As long as humans have walked the earth, they've tried to improve on ways to carry water with them. Innovations haven't occurred overnight, mainly because there are only so many ways you can carry water.
The biggest innovation for the outdoors crowd probably arrived in 1988 when Camelbak introduced the world to hydration bladders. While Camelbak is the reigning world leader in this category, there are some other interesting products out there worth checking out.
Hydrapak offers an intriguing twist on hydration bladders, while SIGG, the venerable Swiss company that has been turning aluminum into water vessels since the early days of the 20th century, has sparkled up its line.
Hydrapak has pretty much surfed under the radar --at least my radar-- since 1996, when it entered the hydration bladder fray. Since then it has chipped away not only at the recreational market, but also the military sector.
What's unique about this company? The biggest innovation is the fold-top of its bladder. Camelbak has over the years continued to work on creating a larger, easier-to-manipulate opening, both for putting water in, dumping it out, and cleaning and drying purposes.
Hydrapak has tackled this problem by doing away with a round opening and installing the fold-top, which works much like the top of a dry bag. You simply fold the end of the bladder over on itself several times and that's it. Key to securing the folds are Velcro strips that practically cement the folds together.
Supposedly this sealing system is so secure that you can drive your rig over a full bladder without it popping a leak, either through the fold-top or through one of the sidewalls. The bladder itself is made out of polyurethane and is billed as being able to stretch to 8 times its original size without failing. That's a test I haven't subjected my bladder to yet.
Another intriguing aspect of Hydrapak's bladders is that they're reversible. You simply remove the drinking tube, stick your hand into the bladder, grip the bottom and pull it inside out. This not only makes for easy cleaning, but quicker drying than any Camelbak that I've come across.
How durable is this unit? That's a good question. I've only had mine a couple months, so I can't say.
The company makes a fairly extensive line of packs to marry its bladder to. They range from relatively small, 32-ounce capacity hip-mounted systems all the way up to packs that hold 100-ounce capacity bladders and offer up to 875 cubic inches of storage space. I've got the Big Sur ($69.99 MSRP) model, which carries 100 ounces of liquid and offers 450 cc's of storage space, including a "gizmo" pocket for your MP3 player. There's even a tiny portal to pass your headphone cord through. It's a nice touch.
One potential drawback for those who like to compare before they buy is that Hydrapak is not easily found. At least I haven't seen it in any Salt Lake City or Park City gear shops, which include REI. While their web site says you should contact one of their distributors to find an outlet, I couldn't find a list of their distributors. All that said, you can buy off their web site.
As for SIGG, this company is working to reintroduce itself to the American market. Decades ago SIGG bottles were standard equipment for backpackers. Then plastics entered the market, most notably via Nalgene, and SIGG seemed to slip away. But now the company is back and determined to enhance its market penetration. As a result, you'll encounter 105 bottle designs that come with bright colors, creative designs and different shapes from their latest line.
They even have what they've dubbed "ActiveBottle" caps that feature a bubble-cap top that keeps dirt away from the mouthpiece. To drink, you simply flip the cap open and push the spring-loaded mouthpiece down with your lips to generate a stream of liquid. That's not a bad solution if you're zooming down the road on your bicycle.
These aluminum and stainless steel bottles don't impart any taste on your beverage of choice -- I really hate it when my whiskey has undercurrents of plastic-- are lightweight, and fully recyclable. So stylish are they that the Museum of Modern Art in New York has a SIGG bottle or two in its permanent collection.
Now, one measure I haven't been able to conduct is how they match up to Nalgene or similar plastic bottles weight-wise. From handling them, though, they don't feel heavier. If anyone has some numbers, let me know.
The oval bottle pictured here is a retro model, based upon a 1941 flask-like creation the company made for the Swiss Army.