As hunters review their gear for the spring season, many are adding hydration packs, water systems and purification products to their equipment lists, says Lou Dzerziak.
“It's much easier to drink from a bladder while hunting than a bottle. There's less movement, it's hands-free and the carry is much more comfortable,” explains Christian Mason, the director of sales and marketing at Deuter USA.
“The military has used hydration packs for many years for this reason and hunters want that same ease of use, comfortable carry and capacity.”
David Czerwinski, the co-founder and president of Vapur, reports: “If you are a hunter spending hours in the woods, hydration is important. Everyone is embracing these products.”
Vapur has signed a licensing agreement with Mossy Oak and is creating a new line of products featuring camouflage patterns hunters are interested in.
Hunters have embraced hydration for some time but, until recently, the choice has been relatively limited. Now hunters can select from a variety of packs designed specifically to carry hydration reservoirs. Other manufacturers offer customised systems consisting of reservoirs, hoses and bite valves that can be added to an existing pack.
“In the past there was pretty much one choice carried by retailers catering to the hydration market. Now we are seeing more companies making products that are more specific to a hunters requirements,” reports Jim Vernon, the brand manager of Hydrapak.
“Some are hitting the market now, like Geiggerrig, while others are just on the horizon. Consumers no longer have to select from various mountain-biking packs to have hydration while hunting.”
Bob Geiger, the vice-president of operations for Geigerrig Hydration Packs, comments: “Water use is one of the top things you need to be concerned about in the outdoors. We’re opening the door to as much water as you can use for as many different purposes as you need.”
Hunting for water
An older generation of hunters can probably recall a time when army-surplus metal canteens and canvas belts were used to carry water into the field. While more sophisticated hydration systems for the outdoors have been on the market for at least a decade, the pace of innovation from market leaders has slowed.
New brands are taking advantage and introducing new feature sets that are attracting attention from outdoor enthusiasts. Geigerrig offers a unique pressurised hydration system that significantly expands the usefulness of the pack.
“In the past, water in hydration packs was limited to one person and basically one purpose – drinking. You couldn’t share the water because everyone would have to share the same bite valve,” explains Bob.
“We wanted to provide a water system that enabled people to spray their hands and face, share water with friends, hydrate the dog and refill anywhere in the world at any freshwater source and be able to keep going. That’s what people are looking for from their hydration pack now that we are on the market.”
As the market has evolved, product designs are acknowledging the specific needs of hunters. Weight, reservoir volume, convenience and comfort top the list of considerations.
“Outdoorsmen are looking for hydration products that are portable, lightweight and easy to carry,” explains David. “One of the challenges with hard-sided bottles is that when they are empty they still take up the same amount of space in your pack. With Vapur, the bladder folds up, weighs very little and doesn’t rattle around.”
With more options available, hunters are finding hydration packs that don’t require compromises. “So much of hunting is personal preference, but pocket configuration, size and profile are all important,” explains Christian. “With a hydration pack, some hunters want it under their jacket, some need the tube insulator and some simply want a small hydration pack that works for the variety of sports they do.”
Convenience is another critical feature. “Anyone who has struggled trying to get a full bladder back into a pack will recognise the differences in the way hydraulic reservoirs are designed,” reports Erik Hamerschlag, product line manager at Osprey Packs Inc. “Consumers are looking for a design that maintains the shape effectively and is easy to handle getting in and out of the pack’s hydration sleeve.”
Another aspect is cleaning the reservoirs. Early models required consumers to buy special cleaning brushes or chemical tablets to remove bacteria, dirt or residue left over from an energy drink.
The latest ones are much easier to maintain. Many are dishwasher safe and the product designs have improved to make cleaning more efficient and effective.
“We offer a combination of flexible materials and ingenious design so users will be able to use a Hydrapak system season after season,” says Jim. “The key differentiation is the ability to reverse the reservoir to clean and dry. Where other brands sell supplemental cleaning supplies, Hydrapak offers a system engineered to maintain simply.”
In the field, small details matter. Hydration hoses that dangle or flop around can be a real nuisance to a hunter. Most new designs offer a way to store the hose and bite value out of the way. Osprey, for example, uses magnets on the bite valve and pack harness to secure the system effectively.
Sportsmen who start their hunting adventure with a full water bladder are now taking more time to consider what happens when their thirst drains that reservoir of cool, clean water.
Water purification tools are becoming an important part of a sportsmen’s hydration system. “When you are in the backcountry and don’t have potable water readily accessible for a refill, your only option may be a pond or slow-moving stream,” reports David.
“You start the day with the water from your tap and when the reservoir’s empty you are done. You have to find another tap or go back to camp. With this, you change all that. You aren’t talking about running out of water. Find a water source, plug in the filter, fill it up and go,” notes Bob. “You need gear that allows your range to be sustained with hydration.”
Purification options include tools like the SteriPEN that use ultraviolet light or filters that can be connected to hydration hoses. “Having a UV water filter is valuable if you get lost or delayed. Then you have access to clean water in an emergency situation,” says Tim Archambault, the director of e-commerce at SteriPEN.
Vapur uses a .2 micron micro-filter to filter out 99.999 per cent of all bacteria, protozoan cysts and Giardia.
“Those are the kinds of things that are going to make you uncomfortable and sick,” says David. “You can drink from those natural sources without worrying about getting sick.”
Christian offers: “If you use a treatment tablet, just drop it in and shake it around once the slider is on. It's easy to clean and has an anti-microbial finish on the interior. If you use a SteriPEN, the opening is large enough to stir the water and treat it effectively.”
Filters that can be used with hydration hoses offer a convenient approach to a safe water supply. “There are some excellent water-purification filters that are compatible with our connectors,” says Jim. “Users can snap these filters directly to the reservoir and begin pumping in filtered water.”
Brand managers believe hunting and sporting-goods retailers can improve sales of hydration products by focusing on a few merchandising tools.
“We would suggest merchandising hydration components, reservoirs and filters adjacent to these styles to create a hydration-specific micro-store,” notes Jim. “Hydration components are great items to increase average sales for consumers who presumably need a reservoir upgrade as well.”
Christian adds: “A hydrated hunter is more steady, has better endurance and is going to perform better in the field. With merchandising, it's a matter of showing that certain packs fit comfortably under jackets, or show the features specific to their hunting sport. That's the key – putting the customer into the scene with the proper hydration equipment.”