…Hydration bladder DUH!
In case you’ve never heard of a hydration bladder or hydration reservoir, I will touch on the basics of them and some tips that even some pro’s can gain from. Bladders/reservoirs come in all shapes and sizes such as these:
Often, people refer to these as “Camelbaks” but Camelbak is actually a brand and not a specific item (even though Camelbak is the first company to market and design this technology). For kicks – a quick story on how these came about: A doctor was running a marathon and wanted to get away from holding his water. He came up with the idea of using an I.V. bag strapped to his back…and the rest is history.
Bladders come in many shapes and sizes, as well as different brands. The largest is typically 3L in size. If your backpack can accomodate this size – which most hiking packs can – I recommend going big. It costs maybe $5 more than the smallest size and you have the option of simply filling it up halfway for a small hike or filling it with more water for longer hikes. So go big.
The three brands featured above (Camelbak, Osprey, and Platypus respectively) are the three most popular sellers in the outdoor industry. I’ve used all 3 and they all work wonderfully. Camelbak is probably the best at being anti-microbial. Osprey bladders are cool because they come with a stem that makes them better for frameless packs or older packs that do not have a clip to hang the bladder on. They also include a magnet on the bite valve so it sticks to your sternum strap. Platypus zip bags are definitely the easiest to open. Any bladder should work well for you, however. The price is usually $25-35 or so for any brand hydration bladder. Don’t let price-point be a deciding factor in which one you buy.
Ok, onto the tips section (this is the fun part!):
As long as your bladder does not feature any sort of hard frame (e.g. the Osprey version), I recommend keeping a couple of cups of water in it and storing it in the freezer. Make sure you have no water in the drinking tube before storing it. Storing this in the freezer will:
1. Cut down on any growth of bacteria or microbes (its too cold for those to grow)
2. Give you some awesome ice cubes which will make the water yummier.
Make sure to only have a couple cups worth (maybe .25L) in the bladder before doing. Remember – ice expands.
If you do not store your bladder in the freezer, make sure it is dry before putting it away. To do this, empty the drinking tube completely, open the refillable lid/zip, and let it air dry. If you do not do this, nasty stuff can grow in there and its annoying to have to clean out.
Use in Hot/Cold Weather
For me, it’s all about temperature regulation. Water will sit in your drinking tube for periods between drinks. If the temps are hot or cold, blow the water back into your reservoir, so that the water does not heat up or freeze. Trust me – you will appreciate this.
You can also get an insulated reservoir. Camelbak sells a couple of cool options – one bladder that has a little cozy/jacket around the actual bladder. There is also a drinking tube insulating sleeve that you can consider. However, both options add bulk and ounces to your pack. I like the blowback method even though I sometimes do use the jacket-ted bladder to keep my water cooler for longer on 100+ degree days.
Marathon Hike Usage
For a very long hike or other activity where you need to supplement your activity with electrolytes, here are two suggestions to consider:
1. Only keep water in your bladder but carry a water bottle with electrolyte stuff in it. This forces you to have to reach back for your bottle but will avoid leeching (when tasty stuff gets into the reservoir and the taste sticks around for awhile).
2. Carry two bladders. When I’ve done 20+ mile hikes, I’ve found it beneficial to carry a bladder with electrolyte drink and another with water. Having a blend of both beverages is best for your body and you can very easily run one hose out one side of your backpack and the other hose out of the other side. Try it – it’s kind of awesome.
3. Make sure that your bladder(s) are placed as close to the middle of your back as possible. This will help distribute the weight to your hips more than to your shoulders.
If you’re a fellow backpacker, a bladder works really well as a makeshift water faucet. Hang the bladder from a tree or a higher point and let the hose drape down. Gravity will pull the water out when you push on the bite valve, as it does in this picture:
The bottom line is this:
Reservoir: You will find that you’re drinking little shots of water often and staying very hydrated.
Water bottles: You may have a tendency to drink big gulps less often. This leads to less consistent drinking. Being thirsty means that you are already dehydrating… and gulping water from time to time may not be the best solution.
In the end, a bladder will keep you better hydrated, will lead to less moments of stoppage on the trail, and will make you a happier and stronger hiker.