Walking in the wild almost always means that you will be isolated from the urban comforts for long periods of time. This means that essentials like drinking water is a must carry. Many hiking trails have sources of drinking water, either natural or man-made. However most of us do not trust these sources and heavily depend upon filtered water from home or bottled water.
In the earlier days hikers would carry sturdy metal bottles or even glass bottles. Glass bottles automatically fell out of favour as they were very heavy and prone to breaking due to the rigours of hiking. Steel bottles very sturdy but of course they were heavy too! (Weight is a major issue with most of us hikers! Many even break their toothbrushes into half to save the weight of the handle!). Steel quickly had a replacement and aluminum found its way into the backpack! These were light and handy, came with a loop cap for option of being hung or secured to the pack and are watertight. Since these bottles are made of thin aluminum sheet, they are prone to being dented over a period of time and will loose shape over a long period of use or large impact. Aluminum bottles come in various sizes like .5L, .6L, 1L and even 1.5L.
One of the greatest advantages that technology brought to the aluminum bottles is the internal treatment. The way these bottles are made, they are molded and then a threaded ring is seal on top. The cap screws onto this one making it sturdy and water tight. The better brands (like Sigg of Switzerland) have their internal treated chemically to prevent bacterial growth and keep it odour free… if you wash it regularly and not use it for non-corrosive liquids or milk products i.e.. These bottles along with other brands like Laken are quite expensive but are cool to carry around especially when they are beaten over use (Cool traveler image ha!).
Laken is Rs.500 upwards – available at Base Camp at Phoenix – think.
Sigg is Rs.1000 upwards – I have 5 of these as a collection! May not be Available in India! Our favourite!
Quechua is available at Adventure – 18
There also is the cheap Chinese variety (About Rs.100+) which will not last very long and are not treated inside - you can see the difference. Many of these are also sold by big brands like Adidas and Nike. Not a good option! I have used the Chinese ones too and the plastic on the cap is too brittle, the thread giving away pretty quickly as also the ring broken easily.
Aluminum bottles are tricky to handle and maintain in regions where temperatures dip down below freezing. They may crack and render useless if not take good care of.
Aluminum obviously lost ground to plastic. And these are in vogue for sometime now. Currently there are many being sold by the Chinese Good dealers as well as brands like Nike and Adidas. But the sports variety are bulky, have too much of gadgetry like carry loop, sippers etc that add to weight without carrying too much. Good to hit the Gym with or a game. Certainly insufficient for treks! An American brand called Nalgene came with these polycarbonate bottles that come in cool transparent colours. These are extremely sturdy and shatter proof. They have larger mouth (– watch 127 Hours for this!), easy to fill and have a volume marking on them. Advantages – hygienic, you can see how much is left, quick to fill off a stream can take the rough very well; disadvantages, there is too much water that flows from the wide mouth making it difficult to drink while moving as also many a time the water spills off from side of your mouth while drinking.
However – if it is plastic, then why not our disposable soft drink bottles or bottled water then? We completely discourage this for they are a clear environment hazard, are flimsy and will break on the slightest impact, are toxic to self over a period of use and irritating to carry back when empty as you will have no emotional attachment to this. However in an emergency if you should and as long as you are clear that you are not going to dispose them in the wild (and yes, dispose them please, it’s sick to see these bottle being reused over long periods of time) and not reuse them, it’s fine, But again please don’t! We clean at least dozen such bottles left by participants almost every weekend!
A great compromise in India are the refrigerator bottles manufactured by PearlPet or SunPet. These are light weight, recyclable, come in wide or narrow mouth, can take the beating, come in variety of colours and shape, easily available at the corner shop and cheap (Rs.50 upwards).
But all this still leaves you thirsty as you hardly have the motivation to throw your pack down, remove the bottle, open the cap, take a swig (…which most likely will be a few 100 MLs), cap it up, pack it back and repeat the whole sequence a few moments later. These days, hikers have borrowed an idea from the bicyclists. The HYDRATION pack.
The basic HYDRATION POUCH is a Bladder made of polythene or polyurethane, that carries up to 3ltrs of water, have a sip tube and bite-valve from which water can be sucked. An essential for carrying the Hydration Pouch is you day pack. Make sure that your daypack has a provision to carry your hydration pack. Mostly hydration pouches come with their packs – these come in various shapes and sizes depending upon your requirement and sport but essentially you have to look for four things:
1. A separate compartment for carrying the pouch, usually built closer to the back of the pack (The laptop section of your Laptop pack can be used for this, in dire emergencies – but avoid as this will not have the same ergonomics)
2. A slit in the backpack to pull the tube out (If your laptop bag has large enough slit for pulling your heads phones this can be a good compromise – but don’t tear the hole wide) – this is usually marked with a water drop on the pack,
3. A hook on the inside above the hydration pouch compartment to tie the top of the hydra pouch so that it does not sling off at the bottom when the reserves drop and restrict the water flow.
4. A hook or elastic on the shoulder strap to hold the tube in the right place – just when you want it!
So you have decided to buy a hydration pouch… what should you look for?
Size: These come in 1.5Ltrs, 2Ltrs, 2.5Ltrs or 3Ltrs. How much you want depends upon the activioty that you engage in. Usually hikers carry upto 2Ltrs in Hydration pouches and refill them at a suitable junctions. There have been times when i have carried my first days water all the way to the 3rd or 4th day as there were enough other water sources along the way. Some bladders have adjustable sizes. Many bladders come marked for volumes too.
Material of the pouch (also called bladder): It is either Polythene or Polyurathane. Both are sturdy and are treated for antibacterial properties. Difference is Polyurathne is less firm but allows you to carry it folded when not in use, looks flimsy but it actually is not if taken good care of – I have one since last 4 years – at least. Camelbak uses Polyurathane most others uses Polythene. I have a polythene pack too, but over years of usage the layers of the pack are splitting – but no leakages yet!
Tube – Must be long enough to reach out from the bottom of your pack, wind round one of the shoulder straps and reach you mouth. Many tubes come with a coating / padding to prevent it from freezing when you walk to the summits or in below freezing conditions. This is useful, but only if you are expected to walk at those hours.
Bite Valve – this valve is at the other end of the tube and ad the name suggests, is what you take in your mouth and bite for the water to flow into your mouth. It is a simple device that prevents water from leaking when not in use. Bite valves have a tendency to open and drain water when the pack sits on it (we usually do not pay too much attention when we drop our packs on ground or pack it for the night in cramped spaces and the pack ends up sitting on the bite valve opening it up and draining out valuable water. To prevent this, some bite valves come with a lock or a hard cap – a must have! The cap also help the bite valve from being contaminated due to dust.
Some brands of hydration pouches are
Platypus, CamelBak, MSR, Gerber, Markill, etc. Personally I like Platypus.
I own a Source Bladder, CamelBak Bladder and a few Sigg Bottles (1Ltrs & 1.5Ltrs) and one Laken 0.5Ltrs.
Consider the aspect of cleaning and maintaining the hydration pack too to prevent bacterial and fungal infection. The best mantra is not to carry anything other than water. But more on care and maintenance later!