The United States Army takes hydration seriously. Army recruits face demanding physical missions – from carrying a 30 lb weapon across harsh desert terrain, to operating within an enclosed hazmat garment with no ventilation. Soldiers often don’t have the time or ability to stop and reach for a sip of water from a canteen.
During basic training, soldiers are required by their drill sergeants to regularly drink water from their canteens, but out in the real-world conditions of the field it was found that soldiers were unlikely to drink enough water to sustain themselves unless it was convenient, safe to drink, and palatable. Essentially unchanged since World War I, the canteen and its screwcap cup is designed to attach onto a utility belt or hang from the soldier’s neck. Crawling and climbing can be difficult with a loosely suspended weight bobbing on the soldier’s body. Additionally, a canteen can catch on brush or wire obstacles while a soldier is on the move.
By 1998, soldiers were actively voicing their demand for a hands-free hydration solution to combat the threat of dehydration and its effects on overall performance during combat.
Bicycle enthusiast Michael Eidson pioneered the use of “hands-free hydration” for recreational use in active sports in 1988. Eidson’s idea spawned CamelBak, which has since become a world-leader in the science of hydration.
The CamelBak unit incorporates a backpack design to store an adequate supply of water and a flexible tube that loops over the user’s shoulder and can be secured close to the mouth, allowing easy hands-free access to liquids during extreme activities. Many soldiers on active service were already aware of CamelBak’s recreational products and began using them during physical training (PT) within the military.
Meeting the military’s demand for hands-free hydration involved a new level of research and development for CamelBak. The military version needed to be certified by the United States Army for chemical and biological resistance (CBR) while still meeting the demand for a lightweight, flexible, product that could deliver water in a variety of situations.
As a critical component of the hands-free hydration pack, the system’s tubing would have to be flexible and chemically resistant—two properties that are seemingly mutually exclusive. Flexibility was crucial to prevent kinking and accommodate a wide range of motion, while chemical resistance was essential to protect soldiers against hazardous materials that they could potentially be exposed to in combat. The tubing solution would also have to be lightweight, hard-wearing, and would impart no taste to encourage hydration.
To accomplish these goals, CamelBak turned to Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics for its expertise in developing critical tubing.
To evaluate taste considerations, CamelBak performed a series of sensory analysis tests. Comparative testing of the water inside the hydration pack was performed against fresh spring water, ensuring that users found the solution to be taste-free. Feedback was continuously sent to Saint-Gobain, which adjusted its formulas to extrude new tubing; gradually the team marched toward an innovative product that met both user and performance requirements.
Gravitating away from traditional, single-layer designs, the team settled on a multi-laminate tube that met the necessary taste and performance needs. “This solution incorporates multiple, light-weight layers, each of which satisfy a unique requirement,” said Raymond Pace, worldwide marketing director, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, Process Systems business unit.
The end result was a product that offered superior flexibility and kink resistance, ensuring on-demand uninterrupted water flow without affecting the taste of the water.