OK, we all need to drink enough water and liquids -- call it "hydrate" if you want to sound really knowledgeable with your non-techy friends. And that message is spreading more soundly among the general public.
So maybe that's why the number of hydration-focused companies (not just pack companies putting a reservoir sleeve in a pack or doing one token hydration system) seems to be growing. Not only are the big players doing more sophisticated redesigns and adding more SKUs, but other smaller folks are saying, "Me too," as they pitch their hats into the ring. This is all good since more choice means more people will carry water and indeed "hydrate."
No question about it that Camelbak still maintains a true dominance in this area, especially among harder-core participants and mountain bikers particularly, but other companies are looking to scratch out a niche they can whip out from under King Kong and call their own. Just as the King Kong of hydration is redesigning and expanding so it's not just known as a hard-core line for guys and bikers.
Another trend among some specialty companies is adding a hydration pack or two to a line. For example, Gregory has several noteworthy packs/hydration systems, while newcomer women's-specialist Sherpani has a couple of belts that carry water bottles and gel flasks (even a CD player). We'll address it in our women's product review in a couple of weeks. Of course, some of the info below actually does cross-over as both Camelbak and Ultimate Direction -- and newcomer to hydration, Jansport -- have also taken a hard look at the needs of the women's market.
Herewith, SNEWS looks at who is doing what (in alpha order). Not everybody and everything, natch, but some highlights that grabbed us as we perused the show floor at Summer Market:
Boldt -- Only founded a month before the show by former Watermarker Duncan Robins, Boldt wasn't a me-too. It had a truly innovative product (three packs and one 70-ounce reservoir system) that was so new that even its reps hadn't seen it before the show and the company had a sales meeting an hour before the doors opened on the first day. What's different? The HDPE reservoir -- please don't call it a bladder, Robins said -- is semi-rigid so it can basically be disassembled and put in the dishwasher for a great cleaning and the ability to put all kinds of stuff in it. Even the bite valve comes apart and can go in the dishwasher. Only the hose is left to brush out. It's also kind of an upside-down system, based on the traditional ones, with the opening at the bottom where the hose attaches and a sleeve that can be simply rolled open to expose it and fill it without any unpacking and unzipping. In addition, the curve of the ergonomic pack allows it to be a bit shorter. Robins found that women seemed to like the lengths that are all less than 15 inches. So astounded were buyers that Robins said, for example, that REI came by three times and EMS came by four times. The Big.Shot, Big.Swig and Grand.Slam have suggested retails of $40, $50 and $60, respectively.
Camelbak -- Always with something new to tout in its expansive booth and with its expansive offerings, the company was particularly excited about its two women's-specific models -- the DayStar (suggested retail $60) and the larger Isis ($80). The harness straps are more curved to sit on a women's shoulders better (they did), the sternum strap is sent to retail already placed higher (where most women have to struggle to move it), the waist belt is more curved (and canted for a woman's hips) and the padded area is longer, and the buckle for adjusting the harness pulls up rather than down. Also new are the large packs Zephyr and Kronos (which is ready to tackle a long day with a 3-liter system). The company has also packed a cleaning kit (all the brushes, dryer and tablets needed) for customers to grab one package rather than several.
Hydrapak -- Sort-of-newcomer, Hydrapak was housed in the pavilion. Although President Matt Lyons had taken over the company from Bell a couple of years ago, it finally had some redesigns he was prouder of. The company's focus is actually on cycling, he said; at Interbike in October, it will unveil custom imprintable Lycra backs on a sleek aerodynamic pack (AirScoopTeam, retail $60) that can be screened with company names and team logos to match a jersey. Also keen is that the fabric back (can be taken off for washing) is stretchable so it becomes a storage pocket for miscellaneous stuff. But the company most highly touts its totally reversible bladder for cleaning -- the opening extends fully across the top and the plastic is pliable enough to turn it inside-out like a pillow case.
JanSport -- Introducing what it called the "future of hydration packs," JanSport didn't try to re-invent the wheel but took a savvy route. The pack-specialist partnered with Nalgene, the reservoir and plastic specialist, to launch two lines of hydration systems with 11 styles, including several women's-specific models with all the great features, including contoured harness straps and curved waist belts. The Water Tower line is for the hard-core outdoor enthusiast, and the Hydro Dynamic is more of a multi-purpose system. JanSport had Nalgene tweak the bladders a bit by manufacturing them in the shape of a large curved Coca-Cola glass. With the wider section up top, it puts more pressure on the water below and keeps the flow stronger, the company says. The systems also use Nalgene's quick-release attachment where the hose attaches to the reservoir so you can refill without fritzing with re-routing the hose.
Katadyn/Nalgene -- The biggest news here from the two companies -- water-filtering pro Katadyn and plastics/bottles/hydration pro Nalgene -- was a compatible Katadyn water filter that could connect directly with a simple click to the Nalgene reservoirs once you disconnected the hoses with the company's Quick Connect system. No more fumbling and juggling to hold both systems and not spill your well-earned pumped water. We like this concept a lot, as did a lot of other show-goers who kept using the word "trick" to describe it. Nalgene of course continues its line of reservoirs and packs it introduced last summer.
Kelty -- On a SKU rampage, Kelty has added 10 systems to its hydration line, on which it had partnered with reservoir company Source. The 10 include two really super kid's packs, and a large women's pack called the Tornado (curved straps, angled shoulder straps, waistbelt moves up and down for best fitâ€¦). We really like the Rapid Valve, which propels water and never requires a user to suck his or her brains out; we hear it is common in Europe. Still standard is a safety whistle that is manufactured as part of the sternum clasp.
New Sun -- The company's so-called "Low Rider Gang" of packs is designed so the water weight stays in a user's low back -- particularly useful for mountain bikers hunched over the handles.
Source -- Source continues to gather supporters. There should be no surprise since a company based in Israel should have a good understanding of hydration needs in hot climates. Source has already demonstrated it is ahead of the crowd (Kelty licensed the system last year) and continues to refine its system. The new line of hydration packs has even better ventilation along the spinal column and back. Source's wide-mouth bladder resembles the old peanut butter tubes many of us used with a simple, leak-proof fold-over closure. The company showed six new multisport models and a redesigned line of water-carrying systems for campers too. Highlights included the Spinner (suggested retail, $35), which is a lightweight pack for short adventures, with the Spinner Pro ($50) upping the ante for longer outings. For the gut-buster, try the Extensor ($90) with a 100-ounce capacity designed for overnighters. As always, many still swear by the Source bite valves.
Ultimate Direction -- Still expanding and refining a more urban-influenced line geared for women, UD launched a carrying and hydration system for yoga and exercise classes. No, really. The two products (Lotus with a suggested retail of $20, and the Full Lotus with a suggested retail of $40) are more like carriers that are designed to fit a water bottle as well as a yoga mat, plus a few other essentials. If you've ever juggled multiple items and stuff going to a class, you'll think this is the cat's meow -- especially at that price. What a great gift. It also added multiple products in its "race" line, including a revamped version of the popular Stinger called the Wasp (get the trend here?). Retail at $70, it has a few more pockets and bungees, but maintains the harness with pockets on the front. Another is a simple design that may hit the mark with distance folks called the Exceed -- a waist carrier holding two bottles completely horizontal, one on top of the other (suggested retail $65).