by Joe Clark
First published April 1993
Using the stern-sounding slogan "Hydrate or Die," a Texas company is promoting the use of glorified colostomy bags as a space-age water bottle for outdoor sports. The CamelBak consists of a 2L plastic bladder with a long tube; the bladder slips inside an insulated carrying pouch and slings across your back. If you need a drink, you just bite down on a valve at the end of the tube and voilà, instant icewater, Gatorade, coffee, banana daiquiri, etc.
Designed as a convenient way to maintain hydration over long periods, the CamelBak caught on first with bicyclists, who find the handsfree system more convenient than reaching down for a water bottle. (CamelBak sales quintupled from 1991 to 1992, and by February 1993 sales had exceeded levels reached in all of 1992.) CamelBaks were used by U.S. troops in Operation Desert Storm (with a reflective mylar overlay), and in keeping with that tough-guy image, CamelBak maker FasTrak Systems offers a fabric overlay for the CamelBak in a camouflage motif.
The standard model, the ThermalBak, is complemented by the HalfBak, with a 0.95L capacity, and the IceBak, which lacks insulation on the inside surface, letting cold liquids cool you down or your body heat melt ice. Inventor Roger Fawcett receives many requests for a model with two compartments-- "so that they can carry vodka one side, tonic the other, know what I mean?"-- but hasn't come up with a workable prototype.
UPDATE: After living with the CamelBak for three years, I now could not cycle without it-- once you're accustomed to a certain level of hydration (i.e., the proper level), you can never go back. But the CamelBak has real defects:
- The bite valve snags on things-- the strap of your backpack
(particularly when removing the backpack), the side of the bin in which I
toss the CamelBak after a ride, anything at all. This problem is worsened
by the centrifugal force the valve develops when you whip the thing off
your back. The bite valve can and will come off and bounce all over the ground, allowing water to pour all but nonstop all over your leg.
- Lay the CamelBak down on something-- anything-- and you can depend on the bite valve's finding its way into grit, dirt, or whatever detritus there is to get into. And where does the bite valve go when you're actually wearing the CamelBak? Why, yes, your mouth. How hygienic.
- Size: The original CamelBak is quite large. I can't find a replacement
bladder for my HalfBak and am not willing to shell out for a new one.
- Disinfection: Very tricky. I have to clean mine every time I go out,
usually with vinegar and baking soda (or use lemon juice and). Also
dishwashing detergent works, but requires far more rinsing. Getting the bite valve clean and rinsed is still hit-and-miss after three years.
- Redundancy: Backpacks really should include CamelBak sleeves by now.
(One backpack from Mountainsmith does, but the other characteristics of the backpack drove
- Looks: I am still self-conscious, after all this time, when removing my
backpack (exposing you-know-what-- many bite-valve snags here) and walking
around with the thing. (Hiding the tube and valve is difficult. Having it
stick out from one's side is too reminiscent of a combo of nipple and
FasTrak Systems has invested a mint into expanding the CamelBak franchise with new variants. Perhaps Fawcett et al. ought to have perfected the main product first.
Back to the Hyperopinionated Article List, or to the Joe Clark homepage.