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The Camelbak: A Reluctant Brevet and Touring Necessity

Camelbak with reflective cover. Photo by Bill Beck

Camelbak with reflective cover. Photo by Bill Beck

I generally like the look of most of my cycling clothing and gear with the exception of a few items such as booties, balaclavas, and the topic of today’s post, my Camelbak. However, much as I dislike the overall aesthetic, you will not see me on a brevet or bike tour without some kind of hydration pack.

Photo by Bill Beck

Photo by Bill Beck

On one hand, hydration packs are largely unattractive and all my ride photos show my back with a slight Quasimodo-esque hump. To be comfortable and to keep the Camelbak from sliding around, I have to be sure to adjust the straps just so.

My Camelbak adds weight to my back and shoulders. Fortunately that creates no issues when I ride, but in hotter months my back sweats up from wearing one. Sometimes the Camelbak can be tricky to fill, since many establishments have automatic faucets or shallow sinks.

Using the Camelbaks on the D.C. Randonneurs 300K. Photo by George Moore

Photo by George Moore

Despite these down-sides, the functionality of a Camelbak makes it one of my reluctant brevet and touring necessities. With a Camelbak, I can carry an ample supply of water a few inches away from my face.

I seldom worry about not drinking enough or even running out of water. The Camelbak makes drinking super-convenient, and no reaching is required. (On our tandem, the water bottle cages are particularly low and awkward for me to reach).

Felkerino and I always carry an extra bottle or two on the bike, but we don’t have to worry about drinking directly out of bottles that may have collected road grit and who knows what from the farm roads.

If I start to run low on water in my Camelbak, I can transfer from a bottle when I get a free moment off the bike. The bottle is easy to refill at a convenience store or lunch stop. I’ve also become rather skilled at finding gas station utility sinks, which makes refilling the Camelbak easy.

Felkerino refills the Camelbak from the spring. Photo by Bill Beck

Felkerino refills the Camelbak from the spring. Photo by Bill Beck

Both Felkerino and I only use water in our Camelbaks so they are easy to clean. Other drinks find a home in one of the bottles on the bike.

I purchased a reflective backpack/Camelbak cover from L2S that is ideal for use on brevets, as I don’t have to worry about my Camelbak covering up my reflective vest. I purchased mine at one of the local sporting goods stores in the start town of Paris-Brest-Paris in 2011, and have not seen these sold in the United States. I do not even know if L2Sis still in existence, but some of the e-retailers across the pond look like they sell similar items.

Photo by Bill Beck

Photo by Bill Beck

Currently I use a Camelbak Rogue for bike rides. At 70 ounces, the bladder is ample, but not excessively large. The Rogue comes with a sternum strap, but not a waist strap, for stabilization. Since I use it for cycling, the sternum strap setup is ideal. When I run, I need a pack with both a waist and sternum strap to keep it from bouncing around.

The pockets on the Rogue allow me to carry my wallet and other small necessities such as my phone and brevet card. The Rogue also offers an additional internal pocket within the bottom pocket area where I securely stow my interchangeable lenses for my glasses.

More spring water! Photo by Cindy P.

More spring water! Photo by Cindy P.

I used a women’s-specific Camelbak previously, but found that it was too short for me (I’m 5’8″ tall). I wanted the Camelbak to sit lower on my back, and even though the shoulder straps are spaced a pinch wider than I would like, overall the standard Camelbak works fine for me.

My Camelbak has been good to me. It’s a tried and true piece of gear that has helped me through many a ride, especially during warmer months. I may not like how it looks on me, but all of that fades into the background when I’m riding free from worry about when we’ll reach the next water stop.


  1. My sentiments, exactly! I’ve used some form of Camelbak since 1995 (early adopter). And I definitely drink more with it and more easily. And I appreciate it best on long climbs, where the reach for the bottle might be a little precarious at slow speed. My arms are short with long legs though, so longer seat tube than one would expect – so often find reaching for a bottle is a stretch. But returning the bottle to the cage is more of a stretch & reach, making sure it gets positioned correctly to go perfectly straight in the cage is the stretch/reach part.

    I too have become expert at finding ways to fill the Camelbak, and I have a reflective triangle pinned to mine permanently. Mine is 70 oz as well, and the smallest pack I could find.

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts!


    • I like having something reflective on the back of the pack. AND I would not like to use anything larger than 70 ounces, unless I was in a really remote area.


  2. I’ve been using Camelbaks a long time! I had eventually moved up to a 100-oz Mule and carried supplies in it. I was okay with that until I started riding permanents. Then I concluded the extra weight was contributing to hand numbness on longer rides. I found 50-oz Camelbaks for kids and/or women greatly reduce the load on my back. I have a black one with black reflective cloth sewed to the flap. Now I carry only water on my back. I use the chest strap from my Mule to give me the snug feeling I like. My back breathes better with the smallest Camelbak and it apparently has a thinner pad because now I can feel the difference on my back when I pack ice in there. 🙂 I carry 50 oz of water on my back, 32 oz of water in a back-up bottle (which is used to fill the Camelbak) and ~32 oz of Gatorade in the second water bottle. I’ve never been concerned about running out. 🙂


  3. Do you have a minimum distance or time-on-the-bike for which you’ll use the Camelbak over bottles or do you use it anytime you ride?

    I have a love hate relationship with mine. Love it for mountain biking where I don’t want to drink dirt but not so fond of it on the road. Several years ago, I was nearly debilitated during a NY to Boston ride due to the weight of a 100 ounce bladder on my back all day. I think the bag can invite users to overload it with stuff that more appropriately should be carried in a bar or trunk bag. Nonetheless, it is easier to drink from than bottles, particularly on hills and rough roads.


    • I usually use the Camelbak for rides that are longer than 50 miles, sometimes slightly shorter ones with the tandem since the bottles are such a reach for me.

      I think the 70 ounce size is all I want on my back. And I totally agree with you about overpacking the pockets. I realized I was doing that this past weekend, and when we stopped for a break I shifted some of my cargo to the bike.


  4. In the end, all of us will use camelbacks. That will happen when we assume that we are not professional riders in Le Tour with a number of cars supporting us. We are not so good-looking with our camelbacks but they are practical and let us go further.


  5. When I first started using a camelback on rides, I made the classic rookie error–I was so enthused about having a near limitless source of hydration with easy access, that I scarfed down the whole thing (70 oz) in the first 40 minutes of the ride, and then spent the next hour stopping every 10 minutes to pee. Now I use a 100 oz mule on the mountain bike, and a 70 oz classic on the road. And I drink them at a slower rate…


  6. Ah, but is it not better to look good, than to feel good? 😉

    Funny, but very few randonneurs here in the SF Bay Area use camelbacks, but I can definitely see all of your points. I have one, and did use it a few times, but didn’t like the feel of it on my back. B

    Recently,my randonneuring bike was out of commsion for a couple of weeks getting its fork re-raked to go from a 54 trail to a 42 trail. While it was down, I used my Bike Friday Tikit for my weekend rides. I didn’t think of using the ol’ camelback, but it sure would have been easier than reaching behind the seatpost for my water.

    Last weekend, we had a 200K/populaire length DAR. lt was super hot. Some riders encountered 115 degree heat! My team was going for 200K. Unfortunately, I had to DNF 42 miles into it at 11 am. My first DNF, but we had already gone 42 miles and climbed 5,036 feet. It was already 90+ degrees, and we stil had to worst heat to come, and we still had to climb Mt. Diablo. I was holding my team back. I thought I could finish, but knew I had no chance to do it in time, so I let them go on and found my way home.

    In all only 10 teams out of 17 finished the ride officially, but most made it to the finish in some fashion. Many riders told stories of stuffing ice down their sleeves, in sports-bras (female riders, I hope!) and various other means. I can’t help but think a camelback filled with ice would have done double duty. Keep the rider cool, and also hydrated.

    As usual, thank you for another great and thought-provoking post!



    • Hey, Ty. Thanks for sharing the story of your dart and the link to your fellow darter :). Sounds like it was a tough day out there. I read someone else’s post (Bonk if You Don’t Know Velocio) about it as well. I think the Camelbak is essential for hot weather rides. Felkerino often fills his up with ice during the summer months. It is refreshing to sip cold water, although because the pack is insulated it really does not make your back feel any cooler.


  7. Hey MG, REI makes a pack with a sleeve to put a bladder in. You can use whatever brand and size bladder you want. It’s got a little mesh pocket inside plus space for other essentials. It’s light, comfortable and has both a sternum and waiststrap ( not expensive either). If you want a pic or the name let me know.


  8. I used to use Camelbak, but switched to a Nathan pack. Great front pockets and no annoying chest strap. I think it’s the HPL #020, but they may have changed it slightly. I just published a post with a photo of me wearing it (scroll to bottom):

    I really love the Osprey system which has an “air-flow” back and bladder that sits off your back for my larger backpack, haven’t taken the time to see if they have one small enough for running.


    • HUGE congrats on your run, by the way!

      I do like the sternum strap for cycling, but I’m not sold on it for running– various issues with chafing, pulling, blah blah blah. I have an Osprey I use to run-commute and really like it. Not surprisingly I don’t fill the bladder when I’m run-commuting, although I have used it for day hikes and it was great. I’ll look up the Nathan that you mention as I’m still on the hunt for the perfect running hydration pack.


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