Gadling: As a gear reviewer, I see a lot of different travel and outdoor products come across my desk. Some are unique and useful, others are shameless derivatives of products that have come before them. I've seen a few pieces of gear that are truly ingenious, but many more that are just down right whacky. It isn't often that you get a new product and immediately realize that it has the potential to change the world. That is exactly what we have in the LifeStraw, a water purification system that is inexpensive, simple to use, and highly effective against preventing the contraction of waterborne diseases.
One of the biggest threats to the health of people living in developing countries across the globe is a lack of clean water. In fact, according to water.org, nearly one billion people on our planet do not have access to clean drinking water. The LifeStraw was developed as a direct response to this growing crisis and is meant to be a cheap, yet effective, way to prevent the spread of disease in countries where waterborne illness is prevalent. The filter has already been put to good use in a number of developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
The LifeStraw is simplicity at its finest. It really is just a straw, albeit one with a sophisticated filter built-in. That filter makes all the difference however, effectively removing 99.9999% of all waterborne bacteria including E coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Shigella and Salmonella. It also blocks 99.9% of waterborne parasites as well, including Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium Parvum. That makes it a handy item to have in your pack when you're traveling through regions where clean water is a commodity.
Like any other straw, you simply dip the LifeStraw into a water source, including straight into a river or pond, and sip the liquid through it. The filter system takes care of all the nasty stuff and will even filter out particulates from the water, although too much dirt and silt can cause the straw to get blocked. When that happens, you simply blow air back through the system to clean out the filter and then continue using it as normal.
Backpackers and adventure travelers will find the LifeStraw to be an excellent emergency water purifier, although it isn't likely to replace purification systems such as those from SteriPen, which allow you to clean liters of water to use in bottles or hydration packs. The nature of the straw means that it isn't the most efficient way to get a drink while on the move, although it is a great, cost effective option for those whom that isn't a concern. The LifeStraw weighs just 2 ounces, is very sturdy, and costs $19.95, which makes it a great back-up option for those "just in case" scenarios.
At the beginning of this story I mentioned that the LifeStraw is a product that could potentially change the world, and while it has its benefits for travelers, I was speaking more so of what it can do for the developing world. The device is able to filter more than 260 gallons of water over its lifespan and because they are so relatively inexpensive, they can be easily distributed throughout the third world. In those places, it has the chance to improve the health of the people that live there in a dramatic way, potentially extending their lives and preventing the spread of disease. The developers of LifeStraw are so convinced of its potential in those environments, that it has an option to donate the product for use in developing nations.
The LifeStraw has been around since 2005 but is just now becoming available to purchase in the United States and Canada. For anyone traveling to destinations where the quality of the water is questionable, it is an extremely useful piece of kit to have in your pack.