Hydration System Taste-Off

Wild Camp in the Peaks just after dawn  

My search for a “taste-free” hydration system is, for now, at an end.

I mentioned before that I bought a Source Widepac hydration system on the basis of its advertised lack of plastic after-taste. But unfortunately, although it was better than anything I’d tried before – it was by no means taste free.

Having taken it apart and taste checked each part I discovered it was mainly the hose.

So LB and I have been experimenting with Camelbak and Platypus,variously drinking directly from the bags, sucking warm water out of cups through hoses and chewing bite valves. All in an effort to see which ones tasted the least of paddling pools.

Overall the winning system is a hybrid between the three: a Source bite-valve, a Camelbak tube and a Platypus bag. Which is also the lightest system since the bag is the heaviest component and the Platypus Big Zip seems to be the lightest bag at the moment. As it happens the Camelbak tube is fractionally lighter as well.

I’ve not actually bought a Camelbak Omega bag (sorry, I can’t link directly to their own page since it’s an awful Flash site) since they’re pretty heavy, so I can’t comment on them. However my brother has tried both and in his opinion the Platypus definitely has the edge (he never walks anywhere if he can avoid it – but he hang-glides, and dropping a Nalgene bottle from several thousand feet whilst simultaneously letting go of the bar might have unpleasant consequences, so he uses hydration systems).

Assembling such a system isn’t too hard as the parts are all available separately. Swapping out the Platypus bite valve for the Source version is something I’d definitely do since I think it’s a better valve. To want to spend the extra to swap the tube as well you’d have to be pretty sensitive to plastic taste… but I am.

The Source Z-Valve never leaked when sat in the kitchen attached to a bag that was soaking. Which is more than can be said for the Platypus valve that I first I tested. It was the basic, non-angled non-tap-type rubber valve and it just kept on dripping water. It also tasted terrible whereas the later one doesn’t taste quite so bad. However the angled valve doesn’t always work; a friend who we walk with all the time has had two and both have leaked.

I was surprised to find such a difference in taste between the tubes from Source, Platypus and Camelbak since as far as I can tell they each use the same PE liner technology. The Source tube has a definite taste but although the Platypus tube is reasonably taste free the Camelback Tube Extender kit we tested was almost completely without taste.

As a side note, I would be wary of where I bought a Platypus Big Zip in future since the one I was supplied with from Go Outdoors, despite (still!) being pictured as having the new blue “taste free” tube and angled valve turned out to be one of the older, cardboard packaged, non taste-free, clear tubed ones with a bite valve that tasted like TCP. Go Outdoors have since promised to refund this but it shows it’s worth checking by phone that the stock held really is the newer Platypus. I got the one that I finally tested from Snow & Rock in Brighton.

Finally (if you really want to get into it!) here are the notes I made during the testing:

Bite Valve        
Source Z-Valve   Camelback Big Bite valve   Platypus HyperFlow Bite Valve + Shutoff Valve
10gms   4gms   6+6gms (mouthpiece + elbow valve)
9/10 Tastes fine   9/10 Tastes fine   7/10 Tastes a little of plastic
Good flow   Good flow   Found it a little tricky to get water through
Cap that stops it leaking even if something rests on it   Leaks if something squashes it   Won’t leak if you remember to shut the valve
Cap to prevent it getting dirty   Trails in the dirt   Trails in the dirt
Source   Camelback   Platypus
50gms / 95cms = .53gms per cm   48 / 98cms = .49gms per cm   56gms / 105cms = .53gms per cm
5/10 Tastes quite bad   8/10 Tastes almost fine   7/10 Tastes not bad but not quite as good as Camelback
Source 2 litre Widepac   Camelback (Omega?)   Platypus 2 Litre Big Zip ||
88gms once trimmed   Not tested (Appears to be around 105gms from my research)   44gms
7/10 Tastes a little of plastic   Not tested   9/10 Tastes OK


6 Replies to “Hydration System Taste-Off”

  1. Nice work.

    It’s odd how the taste of plastic come through the different systems to a different degree in different people. I’m pretty much with you on Source and Platy, but I can smell a Camelbak if there’s one in the cupboard in the kitchen in someones house.

    Have you seen the Ultimate Direction bladders? They’ve got really limited distribution over here. Their bladder has got a central baffle so it doesn’t get fat when it’s full, it fills out evenly. It’s a wee bit of genius, but tastes a bit like toasted clingfilm.

  2. I’d not heard of them – but a quick nose on their site and a little google mousework and I think I know why they smell of toasted clingfim (mmmmm…) – they use polyurethane. You know – like gloss paint.

    Which, you’ll not be surprised to learn, is also what Camelbak make their bags from.

    Whereas Platypus say they use polyethylene. I’m sure it said polyethylene on the Source tag as well but no mention on the site.

    Camelbak’s tubes are polyethylene lined – hence they taste better. I assume they’re better at lining them or use a thicker liner than either Platypus or Source.

    Source do specifically mention that their systems are polyurethane free – whereas Ultimate Direction and Camelbak make theirs from it. Bizarre.

  3. Thanks for this info, very helpful! The plastic taste of my Camelback was driving me nuts, there was just no way of getting rid of it, and eventually my omega reservoir tasted of the dental cleaning tablets I used in yet another attempt to rid the plastic taste that gave me a strange feeling in my stomach at the end of a hike. The Platypus reservoir/Camelbak hose combo works well for me. I find the taste difference between the Platypus and Camelbak hoses not subtle, the former clearly adds a plastic taste! Not sure though if the Camelbak bite valve is taste-free, I am still using it because it is a much better mouthpiece than the Platypus one, and I think it tastes a bit of rubber/plastics.

  4. Glad it’s handy Max! I’ve just started using the Nalgene Bite Me valve – it’s not taste free but not bad. The reason I’ve switched is that it never leaks (so far!) – not a drop!

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