Editor's Note: This article was opened to the public on July 22, 2010. To subscribe and see Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2010 articles as they are published, click here.
CamelBak, the hydration folks, break into the water treatment business with the All Clear Ultraviolet water purifier. The All Clear design (9.2 oz/$99) combines a UV-C discharge lamp into a screw-thread bottle cap that contains the electronics and batteries. The cap is threaded for the familiar 63 mm wide-mouth bottles and water containers known to backpackers everywhere. Powered by two CR123 cells, the All Clear has an 80-second cycle time for 0.9 liters of water. An LCD display communicates treatment time, battery health, etc. The All Clear is due in stores in October 2009.
The basic CamelBak All Clear UV Water Purification system (right) uses two CR123 batteries; the deluxe system (left) uses a rechargeable battery pack and comes with a USB cable.
Operation is simple: Fill a 1L or .750L bottle, screw in the purifier, press and hold the start button, and wait for the timer to count down while agitating the bottle. Batteries are accessed via the top-mounted battery compartment.
CamelBak claims a set of CR123s will treat 70 to 90 liters and the optional rechargeable Li-Ion battery pack can treat 32 to 36 liters between charges. No mention is made of cold water's effect on battery life (a common portable UV purifier hurdle). Lamp life is claimed to be 8,000 or more cycles.
The All Clear will be offered in two versions: standard ($99 for CR123 battery operation) and deluxe ($129 for rechargeable Li-ion battery operation). Both include a bottle imprinted with instructions, and the Li-ion battery pack can be purchased separately for $30.
Ultraviolet light inactivates viruses, bacteria, and cysts, qualifying the All Clear as a purifier under the EPA's definition, as compared to most filters and chemical treatments, which are less effective against viruses and cysts, respectively. UV has no effect on water's taste and does not treat chemical contamination. Besides cold water, UV's other Achilles heel is turbid water. The CamelBak All Clear literature does not address it; presumably, filtering or settling will be required for cloudy source water. There's no mention whether CamelBak supplies a prefilter for straining debris out of the source water.
Beyond some cosmetic differences and the LED display, the All Clear looks remarkably similar to the Meridian Design UV Aquastar, a proven design I've been using with success for several years (success is defined as me not getting sick). If they are indeed similar, the All Clear will offer hikers a simple, relatively quick way to treat water, both in camp and on the go. UV's ability to scoop, treat, and drink quickly and easily while on the go is matched only by filter bottles, and filter bottles don't lend themselves as well to treating large volumes in camp.
UV is still a niche outdoor product, and it's gratifying to see a company Camelbak's size jump in. If their design has improved cold water performance of UV units, and if they can really wring out 80 or 90 liters from a single battery set, they'll provide a welcome option for hikers.