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Tomarken.com > Criticism > Camelbak:The New “Glasses” (07-22-02)
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Camelbak:The New “Glasses”

Caitlin E. Dorsey
07.22.02-Fairfield, CT

Let’s face it- our world changes faster than our bodies are able to evolve. Sanitation, vaccines and Western medicine have helped to triple what our life expectancy was a few hundred years ago. Those of us with evolutionary disadvantages such as bad vision, a poor sense of direction, terrible breath, etc, are able to survive because of a complex society with enough food surplus to sustain non-producing specialists, infrastructure, and subsequent myriad technological advances. Where our imperfect bodies have failed us, science and our own ingenuity have stepped in with some very good band-aids. Of special interest to me is the actual physical encounter between the human body and science–the accouterment that are the figurative crutches upon which we lean. There are some items which we carry so close to the body that they become an integral part of our physical being, for example, glasses and contact lenses. Pacemakers. Orthodontics. Backbraces for the scoliotic. Colostomy bags for the incontinent.

A more generalized health problem has arisen, whether we are aware of it or not, in terms of proper hydration. A new apparatus and a paradigmatic switch are needed to bridge the gap between the demands of modern living and good health.

Our remote ancestors doubtless pranced through the forest, lapping freely from clean brooks and taking in the requisite 8 to 10 “glasses” (or prehistoric equivalent) of water each day. In the 21st century, however, seeking out sufficient water is a drag. Carrying around water bottles is many times a hindrance and often simply impossible. Finding a fountain is a task that requires far too much conscious effort as to be worth the brief, bent-over sip it yields. Once more, our fragile bodies and their most basic needs come crashing up against the stainless steel and plexiglass surface of the modern world. Seeking out water should not be something about which we need to think so much.

Enter the Camelbak “Hydration System,” basically, a polyurethane bag connected to a tube with a bite valve at the end. A screw cap closure on the bag is wide enough for easy cleaning and quick refilling. The aqua tube dangles charmingly, unobtrusively, over one’s shoulder and allows for constant access to water. Spilling is virtually impossible. The bag itself never bursts or leaks.

To the prospective buyer, a Camelbak “Hydration System” might seem like a wasteful expense. A reused plastic Evian bottle is certainly cheaper. And Camelbaks are flashy looking. Those yellow-accented packs you can buy for them! The straps and aerodynamic design! The accessories! They smack of status symbol(ism). However, what I came to see after a 2 day hike with my new hydration system was that the Camelbak might just be the solution to many of our nations’ health problems.

If efficiency is the name of the game, the hydration system wins out hands down. I easily shaved an hour or two off of my hiking time because I did not have to stop, pull out a bottle and dedicate precious attentional resources to managing the bottle, its cap, and their interaction with gravity. The other problem with consciously taking a water break (both in the backcountry and in everyday settings) is that one ends up drinking a lot of water at once. The body can only absorb a small amount of water at any given time- thus, the excess goes directly to the bladder. Sipping constantly from a tube, then, not only saves one from taking water breaks, but also allows for more efficient, steady absorption, and less trips to the bathroom.

Most people outside of the extreme wilderness and “third world” countries do not ever have to worry about being hospitalized for extreme dehydration. Still, it is a safe bet that “Joe six pack” is not drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day. Most people don’t even realize that they are actually dehydrated. Chronic dehydration is a factor in many health problems such as arthritis, heartburn, back pain, migraines, constipation, asthma, high blood pressure, adult-onset diabetes, and high blood cholesterol. In addition, depression, loss of libido, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and kidney stones may all be complicated by chronic dehydration. And we all know that drinking lots of water is a cornerstone in any weight loss program worth its salt. An appropriate hydration system would help address the epidemic obesity problem in the United States.

The way we conceptualize water intake these days, it is no wonder that hardly anyone drinks enough. I issue a call to do away with even the word “drink” as it applies to water. Forget bottles, caps, cone shaped paper receptacles that run out and cannot be put down. Waxy dixie cups. Nalgenes that cut off the circulation in your finger, dangling heavily while you walk. Glasses that spill. These days, there is a polyurethane tube hanging from my mouth. I took in four liters of water writing this, without even thinking about it. I “hydrate” with my hydration system.
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