- Windy Hilltops - http://www.windy.gen.nz -

Flashy hydration systems

Michelle recently posted thoughts about her Platypus hydration system [1], which inspired me to write something about my own experiences. I’ve been thinking about writing about this for a while, but hadn’t really formulated it in my head until now.

In case you didn’t know, a hydration bladder is a water-holding bladder with a hose attached. They typically sit in a pack that you’re wearing, and the attached hose makes it easy to keep sipping water on an ongoing basis without having to stop and unpack a water bottle. In this day and age, a variety of backpacks are designed for use with hydration bladders, and often have a small gap through which a hose can be fed. Platypus [2] is the brand-name for a well known line of hydration bladder products put out by a holding company called Cascade Designs, which also does a bunch of other well known outdoor brands like MSR and Therm-a-Rest. Their main competition in the trendy-looking shiny-hydration-bladder industry, at least in New Zealand, seems to come from CamelBak [3], which makes a range of backpacks designed to hold hydration systems, but will also sell the plastic bladders individually.

A plethora of more generic brands also exist, which are typically much cheaper and probably at least as good. Thanks to the name recognition, however, “Platypus” and “CamelBak” are often used as generic names, at least in the circles where I associate, to simply mean “some kind of water hydration system that isn’t a cheap and nasty plastic bottle”. I discovered this when I noticed that many people were referring to my Platypus as a Camelbak without really caring that it wasn’t. Ironically now that I have a Camelbak, I’ve already heard at least two people refer to it as a Platypus, and nobody has yet called it a Camelbak. They’re basically all water bladders, and for some reason not many people seem to like boasting that they’re drinking out of their bladder. Maybe this is why there’s a preference for using the brand names.

At first I didn’t have a special reason for buying a hydration bladder. I’d happily used a regular drink bottle for a lot of daywalks. When I decided to get more involved in overnight tramping, however, I saw them on the shelf and thought that it’d be neat to be able to just keep on drinking when wearing a bigger pack. Now that I’ve been using it for a while, I think it’d take some effort to adapt my routines back to using a regular bottle.

I began with a 2 litre Platypus Big Zip II Hydration System. There are several variations of Platypus to choose from, as well as many accessories. The Big Zip II version of Platypus has one end which opens widely in a zip-lock fashion. Being able to open the whole end makes it very quick and easy to fill up the full 2 litres from a river, typically by holding it horizontally into the current and just letting the water flow in, then zipping it up while it’s still underwater.

A few months ago, my Platypus finally succumbed to wear and tear. Actually, it mostly succumbed to tear, and specifically because the hose came detached. It was my own lazy mis-treatment that caused it, though. I was trying to yank it out of my pack by pulling the hose after it’d become jammed between the inside of my pack and the liner. I bought a 2 litre Camelbak bladder to replace it, since I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The Camelbak bladder also has a large opening at one end to make it easier to fill. Instead of a zip-lock opening, though, it’s a wide screw-on lid with a radius that’s almost the width of the bladder itself. I haven’t found it quite as easy to scoop up water from a river using this, but when there’s no tap to hold it under, it still beats trying to fill the thing up through a tiny bottle-neck.

Over time I’ve heard some common complaints or concerns about hydration bladders which I haven’t (yet) experienced, notably:

As far as problems and observations that I have noticed, there are several.

I’ve found hydration bladder systems to very useful, and I’m glad I have one. If and when I buy another one, it’d be tempting to just go with a cheap one and see if it’s actually any worse. Both Platypus and Camelbak products tend to be on the expensive end, and much of that cost probably goes towards the marketing that told people to buy it in the first place. Accessories and replacement parts are also expensive, especially locally where the prices might be even higher thanks to low numbers of imports. Replacement parts are sometimes priced just barely cheap enough for it to be worth actually buying them rather than just getting a new one. I guess this is part of living in a smaller economy, though, where these days the majority of gear is manufactured and controlled from somewhere else.