Wintertime hikers know the struggle all too well. Cold weather can cause hydration packs to freeze solid, and it’s hard to stay hydrated with a frozen pack. Luckily, you can take steps to ensure your water supply stays in liquid form during your trip, by preventing your hydration pack from freezing.
6 ways to keep your hydration pack from freezing are:
- Start with warm water
- Insulate your pack
- Drink often
- Keep air in the tube
- Use your body heat
- Get a specialized pack
Keeping a hydration pack from freezing can be difficult during cold-weather hikes. However, it’s not impossible. Read on to discover detailed instructions on how to keep your water pack from freezing, and to learn exactly what to do in case itdoes ice up on the trail.
6 Ways To Keep Your Hydration Pack From Freezing
1. Start With Warm Water
Starting with warm water is the first step to making sure your hydration pack doesn’t freeze solid. We all know warm water takes a lot longer to freeze than cold water. Following this logic, it just makes sense that filling your hydration pack with warm water will keep it liquid for longer.
For the best results, don’t use boiling water. If the water is too hot, it can damage the bladder and hose. Plus, you won’t be able to drink it right away. Instead, gently warm some water on the stove or in the microwave before you head out. If you’re starting from camp, heat some over your fire.
Supplying your pack with warm water won’t taste as nice as a refreshing cool sip, but if temperatures drop into the negatives, you might not care so much. If you’re out in the elements for long enough, your water will still freeze despite initial warming, so you need to implement other methods along with this one to keep water liquid.
2. Insulate Your Pack
Most hydration packs have built-in insulation, but this may not prevent freezing entirely. Adding additional insulation to your hydration pack will trap warmth in the pack and keep cold out, helping your water stay warmer for longer. For this to work, it’s better to insulate every part of the pack.
It’s easy to insulate the bladder because you can wrap it in pretty much any material you want. Fleece and thick foam work well. In a pinch, you can even wrap it in some of your extra clothes if you’re on a longer hike.
You can buy a special hose insulator online, which is basically a fabric straw that goes over the hose and gives it another layer of protection against the cold. To insulate the mouthpiece, just tuck it in your jacket or hide it away in your breast pocket.
3. Drink Often
You probably know already that a pond will freeze faster than a creek. Flowing water takes longer to freeze because it’s constantly mixing colder air on the surface with warmer air below. Even though it’s not exactly a raging river, the same principle applies to your hydration pack.
Drinking often from the straw will help prevent the hose from freezing solid by ensuring the water is regularly circulating through it. Since wintertime hikers often don’t feel thirst like sweaty summertime adventurers, it’s a good idea to try to set yourself on a drinking schedule.
You can also add electrolytes or another sodium mixture to your hydration pack to help you stay hydrated during the winter when drinking isn’t as appealing. The salt will also slow down the freezing process. Some people add alcohol to prevent their water supply from freezing, but this can have adverse effects when you’re hiking. Sticking to salt is a safer bet.
4. Keep Air In The Tube
The mouthpiece and hose of your hydration pack are the most vulnerable to freezing because they’re the most exposed and are usually made with the thinnest material. One of the best ways to prevent them from freezing is to keep water out of them as much as possible.
When you’re finished drinking, take a second to blow some air back into the hose. This will push the water back into the larger bladder reservoir, leaving the hose empty and ready for your next sip. The less water you have in the hose, the less likely it is to freeze.
Additionally, you should hold the hose up perpendicular to the ground so that gravity can help you get the water out. Flick it a few times with your fingers like you’re twanging a guitar string. This will shake up stubborn droplets so they fall back down the hose.
5. Use Your Body Heat
Many people make the mistake of keeping their hydration pack in a backpack or daypack. However, this isn’t the best spot for it when hiking in cold weather. You want to keep it as warm as possible, and the best thing to use as a heat source is your own body.
Use your body heat to your advantage by always keeping your hydration pack close. Even if you already insulate it, stowing it inside your jacket as you hike will add another layer of protection. Tucking it inside your shirt will be even better if it’s super cold outside.
If you’re going on a multi-day hike, don’t leave your water supply outside during the night. Bring it in the tent with you and place it inside your sleeping bag. The warmth inside the tent and the additional heat inside your sleeping bag will ensure you don’t wake up to a frozen hunk of ice in the morning.
6. Get A Specialized Pack
A few years ago, simple bladders were the height of water transportation technology. They didn’t come with bells and whistles, instead offering a no-frills way for the hiker to balance weight conveniently. Today, hydration packs are more advanced than ever before.
Some hydration packs are made for specific sports like snowboarding or mountaineering. These can be a great option for high-altitude hikers, because they’re meant to withstand colder temperatures. They’re constructed from stronger, more durable materials and have extra layers of protection.
Though it’s rare, some specialized packs come with a heating element built into their protective layering. This is a great option if you know you’ll be out in sub-zero temperatures and freezing is a real possibility. Alternatively, you could buy a heated jacket and stow your hydration pack inside.
What To Do If Your Hydration Pack Freezes
If your hydration pack freezes in the field, don’t panic. The first thing you need to do is locate the source of the problem. Most likely, the freeze is in the mouthpiece or the hose. Water tends to get trapped here, and these less-insulated parts freeze the fastest.
Take the mouthpiece into your cupped hands and blow a few blasts of hot air on it. You can also rub it vigorously in between your fingers to generate some heat. The next step is to place the mouthpiece and frozen hose into your shirt to get it out of the cold.
The idea is your body heat will thaw the ice out, so you need to put it directly against your skin. This might give you a bit of a chill, but you’ll be surprised at how fast the frozen lines will thaw. If your water bladder hasn’t frozen yet, you can put the hose next to it. The warmer bladder should work to thaw out the rest of the gear, though this could take a little longer.
Come Prepared For A Freeze
During the wintertime, it’s smart to bring along some portable heating packs and stow them in your bag. These handy heaters can be battery-operated or rechargeable via USB cable, and smaller ones can fit inside a lightweight hiking pack. There are even one-use heating packs that work for hours.
When your hydration pack freezes, you can consolidate all its parts inside your pack and turn on the portable heating pad to warm everything up. This comes in handy, especially if the bladder itself is frozen. When this is the case, you’ll have to wait a while before it starts to thaw, but the heating pad will eventually do the trick.
On a wintertime hike, it’s a good idea to expect the best while still preparing for the worst. With that in mind, bring everything you need to make a fire. You can melt some snow or ice and drink it, keeping yourself hydrated while your frozen pack thaws in the warmth.
How To Insulate Your Hydration Pack
If you already have a hydration pack, there are several ways you can insulate it against the cold. This will most likely be preferable to buying a brand-new, pre-insulated hydration pack. After all, why drop a pretty penny on a new pack when your current gear can be modified to fit your needs?
Buying A Sleeve
The internet is awash with aftermarket options, and you’ll have your pick of colors and styles to choose from. You don’t necessarily have to buy from the same company that made your hydration pack, as many manufacturers make insulating sleeves which are sized to fit multiple brands and styles.
However, you will want to double-check your unit’s capacity and size before purchasing an insulating sleeve. If you get the wrong size, it won’t work as well, if at all. It’s also important to keep in mind you’ll have to purchase the hose insulation separately.
All in all, insulators aren’t too expensive and can work wonders to protect your drinking supply. As long as you take care to size the sleeve correctly and read the reviews of others who have gone before you, buying a sleeve is a pretty safe purchase to make.
Make Your Own
For budget backpackers, a better option is to create your own insulating sleeve for the water bladder. Find some closed-cell foam to do the job well. This material is good for insulating everything because it doesn’t allow airflow within the structure and keeps your stuff warmer.
You’ll find closed-cell foam on old gym mats and sleeping pads, or you can purchase it from a home improvement store. All you need to do is cut a piece to size and sew it together again. If you measure correctly, it will custom-fit your hydration pack perfectly, and you’ve got yourself a solution. If closed-cell foam isn’t available, you can use freezer bags, wool, or another material.
It’s generally better to buy insulation for the supply hose rather than try to make it yourself. It’s a small purchase, and the headache of trying to sew yourself a tiny hose insulator just isn’t worth it when the alternative is so inexpensive and easy.
Will A Camelbak Freeze?
A Camelbak will freeze if the weather is cold enough. However, Camelbak and other brands do manufacture specialized cold-weather hydration packs that are designed to stay warm during chilly weather.
These packs can keep water warmer for much longer than other hydration packs by using built-in insulation systems. Alternatively, most brands (including Camelbak) make special hydration pack reservoirs you can purchase separately to help keep the product from freezing.
You can prevent your hydration pack from freezing by starting with warm water, insulating the pack, drinking from it regularly, or by buying a specialized heated hydration pack. If your hydration pack freezes on a hike, keep it close to your body or use your breath to warm it up.