What do you buy for an avid cyclist that’s already spent a fortune on the latest weightless bike, wireless cycling speaker, and a lifetime supply of yellow Livestrong bracelets? How about a shirt full of water? Camelbak’s wearable hydration system is a sleeveless skintight shirt with a 2.1-liter (72-ounce) jug of water secured on your upper back (it should work for running as well). We evaluated the pack in our local testing facility (Marina Drive in San Francisco) to the amusement of onlookers wondering how a hunchback could ride a bike so fast. Don’t worry, we’ll spare you any pictures of me wearing my first tank top since the ’80s party last summer.
Filling the pack is simple, through a rather large twist-on cap that’s easily accessible from the back of the shirt. Putting the shirt on after filling is probably not the recommended order of operations, but I accomplished the feat with minimal effort. Be careful putting freezing cold water in the bag, unless you want to cool down your trapezius muscles while riding. In the crouched position, the bag felt surprisingly comfortable, and I really only noticed it when a slight slosh would occur after hitting potholes. The support in the shirt and its skintight design ensure a nice distribution of the weight that avoided any sagging lump. The mouthpiece design was a very well designed bite-and-suck valve that didn’t leak or require me to unscrew or pull on any tube (just bite and suck). Perhaps the only glitch was a slight itch on the upper left shoulder which remained unscratched till the ride was complete. The pack easily removes for washing the shirt after a your weekly trip up L’Alpe d’Huez.
As a novice rider, the potential benefit of ditching the standard water bottle is something I’ll leave to the bike gurus to debate, but as a gadget, the Camelbak fulfills its objective. Ironically, the amateur cyclists traversing the boardwalk on a beach cruiser gawking at the bikini-clad might most benefit from keeping both hands on the wheel when a hint of dehydration presents itself. Whether such casual fashion-conscious riders will brave the awkward look from onlookers is the more challenging sales job. At $100, it seems a bit steep, but it’s targeting a market that loves to waste cash on making themselves feel a bit more like Lance.