Dilemma: It's early spring and you're about to break trail on a 20-mile hike. You step out the door to load the car and find your old, moldy hydration bladder buried deep in your trunk. Turns out, you never cleaned it after last fall's epic, and it's a grimy, moldy mess.
Solution(s): Yes, you could wash it out. But that takes time and may leave your water supply tasting like cleaning agents. You could also buy a new bladder or water bottle. The former requires an extra trip to the gear shop, which may very well be out of the way. The latter requires lugging around a water bottle, which leaves you wondering why you bought a hydration-ready pack in the first place.
In an ideal world, you'd clean out your water bottle or pack right after each use, ensuring a clean hydration system at the ready every time. But who actually does that? I sure don't feel like doing tedious dishes after a long, hot day in the wild, and it turns out a lot of gear-manufacturing minds don't either. Over the past several years, several companies and start-ups have brought to market innovative hydration solutions that attempt to solve the problem. Here's a look at a few.
Background: The hydration pack largely took the water bottle out of the equation, but JetFlow is fixing to put it back in. Its alloy water bottle holder is designed to retro-fit a water bottle to your hydration pack, complete with hoses and bite valves. So instead of the difficult-to-clean bladder, you get a disposable bottle that you can simply toss and replace. The Salt Lake-based company promises various valves to fit all types of water bottles, with prices starting around $25 per system.
Our take: While it's definitely more convenient to chuck a water bottle than clean a bladder, this seems like the wrong product at the wrong time. With all the focus on Nalgene and permanent water bottles, a product that encourages you to just throw away bottles is kind of 10 years ago. None of the pictures or displays on this thing even show a reusable water bottle, leading me to believe that the system isn't even compatible with any. Also, the alloy system and upside-down bottle seem more cumbersome than a bladder. This might appeal to the laziest among us, but it just seems like too much product for too little payoff.
Flexr Replaceable Liners
Flexr offers what basically amounts to water bottles with integrated hydration bladders. Its BPA-free LDPE plastic liners slip inside the water bottle and prevent your water/Gatorade/energy concoction from actually touching the plastic. The bottle stays clean and you can just toss and replace the Flexr liner when you refill the bottle. According to the company, the liners also prevent sloshing, if that's something that worries you. The initial bottle costs $13.95, and additional liners cost about $3 to $5 for a 25 pack.
Our Take: Similar to the JetFlow, this product encourages waste at a time when outdoor folks and organizations of all kinds are constantly screaming: "Stop destroying the environment with carelessness!!!" Sure, a plastic sleeve isn't that much waste, but think about how much water you drink and how many sleeves that's going to create. Are you really that lazy that you are going to buy packs of bottle-condoms just to avoid the occassional scrub?' Seems a little overengineered for a problem that's as simple as scrub, rinse, repeat.
Background: The 22-ounce Clean Bottle is your basic BPA-free, squeezable water bottle with a little twist: The bottom unscrews along with the top. You can scrub the bottom and get a sponge or cleaning brush into the bottle itself, making the cleaning process a little quicker and easier. You can also pop all the pieces right in the dishwasher - with the open-ended design, you won't have to worry as much about yesterday's coffee grounds getting glued to the bottle bottom. A silicon washer makes the removable bottom leakproof and stable. This one will run about 10 bucks.
My Take: This is the most eco-friendly out of these three designs and is a very simple solution that doesn't feel overengineered. Of course, it's not quite as easy, either, as you'll still have to clean the bottle. But I think the Clean Bottle strikes the best balance between easy-clean design and smart, reusable product.