Break the Ice

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

Jan 1, 2004
Outside Magazine

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,

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.