Friday, September 13, 2013

Most Bite Valves ... Bite

Few pieces of gear can ruin a trip more quickly than the humble hydration pack bite valve. Everything is fine one moment and the next moment you and your gear are soaked and you have nothing to drink because the drink valve popped off.

Ok, who here has never climbed or bushwhacked into a clinging shrub?  This is when bite valves are most prone to being pulled off.

A good bite valve must meet four criteria:

  1. It must not leak! I  don't want to lose precious water or drench my pack. An on/off switch helps with this.
  2. It must stay attached to the hose, even when it gets caught on an errant branch or elbow.
  3. It must be easy to open and close so that a thirsty person can get a drink of water while hiking, climbing, skiing, etc. without too much of a hassle.  The ability to drink without stopping is what gives a hydration pack an edge over a water bottle.

I've tried a number of bite valves over the years and they've all come up short in one way or another.

The Hall of Bite

Camelback Ergo HydroLock

Camelbak Ergo HydroLock + Camelbak Big Bite Valve Blue
This one is the worst offender. Mine isn't pictured with either the bite valve or the on off switch as both bits went missing at inopportune times. Jen lost her on/off switch while on lead on a runout slab resulting in all of her water pouring out onto her climbing shoes.

MSR Hydration Kit

MSR Hydration Kit (similar to platypus)
I can't find a link for just the switch/valve from MSR but you shouldn't buy it anyways. It is basically an oversized hook. I managed to pull off the entire assembly tree skiing (good thing I was wearing a coat) and have lost just the bite valve at least once.  Jen still uses this valve and is happy with it claiming it has only popped off once for her...she may be better at avoiding trees.

DaKine Replacement Bite Valve

DaKine Replacement Bite Valve (also sold by fox)
I thought this might be the perfect valve. The compact valve and 45 degree angle don't tend to get caught on things. Unfortunately the "twist to turn on/off" valve is difficult to manipulate to start with and becomes near impossible over time. With even a bit of sunscreen and sweat on my hands I can't manage to turn mine on or off using both hands and have to bite down on it as hard as I can to turn it. Worse, if you leave it in the on position it drips like crazy.

Osprey Magnetic Bite Valve

Osprey Magnetic Bite Valve
This is my new favorite and hasn't failed yet, though it has only been a few trips. It is a bit bulky but is easy to turn on and off with one hand and is less of a "hook" when in the off position than the MSR valve. I thought the magnetic thing was a gimmick but it actually works fairly well to keep the bite valve out of the way while hiking, though the valve is available in a non magnetic version too.

Unfortunately the soft rubber "bite" part of this valve got bitten through rather quickly in the first week of use. I'm still using it but the search continues.

The Hardcore Sippy Bottle... A Better Option?

Jen's RaidLight Bottle can be seen on her shoulder strap in this pic, I've slipped mine into my coat to melt the drink tube.

Many ski mountaineers and ultra runners have started to use bike style bottles mounted on their shoulder straps. RaidLight Makes a bottle and holder with a straw and bite valve for this. Camp makes something similar. These bottles don't carry the same amount of water as a bladder but we've found that they can be less likely to freeze up and easier to clear of ice (slip the whole thing inside your coat). I've been experimenting with a RaidLight or standard bike bottle in a CamelBak 0.75 Liter Insulated Bottle Carrier and found it to be a good option for winter though I still prefer a bladder in summer.

I've probably missed a good option or two so let me know in the comments if you have a favorite not seen here.

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