Hydrate or Die | The Story of Camelbak

March 22nd, 2016

By Andrew Dodd in Features

Hydrate or Die – how an Intravenous bag changed everything…

Most mountain bikers these days use hydration bags of some kind, to hold water and basic supplies for riding. More often than not they’re referred to as Camelbak’s – regardless of the brand.

The Camelbak is one of those products that’s so simple and brilliant, that it became an over night success and kick started a whole market.

Before the Camelbak, it was just water bottles, roadie jerseys and saddle bags crammed full of tools and tubes…

Hydrate or Die

What Michael Eidson did way back in 1989, was create a product so universally good that it also became the name used to define the whole category.

Born from Thirst

Back in 1988, a cyclist by the name of Michael Eidson was competing in a 100mile road race in Texas, called the ‘Hotter’n’Hell’. A race of this length in the searing summer heat can be seriously dangerous without staying hydrated.  With feed stations far apart, the forward thinking medical technician came up with a plan…

Taking a stock intravenous bag (the kind suspended above you in hospital, with a drip), he filled it with water and shoved it in a tube sock. He then stuffed it in his rear jersey pocket and ran the thin hose over his shoulder, and fastened it to his jersey with a clothes pin.

Michael was able to hold more water, and drink whilst pedalling – whilst other riders continued glugging from water bottles with raised eyebrows. But the concept was born – hands free hydration. The Hydrate or Die moniker was born.

Hydrate or Die

These early print adverts for Camelbak show how simple the early design was. It’s a classic – and a truly iconic product.

Hydrate or Die

Hydrate or Die – a brilliant idea born from the necessity of carrying more water.

Getting to market | Hydrate or Die

With the idea proven, the company was born in 1989 and given the name Camelbak. The first product was known as the Thermalpak and it featured a 2litre bladder made from food grade PVC plastic, and had a simple hose with the unique bite valve that still has the same design.

Hydrate or Die

This is a modern Bite Valve from a Camelbak – other than the yellow locking flow valve, it’s the same design as the original. This particular bladder is fitted on a re-issue of the original bag that we blagged from Camelbak.


The pack itself was made from an insulated neoprene style fabric, and had two simple shoulder straps with quick release buckles. A sternum strap was separately available to stop waggle – although you could get around this by crossing the straps across your chest instead of wearing it like a ruck sack.

The Icebak was launched soon after and had a thin nylon material on the back face, which allowed the cool water to cool your body – though it would also warm with your core temperature if you weren’t fast enough to drink it!

Hydrate or Die

The Camelbak marketing campaigns were simple, and effective – though this particular advert doesn’t bear the classic Hydrate or Die slogan.

Death of the Waterbottle

Seemingly overnight, there was a flood of Camelbaks at the races as their popularity grew immensely fast. In an era when bikes were being built as light as possible they became the number 1 product for weight weenies, as you could also stuff an inner tube and multitool in too.  The water bottle quickly died a death.

Development of the pack didn’t take long, and although other brands started developing their own packs – Camelbak had the market and their products were far superior.

Hydrate or Die

The Camelbak Kudo is an all-singing-and-dancing hydration pack featuring a 3 litre bladder, Impact Back Protector and excellently positioned straps and pockets for ease of use. It’s possible to carry a heavy load with a pack like this, but not overly affect your riding.

Today, hydration packs are far more advanced and have features such as back protectors; helmet carrying capabilities and tool compartments – but there’s still something very pleasing about the simplicity of the early packs, and it’s something we’re seeing more of now with lighter, simplified packs.

The bum-bag is making a come back, and with the low weight and reliability of bikes we are also seeing a resurgence of the water bottle for shorter rides – like the cage less design from Fabric

But remember that the riding pack you use now, is all thanks to one man on a road bike with an IV bag and a sock.

Brilliant stuff.


Do you remember the first Camelbaks? 

Have you still got an original?

Let us know in the comments below!




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