Monday, June 6, 2016

CamelBak®: Hydration Products Review (Part 2)

There are wide varieties of hydration systems from different manufacturers now a days and there are so many choices to choose from. CamelBak is one of those companies and they’ve been on this business for many years. They pioneered and revolutionized the way we transport our fluids…whatever activities you have in mind, chances are, CamelBak has it. Below is a short history on how this company started.

CamelBak was founded in 1989 by Michael Eidson. The idea began when he was competing in “Hotter ‘n Hell 100” bike race in Wichita Falls, Texas. Yes, 100 miles in the gruesome summer heat of Texas. Since there were only few places to refill, Eidson being an EMT by trade made a contraption. He filled an IV bag with water and stuck it in a tube sock then pinned it on the back of his jersey. He then pulled the IV tube over his shoulder and secured it with a clothes pin. From that idea, a hands free hydration system was born! From that humble experience and innovation, CamelBak produced their first product, known as the “ThermalBak”. That’s it…the rest is history.

If you would recall, I did a review on some of their products last April and those hydration systems were specifically geared for running:
·      Quick Grip Chill
·      Delany
·      FlashFlo
·      Circuit
I’m very well pleased with all these gears and I’ve been using them on a rotational basis along with other gears I have. If you’d like to know more about these items, you can read it here.

CamelBak has been so generous and given me another set of hydration systems to review. This time it’s more towards cycling:
·      Podium Bottles
·      Octane XCT
·      RaceBak

Features
·      Self-sealing Jet Valve™ eliminates splatters and spills.
·      Lightweight, easy-squeeze bottle delivers the right flow to quench your thirst.
·      100% Free of BPA and BPS.
·      TruTaste™ polypropylene with HydroGuard™ lets you taste your water, not your bottle.
·      Removable nozzle for easy cleaning.
·      Positive lockout for leak proof transport.
·      Wide-mouth opening is easy to fill with ice and water and a breeze to clean.

Features
·      Double-wall construction keeps water cold twice as long as regular sport bottles.
·      Also keeps warm beverages warm during cool weather rides.
·      Self-sealing Jet Valve™ eliminates splatters and spills.
·      Lightweight, easy-squeeze bottle delivers the right flow to quench your thirst.
·      100% Free of BPA and BPS.
·      TruTaste™ polypropylene with HydroGuard™ lets you taste your water, not your bottle.
·      Removable nozzle for easy cleaning.
·      Positive lockout for leak proof transport.
·      Wide-mouth opening is easy to fill with ice and water and a breeze to clean.

Features
·      Aerogel Insulation keeps water cold four times as long as regular sport bottles.
·      Also keeps warm beverages warm during cool weather rides.
·      Self-sealing Jet Valve™ eliminates splatters and spills.
·      Lightweight, easy-squeeze bottle delivers the right flow to quench your thirst.
·      100% Free of BPA and BPS.
·      TruTaste™ polypropylene with HydroGuard™ lets you taste your water, not your bottle.
·      Removable nozzle for easy cleaning.
·      Positive lockout for leak proof transport.
·      Wide-mouth opening is easy to fill with ice and water and a breeze to clean.

Functionality
Some would probably say it’s only a bottle, so why make a big deal about it? Really, no it’s not just a bottle…it’s an integral part of our (my) daily gear and frankly speaking we’ve been accustomed with bottles way before other hydration systems even exist. 99% of the time, you’ll see cyclist’s common source of hydration systems are the bottles. The Podium bottles definitely brought it to the next level on how we should hydrate.

It’s still spring but the temperature feels like summer already. These bottles are true to what they advertised, I like the fact that I can keep my fluids cold during the hot and warm rides. The two bottles except for the Podium are insulated. It has additional layer that sits in-between the two plastics, The Podium Ice is my favorite of all. I went for a 3-hr ride sporting all these three bottles and filled them with ice. Obviously, and due to its insulated layer, the Podium Ice holds the coldest and it even has some ice left at the end of my ride. My way of drinking is to utilize the fluid first in Podium, then the Chill and lastly the Ice. These bottles I tested are easy to use and each bottle holds 21 oz which is more than enough on the rides that I normally do. All it takes is an easy squeeze and it will deliver a nice stream of fluid without the feel of getting choke. It has a lock out mechanism for any accidental squeeze. It’s a nice feature to have but personally I didn’t even bother locking my bottle and never experience any leakage during my ride. There’s not even a leak even when I tilted the bottle down.

My Verdict
Most of my rides are between 1 ½ hr to 2 hrs and these bottles are my “go to” bottles. The Podium series bottles are light, convenient and easy to carry. Keeping my fluids cold during the entire ride is really helpful, it cools down my core and helps me perform better.

Features
·      A vest type hydration system that utilizes Antidote Reservoir (bladder) as a source of hydration. Hydration capacity of 100 oz (3L):
o   The bladder utilizes a ¼ turn cap and wide mouth for easy filling and cleaning.
o   It comes with a patented Big Bite Valve.
o   HydroGuard technology.
o   PureFlow tube for ease of drinking.
o   Quick Link system for faster and easy filling.
·      It comes with two small pockets on the shoulder strap for storing gels and bars.
·      It comes with a two big easy access zippered pockets on the belt strap that lets you carry your phone and other cycling or running essentials.
·      An adjustable sternum straps for a snug and adjustable fit.
·      Front and back reflectivity for visibility, safety whistle, mid-pouch for extra storage.

Functionality
The Octane XCT is a vest type hydration system that can be used for cycling and running, designed for long distance events or where there is limited supply of fluids along the course. The vest is equipped with 100 oz (3L) capacity bladder that is more than enough to sustain every athlete on their event. Despite the size and the capacity of fluid it can hold, this hydration system is amazingly light! One of the best features that I like most with the Octane is the Quick Link system. If you are not familiar with it, it is simply the ability to disconnect / engage the hose from the bladder. This makes filling and cleaning the bladder faster and easy.

The material is ultralight and highly breathable. All the materials that are touching my body are made of mesh fabric that helps in wicking the moisture out and air management. The shoulder straps are made of a dual mesh construction and has two small cargo pockets to hold energy gels and electrolyte tabs. There are two ports on the top shoulder where the hose can go thru, so it can accommodate to however I want to position the hose, either left or right of my shoulder. Aside from the reflective materials sewn in the vest, CamelBak also added a safety whistle (see that yellow by the hose) which is very handy in the event that you may need some help…remember Titanic? Yeah, you get the idea.

The Octane XCT’s best feature is that it sits high enough on my shoulder making it more stable and connected to my body. There is a single sternum strap that can be repositioned by sliding it up or down my chest for better comfort and snug. For added stability and bounce free ride, it is equipped with a belt strap that sits just above my waist. Both sides of the straps have a large, easy access zippered pockets where my phone and other fuel source can be stored. Unlike some some other vests I tested, there is no need to do some arm twisting or worse yet taking the vest off just to get the items from the belt pockets. For extra storage, there is a large zippered pocket in the middle where I can store some lightweight vest, tools and snacks. I found this very useful on the rides that I am on the foothills and away from civilization (out in the booney). I don’t ever have to think about getting low on my fuel.

My Verdict
The Octane XCT is a must have hydration system when going and competing for longer events and distances. It is designed to sustain and holds enough fuel and other necessities to keep you going. It is made of lightweight and breathable materials that is comfortable and ideal to use to whatever activities you might have in mind. One good aspect of the Octane is that it sits high enough on my back that it lets my upper shoulder to sustain the weight instead of using my lower back which is not really ideal.

Features
·      HYDROPOUCH™: Innovative, integrated reservoir compartment encapsulates the 70 oz (2L) reservoir to support and stabilize water weight on your back. Air mesh back panel insert keeps your back cool while insulating the water in your reservoir.
·      QUICKFIT™: Plush compression fabric self-adjusts to comfortably hold and stabilize 70 oz (2L) of water while conforming to your body.
·      QUICKWICK™: Lightweight and breathable fabric with integrated stretch delivers moisture management and a performance fit

Functionality
CamelBak took the hydration vest to the next level when it comes to cycling. The RaceBak is technically a base layer with integrated reservoir. It holds 70 oz of fluid that sits perfectly on my mid back. It comes with an insulated hose, a big bite valve and hydroguard technology to prevent leak, in the event it gets accidentally squish when travelling or storing. The vest is made of air mesh material that is light, breathable and snug fit to my body. The vest also comes with a padded air mesh insert that serves as a barrier between my skin and the reservoir.  

I’m 5’-6” with 40 in chest; I ordered a medium size and I initially though that it was a wrong size. The vest was so snug (tighter than a compression shirt) even without filling the reservoir. I thought it will create some issue during the ride and major chafing under my arms. Surprisingly that was not the case when I tested it. It was built that way to eliminate any sagging and its main purpose is to get the material close to the skin as much as possible. This is like having a race cut jersey under another race cut jersey, if that makes sense. Depending on where you want the hose to sit at, there are two holes located on both shoulders where the insulated hose can go thru and keep it stable. There is also a small loop on the right hand side of the chest that the bite valve can go thru, making it accessible when it’s time to drink.

I tested the RaceBak along with other two insulated Podium bottles when I did my hill training last weekend. I was really surprised that even though I filled the reservoir almost to the brim it didn’t bother me at all during the ride. The hunch created by the reservoir was very noticeable when standing up…Yep, it felt like I’m a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle with a shell on my back. But once on the bike it just feels natural and it sits comfortably on my skin and didn’t experience any side to side movement. Getting a drink from the tube while descending on a fast pace was not really a challenge, it’s actually much safer since both of my hands were locked on the handlebar. The padded insert is really not that bad in my opinion, the only time I noticed it was there, was when I did a quick stop and felt warmth on that area. But once I started moving and the air started to swept thru my back, that warm feeling immediately disappeared. Other thing I noticed was that when I stood up on the pedal while grinding on that hill, the sloshing of the fluid can be heard. It didn’t bother me at all but some might get irritated with that sound. I did a total of 66 miles and still have few ounces left on my reservoir.



My Verdict
The RaceBak is one hydration system designed to sustain you on longer rides like a century or on rides where fluids are not easily accessible. This is also a good idea to have when the temperature is a bit high than normal. I tend to drink more on that occasion and I love the fact that I don’t have to worry about getting low on my fluids and never wonder (again) if I could make it home without calling my wife. Trust me, I’ve been on a situation that I underestimated the fluids that I needed to bring on my 50 mi ride. Having only 6 ounces left under +900F heat and with more than 12 miles to go is not good. I made it home though, but it felt like that my brain just left my body on that moment.

Overall Verdict

Proper hydration is crucial in endurance sports, lack of it can lead to a disaster. It’s a fine line between having a good ride and a bad ride. Most rides should be enjoyable despite when somebody drops the hammer. One way we can make the ride enjoyable is to make sure the gas tank is always full.

CamelBak is not all about business like other companies, they make sure they build a strong relationship with their customers and meet their demands. Their products are built and tested to last for a long time and perform according to its function. I’m very happy to say that these products performed well during those tests and it didn’t disappoint. Well, that shouldn’t be a surprise at all, CamelBak is known for its high quality and performance and is expected on the brand. These gears are available on their website or at retail stores near you. Performance and the quality of the materials are something to look for when buying gears like these and CamelBak is a company you can trust. Below are the prices for each item and they are reasonably priced in my humble opinion.
·      Podium - $9
·      Podium Chill - $13
·      Podium Ice - $21
·      Octane XCT - $85
·      RaceBak - $100

CamelBak stands behind their products …below is a quick video on how they test (abused) their products in the laboratory. They would rather have their equipment fail in the lab instead of the real world.


Like they say: CamelBak® Got Your Bak™ Guarantee: If we built it, we'll Bak it™ with our lifetime guarantee.

Give them a try and let me know what you think. Thanks again for reading and as always have fun but be safe.

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