Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Camelbak Bottle: A Triumph Of Engineering Over Common Sense

I mean no offense to engineers. After all, some of my best friends are engineers (hi, Steve!) But after a few weeks of use, I'm convinced that Camelbak's attempt at a water bottle is an shining example of a very complex solution applied to the very simple problem of putting water down your gullet.

First things first: If you're a student of the History of Hydration, you know that Camelbak made their vast fortunes on the idea that water should be carried upon one's back rather than in a frame-mounted bottle. When 'baks first hit the scene (in the halcyon early days of mountain biking), there was much talk of how nasty stuff could get on your bottle, find its way into your digestive tract, and raise a ruckus in there. So you would think that when Camelbak went to bottles, they'd make sure that it would be easy to clean the nasties off. But no. The cap (over)design has an always-open hole over the seal/membrane thingy that seems like a luxury condominum for bacteria. And the bottle isn't dishwasher-compliant, so the chances a slob like me will keep it clean go down exponentially.

All this would be forgivable if the bottle addressed one of the biggest engineering challenges of water bottle-dom: Leakage. The drinking portion of the cap discussed above does an amazing job of that. Water's only coming out of there when you want it to come out of there. But, water being water, it finds the path of least resistance, which in this case would be the threaded junction between the body of the bottle and the cap, with predictable results:

So, while I had high hopes for this bottle (especially after Bicycle Quarterly recently gave it a glowing review), I'm going back to my tried and true Kleen Kanteens. Sure, they aren't insulated, they rattle in a cage, and the valve makes me sound like Perry the Platypus, but I can throw them in the dishwasher (caps and all) and drink from them without getting a bonus shower.

AMENDED REVIEW: I gave the camel-bottle one more test today in our ridiculous Dagobah-esque climate (uh, heat index of 110F?) -- the conditions that motivated me to try an insulated bottle in the first place -- and would like to soften my review a bit as a result. I used this bottle alongside a standard Specialized bottle (both filled with ice and water), and after an hour, the water in the Specialized bottle was approximately the temperature of a bowl of chicken broth. The Camelbak bottle? Still refreshingly cool, with a couple fragments of ice left. Of course, it was even more refreshing when the stupid thing leaked (as usual) its still-chilled contents down the front of my sweat-soaked shirt. So the insulation works and earns the coveted "things that don't suck" keyword, while the cap gets to keep its original "things that suck."


Anonymous said...

For whatever reason, I've stuck with the basic Specialized bottle. Seems to work well enough, although I try not to think about the hygiene aspects too much.

My casual viewing of the Camelback bottle left me wondering why there was a twisty valve control. You need two hands to use the bottle?? Doesn't seem like it is designed for road riding!

I'm not sure this really a triumph of engineering over common sense. It might really be a triumph of the marketing dept. over the engineering dept. It's a common problem. :)

Steve in Peoria

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Steve -- there is a twisty valve control if you want the thing 100% locked out. However, with the valve in the "open" position, water won't come out unless you suck or squeeze. I just use it in the "open" position all the time.

You're probably right regarding the marketing department (says the guy who used to write marketing)... I should have been tipped off by the trademarked "Jet Valve(tm)" copywriter babble stamped alongside the valve. In my experience, the more things the ad agency feels the need to trademark, the less you should believe the hype.

Anonymous said...

The weather here in the Peoria area has also been like an overheated sauna, so I started filling my Polar bottle halfway and sticking it in the freezer. It does a nice job of staying cold for at least an hour or so (maybe 2 hrs?).

I also carry a Specialized bottle full of ice cubes, with the understanding that I need to drink it quick before it starts to boil (insert smiley face here).

Even though the Polar bottle keeps stuff cold (or warm), I can still find something to carp about. Specifically, the thing is so stiff that it's hard to squeeze when you drink out of it. Hey, I don't know of any better way to make an insulated bottle, so I really can't complain, but it does explain why I only use it in extreme weather.

Sweaty Steve in Peoria

Steve Fuller said...

I looked at these when they first came out and decided that I didn't need cold water enough to pay a premium for an insulated bottle. I just use stock water bottles and deal with the water temp. Then again, I'm old and grumpy most of the time. ;)

Harald said...

I ride with shabby looking old bottles with my former club's logo and they're pretty bad in the chemical taste department. I, too, had read Jan's glowing review and was considering getting these. I guess I better rethink this. Thanks for the review!