Review: Camelbak Unbottle (2008)
- continuous hydration
- tubes can freeze
- more cleaning effort
- 5.3 ounces
Camelbak was one of the first companies to begin making hydration bladders, and their products are now quite popular in the backcountry.
Hydration bladders allow hikers to drink continuously without having to stop, pull off their pack, and dig out a water bottle. That convenience makes Camelbaks especially popular with endurance athletes, climbers, and hard-charging mountaineers. It's hard to argue against using a bladder, but personally I do prefer to use water bottles, either holding one in my hand (while trail hiking), keeping one in a holster on my hip, or just stowing them in my backpack, convenience be damned.
While the ability to continuously sip from a hose gives hydration bladders an inarguable advantage, there are a few quirks you should be aware of. Generally speaking, you'll want to be a little more fastidious in your cleaning habits with a hydration bladder. The mouthpiece, hose, and bladder can harbor interesting bacteriological science experiments after multiple days of use. Note: Camelbak does offer a variety of accessories specifically designed to make cleaning easier.
In winter, water can collect in the connecting hose and freeze, rending the bladder inoperable. Savvy users learn to blow back into the tube to clear the water and minimize this issue. Still, if the weather truly goes hardcore on you, or if you're pushing up an 8000 meter peak, you'll probably want to choose a different water storage option.
The Camelbak Unbottle will fit nicely inside your backpack's hydration pouch, or, if your pack isn't hydration bladder-compatible, the Unbottle's case allows you to easily strap it to your pack's exterior. Either way, this does put all your water weight on your pack, as opposed to putting a liter on your hip belt. In this regard, I give a slight edge to water bottles.
Since all your water will be inside your pack and therefore out of view, you won't be able to easily monitor your water consumption. This can take some getting used to—and it can also lead to you unexpectedly discovering you've run out of water. People tend to complain about the taste of water in hydration bladders. They do require frequent cleaning, and they also tend to hold onto the odor of flavored liquids if you put something other than pure water in them.
Finally, the Camelbak is a plastic bladder, which raises the spectre of leaching chemicals. To my knowledge the Unbottle does not contain BPA (don't quote me on this!). However, it is clearly not HDPE, and probably ranks somewhere in between that and polycarbonate plastics in terms of safety. As I said, I personally don't choose to use hydration bladders, but many people enthusiastically do. The Unbottle is a solid choice with its inside-outside attachment versatility, and its quality tube and mouthpiece design.