Dying of Thirst-Getting the Most out of Your Hydration Pack
(Dagger Defense contributing author)
01 October, 2016
By now, we’ve all had the hydration mantra drilled in our heads, and it’s true. For best physical performance and safety in the wild, you need to keep your fluids topped off. A pack with a hydration bladder is probably the most convenient way to carry and access your water. My goto is the Camelback® M.U.L.E. Having used hydration packs for nearly 20 years, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a few tricks. Here’s some acquired ‘wisdom’ for using, maintaining, and repairing your hydration bladder.
Hydration Pack Use Tips:
– Sloshing noises are one of the annoyances of a bladder, especially if you’re a runner. Solve this by bleeding the air out when you fill it. Fill the bladder, seal it, then flip it upside down and squeeze or suck the air out of it.
– Keep it cold by loading with ice and cold water. If you freeze it full of water, you risk bursting it, or damaging seals. Insulating drinking tube covers help in hot climates.
– Use a mouthpiece with a shutoff valve, and close it, especially while transporting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chucked my bag on the truck seat, and found a wet spot, and an empty bag because it was sitting on the bite valve.
– When you fill the bladder, check, then double check that the fill cap is tight. I flip it upside down and squeeze it to check for leaks.
– Don’t run out of water. A drawback of hydration packs is that you can’t easily know how much water is left. I shove a small bottle or collapsible container of water in my bag as a backup.
Hydration Bladder Maintenance Tips:
-The best way to clean it, is to keep it clean. Use only water, not sugary drinks. Dump, rinse, and dry after every use.
– Cleaning kits with bottle brushes for the tube and bladder are available, and worth the investment. Take everything apart for the easiest and most thorough cleaning.
– Denture cleaning tabs are an inexpensive alternative to the cleaning tabs offered by some hydration pack companies. They leave a minty fresh taste unless you wisely rinse again with water.
– Hang your bladder out to dry or store it in the freezer to keep bad things from growing. A wad of paper towels helps get the last drops of water out. You can DIY a nice hanger with a plastic clothes hanger.
– Star San® is a product I haven’t tried yet, but has been recommended to me. If you home brew beer, you might have it on hand. It’s a food-grade sanitizer, safe for plastics.
– If your bladder gets real funky, bleach solution can quickly remove mildew and gunk. Mix no more than a half-teaspoon of bleach with warm water, then shake. Loosen the cap to douse the threads, and flush the hose. A solution of one teaspoon baking soda per quart of water will remove the bleach taste. Afterwards, rinse, rinse, rinse with clean water.
Hydration Bladder Repair Tips:
– As always, check your gear regularly, especially in advance of an outing. It’s a lot easier to deal with a leaky bladder at home than in the field.
– Pinholes can be sealed with a lighter. Carefully hold a lighter just beneath, but not touching, the hole. The heat melts the material together in seconds.
– Larger holes or split seams can be fixed with Gear Aid’s Seam Grip®. Clean the area with alcohol and apply a small amount of Seam Grip. Wait 24 hours before use.
– Big holes can be temporarily patched with duct tape, basically making a band aid. The first layer is a piece of tape slightly larger than the hole. The second layer is a larger piece of tape covering that.
– Gear Aid’s Seam Grip Field Repair Kit® has everything needed to fix any of the above.
– Blowouts can’t be fixed, but you can still carry water by lining the inside of the busted bladder a plastic bag or condom.
– Broken or torn bite valves or silicon parts can sometimes be fixed with SilNet®.
With a little care, your hydration pack will safely carry your liquid gold on many adventures. To paraphrase the most interesting man in the world, “Don’t stay thirsty, my friend.”
Brad Manley is a lifelong outdoors enthusiast and owner of Rocky Water Supply, LLC.
He enjoys practicing survival skills while kayaking, canoeing, and backpacking in the backcountry. He also works as a conservation land manager and wildland firefighter.
DIY Hydration Bladder Hanger
Cut a plastic hanger as shown. Keep the cut ends from puncturing the bladder by wrapping in tape, sanding or melting with a lighter. Slide hanger inside the bladder and hang as shown to dry.