Break the Ice

When the frost bites hard, fight back with the latest winter hydration systems

In an effort to keep your agua liquid longer, CAMELBAK lavishes foam insulation upon its compact SNOBOUND daypack. The company's standard drinking tube gains a neoprene sleeve, the swiveling bite valve gets a rubber shield, and half of the hose tucks into a body-warmed shoulder strap. The 1,500-cubic-inch pack will comfortably carry a snowboard or skis—plus 100 ounces of water. The SnoBound is slow to frost over when worn during exertion, but take care not to stray too far from the lifts; with only part of the drinking tube tucked into the shoulder strap, this one could get frosty in a hurry. ($100; 800-767-8725, www.camelbak.com)

HYDRATION? You've got it dialed, or so you think. You've acquired a few floppy reservoirs for your fair-weather adventures, but take your fluid pack along on a ski tour and you'll soon be reminded of a cold, hard fact: Water solidifies below 32 degrees—and when it does, hoses clog and bite valves freeze shut. And without a ready supply of the wet stuff, your powder-day plunder will quickly run dry.

As a result, athletes have spent years jury-rigging: Some wrap their drinking hoses with pipe insulation, others snake them down sleeves, and an enterprising few duct-tape hand warmers to their reservoirs. Thankfully, this do-it-yourself era is coming to an end. With increasing numbers flocking to the winter wilds—snowshoeing alone attracted six million people in 2002—hydration pack companies have been aiming R&D at the deep-freeze dilemma. They're also responding to research that underscores the importance of hydration in wintertime, when common sense wrongly suggests that you need to drink less because you're sweating less. In fact, according to University of New Mexico physiologist Robert Robergs, an athlete working hard on a 32-degree day can perspire up to four pounds of fluid per hour. Such deficiencies can eventually lead to fatigue and loss of concentration—less than ideal when you're blitzing a tight tree run.

No winter hydration system will fight the freeze indefinitely, but the six new options we present here will buy you precious time. Read on, because the most vexing axiom of winter sports will never change: You can't drink snow.

The Indigo Tango, Backcountry Access' Stash Alp 40, & Orange's PPV2 Jacket

  Photo: Greg von Doersten

1.) The INDIGO TANGO pack dispenses with bladder and hose altogether, embracing the humble bottle instead. Stab yours into the Pocket of Liquid Delights in the pack's top section—picture a beer cozy sewn into the lid, just over your left shoulder—and cinch the drawcord. Our 16-ounce bottles didn't freeze, even when the Tango was at rest for a full hour, and the pack was the most stable ski carrier. Big bummer: The pocket won't easily accept full-size Nalgenes. Toting large volumes of water apparently makes the load noisy and unstable, so don't plan on going too far with this one. ($165; 970-429-1005, www.indigoequipment.com)

2.) BACKCOUNTRY ACCESS tucked the sipping tube on its STASH ALP 40 pack inside an insulated shoulder strap to keep the hose close to your warm bod. You may get a slushy first sip, but water will flow from the generous 100-ounce reservoir after a full hour of chillin' at ten degrees—and keep flowing, even if you take it off and park it in the snow. This 2,850-cubic-inch pack was the top overall performer in our test, but the company could make it even better by adding an easier-to-clean bladder lined with one of the antimicrobial treatments now common on the market. ($165; 800-670-8735, www.bcaccess.com)

3.) Following up on similar products by Nike ACG and The North Face, ORAGE marries hydration and insulated outerwear in the DPV2 jacket. Snap the 50-ounce reservoir inside this waterproof-breathable parka (complete with powder skirt, pit zips, and removable hood), snake the hose either over your shoulder or under your arm, and feed the bite valve through a hole at the chest, along the zipper. In tests, our agua didn't freeze up, as long as the tube remained inside the jacket. Leave the valve protruding from the DPV2 at Alta in January, however, and you'll be kissing ice. ($380; 800-250-5056, www.orageski.com)

Source's Winter Kit Plus System & the Hydropak Snowstorm

  Photo: Greg von Doersten

Insider Beta: Winter Hydration
Use the following tips to keep your H2O liquid longer:
1. Before setting out for the day, fill your reservoir or bottle—carefully!—with near-boiling water. (Check your user manual first.)
2. Moving water is slower to freeze: Sip frequently to keep it circulating.
3. The hydration tube is your system's most freeze-prone point. Keep it clear: After every sip, blow excess water back into the bladder.

1.) SOURCE seals its entire WINTER KIT PLUS system—reservoir, insulated hose, and bite valve—inside a zippered mitten of closed-cell foam. Though you can slide the kit into a pack, we suggest you slip on the attached bare-bones shoulder straps and wear it under your shell. Why? When chilled inside a backpack at ten degrees, the swaddled hose and valve resisted freezing for 30 minutes but seized up after an hour; body heat will extend that window considerably. The reservoir—available in 67 or 100 ounces—is excellent, thanks to a glasslike polymer interior that inhibits grunge buildup. ($40; 303-417-0301, www.sourcevagabond.com)

2.) The HYDRAPAK SNOWSTORM fights off Mr. Freeze with a neoprene-covered hose and a capped bite valve. Once we pried off the frozen nozzle cap after an hour at ten degrees, the Snowstorm kept the water coming—but it was the consistency of a Slush Puppie, well on its way to ice. That's probably because the 100-ounce bladder, while buried deep in this daypack, is uninsulated. While the roll-top reservoir was easy to fill and clean, the pack's construction felt a little slight for backcountry duty. Stick to carrying snowshoes and lunch and you'll be fine. ($50; 866-549-0559, www.hydrapak.com)

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