Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Mtbr Guide to hydration packs, featuring the new CamelBak Low Rider line. To see all the articles, head over to the Low Rider hydration pack hub page. This article and all the articles in this section are courtesy of CamelBak.
CamelBak’s place in the history of hydration is secure. From the very idea of hands-free hydration to cutting edge present day packs, the California-based company has been at the forefront of keeping cyclists (and outdoor enthusiasts of all types) performing at their best. But how did we get to this place where the hydration pack has become essential to the mountain biking experience? Time for a little history lesson.
The CamelBak M.U.L.E. ushered in the age of easily carrying water and gear on the trail (click to enlarge).
Flashback to 1989. Cyclist Michael Eidson has signed up for the Hotter’N Hell 100, an 100-mile race in the unrelenting summer heat of Wichita Falls, Texas. Staying hydrated is critical to succeeding (and even surviving) the race, yet the course has few places to refill water bottles. Eidson, an EMT by day, is convinced he’ll need more than the standard two bottles and decides to fill an IV bag with water and slip it into a white tube sock.
He then stuffs the make-shift contraption into the back of his jersey, tosses the thin hose over his shoulder and clamps it shut with a clothespin. When he needs a drink, the clothespin comes off and water flows out. Hands-free hydration is born. Eidson drinks as he pedals. His fellow competitors fiddle with water bottles — and worry about what they’ll do when they run out.
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. A new product category commences and a company is born. But CamelBak’s history — and historical significance — doesn’t end there. Jon Austen, the company’s director of product management and marketing, picks up the ever-evolving story.
“The next really big moment comes in the mid-1990s,” recalls Austen. “We’d been in the market for about five years, and riders are telling us how awesome CamelBak is, but they also reveal that the packs are not super comfortable and that in some cases they need to be able to carry more than just water.”
This critical customer feedback becomes genesis for the first CamelBak M.U.L.E. hydration pack. Now riders can carry water — and tools, food, spare clothes, and various other essentials. “But it was still pretty bare bones,” concedes Austen. “It had hard edge nylon straps and a flat back. It wasn’t super comfortable.”
Initially CamelBak tried to address these shortcomings with accessories such as “Sissy” straps, which were pads you could strap on the nylon webbing of the harness for improved abrasion protection. Soon, though, it was clear that not only did the hydration pack need to be more utilitarian and comfortable, it also needed to suit a variety of uses. That’s when pack became packs.
“As the market grew, we saw lots of different riders that had different needs,” continues Austen. “Some were going out for the standard 2-3 hour ride. Other were venturing out on epic all-day adventures. That’s when CamelBak realized the need to expand the model line. On one hand you had the minimalist pack for shorter rides. On the other was the large capacity pack.”
Models such as the Rogue, Lobo, and H.A.W.G. were born, each suiting a different set of needs. At the same time, CamelBak started building more technology and comfort into its packs, adding features such as breathable back panels and improved harness designs.
Jumping ahead to present day, and CamelBak continues to innovate and push the envelope of what a pack can deliver to its wearer. In 2015, it launched the K.U.D.U. line, which carried forward previously established functionality, and implemented strategic back protection and the ability to carry light armor.