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I like to ride with a hydration pack when I mountain bike in the winter since all sorts of nasty stuff gets tossed up at my bottles. However, I've had issues with the tube or valve getting clogged due to the water inside freezing during rides in the low 20s Fahrenheit (roughly -5°C). It's really hard to deal with this issue while you're out in the woods.

Is there anything I can do to prevent this from freezing so quickly?

  • 12
    Alcohol is a pretty good antifreeze. ;) – Daniel R Hicks Mar 6 '13 at 22:55
  • I would also consider purchasing a hydration pack made for snowboarding / backcountry skiing. Camelbak and Salomon make these and typically have insulated hose or are made to be low profile and fit under a jacket. – Benzo Oct 28 '13 at 17:10
  • 3
    Water doesn't freeze until zero :-) – andy256 Sep 27 '14 at 3:05

10 Answers 10

11

I see snowboarders with an insulating cover over the tube. If that doesn't provide enough insulation, I've worn my pack under my jacket leaving the entire pack, tube and bite valve covered and insulated.

Here is a 3 foot Hydration Pack Insulated Drink Tube Cover on amazon for $7 US

  • 4
    I can vouch for putting the tube under the jacket as well. It's the only thing that keeps the water flowing when it gets really cold. I have an insulated tube, but it simply doesn't work when it gets down to -20 °C/-4 °F. – user1049697 Oct 20 '13 at 12:38
  • Osprey makes an insulated hose and bike valve as well. I may consider this as an upgrade to a neoprene cover. ospreypacks.com/en/product/hydration_packs__osprey_hydraulics_1/… – Benzo Oct 28 '13 at 17:08
21

The trick is to blow the water back up the tube and into the reservoir right after you take a drink. This will keep your tube and bite valve from freezing. This works well even at below freezing temperatures when skiing.

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    Between blowing into the tube when done, wearing the pack under your coat and getting an insulated tube cover, you should be set. – Chef Flambe Mar 11 '13 at 23:23
6
  • Keep the bladder as close to your skin as possible. This will help it utilize the same heat and insulation you are using.
  • Run the tube under your shoulder. The area over your shoulder is more exposed to wind and will generally freeze faster.
  • After taking a drink, blow back into the tube to clear it. If there is no water in the tube, there is nothing to freeze.
  • (Optional) Insulation. Many companies make neoprene or other styles of insulated covers for their drinking tubes. While these can help maintain some warmth, they can also make finding and breaking up ice chunks difficult. You don't need to completely clear a tube to drink from it. You just need to break the ice up some so the warmer water (from your back) can run through it and accelerate the thaw process.
  • (Optional) Power. There is at least one company that makes an on demand heating system|water bladder. It uses a battery pack and heating element throughout the whole tube to melt the tube even if it is completely frozen.
  • Wow, in all my searching, I never found anything like this. Pretty cool product, but might be a bit of overkill for my own usage. – Benzo Sep 29 '14 at 12:36
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The tube has a lot of surface area and not a lot of volume, so it's going to lose heat quickly compared to the reservoir. In addition to insulating the tube mentioned by Glenn Gervais you can start with hot water in the reservoir and frequently drink a little bit to keep reheating the tube. This Nordic skiing article discusses this technique in more detail.

You could also try a Nordic skiing water bottle holder like the one in this (5 part!) article. I've noticed while skiing that a horizontal bottle seems stay ice free at the valve longer. In a vertical holder, turning the bottle upside down also helps.

I've never tried this, but you might also try to keep the water in the reservoir warm by attaching a chemical hand/foot warmer to the outside of the bag. Test it first to check that it won't damage the plastic bag, though I wouldn't expect something made to keep near your skin would get hot enough. Don't put it in the bag though. If it leaks it's probably dangerous to your health.

  • 3
    I used the warm (not hot) water and frequent drinks when mountain climbing, with a insulation cover to extend time between drinks, with great success. Most chemical warmers are Sodium acetate - which is used as a food additive, and has a melting point of 55C - so it won't hurt the drink bladder – mattnz Mar 7 '13 at 3:18
  • The quantity of sodium acetate that's suitable for food use is likely to be much smaller than what you'd get if a handwarmer leaked into your drinking water. I suggest a thin layer of insulation around the handwarmer (to prolong its heating) and tucking that inside an insulated cover for the hydration pack near the outlet. This insulated cover could be a fleece or similar warm layer for yourself. (@mattnz, I know it's old) – Chris H Mar 3 '17 at 9:26
  • @ChrisH wouldn't sodium acetate dilute in water form acetic acid and sodium? If that is indeed so, the sour taste would spoil the water long before concentrations were high enough to be of any health concern (if there are any). That's not a rhetorical question, chemistry isn't my field – physicist as well. – gschenk Mar 4 '17 at 22:29
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    @gschenk if that's true, then you're left with undrinkable water, which is something to avoid. I've seen handwarmers leak before, so I'd really want a second layer in between. – Chris H Mar 5 '17 at 9:00
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Here's a summary of some the options I've found:

Manual:

  • Blow back the water back in to your bladder to prevent freezing, this can cause your hydration reservoir to bulge though. I've also heard this can introduce bacteria to the bladder, making it get funky faster. This is less effective when you have a smaller amount of water in your bladder.
  • Use a compact reservoir and keep it under your jacket. Run the tube under your jacket or down your arm under the jacket. Keep it from being exposed when not in use.

    Insulation:

  • Neoprene insulation for your tube.
  • Bag makers have their own more expansive insulated systems than just a tube cover. Osprey insulated delivery system, which has a zip up cover for your valve. Camelback has the Antidote Thermal Control Kit which includes a cap cover for the bite valve and neoprene tube cover. Salomon makes a fully insluated hydration tube and bladder with bite valve cover for nordic skiing.
  • Use foam packing material and tape to make an insulated sleeve for your bladder, to slow the cooling of water in the bladder itself.

    Heat Managment:

  • Fill your bladder with warm or room temp water, so it will take longer to cool down.
  • Add hand warmers to the pocket in your hydration pack where your bladder lives. May want to put this in a sock to prevent direct contact with the bladder. This will keep the water around it warm, and prevent it from getting as cold so long as you keep drinking.

    Chemical:

  • Add a small amount of vodka to your water supply to prevent freezing by lowering the freezing point of the water. I'm not quite sure of the appropriate amount.
  • Add electrolyte tablets to water, which should in theory lower the freezing point of water a bit. Making it take longer for your water to freeze up. Do not exceed the amount suggested by manufacturer of electrolyte tabs. Not sure to what degree the freezing point would be lowered.

    • 1
      According to the chart at engineeringtoolbox.com/ethanol-water-d_989.html To lower the freezing point of a solution of water and ethanol to 25f from 32f, you would need to have the alcohol percentage of the solution at 10%. That means you would need to add nearly an entire 750ml bottle of 80 proof vodka to a 100oz hydration pack to lower the freezing point. So, considering this, I don't think that adding alcohol is a practical solution to preventing freezing of water in low temps. I assume saline solutions will be too salty for practical application as well. – Benzo Sep 29 '14 at 19:36
    • Wow, 10% alcohol seems a bit much considering the purpose of the hydration pack is to avoid dehydration and especially for those prone to altitude sickness. Wouldn't recommend except to those most able to hold their liquor while exercising and exerting themselves mountain biking, skiing or boarding. Other non-chemical options seem much better w.r.t. that aspect. – TrinitronX Dec 28 '18 at 4:12
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    I use rather warm water to start with by filling approx 1/3 of the bag with cold water and then the rest from the hot water dispenser in the lodge. Going forward it’s mostly a matter of remembering to drink enough regularly enough to replenish the warmth into the tube. This temp change is obvious as you drink. I’ve found that each chairlift ride seems to be perfect.

    • Chairlift? Sounds like a skier or downhill bike park, but still a decent relevant first answer. Thank you for contributing - and do have a browse of the tour to learn how SE is structured. – Criggie Jan 13 at 7:20
    1

    Having a quick release in the hose can help a lot.

    camelback quick release

    Generally, just the valve end freezes and the quick release allows you to get a drink. Click the system back together and stick the frozen end in your jacket. Generally it thaws in a few minutes.

    The insulated hoses don't do all that much. By far the best solution is the packs in which the hose is entirely enclosed in the pack strap. Backcountry Access Stash packs are a example.

    1

    Putting a little glycerol (aka "glycerin" or "glycerine") in the water will help.

    Glycerol is edible, sweet to the taste. It will do double duty by giving you a few extra calories, and lowering the freezing point of your solution because it acts as an antifreeze.

    Because it's also bacteriostatic, unlike sucrose/glucose, it also shouldn't encourage microbial growth in the hydration system.

    Unfortunately, sports drinks probably shouldn't contain more than about 8% carbohydrate, and an 8% glycerol solution will only give you about 1-1.5˚C extra headroom.

    • 1
      I'm not sure how much you'd need to add to have decent freezing point depression -- my intuition is that it will be sickeningly sweet, but I'm not particularly inclined to do the math. – Batman Sep 25 '14 at 0:56
    • Fair point; answer updated accordingly. – sampablokuper Sep 25 '14 at 15:26
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    Some hydration packs (such as Source Hydration Systems) have a wider diameter than others and/or an insulated tube cover. Both of those can help keep water from freezing in the tube.

    Disclaimer: I am associated with Source Hydration Systems.

    • 2
      If you're affiliated with Source Hydration Systems in any way, you need to make that extremely clear. Second, you seem to have a lot of stuff in this answer that doesn't really address the question. – freiheit Oct 20 '13 at 20:55
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    But you can revert law of nature.

    1 Few Of the Points to keep your water flowing in harsh environment

    2 Fill your reservoir with warm (but not boiling) water, which will take longer to freeze.

    3 Drink frequently (a sip every five minutes or so) to keep your water circulating.

    4 Blow back into the drink tube after you take a sip. This will clear water from the narrowest parts of the reservoir (like the bite valve and tube), which are usually the first to freeze.

    5 Keep your water supply close to your body by wearing your pack under your jacket and routing your drink tube under your arm or through your pit zip.

    6 Our winter packs also feature insulated drinking tubes, and many of the smaller packs are designed to fit both under and over your jacket.

    7 On overnight trips, sleep with your water to keep it from freezing overnight. Just lock your bite valve closed and then stuff your reservoir into the bottom of your sleeping bag

    • Please take a moment to read the tour Everything you've said here has already been covered in other answers, so its better to upvote them rather than clutter things up with duplicates. Also, you've made no attempt to declare your connection with the linked product, and we call that link-spamming. Please don't do that. – Criggie Aug 23 at 8:29

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