In the last few weeks I was looking at hydration packs in a fair bit of detail. In one recent post we looked at what to consider when buying a hydration pack and in another I touched on my hydration pack of choice at the minute.
When looking at what to consider when buying a hydration pack, one of the key things listed for consideration when buying one, is how easy your chosen hydration pack is to clean. This has a lot to do with the design of the hydration pack and what you use your hydration pack for.
Pictured above is the Camelbak AntidoteTM Cleaning Kit, click on the image to learn more.
When considering design, you have the Ziploc or Screw Top options. Both can work well in the context of cleaning. In my opinion a Ziploc is easier to clean as you can open the whole reservoir wide open but in the past I didn't have too much trouble cleaning a screw top hydration pack either.
The relevance of cleaning is also impacted by what drinks you're putting into your hydration pack. I only ever use mine for water so I am not adding anything that can leave sediment that can turn into various biological nasty's over time. However, you may want to use your pack for another type of drink aside from water so I want to take a look at some tips on how best to clean your hydration pack as well as possible.
Even if you just use water, bacteria from your mouth can get onto the bite valve and into the tube so you do need to clean it even if you're just using water.
Cleaning Your Hydration Pack
It is recommended that you clean your reservoir after every use. I have to be honest and say that I do not do this and think it is a bit over the top. As mentioned, as I only use water in my hydration pack I don't feel the need to deep clean it after every use. I feel a good rinse out with water is enough and I add light soap into the equation every so often when I rinse it out.
I always pay a bit of extra attention, when I rinse it after every use, to the bite valve as that's the piece that goes into my mouth. The bite valve usually hangs loose out in front of you as you hike so it can easily get dirt onto it when you take your pack off and put it on the ground, say when you stop to sit down and have lunch. With that in mind, I always give it a good rinse out every time after using my pack.
Tip: when you're drinking from your hydration pack while hiking, it can be a good idea to rinse the bite valve in your mouth with some water from the pack. I know it doesn't sound too pretty, but do a couple of swirls of water around the valve in your mouth and spit the water out. It can help to remove any dirt that may have got on to the bite valve while out on your hike.
However, if you're using other drinks in the hydration pack, I think a good cleaning after every use would be required. It's worth noting here that there are specific cleaning kits, like the one pictured above, which have brushes, solutions, etc. that you can get which are designed to help you clean your hydration pack. However, these aren't always necessary and I think they're probably of more use on a less frequent occurrence i.e. when you need to give your hydration pack a really deep clean every so often.
On a medium term ongoing basis (after 10 to 20 uses), first off, I clean my pack by filling the reservoir / bladder with a mixture of water and two or three denture tablets. I started to use denture tablets after I found them to be very effective for cleaning my thermos flask. I found They gave a great clean and left a nice freshness behind them after the clean. Makes sense as they're used to clean dentures after all.
You can also use hot water and baking soda instead of denture tablets, two or three tablespoons should be enough (as with the pack cleaning kits, you can get specific cleaning solutions for this very purpose too but denture tablets or baking soda should work fine … denture tablets are my preference).
To be sure you get the mixture into the drinking tube, you will need to activate the drinking mechanism by biting on the bite valve at the top of the tube. This will fill the tube up with the cleaning water. You don't need to put the bite valve into your mouth when doing this. You can usually just pinch the valve with your fingers over the sink and that should be enough to get the cleaning water flowing through.
If not, you may need to angle the reservoir in such a way to get the water flowing e.g. hold it up so gravity helps the process. When the solution is filled into the tube, let the solution settle and leave it in the reservoir and tube for 30 to 40 minutes. Then pinch the tube a bit to empty the water in the drinking tube and let a fresh flow of cleaning water fill the main reservoir. Move the whole pack around a bit more to move the water in the main reservoir a bit and then leave for another 30 to 40 minutes.
When ready, empty the solution out of the reservoir and rinse the whole reservoir and tube with hot water. You can use a mild soap too if you like but the main goal is to ensure you rinse all the denture / baking soda cleaning water out of the reservoir. Rinse as many times as you need to, to do this effectively.
Drying Your Hydration Pack After Cleaning
When finished cleaning leave your hydration pack in such a way that it can air dry. As best as possible you want to enable air to circulate throughout the pack to prevent any moisture staying in the pack which could form mold.
When I'm drying my Platypus Big Zip Lip LP hydration pack, pictured above, I slip the sliding plastic seal, the dark blue piece at the top of the pack in the picture above, between either side of the top of the hydration pack. This leaves the top open and so air can get in.
It's also a good idea to come back to it after a day or two and empty it again just in case a little pool of water has gathered somewhere in it. It also moves the pack itself a bit and so lets air in to places it maybe wasn't getting into (sometimes the sides of the pack will stick together in spots while drying). After that, put it back into the drying position with the sliding seal between the top ends of the pack holding it open.
Some cleaning packs, like the one pictured at the start of this post, will have drying arms which can be used to hang your pack in a specific way to help and speed up the drying process. Not a necessity I feel but no harm to use if you have them.
Tip: when you first get a new hydration pack it can sometimes have a plastic type taste. Washing the pack out and drying it several times in a row as listed above, should do the trick to get rid of this initial nasty taste. If not … you may need to get a better quality hydration pack.
So that's that. These easy steps will help keep your hydration pack usable time and again well into the future. Even if you only use your pack for water, I recommend you give it a good rinse after every use and a deep clean every 10 to 20 uses following the steps above.
I have to admit that I may be a bit lazy in comparison to others when it comes to cleaning my hydration pack but I only let myself away with that as I only use my pack for water, nothing else. If you use your pack for fluids other than water, definitely follow the steps above after every use. It will ensure you keep your pack free from anything growing in it that shouldn't!
You need to make the call on that for yourself though. It will depend on a number of factors such as what you're drinking from your reservoir, how often you use it, if you have a clean freak disposition like Monica from the sitcom Friends, etc. If you've any questions on any of this, feel free to leave them below.
I hope you found this article useful. Do you have any tips for cleaning a hydration pack? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.