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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Ramblings on hydration systems

In my opinion, nothing beats a sip of cold, clear, pure water when you are thirsty. Growing up as a kid I remember my 'Granny' giving me a water jug to put in the fridge so I had something cold to drink other than sodas. When I was thirsty, I reached in the fridge past the Coke and Mountain Dew and grabbed that cold water jug. To this day I still like my cold one to be ice water. It is a good habit that I have taught to my children.

In the seventies and eighties, I don't remember seeing bottled water for sale at stores where one could purchase something to drink. You brought your own if you wanted water.I recall as a kid that my family took a two and a half gallon jug of ice water on long trips to drink. Later, I cleaned out a Gatorade jug and kept it full of water for those extended road trips when I began to drive.

When I became seventeen I signed up for the Army and soon found myself at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Hydration methods were primitve then. Old green plastic canteens that would soak up the sun's heat all day and be slightly below the boiling point when you took a sip. How I wished for some cold water in those days!

The years I spent with the Army were great. On field exercises everyone who could, took a cooler filled with cold sodas and well hidden beer. Looking back on it, it was quite funny... A sea of Olive Drab Green punctuated now and then by the brightly colored non tactical red and white coolers. Of course we soon had to camoflague them with green paint after the commanding officers reviewed our encampment via helecopter!

I kept my cooler full of ice, with a partially frozen gallon jug of water and a soda or two. No one would touch the water, but on occasional 'cooler raids' that cold soda you had been craving all day would be gone. If all your drinks were in the cooler, then you were SOL for the rest of the field exercise.One of the folks I served with, nicknamed 'Hook', was a alcohol craving alcoholic ( if you knew him, that definition wouldn't seem redundant) that was still stuck in his former glory days of High School football. One day I was going out on a patrol and wanted a good swig of water. As I approached my cooler, I looked in horror to see my precious gallon of frozen water baking in the sun! Had I been that careless to leave the one comfort item I enjoyed so much to die a slow death in the sun??? I lunged for the cooler with one hand and grabbed the melting gallon of frozen water to correct my error with the other. Once I opened the cooler I realized that Hook had taken all my sodas and precious water out and replaced them with cheap, but effective beer. I honestly now think he didn't deserve the tongue lashing he got from me that day...

I really enjoyed the outdoors all my life, and I can fondly recall the Boy Scout two quart aluminum canteen I used while I was young. I never seemed to run out of water before I ran out of woods and creeks to explore. Later on being a full grown, the two quarts were just a good enough for awhile...

The first time I tried a CamelBak hydration bladder was about 1999, years after my millitary service. I had purchased a Camelbak H.A.W.G with a 3 liter/or 100 oz bladder. I tested it the night before a trip to Central America. I found out very quickly that I couldn't stand that plastic taste for it reminded me of those od green canteens from my Army days. I used the backpack part of the Camelbak to hold a 2 liter bottle of Evian and it worked great!It wasn't until I learned how to clean a Hydration Bladder (lemon juice with equal part baking soda, then fill with water and soak overnight, be sure to get the mixture in the drinking tube too!!!) that I carried a hydration bladder on my hiking excursions.

At work I always carried a half gallon insulated jug. One hot summer day in August two years ago, I decided to carry my 2 liter/70 oz Camelbak to work to try it out on the job,the rest is history. I soon found out that 2 liters doesn't last long for a person that works outside all day, so I upgraded to a Coyote Brown Thermobak Camelbak 3 liters/100 oz to refill less. Now I do drink more than 3 liters a day, but I have a water cooler on the work truck that holds 5 gallons to refill from.

Drinking and Driving is against the rules in just about any job... but that usually refers to alcoholic beverages. According to the company I work for, driving a company vehicle both hands better be on the wheel. No Super Gulp Super Soda cups are to be obstructing your view! So to hydrate between jobs, the hydration bladder is the only option that allows you to drink & drive... No I don't think putting beer in a hydration bladder would get you past the state troopers ;-)

I have little versions of my wife and I (aka kids) and they love to go to Walt Disney World (I do too). For anyone that has never been, everything is expensive! When kids are hungry or thirsty they can get Grumpy, so get them a hydration bladder too! Now anytime the little ones want a drink, they can get a sip from their very own Camelbak and no $4 kid sodas. Yes, I carried a 3 liter (actually two the first day) Camelbak Talon, the wife a 2 liter feminine one, and the little ones carried 50 oz kid sized ones! So you can get ones for the entire family! Needless to say, they are a great way to beat the heat anywhere, and keep you hydrated by sipping and not gulping down your water. You would be surprised at how few Camelbaks are seen in amusement parks. Once folks figure out that you got your own private water source on your back, their warm bottle of Dansai don't looks as refreshing!

A word of caution for kids using Camelbaks, you must pace them in using one. My first born would slap drain a hydration bladder within minutes of getting it. Then we would have to go find a bathroom right in the middle of something. Little ones need to be hydrated but not 50 ounces at a time! The solution was to freeze water in the hydration bladder (about two thirds and then blow the water out of the drinking tube and inflate the bladder so it would not freeze in a funny shape and be uncomfortable the next day) and in the morning fill it up with water so it will start slowly melting. Usually at the end of a hard day there would still be a chunk of ice left!

Ok I have sort of given a history of my experiences hydrating on the go, so I will tell you a little about the gear. I personally like the look of the millitary Camelbaks in OD green and the newer Coyote Brown. At work I carry the Thermobak Coyote Brown Camelbak. This is just an insulated cover with shoulder straps and no pockets. I carry this while working because it is low profile doesn't get in the way and the Coyote Brown color doesn't look too tactical, but still blends in the woods if I needed that option.

So what if you already have a backpack but want to add a hydration bladder to it??? No problemo, a Thermobak's shoulder straps let you tuck out of the way, and place it in any backpack! I added my Thermobak to my Talon for 6 liters of water but soon found out the weight to consumption ratio wasn't worth it, but in a bug out situation 6 liters in arid terrain should be worth it.

Camelbak also makes a 100 oz Unbottle that you should be able to find at your local Dick's sporting goods. The Unbottle is a insulated bladder cover with a few plactic D rings, tube and bite valve designed to updgrade any backpack.I use a Camelbak Talon as my bug out bag (bob) and it works out great. The only option I wish it had was a waist belt to help stabilize it on hilly terrain. The Camelbak Motherlode and BFM are also nice but just a little bit big for me as a bob.

Some things that I have learned about hydration bladders. Get a bite valve cover, when taking the bladder on or off the bite valve sometimes winds up on the floor and you know what Mom said about putting things in your mouth that touched the floor. Get an insulated drinking tube cover, those first few sips are going to be warm. Keeping your water the temp you like it means you will hydrate more often. Get a clip for your drinking tube, so you can position the bite valve where you can get to it or keep it out of the way. Keep your hydration bladder clean, you can put any liquid you want in it, but make sure you clean it asap when you get finished or it will get funky!!! Dry your hydration bladder before storage with a coat hanger or one of Camelbaks dryers.

So I like Camelbaks... But Blackhawk makes some great hydration bladders as well. The reason I use Camelbak is that is the first hydration sytem I ever used, works great, and when something works I usually don't try new stuff. IMHO I would stick with either Camelbak or Blackhawk hydration systems, because if it is good enough for our fighting men and women, then it is good enough for me!!!

The concept of the hydration bladder was to allow you to take a few sips every 10-15 minutes and drink hands free. The idea is not to drink so much that us men don't drill into holes in granite when we take a leak. When your urine is a pale straw color that is usually a sign that you are hydrating well. Bright yellow means you are not drinking enough fluids, and clear is you are drinking too much. The sensation of thirst means you are already becoming dehydrated!
After working out in the summer heat all day sipping on my Camelbak, there comes a time when drinking just one more sip of water is going make me sick. This is a sign that your body's electrolytes need replinishing. Usually a soda can do the trick, but Gatorade is what really helps. You need that sodium, potassium and other goodies after depleting them!

A final note from those in the medical field. It is claimed that the body more readily absorbs warm liquids with less shock to the body than cold fluids do. IOW they claim that warm water is better for you than cold water and I agree. That being said my Camelbaks water is as cold as I can get it. The reason??? I paid my dues to my country in the drinking the warm water thing and in other areas. Frankly for me, I drink way more cold water than I would even consider warm. So cold water hydrates me better than warm because I drink more of it. I can drink warm water if I have to, but given a choice give me glacier runoff! If I could come up with a liquid nitrogen cooled Camelbak I'd use it!

Here are some links in case you want to know more about hydration systems:
Camelbaks website: http://www.camelbak.com/index.cfm
Blackhawk's website: http://www.blackhawk.com/category1.asp?D=D0051&S=&C=&N=1&pricestart=&priceend=



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