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Camelbak Hydration Systems Bad Travel Gear

From my observations, Camelbak Hydration systems are poor choices for transporting water while traveling. My reasoning is simple: they leak. It is my impression that convenience is not nearly worth the cost of loosing your water supply — or of having it leak all over the inside of your backpack. However there may be some [...]

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From my observations, Camelbak Hydration systems are poor choices for transporting water while traveling. My reasoning is simple: they leak. It is my impression that convenience is not nearly worth the cost of loosing your water supply — or of having it leak all over the inside of your backpack. However there may be some some better options for hydration backpacks available. 

It is easy to criticize just about anything. I am an American. I come from a country in which the propensity for thinking critically is a mistaken indicator of intelligence. It is very easy for me to look upon a piece of travel or hiking gear and find its weaknesses.

I use this stuff, I know how to find its weak points before they break.

Sometimes I write about these weak points as a way of coming up with better ideas that some clever travel gear designer could take and use (high hopes) or just for the sake of common complaining.

Critical intelligence is a double sided endeavor, as criticism is the impetus to come up with a better way of doing something, but criticism for its own sake is a hallow pedestal to place your intellect upon.

In point, just because I point out a piece of travel gear’s weak points does not mean that I 100% do not recommend it, it just means that the design is not perfect and I am trying to spin some wheels towards what could be better. But sometimes not perfect is the best you can get. I still use those bacteria petri dish Klean Kanteen water bottles — they do the job even though they are not perfect.

But one piece of outdoor gear that I absolutely DO NOT recommend for traveling are Camelbak water carriers. These things malfuction to the point of being a complete saftey hazard.

In a seven week period I have witnessed four different Camelbak systems malfunction and spill their water upon the ground — wasting it.

Camelbak hydration pack

Camelbak hydration pack

Camelbak hydration systems are essentially water bladders that are built into backpacks with a tube that extends up over the shoulder and can be accessed with the mouth easily without much manipulation from the hands.

Half of the archaeology crew that I am working with in Arizona use Camelbaks to carry their water. Very often we work miles away from the field vehicles, sometimes in 100+ degree heat. To loose your water in this circumstance is to put yourself in a bad position. Four times I have observed the Camelbaks of my crew mates malfunction and leak large amounts of water.

In this same amount of time I have not observed any other water carrying device used by the crew malfunction once.

The first malfunction that I observed took place when a shrub in the desert clipped the tube that leads from the Camelbak, dislodging it. An entire bladder full of water poured out upon the desert.

For the second malfunction, a crew member accidentally slipped the mouthpiece off of the hydration tube, and, as the tube went the way of gravity, the water leaked out upon the ground.

For the third malfunction that I observed, a crew member set her Camelbak down upon the connection valve that leads to the tube and it was dislodged, leaking water.

The forth malfunction was a simple, though major, leak that occurred out of the screw on top of the Camelbak. Most of water leaked from the device and soaked a good deal of archaeology gear.

Camelbak Hydration Systems bad travel gear

Camelbak Hydration Systems bad travel gear

The Camelbak, I am sure, has its place. If you are rock climbing, running, motorcycle riding or biking recreationally — in a place where a water spill would be only an annoyance rather than a hazard — then the backpack and tube Camelbak units would probably be a great benefit. If you are doing an outdoor activity that requires the constant use of both hands, then I say that Camelbaks may be worth the risk. But for traveling, it is my impression that there is no need for this technology.

When traveling, or hiking into the backcountry, your water carrying device has to be as malfunction proof as possible. Also, the last thing a traveler wants to have happen is a bladder full of water leaking all over the inside of their rucksack.

Travel gear should be as near to idiot proof as possible. If it is easy to misuse a piece of travel gear, then it may not be very well designed. Likewise, if it takes a great amount of attention and energy to prevent your gear from malfunctioning then it may be better to find different gear.

It is my impression that simple, standard, screw on top bottles are a far better way to transport water to remote locations or while traveling than the convenience implied by Camelbak hydration systems.

It is also my impression that it takes a very lazy person to not want to put in the effort to simply remove a bottle from a backpack each time they want to drink. I almost smile when I think of the price that many people are apparently paying for the lure of convenience.

Note: November 19, 2009 — Camelbak tubes freeze in cold weather

After I first published this entry the weather turned cold in the Tonto Forest. On a 20 degree morning one crew member went to take a suck from his Camelbak and found that the water had froze in the tube. The device was thus rendered useless.

Camelbak hydration systems are not adequate for cold weather travel.


Filed under: Travel Gear

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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5 comments… add one

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  • Brian P November 4, 2009, 11:44 am

    I spent a couple of months hiking the Appalachain trail, and it was amazing to see people shed these “convience” technologies in favor of simple and reliable ones. Most people I know ditched water filters in favor of purification drops, or gas stoves in favor of a simple alcohol stove. When you are absolutely relying on your equipment for survival, simple is better. Similar to travel backpacking, in wilderness backpacking there are certain discomforts you are willing to accept for a few days or weeks, but after that your approach to life begins to change. For a good example, see all the crazy stuff Andy carries around with him.

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  • Bob L November 4, 2009, 2:55 pm

    I agree completely, simpler is best. Storing water in a Camelbak is a bad idea. It is for where hands free is needed or where having hands free water will ensure you will drink enough. Now, using a smaller camelbak may be an OK idea, again, as a way of making you drink enough. Just store the bulk of your water elsewhere.

    Looking at the added weight and complication and difficulty in cleaning etc, I don’t get them. NOW, I DO use a Platypus *bottle* for some things. It seems much more durable in it’s naked state than a Camelbak. As you said, Motorcycling and other times when a leak would be just an inconvenience.

    I think it was you who once mentioned though (or was it Andy?), and I would agree to an extent, that a Platypus bottle can be a good thing to take as an easy to pack water bottle. I use it for just that, and it may be good for some travelers in some situations. Since I am in the position that buying water or getting it from drinking supplies at irregular intervals is best, the bottle comes in handy. If buying water, I can get a super cheap gallon rather than those absurdly priced smaller bottles. Then, if my regular water bottles can’t handle the entire gallon, I just put it in the Platypus, but keep it where it won’t be a problem if it leaks (never had that happen when using it as a *bottle*) and use it first. If getting water from a good free drinking water supply (water fountain, hotel’s 5 gallon bottles etc) I can stock up with an extra couple liters.

    No, even the Platypus is not *cheap* but it is good for some travelers in some situations. And, if we are talking all kinds of travelers, people on bikes etc don’t necessaryly need an expensive camelbak or whatever. Just do what I do when I can, get a liter or larger soda/water bottle, drill a hole in the top for a tube and put a cheap clear plastic tube in it. You can use a wire tie around the tube on the inside of the bottle to keep it from pulling out. Then mount the bottle on the bike’s frame or someplace. Simple, cheap and when it gets grungy, just chuck it. If you really want to get fancy, you can get a camelback/platypus bite valve, but they are not necessary (I don’t like them) if the bottle is below the drink tube. I suppose you could even hange a bottle from your hip and use the drink tube when hiking and such. I have never been in that situation, as when I am hiking I like having a water bottle to play with.

    I also don’t completely understand these heavy gauge plastic water bottles or the stainless ones like you have. I would rather use the free bottles that soda/water come in, then I can chuck them when needed.

    And, yes, this is a high caffeine day.

    Bob L

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 17, 2009, 12:54 am


      You comment and subsequent suggestions are, as usual, right on. There are plenty of ways to rig up portable, hands free, water carrying devices. You should put up photos of your motorcycle riding water bottle contraption as well as instructions on how to make it.

      I use the stainless steel bottles because I am weird about plastic bottles leaching. I must say that I trust the metallurgy of steel far more than I do some mysterious solidified chemicals known as plastic to hold my water. Though I admit that I could be a little naive.



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  • Bob L November 17, 2009, 8:47 am

    Not really complicated. Take the cap off a soda/water bottle. If there is a plastic seal inside, remove that. Drill a hole that is smaller than the hose you are going to use in the plastic cap. I use 1/4 inch outside diameter hose. Cut a hole in the seal that the hose can go through (any hole will do). Run your plastic hose through the cap, enough to reach the bottom of the bottle. You can add plastic wire ties around the hose on the inside and outside of the cap if you want to prevent the hose from pulling out. Done. This assumes the bottle will be kept upright. If the bottle is going to sit on it’s side, it can still work, but you will need some sort of bite valve from Camelbak or whatever and risks leakage.

    Here is a pic of the bottle on the bike.


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