By James Raia

Drink Up With Hydration Systems

One day in the early 1990s, a cyclist named Michael Edison was participating in the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred, a Texas endurance event at which the heat can reach triple digits and where participants’ suffering is commonplace.

Edison, a former paramedic, was a novice rider at the time. As his ride progressed, he noted that while negotiating his way through the field of 1,000 riders, he constantly bumped others while repeatedly reaching for his water bottles.

When Edison returned home to Northern California, he began various experiments to discover a more efficient way to drink fluids.

Using the tools of his former occupation, Edison attached medical tubing to an I.V. bag, stuffed the bag into a sock and then sewed the sock onto the back of a T-shirt.

He called his invention a “camel back,” for its hump-like shape on his bike. And thus, hydration systems Camelbak, the hydration system industry’s leading company, began. At least, according to the manufacturer’s web site.

Little more than a decade later, numerous manufacturers offer hydration systems, all many generations removed from the original container Edison crafted out of medical supplies, an old T-shirt and basic sewing skills.

With larger holding areas (bladders), accompanying storage areas and ease of use, more exercise enthusiasts who were once long-time water bottle users have switched to hydration systems.

Here’s a sampling of the hydration systems available at the 2002 Interbike trade show in Las Vegas.

Camelbak Products, Inc.1310 Redwood Way, Suite C, Petaluma, CA 94954. Tel: 800-767-8725; web site: http://www.camelbak.com.

As the first company to offer hydration systems, Camelbak took the risk and suffered accordingly. Its prototype bladders leaked as did its early drinking tubes and shut-off systems.

But the company now offers more than 75 styles and promotes its line for recreation, industrial and military use.

For runners, popular styles are the Day Trekker, FlashFlo, Rim Runner and Lobo ($65), the manufacturer’s largest capacity (70 ounces) that includes the external fill option. Its has myriad side compartments and features, including a pump port, sternum strap and removable waist belt, and it’s promoted as machine washable.

Camelbak has also expanded and has promoted heavily its kids’ line. It includes the Skeeter and Scout, two 35-ounce packs that feature extra cargo areas for kids’ outerwear and other items.

Like its competitors,Camelbak’s line now also has new pastel color options, geared toward the women’s market.

* Hydrapak, 2991 Shattuck Ave. #202, Berkeley, CA 94705. Tel. 510-549-0559; E-mail: info@hydra-pak.com; web site: http://www.hydra-pak.com.

Comfort is key component of hydration systems. Does a pack fit properly andare discomfort or irritation problems during long workouts kept to minimum? Correspondingly, is the mouthpiece easy and efficient to use?

Last fall, Hydrapak introduced its “Air Scoop” technology and EasyFlo Shutoff valve.

The Air Scoop Technology pack, geared toward cyclists, features a firm back support and space “pods” or cushions, according company literature. The pads are designed to keep the pack shaped in ergonomic curve and spaced about 3/4 inches off the user’s back.

The EasyFlo Shut-Off Valve, standard on the company’s 2003 line, features a bite-activated valve introduced nearly two years ago. But it has the addition of a push-pull shut off feature similar to a sports water bottle top. Hydrapak’s current line includes 16 packs ranging in price from $30 to $125.

* Ultimate Direction, 1255 Powell Street, Emeryville, CA 94608. Tel. 800-426-7229. web site: http://www.ultimatedirection.com

Like its competitors, Ultimate Direction has vast offerings, including its new styles specifically designed for women in pastel colors and featuring smaller company logos.

The walkabout, for example, is available in black but also in two-tone options of slate/blue and lemon/blue. Its features a 20-ounce bottle and two large main access compartments for equipment, clothing, food, etc.

It has a single adjust waist belt with an offset buckle and “shockcord” system on the bottom of the pack for gloves, hat or a parka as well as additional key and waist belt pockets. It weighs 13.9 ounces and is priced at $40.

Ultimate Direction also offers a wide variety of women-designed water vests and other hydration options that include “double-barreled” valves promoted as having “18 percent greater flow than other valves on the market.”