Using a Hydration Bladder in the Winter

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It's been awhile since this topic has come up - seems like at one time it was a yearly occurrence.

Am always amazed at the lengths we go thru to maintain a habit or preference despite all odds. My hat is off to you - I like a bladder also, but there are limits to what I'm willing to go thru to extend its seasonal life.

Am glad you're out in the open about your use of a bladder during winter. I know of some people who won't hike with anyone who uses one in winter for the the reason you mention - mooching water.
-1 for the water bladder. There are several disadvantages, and not all of them relate to Winter.

1. What happens if it breaks, or springs a leak? Now you've lost all your water. And you might be soaked.

2. What happens if the tube or bladder freezes, in spite of your best efforts? (See #1)

3. All of your water is at the same temperature, uncomfortably hot at the beginning of the hike, and too cold to drink at the end.

4. What if you want a little variety?

I used to use a bladder. Now I carry multiple bottles. The first one is room temperature. It gets drunk before it gets cold. The next one is in a cozy and is hot tap water. It gets drunk when it is no longer hot, but not yet cold. The next one is in a cozy and is boiled. Ditto. Then there is a thermos of tea, which stays hot all day. I have water, Gatorade, and tea, so I have 3 different choices. A bladder is all one variety.

OP: I hope your system works, but it does not work for me.

KR: Excellent points!
I understand, Kevin, the mooching could be a problem. Hopefully with the right information they won't have problems and will be self-sufficient all day. I see a lot of problems leading Meetups so that sort of prompted writing the piece. I'm hoping it'll help for those who could use it.

To respond to the specific points mentioned by Tom:

1. Regarding breakage, that is our number one problem with all the gear we carry isn't it? That is the one thing besides the weather that can spoil our best laid plans. Stuff can and does fail. I prefer Platypus because it is really heavy duty, much more so than CamelBak. I inspect it before each use, and I do what I can to prevent something from happening. I always carry a foam bedroll inside my pack so the bladder is well-protected from my other gear.

2. That's what the article is about. Preventing it from, dealing with it if it happens, and what to do if all else fails.

3. A preferred water temp is nice. A luxury. I don't get it in the summer, my water is always warm, and in the winter I start with room temp water and it gets nice and cold by the afternoon. It doesn't really bother me, though.

4. Variety: I pull the backup bottle out of my pack and add a Nuun or some Gatorade if I want to I guess. :)
I specifically ban them on beginner or intemediate hikes that I am leading. I realize that with great care some people figure out an approach but for most of the people making a transition from summer to winter its too steep of a learning experience. I think to paraphrase from comments about motorcyle riders, there are two types of people who use hydration bladders in the winter, those who have frozen them and those who are about to. ;)
I seem to remember a statement from you, Kevin, about disallowing them on your AMC hikes. Something like you don't want your water to become someone else's emergency water... ;) I have not frozen one, but I have had the tube blow off the bladder at the interior connection point leaking water all over my back and legs - while XC skiing.

3. A preferred water temp is nice. A luxury. I don't get it in the summer, my water is always warm,
I kind of reverse the process in the Summer, cold water in the first bottle, and for the last bottle, freeze half of it and add water before the hike starts.
Yup, if they voluntarilly want the extra gymnastics or like frozen drinks, its up them.

Of course I caugth a tip this weekend and my favorite water bottle carrier is now in a spruce trap near the top of Hale so thats one major advantage of camelbacks compared to water bottles in pack pockets.
I seem to remember a statement from you, Kevin, about disallowing them on your AMC hikes. Something like you don't want your water to become someone else's emergency water... ;) I have not frozen one, but I have had the tube blow off the bladder at the interior connection point leaking water all over my back and legs - while XC skiing.Tim

You have a good memory, Tim - that's correct. In the years leading up to moving to CA, I lead lots of hikes for the AMC, and most often in winter. After several bad experiences with them, I decided that banning them on my hikes was the only option. Since moving back to NE I've only been involved in leading one AMC hike, so it hasn't been much of an issue for me personally. In early November I tried to stretch the season by using my bladder on hike to Vose Spur and it froze several times, even though it's insulated, blah, blah, blah. It was embarrassing, frankly.

And NH Tramper - I have a couple of Platypus collapsible water containers and I agree with you that they're very tough. However, Camelbak does make a line of bladders aimed at the police, paramilitary, and military markets which is as tough, if not tougher, than Platypus, have a better system of connecting the hose and mouth piece, and have a better cap design. I stumbled on a site which sold them a couple of years ago when I needed to replace my bladder, and while it was a bit more expensive, it was a better value over time.
Had a group member fall and burst his bladder on a ski trip in BC at -5F. Not only did he lose all his water but all his gear instantly froze rendering all his extra clothing useless. Had other group members not had extra water and gear, he would have been in real trouble. My water bottle with insulated cover never fails.
Having used Camelbaks for many years as a mtn biker, I would say that similar to what Tim mentioned, the hose or more likely the bite valve/valve lock is more likely to break. I have watched (awesome sight) a two hundred + pound man do a high speed endo and land full on his back (Camelbak bladder). Saved him from major injury and none the worse for the wear! I have had leaks in the bite valves, which can be annoying in the summer and would be an issue in winter. Hot water and "nalgenes are much easier in winter. That being said, I only use bladders in summer. The bags that newspapers come in on rainy days make a sleeve in case a bladder does break, or more likely in my case, I don't screw the cover on tight. A side note...Camelbak has been excellent to deal with if there is a malfunction.
Mike & I have been having a conversation about Nalgene vs Bladder failures on FB. Might be interesting to this audience...

Nagene is more easily lost, snagged, forgotten, left behind, etc.

Bladder is more easily damaged (I've broken one, but I've dropped the Nalgene off the ladders on Morgan, resulting in a 15-foot drop onto the rocks and no worse for wear.)

Both can freeze if not handled properly. This seems to be the main point of debate. Bottles, stored upside down in a cozie are still drinkable even when partially frozen. Bladders on the other hand do not freeze internally as easily due to higher volume (mass) of water to freeze. The failure in this case is in the tubing, and is more a matter of user error.

Which is more likely? Freezing of the tube due to user error (inattention) or a loss / left behind bottle?

@yardsale: your point is certainly valid, anything can and will happen so you err on the side of caution. Nothing wrong with that. I carry backup because... well, you never know. I must say, though, I'm surprised that person didn't protect their spare clothes better with a plastic bag or dry bag. In case they fell in a river during a crossing, their hydration bladder burst, or whatever. I count on my pack to carry my gear, but I protect it separately.

@KRobi: putting the bladder in a plastic bag... I like that. Clever.

@Kevin: thanks for the link.
I still use a bladder most of the time in winter, which works pretty well down to about 20 degrees or so if you evacuate the tube. If it's colder, I just tuck the tube ( with valve closed) into the top of the hydration sleeve, next to my body heat. I have had less freezing issues than with bottles in general. Like a few of the other stories here - I took a major wipeout on a mountain bike across three sets of railroad tracks in the rain long ago, going about 30 mph, and was spared any injury to my back, protected by a 1/2 full bladder which took the brunt of the fall. Let's see your Nalgene bottle do that! ;)
I don't carry my bladder in freezing conditions personally.

I found it interesting on reading a trip report this past year, however that someone felt in serious dehydration trouble after having had their tube freeze. Apparently he didn't realize that the top comes off the bladder and one can drink from a bladder just like a bottle, maybe with a little more care so as not to spill. (It may have been troll report)

However, I don't see why someone with a bladder would need emergency water anymore than someone with a bottle. A bladder is more inconvenient IMO due to the freezing tube issue but the water is still there to drink simply by unscrewing the cap....just like a bottle.

And bladders would be better in winter than a small mouth bottle, as is probably obvious to anyone who's carried a small mouth bottle on a winter hike...that usually only happens once. :)
Most often hike solo with my pup so the bladder/bottle police don't have any effect on what I carry! I find that I stay better hydrated and make better time using the bladder because I do not have to stop to drink and its very handy to me. I have learned independently many of the tricks Tramper has shared and since I tend to run hot even when moving somewhat slow I rarely have freeze ups just by blowing back through the line and tucking it in my shirt. I also keep the line next to my neck and it has insulation. If I crouch down to water my dog the the pressure on the bladder helps expel the water into my hand as he drinks from my hand not the hose. It also helps me carry and ample supply that does not need to be changed out. In single digits and lower I do use the bottle and cozy with spare water in the backpack. I carry the cozy on my chest strap where it is nearly accessible as the bladder hose and have gotten use to it being there. I do not like the constant scenario of having to drop the pack to reach for water which results for me even if its in a side pouch. The only time I have problems with the bottle freezing is if I mistakenly judge by my body temperature that it is warm enough to carry my bottle rightside up instead of up side down. This was the case out on Little River Sunday after a night out and the bottle got a thin layer of ice in the top that I had to punch a hole through. I do find it easier to keep the hydration bladder protected from freezing while camping because the bottles are less comfortable to sleep next to. Its a very rare occurence that I don't have a thermos or at least a smaller bottle that could serve as a back up and during crossover weather I will sometimes carry an empty bottle. Regarding gear failures, I have killed smaller camelback bladders during other seasons but never had a problem with the insulated three litre going on four years! Everything has pros and cons as well as conditions of better functionality! If you're in constant flex of evolving your style and methods with an open mind you will usually fair better than those under a governing body!
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