CamnelBak Hydration System

The need for adequate hydration cannot be overemphasized (See Field Hydration). Therefore, a significant fraction of logistical focus has to be on maintaining the water supply line from source to the individual warfighter. From 1910 to the 1990s, that individual soldier had an almost unchanged U.S. military canteen and related accessories. But new technology, coupled with wars in hot southwest Asia, generated new alternatives and probably will generate even more change in the early 21st century.

soldier from 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, wearing a CamelBak hydration unit during a security patrol outside Combat Outpost Jeleran, Afghanistan, 20 Nov 2009
soldier from 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, wearing a CamelBak hydration unit during a security patrol outside Combat Outpost Jeleran, Afghanistan, 20 Nov 2009.

Today in WW II: 31 Jul 1941 SS Major General Reinhard Heydrich ordered by Göring to prepare "...a total solution of the Jewish question [Gesamtlösung der Judenfrage]..." in European areas controlled by Germany.   

Evolving Canteen Practices

A Marine with multiple canteens on his utility belt, aboard the tank landing ship USS LA MOURE COUNTY (LST 1194) at sea in the Mediterranean during Exercise BRIGHT STAR '85, August 1985.
A Marine with multiple canteens on his utility belt, aboard the tank landing ship USS LA MOURE COUNTY (LST 1194) at sea in the Mediterranean during Exercise BRIGHT STAR '85, August 1985.

The one quart canteen has been the U.S. standard, but soldiers often carried more than one. Photos from World War II, Vietnam and other eras show infantrymen with twin canteens, especially in tropical or desert zones where water usage is higher. These usage patterns led to doctrine changes (two canteens were permitted) and canteens with a capacity of two quarts were introduced. These changes were not fundamental, merely building on the experience with one quart canteens.

In the 2000s, with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in progress, the U.S. military elevated the priority of hydration practices. From basic training on up, soldiers are reminded constantly of the importance of staying hydrated.

Problems With Standard Canteens

Taste: Military poly canteens can impart a "plastic" taste to water, making it barely palatable. Certain lower grade plastics, such as the high-density polyethylene used by the milk industry, also can give a plastic taste to water. Bottled water companies solved this problem by changing to higher grade, more expensive polyethylene terephthalate, which does not pass on any plastic taste to water.

Temperature: Water is most palatable when cool rather than cold. Experts say that water in the range of 45-55F° is best for absorption and cooling of the body's core temperature. Water can be kept cool in bulk storage tanks using chillers or ice, but when dispensed into canteens or 5-gallon water cans, the local weather conditions prevail. Water in a canteen can become uncomfortably hot or cold (even frozen) based on the air temperature.

Comfort and Convenience: A canteen is awkward to carry and use. Water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon. Carrying a filled canteen on a strap around the neck or hung from a utility belt already loaded with ammunition and other gear may slow a soldier down when he needs to move quickly. Crawling and climbing are more difficult when a loosely suspended weight is bobbing on a soldier's body or pack. A canteen can catch on brush or wire obstacles while a soldier is on the move.

To drink from the canteen, a soldier must unfasten the flaps of the canteen cover, draw the canteen out, unscrew the cap, drink, then return the canteen to its cover and refasten the flaps. In a tactical situation, a half-empty canteen sloshes audibly, potentially revealing the soldier's position. Drinking from a canteen when wearing MOPP gear has additional constraints.

Objectives for Improved Hydration Systems

Individual hydration, as a concept, must be part of an integrated system that works with a soldier, not simply a commodity carried in a primitive attachment to his belt. Modern soldiers need a hydration system that is made from better materials and is easier to carry and use than the standard canteens so he will be encouraged to drink more water and, consequently, will perform better on the battlefield. He needs a hydration system that acts as an enabler to personal combat power, not a burden or obstruction.

Conceptually, soon the warfighter will have a heads-up display on his helmet, a weapon that can be aimed around corners, and a computer wired to his pack frame. These systems will be digital, virtual, and almost invincible. The soldiers operating them will be too busy handling information to take their minds off the battle long enough to fuss with a snap or flap to get a drink of water. A hydration system for that soldier should be one that he can operate almost intuitively. Taking small drinks on a regular basis is a healthy habit and is easy to do if the hydration system is positioned close to the carrier's mouth and quickly accessible.

Hydration must be second nature, a healthy habit, and the hydration equipment must support that fully.

CamelBak Hydration System

USMC LCPL Derek Mellor, radio operator with Lima Company, 3rd Bn, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, takes a sip of water from his CamelBak during a break in joint patrol with Iraqi army soldiers in Habbaniyah, Iraq, 16 Nov 2006
USMC LCPL Derek Mellor, radio operator with Lima Company, 3rd Bn, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, takes a sip of water from his CamelBak during a break in joint patrol with Iraqi army soldiers in Habbaniyah, Iraq, 16 Nov 2006.

CamelBak was developed by bike racers who needed hydration on the move but could not slow down to use a bottle or other water source. The CamelBak company became an important vendor for the U.S. military as hydration became recognized as a critical issue. The CamelBak hydration system is essentially a plastic water bladder connected to a length of hose that fits into an insulated bag that can be strapped on the carrier's back or attached to a rucksack. For military use, its cover must be rugged enough for combat and must integrate with MOLLE and other equipment standards.

The CamelBak hose is positioned close to the wearer's shoulder strap to eliminate snagging on obstacles. It can be situated so the end is near the wearer's mouth for easy access. The "bite" valve at the end of the hose makes the water readily available. The hose can be run through an insulated tube to protect the water from body heat or exterior temperature extremes. The bag can be exchanged or filled easily, and its opening is large enough to accept ice cubes. This system keeps the water supply clean and leaves hands free. Since the water does not slosh, it is tactically silent. The tubing is compatible with most personal water purifiers, so it may be used in situations where potable water is not available or when local water sources may be contaminated.

The first CamelBaks entered the U.S. military as private purchase items, primarily by Special Forces during the Gulf War. By 2005, the Rapid Fielding Initiative and other purchases made CamelBak standard for all soldiers and Marines going to Iraq or Afghanistan. The CamelBak has evolved as its military penetration increased. Later models are more durable, offer many capacity options. Accessories are offered for protective mask compatibility as well as chemical resistant liners that protect against NBC agents. There are a large number of NSNs offered through supply channels, post exchange, or commercial dealers to cover all the combinations of type, size, camo pattern, and other options. Amazon.com offers many of the CamelBak products via the link.

Although simple in principle, the CamelBak must be used and maintained properly for it to function reliably and to avoid contamination. Refer to instructions for operation, cleaning, and maintenance packed with the product or available on the CamelBak website.

CamelBak is sometimes used as a generic name for personal hydration systems , as other suppliers have offered competing systems with similar design.

Water Packaging System

One-liter water bags exit the WPS Form, Fill, and Seal Machine and drop into a catch box at a rate of 28 bags per minute
One-liter water bags exit the WPS Form, Fill, and Seal Machine and drop into a catch box at a rate of 28 bags per minute.

The Water Packaging System (WPS) is a vertical-feed Form, Fill, and Seal Machine that packages water in one-liter bags at a rate of 28 bags per minute. Each WPS is emplaced near a reverse osmosis water-purification unit (ROWPU) and a containerized ice plant (CIP). Military components in the WPS are a trailer, 3,000-gallon water storage bladders (onion bags), a 400-gallon water trailer, a 20-foot, expandable shelter, pumps, and hoses from a ROWPU. The COTS Form, Fill, and Seal Machine is housed inside a shelter to provide a sanitary work environment and protection for the equipment. The shelter is mounted on a 40-foot trailer for mobility. Secondary items, tools, spare parts, and supplies are transported in 20-foot ISO containers.

WPS has been in use since the mid-1990s and has been field-tested successfully. In desert environments, Plexiglas doors were added to the WPS and CIP systems to keep sand from blowing into the work areas, and dryers were placed on the air compressors to help prevent moisture buildup in the air lines. These modifications helped with sanitation and equipment reliability, but additional cleaning was required to maintain a sterile work environment within the shelters. Severe sandstorms sometimes stopped production of packaged water and ice. Soldiers outside who operated the forklift, boxed and palletized the bag water, and transferred ice bags into reefer vans had to stop work and move inside until the storms were over.

In operation, packaged water from a WPS is chilled and placed in insulated containers for rapid distribution in the field as a source of resupply for the existing on-the-move hydration system (CamelBak). The benefits of using the packaged water and ice systems for major exercises and deployments include reduced costs, quality control of drinking water, reduced transportation requirements, deployable systems, shorter reorder time, cost savings over alternative commercial products, improved command and control, mass storage (versus daily production), same-day delivery, reduced risk of tampering during shipment, and suitability for various distribution methods.

This system is called the Expeditionary Water Packaging System (E-WPS) by the Marine Corps.

Material on this page adapted from Alternatives to the soldier Canteen, by Major James E. Gibson (2000), and other published sources.

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