Hydration Systems for Special Assignments

About four times a year I have to clean out my closet. Recently I had to move my office, and that involved moving all the contents of the closet as well. I found myself sorting hydration systems according to the use I had for them, and several jumped out at me as those I prefer to have on hand for day hikes or one-overnight outings. The duty side of this is that they work well for special assignments that may take you into remote or otherwise isolated areas. This week's review takes a look at a couple of them, their pros and cons, and which ones have proven great performers in the past months (and in some cases, years).

The CambelBak Transformer

The Transformer is so named because it is really three components put together to make one system. All told, these components provide for 102 ounces/three liters of liquid refreshment, and 950 cubic inches of storage space. If that's not enough, you can use the MOLLE attachment points on the outside of the smallest compartment (not shown in this photo) to carry more stuff in any MOLLE pouch you care to acquire. The padded shoulder straps and chest retention strap are also nice features. The shoulder straps have never dug uncomfortably into that groove most of us have at the front roll of our shoulder--that pocket where you put a rifle stock when shooting. The chest retention strap helps keep the shoulder straps from spreading out that far and digging in. So the main pack itself holds the hydration system. The second layer--the larger pocket/pouch if you will--is a two compartment section. The first compartment is purely a big pouch--made for holding bulky items. The second compartment isn't quite as thick and has specific pockets for pens, cell phone, notepad, and a hook for keys. Both compartments have double zippers and open half-clamshell fashion--easy to get stuff in and out of. The outer pocket/pouch also has two compartments separated by a nylon mesh net. The outer compartment is about 6-inches x 6-inches and very thin. The inner compartment is a little bit deeper/thicker and handles an assortment of snack foods well. I know from experience that it holds about a dozen HooAh Bars comfortably. The Transformer has an MSRP of $149.99, but a quick internet search shows them available for as little as $104.99. For that price you're getting a lot of performance and versatility for your dollars.

The HydraStorm Predator

The next updated hydration pack/system we'll take a look at is the Predator, shown here in OD Green. Much of what I made note about on the Cyclone also applies to the Predator. The hydration system bladder and drinking tube are protected by the Microban antimicrobial technology. The 360-degree bite valve is present, along with that proven convenient positive on/off switch. The IVS is there to help keep your back dry and comfortable. So, what's the big difference? Storage space and potential fluid capacity are the most noticeable. The Predator is a slightly smaller pack allowing for 830 cubic inches of cargo space. However, it is also fitted with a second compartment specifically set up for carrying an additional hydration bladder. That increases the capacity of this system from the standard 100 ounces/three liters, to 200 ounces or six liters. That's about 1.6 gallons of water--not a bad thing. The carry handle on the Predator doesn't have the rubber handle wrap that the Cyclone does, but you shouldn't expect it to ever weigh as much as a fully-loaded Cyclone either. The shoulder straps are padded and contoured; the sternum strap is still there; but HydraStorm added a padded waist belt onto the Predator, too. Just like the Cyclone, the new Predator is covered with MOLLE/STRIKE attachment points. If you need more storage space, or to carry specific items, just put on the correct pouches. The ability to fully customize the pack to your needs is one of the strengths of the STRIKE system BlackHawk developed. The Predator is available in Black, Olive Drab, Desert Camo and Woodland Camo. Notice there's no Coyote Tan option for the Predator, but there is Woodland Camo which wasn't an option with the Cyclone. Consider your operating environment and choose appropriately. The Predator has a recommended retail price of about $130 and that's exactly the best price I found for it online.

The CamelBak Hawg

A while back I was gifted with a CamelBak HAWG. and, just like I do with every other hydration system I receive, I had to rinse it out, fill it up, and go for a walk. I live near the Chesapeake Bay and the five-mile (round trip) walk would be sufficient that I'd appreciate having some drinking water along. The HAWG actually holds 100 ounces (or 3.0 Liters) of liquid, and since I don't like to scrub out my hydration bladder every time I use it, I tend to stick with plain water rather than anything flavored or sugary. Given that the HAWG also has 1100 cubic inches of storage capacity, I felt compelled to take along some snacks for myself as well. Off I went. Now a gallon of (fresh) water weighs about 7.5 pounds. 100 ounces of water is not quite a gallon, so I'm guessing I had about 6.5 to 7 pounds of water. Throw in the snacks (maybe another pound) and I was carrying about eight pounds in the HAWG. The system itself, when empty, has a published weight of 2.6 pounds, so that's about 10.5 pounds on my back, give or take. Not a great amount to carry around--especially if you've gone any distance with a 55 pound ruck on before. The HAWG's shoulder straps are adjustable for fit, as is the waist band. If you don't care to use the waistband, it tucks away into two little pouches (one on either side) to keep it out of your way. There is also an adjustable chest strap and this is amazingly helpful in keeping the shoulder straps from digging into your upper arms.

Wearing the HAWG is effortless. How well does it move? Pretty well. No discomfort arose. As I moved along, the bite-valve swung back and forth across my chest, dangling, banging and bouncing around. It didn't leak at all. The on/off switch is easy to use and secures well in either position. Further, the bite-valve cover that came with the HAWG keeps the bite-valve itself covered and clean. The pack has some useful features that should be noted. Easily seen in the picture are the tube guides on the shoulder straps. There is one on either side. They come in handy for hanging flashlights, hooking other gear, etc. Farther down each shoulder strap is a D-ring for clipping on equipment as you see fit. The chest strap can be positioned higher up or lower down as is necessary according to your body type. The nylon strap that adjusts your shoulder strap length is captured at the bottom by a piece of hook-and-loop strap--so you don't have loose nylon dangling. There is a sturdy nylon handle at the top of the pack for those times before you put it on/after you've taken it off, but you still have to move it around. The pack consists of a large storage compartment and a smaller outer pocket that combined equal 1100 cubic inches of storage space. The larger cargo compartment has two covered slits at the top--one on either side--where a radio antenna could stick out if that's what you're humping. Both cargo compartments have easy-pull zipper tabs and open in a semi-clamshell fashion. Cinch straps--two on either side--help to keep your load tight so it doesn't move around on you, changing your balance at potentially awkward times. The entire back of the HAWG is covered in MOLLE-compatible webbing. If you need to carry more than the cargo space allows, attach some MOLLE pouches and keep on going. The bottom of the pack has an integrated drain-hole (so the only water you're carrying is what you intended) and there are four attachment points--double-stitched nylon webbing--for a sleeping bag, etc.

The HydraStorm Tsunami

The final Hydration System/Pack we're going to look at today is the HydraStorm Tsunami, displayed in Woodland Camo. The only two colors you don't get to see are the ones that take the least imagination: Black and Coyote Tan. More streamlined than either its symbolic brother the Cyclone or the Predator discussed above, the Tsunami is essentially a Cyclone without the big primary pocket. It has the hydration system that carries 100 ounces/three liters of water, and it has two large pockets for storage/cargo. The total space available for carrying anything other than fluid is 530 cubic inches. The hydration system has all of the same features as the above two systems, and the shoulder straps are equally padded and contoured. However, the Tsunami also has a "quick ditch" capability built into the shoulder straps in the form of two Fastex buckles. If you have to drop it fast to run (for whatever reason), you squeeze the buckle--one on either strap--and it falls off your body. The IVS is there to keep it comfortable while you do have it on. I see the Tsunami is the ideal day pack. The two pockets are more than sufficient to carry snacks, lunch, maps, compass, etc while the three liter capacity provides a sufficient amount of liquid sustainment throughout the day. Once again, we see that the pack has MOLLE/STRIKE attachment points all of the exterior for ease of adding storage capability, or to carry specific equipment in answer to your needs. The Tsunami is available in the same colors as the Predator: Black, OD Green, Woodland Camo and Desert Camo. The suggested retail price for the Tsunami is about $110. I found it online for $88, on sale.