In anticipation of the fast-approaching Summer Outdoor Retailer show, SNEWS got a sneak peek behind the curtains at CamelBak headquarters in Petaluma, Calif., which houses the innovation lab behind the brand’s Got Your Bak guarantee.
CamelBak began down in Texas, in 1989. As the story goes, the Hotter ’N Hell Hundred—an infamous century bike ride—was underway and Michael Eidson, a bike-racing EMT, sewed and pinned a tube sock onto his jersey and dropped in an IV bag full of water, routing the tube over his shoulder. Just like that, the hands-free hydration category was born. Only months later Eidson was selling his CamelBak ThermalBak to fellow cyclists.
Fast forward 27 years, and you’ll find the CamelBak brand in every conceivable corner of the hydration market: from personal UV (ultraviolet) and household water purifiers to drink tablets, from ultra-running vests and hiking packs to water bottles. And they remain dominant in cycling hydration pack sales, taking home 65 percent of the category’s retail dollars to date for the year, according to SportsScanInfo data.
CamelBak, now owned by publicly traded Vista Outdoor (VSTO), is also one of only two companies in the world approved to make hydration systems for hazmat chemical warfare preparedness, says VP of Product Jeremy Galten. The development process took 10 years, and military products currently account for roughly 25 percent of CamelBak’s overall business. “We make everything from a pack that needs to be thrown out of a helicopter at 35 feet, to something for someone’s first breast cancer walk,” said Galten.
We toured the CamelBak Got Your Bak Lab to learn about the company’s rigorous testing program and get a first look at the brand’s 2017 product line up.
CamelBak’s Crux reservoir system is all about improved flow. Sport Product Category manager Chris Curtis claims it’ provides 20 percent more water with each sip than anything else on the market. The Crux ($35 for the 100-oz. size) has a wider tube, a redesigned 45-degree on/off valve, and an improved bladder. CamelBak PU (polyurethane) bladders are RF (radio-frequency) welded from the inside out, which creates a super-durable bond and eliminates microscopic nooks and crannies that can hide bacteria. The CamelBak lab is full of machines designed to torture the gear (see clips below) to learn about the thresholds of durability.
Torturing the bite valves. Video by Aaron Bible.
The bite valve on all systems remains the same: It’s a self-sealing, single piece of silicone and each one undergoes 10,000 cycles of simulated use to make it out the lab door.
The half-liter Quick Stow is a lightweight, half-liter soft flask (1.3 oz., $20) aimed at runners and it’s now available in an insulated version (1.9 oz., $28), a first for the soft flask category. The Quick Stow’s PU material is stiffer than most soft flasks, which makes it easy to work with and handle. It also sports a wider-than-average mouth which lets you easily add ice and clean the bladder. A new line of running vests and single-hand soft goods will accompany the introduction.
The KickBak Stainless Travel Mug (20 oz. $29, 30 oz. for $37) and the Chute Stainless VacuumBottle (20-oz. for $28, 40-oz. for $38) are also new. (The KickBak will begin shipping in Jan 2017 and the Chute is available now.) Both models have hinged lids that are splash-proof (the Kickbak) and leak-proof (the Chute) when closed. (That hinge has undergone more than 30,000 cycles of repetitive testing on CamelBak’s custom built testing machine.) Both are for hot and cold use and, according to CamelBak’s tests, the Chute keeps water cold for up to 48 hours and hot for six.