Bottles or Bladder?

Posted on 29/08/2019

About the Author: Leo Rust is a life coach, mountain, climbing and cultural guide in Cape Town and is a tall fellow you’re unlikely to miss. His goal is to help people reach their highest potential: in mountains and in life. What a chap! 

“Bottles or Bladder?”

So this text came from a friend of mine. My response was slightly longer than a simple text allowed. For clarity a bladder is a Reservoir. A bladder gets full from drinking too much beer (I apologise in advance).

The Bladder

Bladders are great in that they tend to be hassle free in most normal conditions. When I guide clients walking or scrambling I need to drink on the move while talking about our history and encouraging them on their progress up the mountain. Often clients will remark that I don’t drink (well in truth they don’t notice that I drink). A well positioned hose with a magnetic clip to hold the mouthpiece out the way is great (I hardly ever finish the 1,5l that I carry so maybe my clients are right after all).

Bear in mind that this is a fairly simple scenario in that I am not exerting myself really and I am consuming pure water. If (or when) we do need to refuel with carbs then we stop and out comes the table cloth and sandwiches etc.

The problem comes in when racing on trail. I want to carry minimum weight and prefer to refill often at aid stations. In that scenario taking a pack off and opening it up to access the bladder is a drag. Even more so if you are carrying a lot of kit and the pack is filled to capacity.

We also tend to mix nutrition with hydration. I think it unwise to couple these two too closely. Here are some scenarios. If the day turns out hotter than expected, then I might need more fluid compared to calories. Or if the day is colder I might be less thirsty but still need to stick to my fueling plan. And what happens if your stomach turns and you simply can no longer face the raspberry/granadilla/lemon flavour?

Enter Bottles

The early days saw adventure racers tape cycling water bottles to the shoulder straps of their back packs. This system is very effective in that you can monitor how much liquid you consume and almost as importantly how much you have left! For me the big advantage of bottles is that I have more variability in that I can have water in one bottle and electrolytes in the other, super concentrated energy drink in one etc. This gives greater adaptability to environmental conditions.

I would argue almost as importantly, however, that it does not look cool and the liquid tends to slosh around inside the bottles driving those around you crazy.

Enter Softflasks

Generally in 500ml sizes or smaller they collapse down as you consume liquid thus preventing sloshing. Softflasks come with one major drawback though. When they are half used they are a b… nightmare to get back into their stretch mesh pockets. The bite valves hang out and bounce around and look nasty! Very un-cool. We should at least try to maintain some level of dignity at the end of that hundred (yard/meter/mile whatever) right? Some packs have lock in functions though which help to maintain previously stated dignity.

So two solutions have come about:

    1. A softflask with straw (available with the inov-8 RaceUltra Pro 2in1 vest). This lets you drink from the softflask without removing them from the pocket. You still get most of the benefits of bottles in that you have smaller containers for different drink mixes and easier monitoring of consumption.
    2. Or UltrAspire have developed the Ultraflask. A sort of soft bottle or hard flask. Strong enough to easily be pushed into the pocket but if you want you can collapse it down to save space and prevent sloshing.

The issue though is not whether you choose one system over the other. I have used all and will continue to use and mix and match depending on conditions. For example for Skyrun I have used a 3L reservoir and one 500ml softflask that contains a super concentrated energy drink.

My parting shot is think through the options and decide what is best for your run, at your pace, for your conditions.

Author: Leo Rust

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