Gear Review – Camelbak HydroBak Hydration Pack

Camelbak HydroBak (with water bottle for scale only)

Camelbak HydroBak (with water bottle for scale only)

I’ve been struggling to find a hydration solution since I first started running.  I trained for and ran my first marathon with a FuelBelt water belt, but it bounced unless I only kept 2 bottles in the front (which almost defeats the purpose).  I’ve tried the handheld bottle holders, but I found them uncomfortable and I felt unbalanced (and I didn’t want to run with bottles on both hands like Edward Waterhands).  I’ve even tucked a FuelBelt water bottle into a SPI belt, but I hated fumbling with the zipper when thirsty, and one little bottle is never enough.  Plus, for all of those tactics, the water sloshes in the bottles, reminding me of every step I take.

 

Now, I simply run without water, effectively tethering me to the Central Park water fountains (which are turned off for half the year, anyway).  I’m going to need water for my upcoming Ragnar Relay, plus I’d like to explore more routes and trails locally, but as a copious sweater I need to have a decent source of water at hand.  So when Camelbaks went on sale on Gilt a couple of weeks ago, I jumped on two of them (excessive, I know, but they were a relative steal at $25 for the HydroBak and $29 for the Classic).

 

Today I went on my first run with the HydroBak 50 oz pack (pictured above).  It’s a fairly small pack even for my 5’6″ frame and only holds the hydration bladder plus one small pocket that is JUST big enough to hold an iPhone 5 without a thick case and almost nothing else (it’s about 2.5″ x 5″, big enough to hold some money/credit cards and keys).  You could fit a Gu or two in the pocket, but you’d have to take off the pack to get to them.  You can see in the photo that there’s a clip on the front right strap that keeps the hose out-of-the-way but accessible for drinking.  The clip has a split at the back so you can switch it to the left side if preferred, and the hose itself can be snaked through the pack to come out on either the left or right side.

 

I kept the pack cinched almost all the way down so it rode high on my back.  There is no sternum strap on the HydroBak (unlike the 70 oz Classic) but I didn’t have a problem with it bouncing on my run.  I only filled it about half-way and noticed a little sloshing because I didn’t do a good enough job getting the air out (if there’s no air there’s no sloshing – one person recommended turning it upside-down to suck out the air but I forgot).  By the end of the run, when it was almost empty, I noticed the pack moved a little bit more on my shoulders – not bouncing exactly, but shifting around because there wasn’t any weight inside anymore.

 

It was a little warmer wearing the pack against my back, and I occasionally noticed the buckles bumping into my arms that could potentially cause chafing on a long run, but this first foray into hydration packs was relatively successful.  It’s not as free and easy as going without anything, but I’d feel comfortable using it when I don’t have easy access to water fountains.  It also saved me some time because I didn’t have to stop or go off path for a fountain, but I’m not supposed to care about those things on my slow easy runs…

 

Update August 20, 2013 – I’ve been wearing the HydroBak on almost every run now.  I like not having to stop for water and it hasn’t been irritating me (even on my 13 miler).  I still wish I could magically have cold water without having to carry anything, but until then, I like the HydroBak.  Also, the tip about filling the bag, closing it tightly, then flipping it upsidedown and sucking out the air is spot-on.  No air, no sloshing.

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