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Hydration Experimentation: Inside CamelBak’s Lab

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Hydration of a sort is often on the mind of a visitor to the Petaluma, Calif., area, which is the headquarters of CamelBak Products LLC. But we’re not talking bike bottles or water from a hydration bladder sucked through a hose. Based in the sunny, rolling hills of California’s wine country, Petaluma is a destination or jumping off point for seekers of local grapes and white and red varietals.

But hydration for active types is very much a part of the local economy, too, as CamelBak Products occupies a giant office building on the edge of a nature preserve. Inside, you’ll see a museum display to CamelBak products of old. (Did you know the company’s first reservoir was made from a medical IV bag!) Showrooms in the building are stocked with to-be-released packs and hydration gear. There’s a big open office area where business is done and in the center of the space sits a good, old-fashioned laboratory to all things hydration.

R&D director Jeremy Galten inspects UV-light unit

Last week, on a visit to the Bay Area, I drove north to tour CamelBak for a look at prototype products and the company’s lab. With the lab manager Kevin Ostrom and R&D director Jeremy Galten as tour guides we probed at pressurized bottles in a heat test, fired up a drill press, and welded a CamelBak bladder with radio-frequency waves. “No lead apron needed,” Ostrom assured as he flipped a switch and the unit started to hum.

CamelBak Products LLC headquarters building in Petaluma, Calif.

During a three-hour visit I got a glimpse at a line of prototype running products (stay tuned for details in late June!) and saw a gigantic reservoir that can hold gallons of liquid. There was a spread of military-spec bladders impermeable to chemical attacks. (“Years and years in development,” Galten exclaimed.) Despite a request, the company did not allow me to load a file and “print” a concept bottle in its refrigerator-size 3D machine, which wields plastic sheets and whizzing arms to produce life-size and three-dimensional product prototypes in minutes.

Pressure test! Oversized CamelBak bladder put under watch

We ended the day with an hour-long road bike ride, gearing up with new CamelBak items and then clipping in to pedal a common company lunch route. We coasted through Petaluma and then uphill on a rutted road, the waft of agriculture and wine country on the air. I down-shifted on an incline and took a sip from my hose — plain, cold water flowed from my reservoir, not wine.

—Stephen Regenold is editor of GearJunkie. He wrote about Clif Bar & Company’s headquarters in the post “Temple to Energy Food.”

Metal die cast for CamelBak bladder

Lab manager Kevin Ostrom

Purifying UV cap kills microorganisms in water bottle

Mural pays homage to CamelBak bladders

Seth Beiden (top) and military-spec bladders (impermeable to chemical attack!)

Drill press action! Milling a plastic piece

Bladder die cast

Pro bike teams to astronauts use CamelBak products

Chill bottle keeps liquids cold for hours

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