By Ed Pavelka
- valve doesn’t leak
- valve automatically opens / closes
- easy to squeeze
- no plastic taste
- fancy valve needs thorough cleaning
Source: bike shops, websites
Features: 21 oz. (600 ml) or 24 oz. (700 ml); BPA-free; 6 colors; self-sealing valve
How obtained: cold cash
RBR advertiser: no
Tested: 250 hours
Cold drinks are more than just refreshing in summer, they help combat dehydration during hot, sweaty rides. But when on-bike drinks become warm it’s hard to keep sipping. They don’t taste good, don’t offer any cooling and studies show that warm fluids leave the stomach slower.
For years the insulated Polar bottle was the popular solution for keeping drinks cool longer, compared to a plain plastic water bottle.
Then came the Camelbak Podium Chill bottle. It worked as well as the Polar but had 2 improvements — a “Jet Valve” nozzle that’s less likely to leak than the plunger-type nozzle found on the Polar and most other bottles, and double-wall construction with a layer of airtight, insulating foam that didn’t make the bottle stiff to squeeze.
Now comes the next generation. The Camelbak Podium Ice bottle looks much like the Chill and squeezes as easily, but it has superior insulation. With a $20 suggested retail price it also costs $8 more.
I saw an Ice bottle prototype at the Interbike industry expo in September 2009. A Camelbak spokesman claimed it would keep drinks cold 4 times longer than an uninsulated bottle and 2 times longer than the Chill model (and, by extension, the Polar).
The Ice bottle finally reached the market around May 2010. I ordered 2 online. It was painful paying more than $40 (inc. shipping) for a couple of water bottles, but with summer’s heat coming on I figured that you, too, would want to find out if the Ice bottle works as well as promised.
To judge the Podium Ice bottle’s performance, I used one for 8 rides that were long enough and hot enough to prove or disprove Camelbak’s marketing claims.
It didn’t make sense to test the Ice bottle primarily against an uninsulated bottle — we all know how poorly plain plastic keeps drinks cold on a temperate day, let alone a hot one. Instead, I used a Podium Chill bottle for comparison.
For each ride, I packed the Ice and Chill bottles with chunks from a bag of ice bought at the local convenience store. The bottles’ wide mouth makes filling quick and easy. Then I topped off each bottle with Heed sports drink, which comes as a powder. I mixed it in water from a jug in the refrigerator. In other words, the contents of each bottle started off as cold as possible.
On the bike, when I needed a drink I sipped from each bottle equally and consecutively so the contents would remain equal. By shaking the bottles I could judge how much ice remained and when it had completely melted. I used the lap timer on my Garmin cyclecomputer to mark when each bottle’s contents became entirely liquid.
The results were remarkably consistent. No matter if the temperature was in the mid 70s or high 80s (24-32C), the Chill bottle’s ice was gone at about 2 1/4 hours. The Ice bottle’s ice always lasted 60-75 minutes longer. Not twice as long as Camelbak indicates, but more like a 50% improvement.
Significantly, though, once all the ice is gone, the Ice bottle keeps the remaining liquid cold longer. In one test, at the end of 4 hours at about 80 degrees (27C), the final 2 swallows from the Ice bottle were still cool. The Chill bottle lets unfrozen contents rise to the ambient temper relatively quickly. In this sense, Camelbak’s Ice claim — twice as effective as the Chill — is pretty accurate.
In a test variation on a partly sunny 85-degree (29C) day, I filled each bottle with refrigerated water but no ice. I sipped alternately for the next 90 minutes. The water in the Ice bottle was always noticeably cooler than the water in the Chill bottle.
And just for kicks on a sunny day in the 80s, I rode with an Ice bottle and a standard, uninsulated Camelbak Podium bottle. In the former the ice lasted for 3 hours. In the plain bottle it was gone in 1 hour and the sports drink’s temperature quickly became unappealingly warm. We all know what that’s like.
The Ice bottle’s lofty price will be an issue for some riders. But what are cold drinks worth on long, hot rides? For this tester, the Ice’s performance is worth the money.
Camelbak’s Jet Stream nozzle and screw cap are great in one regard — very few drips so there’s less sticky sports drink getting on the bike. If you haven’t used a Camelbak bottle, there’s no plunger to open and close. Just squeeze the bottle for an amplesteam of fluid, then the nozzle closes internally. It can even be completely shut off when carrying a bottle in a travel bag or backpack, preventing spills caused by accidental squeezes.
The nozzle’s major drawback is the eventual spawning of mold — or whatever that dark stuff is between the parts. It doesn’t happen in my wife’s Chill bottles because she uses just water. But it’s always been a problem for my sports drink-containing Podium bottles even though I flush the nozzle with hot water after every ride. The nozzle’s clear pliable cover can be pried off for cleaning but even then it’s not easy to remove all the spooge. The Camelbak spokesman at Interbike said a simpler nozzle design was coming, but it didn’t happen for the Ice bottle.
A minor nozzle drawback: Because it doesn’t have a lip, it can be hard to hold a Camelbak bottle with teeth when switching cages. And that’s when the bottle is empty. If it’s heavy with fluid, chances of dropping it are greater.
Finally, the Ice bottle’s capacity is too small. The insulation is remarkably effective at keeping fluids cold longer, so why not a taller size? At 610 ml (20.6 oz) the current version holds just a couple of swallows more than the standard-size water bottle that’s been around for decades. A rider needs more fluids on hot rides, so the Ice bottle should be offered in a size that allows more to be carried.
My pair of Podium Chill bottles shows no significant wear and no decrease in insulating ability after 2 years of use. There’s no reason to expect that the Ice bottle won’t be as durable. This prospective longevity, plus its overall superior performance, makes the $20 price reasonable, in my book. As the Ice bottle becomes more widely available, some retailers are bound to sell it for less.
Kudos to Camelbak for helping make hot-weather cycling better.