Monday, June 9, 2008

Rethinking the Camelbak

Climbers in every venue tend to get dehydrated. It's always too cold or too hot or it takes too long to stop. Most people are able to tell when they become dehydrated. There are some obvious signs like yellow pee or lethargy. But these signs are late symptoms of a dehydrated body.

Camelbaks and other hydration bladders have made it much easier for climbers to take-in fluids while moving. There is one problem with this piece of equipment. It tends to freeze in cold weather.

There are some simple techniques that may be utilized to keep this from happening.
  1. Purchase and use a thermal control kit. The tube cover is the most important component of this accessory. You may need to cut off the mouth cover. The mouth cover gets in the way of the hydrolock. Following is a photo of a thermal control kit:
  2. Purchase and use a hydrolock. This device keeps the camelbak from leaking. This is especially important at night. In order to keep the bladder from freezing during the coldest hours, you will need to keep it inside of your sleeping bag. If you do not have a lock on the bite valve, you may accidently roll onto the valve and soak your sleeping bag. Following is a photo of a hydrolock:

  3. Every time you take a drink, be sure to blow the water out of the tube and back into the bladder. The most likely place for water to freeze is in the tube and in the bite valve. Blowing the water back inside makes this less likely to happen.

  4. When you are moving in a cold environment, keep the bite valve tucked into the neck of your jacket. This will keep any extra drops of water from freezing.

  5. In extremely cold environments like on Denali or in South America, you might have to wear the camelbak underneath your jacket. This makes wearing a pack uncomfortable, but keeps your water from freezing.

  6. In the most extreme cases, while wearing the bladder on your back, you might even thread the tube so that it goes down your sleeve and comes out at your wrist.
It is extremely important to be vigilant about keeping a bladder from freezing. It is also important to have a normal water bottle just in case you make a mistake. It is very difficult to thaw out a Camelbak after it's frozen in a cold environment.

--Jason D. Martin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Excellent advice. I wore my Camelbak under a few clothing layers on the Emmons Glacier route on Rainier a couple years ago (a climb you were guiding). Worked great, no freezing issues. I had a little extra cord at Camp Sherman that I used to rig up a harness to wear the bladder.

Unfortunately, I'm on to the hate stage of a love-hate relationship with Camelbaks. Lately, they've been leaking for me whenever exposed to any pressure. After using them for pillows for years without a problem, I've experienced several leaks in the last year. Also, I've had them leak when in a well stuffed backpack.