediment content and taste issues. Plus, it is lighter than my katadyn hiker, more effective, and more adaptable to different conditions.

Thanks in advance for thoughts on how to improve this system while maintaining its core features of function, flexibility, and aggressive treatment.


victoria maki
(clt1953) - F

Locale: northern minnesota
re:frontier pro filter and steripen combo on 02/23/2009 14:53:23 MST Print View

James, I have planned on using both this summer on my JMT hike. I used the frontier pro last summer along with 2 drops of bleach in a liter of water. I purchased a steripen to use this next summer, but only using that creeps me out. How do you get the top of the bottle sterized? I have the set up from anti-gravity gear. Bag and filter. Weighs very little. Will run the water through the filter first, then use the pen to kill the virus and bacteria. Also, i don't like chunks in my water. Will bring a few tablets or bleach incase pen fails, which I have heard happens.

James Dubendorf

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
Re: A Proposal: Frontier Pro Filter and Steripen Combo on 02/23/2009 17:50:48 MST Print View


The steripen is one of those products that people love or hate, very little middle ground! It either works or it doesn't, leaving very little room for moderately satisfied, especially considering the price tag. I've had no problems with mine, though I have always been cautious to prevent exposure of batteries to the cold. Seems as though most horror stories relate back to the batteries in one way or the other, but I'm no expert. Roger Caffin's BPL review is very helpful.

In any event, like you, I would be very reluctant to rely on the steripen, or any other single option, as my sole means of water treatment. I like the redundancy of aquamira for very little weight (haven't tried bleach), and it is waiting if the steripen konks out. On another hike, with different needs, I would probably leave the steripen behind altogether.

The issue of untreated water on cap threads is addressed in the comments section of Roger's article- proposed solutions include not worrying about it at all, wiping off the threads with a cloth, and loosening the cap and sending a little water through to flush the threads. Ultimately a personal decision.

A consistent theme in discussions of the steripen is that it requires a reworking of how you treat and drink water. For example, pump users can no longer suck water out of shallow or hard to reach places and must find some other way to get water into a container when submersion is not easy. Pump or chemical users may find that their old drinking containers have narrow openings and won't work with the steripen. Other questions arise. Treat in a wide-mouth hard or soft nalgene and assume that water circulates enough that the bottom gets treated? Treat in a more conveniently shaped container, shallower with a wider opening (cook pot, plastic bottle with the top cut off, heavy duty plastic bag, platypus with bottom cut off, etc.), that is then poured into a drinking bottle? In this case, where is that container stored while remaining easily accessible?

I haven't arrived at the perfect solution for myself yet.

The frontier pro would require a dedicated dirty bag such as a platypus- you already would have on with the AGG rig, I suppose. This would be filtered into either a drinking vessel, or some intermediate container, then steripenned. Granted, this full process might be a bit of a hassle, maybe too many moving parts, but I only anticipate using the frontier pro when sediment and/or taste is a big issue- most of the time a steripen by itself would be just fine.

Anyhow, I'm sure I'm missing something, and would love to hear ideas on how to make the system more convenient.


Edited by dubendorf on 02/23/2009 17:55:49 MST.

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: A Proposal: Frontier Pro Filter and Steripen Combo on 02/23/2009 18:30:18 MST Print View

James, have you seen the YouTube video at BPL store page on the AquaMira Frontier Pro? If not, I think you would like it.

James Dubendorf

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
A Proposal: Frontier Pro Filter and Steripen Combo on 02/23/2009 21:17:20 MST Print View


Any chance you could post that link? For whatever reason, I'm having trouble chasing it down. Many thanks in advance.

While I'm here, a question for people who have experience with the kind of sediment that might effect the performance of a steripen. I've been spoiled by clear Rocky Mountain streams for much of my backpacking- sure I've filtered floaties, but mostly big stuff rather than sand and grit. Thanks to a PM from Jon Rhoderick, however, I'm more open to the possibilities of the humble bandana. Will straining through a bandana, multiple times if necessary, clear out most water enough to use the steripen? If so, and unless there was little concern of foul taste or chemicals in water, I could leave the frontier pro behind and feel safe with a steripen and aquamira as backup.

As I said above, I'm interested in providing water for 2 people over 3-5 days, so the ability to treat large volumes is not necessary. It occurs to me that if I wanted to treat several liters at one time before a long, waterless desert stretch, I could steripen a few liters and aquamira the stuff I was carrying for later.


Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: A Proposal: Frontier Pro Filter and Steripen Combo on 02/23/2009 22:25:20 MST Print View

Here is the link, James.

I have used the Steripen in the high sierras for 3 years straight now and swear by the Adventurer (but do not trust or like the Classic model). I have used nothing more than a stainless steel coffee filter like here:

The steripen has been used for a total of 40 days in the high sierra. The water is always crystal clear. The only sediment is basically grass stems or trigs. The last 10 days of the JMT last year, I shipped back along with other unwanted gear, the coffee filter.

The steripen destroys the ability of the viruses, bacteria, and crypto/giardia to reproduce and do damage, as will as killing the crypto/giardia. It has worked well for me except when via the packing method, the power switch stayed on and the batteries depleted and I lacked spare batteries. So I resorted to backup Katadyn chemical tablets then. The downside to the tablets is the 4 hour wait time for (is it crypto), so the frontier pro filter for 2 oz seems like an ideal backup. But the video shows how it can be your primary and only filter used in conjunction with the aqua mira or katadyn tablets, and how it can be used both for use in a gravity feed system as well inline playtypus filter. I was very impressed with this video. I'd like to get others feedback on this. If I could go without the steripen, I'd save about 6 oz more weight in terms of equipment, batteries and case.

NYC Hiker
(NYCHiker) - F

Locale: NYC
Re: Frontier Pro & Steripen Combo on 02/23/2009 23:29:04 MST Print View

I just went through this same dilemma a few weeks ago. My goal was to remove organic tastes from my better half's water. What I ended up with was a flexible new system. I use it in two configurations: Inline Filter and Gravity.

Here's what I have available to me:

1L HDPE Nalgene (gasp!) - 3.5 oz
1L Modified Platypus Bottle (with adapter cut off) - 0.5 oz
SteriPen Adventurer (with batteries) - 3.6 oz
AM Frontier Pro - 2.1 oz
2L Platypus Hoser - 3.5 oz

After watching Jason Klass's video (linked-to above), I started thinking about my setup.

Most of the time, I'm hiking in places where water abundance is not a problem. For those times, I will take either my Nalgene or my chopped Platy bottle. Whichever one I take, that will serve as the collection device and vessel for dosing with UV. I have found that a 1L Platy with the top cut off will work with my Adventurer, so long as the gusseted bottom is fully expanded. I'm also working on tracking down a 1.8 or 2L version that I can chop so I'm left with a 1L+ container for scooping and dosing.

Configuration 1 - Inline

After the water has been dosed, I'll fill up the hydration systems. I'm not sure what you use, but I like my Hoser quite a bit and am comfortable with the extra ~2.5 oz over a plain Platy 1L bottle. Here's where my Frontier Pro comes in. I have spliced it inline to her Hoser so after the water has been dosed, the organic tastes will be charcoal filtered out. Here's how it works:

Platypus Hoser > short tube > AM Frontier Pro > tube > Bite Valve

Instead of splicing, you could just remove the Platy bite valve and insert the FP, using the FP's bite valve. This would save you from cutting your hose, but I find I like the Platy bite valve so much better and I don't like that 2 oz thing flopping about. I'd rather have it secured in my pack.

Configuration 2 - Gravity

When I know I'll be filtering for more than 2, I plan on taking a larger Platy. I do not use my Adventurer in this configuration for more than 2 people. After inserting the appropriate number of MicroPur tablets, I wait 30 minutes (longer in cold weather). In that time, the stuff smaller than .2 micros should be killed off. Then I'll attach the FP directly to the hanging Platypus and filter through it to the final vessel.

In either case, if the water is heavy with particulate and the cloudy, I will rarely use the SteriPen immediately. I will either let the particulate settle out and zap it or use the MicroPur tablets and wait the four hours.

With the MicroPur tablets and Frontier Pro, I really don't need my SteriPen. But I still take it for weekends simply because it's faster (2 v 30 minutes+).

Hope that helps!

Edited by NYCHiker on 02/27/2009 11:09:24 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: A Proposal: Frontier Pro Filter and Steripen Combo on 02/24/2009 00:01:40 MST Print View

I have most of the currently available tested filters in the cupboard - comes from doing a lot of field testing. And a few that are no longer on the market, for one reason or another.

I do not have many of the 'cosmetic' filters - the ones which cannot take out bacteria. Frankly, I don't think they are worth my while.

Most of the filters turned out to be sad failures - usually a very short life. The Katadyn Hiker is the outstanding exception to that: we used one for many years. But we have packed it away pretty well for good too, in favour of the Adventurer.

Lumps or sediment in the water - yeah, filter it out with a rag. Colour (tannin) in the water - who cares. Bad taste in the water - sigh. Been there, drunk that, (but boy we were desperate!).

On the other hand, these days we very often don't bother treating our water. We just make sure the source is fairly clean, with no farms or houses upstream. Many others don't bother either. You just have to be willing to discount the hype from the filter vendors.


Keith Selbo
(herman666) - F - M

Locale: Northern Virginia
Re: Re: A Proposal: Frontier Pro Filter and Steripen Combo on 02/24/2009 06:19:16 MST Print View

Do you hike upstream to the source and make sure there aren't any dead animals lying anywhere in it along the way? What about their scat?

I know people who've never worn a seat belt who've never been hurt, and people who've never treated their water who've never gotten sick. I also know the difference between anecdote and statistics.

If you purify your water, you're less likely to get a water borne illness. It's irresponsible to imply otherwise.

Check out this thread for some other filtering ideas.

One of which is the one I use, a Sawyer 0.1 micron filter followed by a Katadyn charcoal filter. I add the EPA recommended amount of bleach to the water to kill viruses. The Sawyer (lifetime warranty) removes flora and fauna and the charcoal gets rid of the chlorine and other taste issues.

Edited by herman666 on 02/24/2009 06:36:10 MST.

James Dubendorf

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
Frontier Pro Filter and Steripen Combo on 02/24/2009 11:39:38 MST Print View

Thanks all for the good thoughts. As I am building this system around the steripen- which granted I am able to return to REI, as other threads have reminded me lately :)- I think that the pen and a bandana will meet my needs for most of the situations I encounter. The frontier pro might really come into its own when taste, or big nasties like hydatid tapes (unlikely in southern UT?), are factors. I have also endured foul tasting water, such as a few days of sulfur-laden bleh on Cumberland Island, GA, but I am heavily invested in providing a pleasant experience for my companion. In fact, the more complicated my treatment regime looks in action, the more chivalry points I am likely to accrue. And I am ALWAYS in need of those. This is one thing that KISS, keep it simple stupid, leaves out: a flair for performance! I am still waiting for ultralight fog machines and lasers...

Roger, most BPLers seem to agree with you that the 3 micron filter size of the frontier pro renders it inadequate, perhaps even "cosmetic," by itself when water quality is a real concern. My guess is that many see it as a complement and not a replacement for chemical or uv treatment. I've grown to expect inadequate or downright misleading reviews of products from other sources. Indeed, most places sell the frontier pro as a complete solution to every water problem out there, end of story. Currently, the BPL shop page for the frontier pro carries no information, as is customary for many products at BPL, about what the frontier pro CANNOT do, only what it can do. Should this information be included in the BPL sales blurb? I know that most BPLers possess an entrepreneurial spirit in educating themselves about techniques and gear, but why leave such crucial information out? Not to imply that you are responsible for the blurb, or that there are nefarious forces at work, just figured I would ask the question.

I know that nasties like hydatids are a concern in other places of the world, so I will throw this question out: do any fabric straining methods, i.e. coffee filter, bandana, landscaping fabric, etc., reliably deal with hydatids or other nasties that are often too big for uv or chemical treatments?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: A Proposal: Frontier Pro Filter and Steripen Combo on 02/24/2009 18:31:07 MST Print View

> Do you hike upstream to the source and make sure there aren't any dead animals lying
> anywhere in it along the way? What about their scat?

Actually, these are good questions, but the answers may surprise you.

Dead animal in the water: By and large, there is little reason apart from the 'yuk' factor to worry about this. it is very likely that any surface contamination will have washed away days (weeks) ago, and as for the meat and bones - how do you like your steak?

Scats in or near the water: Let's break this into two categories: wild animals and domestic animals.
If I am in farming areas where there might be domestic animals, I become super careful. Fortunately, in Australia we seldom walk in such areas. But I would certainly UV the water if I had to collect it from a creek.
If I am in wilderness areas, I rarely worry about wild animals (in Australia). Few wild animals leave dangerous scats, and they usually do *not* leave their scats anywhere near water, let alone in the water. I know that there are some exceptions in America. I try to collect water from flowing sources where the water is well oxygenated, or filtered through lots of gravel.

> people who've never treated their water who've never gotten sick.
I'll bet you pounds to peanuts that most if not all of these people have had a gastro attack, but it came from not washing their hands after going to the toilet. We see that all the time, especially with young males. Sigh.

Overseas, in Asia and Africa? That can be a very different thing. Frankly, the hazards are such that we prefer to avoid many of those countries completely. There are plenty of far nicer places available.

> If you purify your water, you're less likely to get a water borne illness. It's irresponsible to imply otherwise.
Academically correct, but statistically irrelevant. The risks are infintesimal compared to the hazards incurred by driving to the trailhead!