Relentless summer sun burns the jugged rocks, you are on the way in to the mountain heights for a few hours and thirst starts to occupy your mind more and more. Big water bottle, that you were carrying is getting close to emty, and a morning decission that two bottles are really too much too carry, looks evermore stupid.
If you are just a bit serious about your time spent in the mountains/nature, than you know what dehidration is, and you will probably run in to it again. Beacause we have had some sun here, under the Alps, in the recent months, we have decided to look at how we could quench our thirst this/next season on those long mountain hikes. Because the review of the bottle of water is pointless, we have looked into the »hightech« versions of bottles- hydration bladders. The market today is filled with hydration bladders of all shapes and sizes, and we are quite sure, that you have some in your closet. Hands down, they all look quite the same, differences show in the details however. The way you fill them for instance (bag-like opening or a hole on the backside), sizes (usually from 1 to 3l) and the way you get water from the bladder to your mouth.
While searching something, that is somewhat different than standard, we got help from, again, guys at Perunika. They have recommended us to take a step outside the normal »sports« frame, and lend us to test the 3l water bladder WLPS (Widepac Low Profile System) from Source, that was primarely developed for military-bulletproof vest carry.
So why on earth, would that interest us, your everyday hikers? Read on.
The primary function of the military vest is to keep, despite the endless gear it carries in/on it, the soldier’s maneuverability on the field. And that is something we, hikers and mountaineers, wish to keep as well. Tightly fitting equipment that does not twist, move around or is uncomfortable, is second condition (the first is, offcourse, knowledge) for safe and joyfull navigation in the mountains.
The water bladder in question is, as we can see from the name itself, very interesting from this point of view, as it is thin, and it stays that way even when we fill it up. Low-profile as they say. Yes- it is wider beacuse of that, so you do have to check, if it will fit in to your backpack pocket. Technology used to keep it thin, also prevents formation of water baloon at the bottom of the bladder, which usually than presses on the lumbar part of the spine or creates issues when packing/unpacking the gear during a tour. It also means the weight is better spread across your back, ergo your balance on technically demanding trails will be better. Very practical and comfortable, not to mention, much safer.
Source is, as we read, very proud on its »Glass Like« technology- a special film, 2000% smoother than normal plastic, which together with »Grundge Guard« stops bacteria forming inside the bladder and feeding pipe. The materials used are BPA and ftalat free. In theory all of this means odorless water. In practice, however, it needs a water splash or two, to make the smell of plastic go away.
Military versions of water bladders are usually made from thicker, more resiliant materials, since it is expected that they will endure harsh conditions- but the price you pay is a few grams more on your back. Another »additional« equipment of military bladders, is braided feeding tube, which protects and insulates the tube, thus preventing damage and warming/freezing of the water in the tube. Do not expect miricles with the latter, but it helps.
While talking about the tube, lets mention SQC (Source Quick Connect) technology, which enables fast and watertight »click« connection betwen the tube and the bladder and the tube and the mouthpiece (this are interchangeable, you can buy them seperately). The joints are watertight even when they are not connected, meaning that you can place the bladder in the backpack with less fiddle, since you can just keep the tube in backpack- removing just the bladder. This also means you can change parts when they get damaged, prolonging the lifespan of the bladder.
Let’s stop for a moment at the mouthpiece, named the Storm valve. It is covered with a protection cap to keep the dirt out, and it works with a twist and pull operation, than can be executed with your mouth. We had some problems with this, since the surface to grab with your teeth is relatively small and covered with a »squishy« rubber, which does not give enough traction so it is quite difficult to operate it only with your mouth – we just used our hands all the time. Perhaps a bit more effort than with a usual »squeeze and suck« mouthpiece, but once opened you get a constant water flow….you can even use it as shower 🙂 (and anyhow, you can simply change it if you do not like it). The mouthpiece can be disassembled into three pieces, for easier maintenence.
You fill the bladder through the openining on the top, which we think is a better choice than systems with a cap- it just makes the drying and cleaning much easier.
We took on the test, on parallel, also the so called UTA– Universal Tube Adapter. This is a universal nozzle that, thanks to the SQC system, is easily connected to the tube, instead of the mouthpiece. This adapter is than used to fill the bladder without removing it from the backpack, and the backpack itself does not even need to be removed from the shoulders. You can simply attach a plastic bottle, a tap, etc… to the adapter and pour the contents into the bladder. A brilliant and easy solution, that we would also like to see elsewhere (on the trail running packs for instance), and is definitely worth your money, since it works very well in practice.
The disadvantage of the Source WLPS bladder is, that it is only available in a 3l size, and although it can be filled with less water (as needed), it is still slightly larger than we would like for most hikes … well, we nevertheless managed to pack it into a small hiking backpack, with some twisting of the edges. Also, it takes a little more effort to clean due to the internal barrier, that keeps the low profile of the bladder and prevents excessive splashing.
Source WLPS water bladder is definitely worth you looking at it, if you are considering buying a water bladder. The first reason is definitely the price/performance, it costs €38.90 (right now 33€!), which is the same as the “civilian” version, but for that price it gives you a more durable material, a braided tube with SQC system and a lower profile of the bladder, that is not commonly found on the market. As such, it represents an interesting alternative to the classic bladders.
If you really use your water bladder, it is definitely worth considering to buy a UTA attachment as well, which is perfect for replenishing supplies while on the hike. This costs additional €18.90, which is in all honesty a bit much, but if you will be frequently using it, an investment that will make you forget the price.