Canteen Vs. Hydration Bladder
The purpose of this post is to discuss the use of canteens and hydration bladders, to point out some advantages and disadvantages, and to make you think about how you plan to carry and use water.
What do I mean by canteens? For this post, I will consider an canteen any sort of solid water bottle. Anything from an actual military canteen to a sports hydration bottle, one of those solid Camelbak sports bottles that you sip from the top of with a straw going down inside, a plastic water-bottle that you are reusing (with a twist-off lid or one of those drinking caps), or anything similar. The key thing is that a canteen will sit in a pocket or pouch and be taken out, raised to your mouth, and drunk from.
What do I mean by a hydration bladder? Commonly known by the brand name Camelbak, this is a soft collapsible bladder with a long drinking tube. The advantage is that the drinking tube can be attached to your gear, like your shoulder strap, and you can sip water out of the bladder without removing it from where it is stored, and you can keep both hands on your weapon. The key advantage of the water bladder is that it carries a lot of water (2 or 3 liters) and can be drunk from while you are moving, without having to take it out of a pouch or pocket.
So let’s look at the Camelbak style bladder. It has the following advantages:
– Convenience of drinking, while you are moving and virtually hands free.
– Large water capacity, at 2 or 3 liters.
– Ease of carriage, on your back either attached to your plate carrier (PC), in its own carriage harness, or in your ruck or patrol pack.
– Hard to refill from a non-standard faucet style source of water.
– May be inconvenient to take off to refill, such as if it is fixed to the back of you PC.
– Can make a ruck or patrol pack carriage uncomfortable if it is worn on the back of your PC.
In my opinion, the Camelbak style of hydration bladder is the ultimate if you are taking part in short term operations, patrols or hikes. If you can fill it with 3 liters of clean water at your base location and then go out for several hours, it will serve you perfectly. It would also be a very useful emergency supply of water if, attached to your PC or inside your patrol pack, you left it there as a reserve. If you then had to break contact and bug out, you would have it there as a supply of water to last you several hours of your E&E.
Not a comfortable fire position!
So what about the less cool canteen? Advantages:
– Solid bottle that is less likely to get broken, leak.
– Easily refilled from non-standard water sources, such as creeks.
– More versatile.
– Easier to fill with hot water purified by boiling.
– Easier to use with water purification tablets or straws (you can get bottles pre-fitted with a purification straw).
– More tactically versatile
– You need to think about specific pouches, such as canteen pouches on a battle belt, to carry the canteen(s).
– You need to stop and take the canteen out to drink. Drinking needs to be done in buddy pairs while pulling security as part of a tactical short halt.
– Depending on the size and number of canteens you carry, you may not have as much water capacity as with a hydration bladder.
If we are looking at an SHTF situation, or one where you can expect to be out for long periods of time in the backwoods, then there are clear advantages to canteens. If you are having to boil water in a small pot to purify it, say on a solo stove, then it is easier to decant the hot water into a canteen. Similarly to pop in a purification tablet or use a life-straw.
A Camelbak would be harder to fill from a creek or pool, and to purify. Tactically, it also makes sense to use canteens longer term, because if you are moving on patrol and have to fill water at a suitable source, you can establish a security halt and send one or two guys down to fill up everyone’s canteens. Camelbaks would be a nightmare in such a situation, particularly if you had to pull them off your gear to hand them over.
One solution is to have a couple of canteens on your belt and to also carry a bladder in your patrol pack or ruck. This gives you a back-up source of water. You can still purify water into your canteens and then fill it into the bladder to resupply your water. This kind of bladder could be one with or without an actual drinking tube, it could just be in there as a bladder of water that will collapse down when not in use.
This is another reason why you need to give a lot of detailed thought to your gear and how you will carry it. It is one thing you carry out short term operations and fill your Camelbak with bottle or tap water at home, but what about on extended operations? Also, if conducting short term and/or vehicle mounted patrols, it may be a good thing to have a Camelbak on the back of your PC. I have one that sits there but is not always used. It’s also easy in a vehicle to have a stack of drinking water bottles and have a bottle to hand in a cup holder. But what about when you have to get out and overnight it? Don’t underestimate what a pain it is to have a full 3 liter Camelback on your PC under a patrol pack. It pulls the straps out straight back and unbalances you. It is a pain on your shoulders.
In my opinion, this is a versatile way to do it:
– One canteen at least, maybe two, accessible on a battle belt or the side of a PC/tactical vest. If only one, have another somewhere else as a back up, such as in or on your ruck or patrol pack.
– A Camelbak either attached to the back of your PC, or in its own harness, to be used as necessary for short patrols or vehicle operations. If it is in its own harness, you can always take it off and pack it in the ruck.
– A hydration bladder (or the Camelback in the carry harness) stored in your pack/ruck as a back up supply to your canteens.
Don’t forget to consider how you will purify water for resupply when you are out there. Also, don’t forget that without water you will die, and the hotter it gets the more critical it is. You need to plan to factor in water resupply as part of your missions.
Hydrate or die.
Live Hard, Die Free.