An Arctic blast in the Mount Hood National Forest proved the perfect recipe for testing gear designed to protect the most important ingredient: water. I chose the Platypus Insulator Hydration System to avoid the typical winter hiking hassles of freezing bottles and hydration systems and wasting fuel to melt snow.
The Platypus Insulator promised 100 ounces of easy-sipping hydration while I broke in my new cross country skis on groomed trails. The system comes with the works: The BPA-free Big Zip SL reservoir seals tight when zipped, and locks closed with a sliding piece of plastic that’s held by a string so you don’t lose it while filling. The wide opening was good for scooping water quickly from a cold stream without freezing my hands. The reservoir slides and buckles into a svelte Cordura sleeve outfitted with D-rings that let you attach it to the outside of the pack.
The entire length of hose is wrapped with a half inch of insulating material. A plastic cover protects the bite valve from getting grimy and fit (just barely) through my pack’s hydration slot. Cool feature: I loved that I could easily detach the hose from the reservoir and snap it back into place. It came in handy when I removed the reservoir and sleeve from my pack while I sidestepped down a steep snow bank to refill at a stream.
While the reservoir and sleeve fit easily inside my pack’s internal pocket, I decided to expose it to the elements on the outside of the pack and let the 20°F temps do their worst. I sipped every 15 minutes for the next hour while skiing to my overnight camp at Trillium Lake. The water flowed easily and had no plastic taste. Being able to drink without taking off my pack freed me up to glide on past all the sane, heat-loving snowshoers and skiers returning to their cars.
As I made camp on the lake, with the sun setting, I returned to my pack for a drink before cooking—and sucked ice. The hose had frozen at the attachment point, which is not insulated. Not surprisingly, when the temp dropped to 15°F, the system succumbed, freezing at the attachment point. Inside the sleeve, the water was unfrozen—and stayed that way for the entire weekend. The problem with the hose required some attention, however.
Tip: in teeth-chattering cold, start your trip with warm water, and keep it as warm as possible by sipping and blowing air into it often, and always bring the system inside your tent at night. In a pinch, you can always use your body heat to warm up the hose between layers of clothes.
Overall, I like the system for its light weight and clever design. And it did work better in cold than other hydration systems I’ve used. I contacted the manufacturer, Cascade Designs, and they assured me they are working on a redesign of the attachment point for next year.
Bottom line: Put this insulating hydration system in your pack and close to your body to keep the attachment point from freezing.