Gadget or Gimmick: CamelBak Flow Meter

Back a while ago I ordered the CamelBak Flow Meter (with my own money).  This nifty little $30 gadget is designed to sit inline on your existing CamelBak drinking straw/tube and measure how much you consume.  It’ll also tell you how much is remaining in the reservoir, and your hourly rate of consumption.

However, with the reviews heavily mixed I was curious to see if it would do what it was designed to do, or it it would be nothing more than just a gimmick.

First up though, a couple of quick pics of what’s included.  The packaging largely shows you just about everything that you’ll need, the only hidden item is the manual:

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The manual is surprisingly long for such a simple device, but once you get into it you’ll find there are actually a fair number more features than just water consumed (such as hourly rates, etc…) – so that’s somewhat explainable.

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The installation is pretty straight forward.  First you remove remove a small slip of plastic in the CR2032 coin cell battery compartment, which keeps the battery fresh during it’s retail shelf time.  Then from there you’ll place the full unit inline the existing tubing on your CamelBak.  This will require a pair of scissors, and they recommend you slightly shorten the length of cable.  This is because otherwise it’ll be a few inches longer than before, once the unit is installed.

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Once it’s all installed I figured it was time to measure precisely how much water I would be putting in the tank.  For some reason I always thought this was a 52 or 56oz CamelBak that I had – but turns out, it’s only 38oz.  So, my measurements include a bit of math: How much I thought I was going to put in, how much was remaining, and how much I spilled.

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So all in I started off with 38oz of water (+/- 1oz).  You’ll go ahead and configure this on the Flow Meter, that way it can advise you of the remaining hydration.

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With that, I was set for my long run.  I simply put the CamelBak on just like normal, and placed the tube in it’s usual location semi-threaded through the strap.  I know the fancier models have magnets and stuff, but I’m kinda simple when it comes to hydration.

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A few miles later I went for my first drink.  And as expected the unit showed I was successfully drinking – good deal!  More miles later and it was still showing consumption was occurring:

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I was slightly surprised that I had to drink more than I thought to get it to ring what I figured the ounce measurements were – based on years of refining how much I would drink.

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The drink and watch system would continue for the rest of the run.  Eventually about a mile from the end of the run I ran out of water.  I found this slightly puzzling since the unit said I still had about 25% left (8oz) in the reservoir.  I figured that perhaps there was some in there I just couldn’t quite get out.  I decided that I’d wait until home to investigate if there was indeed any water left in the unit.

Here’s the after pic showing total water consumed:

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Once I got home I went ahead and opened up the CamelBak to see if there was any water left.  There was not.  It was sucked completely dry. Thus, despite showing I had another 9 ounces to go (38oz minus 29oz = 9oz), there was nothing left in the tank.

My experience of being short was in line with others showing similar results  In fact, the Amazon reviews generally say the same thing, as did just about every other review I could find on it.  Some folks speculate that it requires stronger sucking in order to get it to measure correctly.  Perhaps I don’t suck hard enough.

For fun, I went ahead and did a few tests at home where I sucked harder, and as strong as I could to try and empty it (fear not, I spit back out the 38oz of water and didn’t swallow).  Just like…uhh…wine tasting.

When I did this I found that it actually measured even worse.  In fact, I barely registered half of the water I placed in it (I put in slightly more this time at 40oz, and it came out at 21oz).

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What’s too bad here is that this is semi-cool technology.  However, I think what would take it from ‘so-so cool’ to ‘really damn cool’ is if it:

A) Actually worked…
B) Integrated via ANT+ to push hydration information to any ANT+ device, like a Garmin Forerunner or similar.  It would be awesome to see on long rides/runs how much hydration I was getting, coupled with temperature and how I faired.  I think given enough data you could actually start to make some educated guesses as to hydration requirements for a given individual at a given heat/humidity level.  There was some chatting about this sort of thing last year at the ANT+ Symposium, but no action that I’ve seen yet.
C) Could be combined data wise with ANT+ skin sensors that are being developed to start developing a more comprehensive picture of an athletes body condition

In the meantime, since I cut my CamelBak straw already to make it fit, it’ll remain in there.  Perhaps I’ll just get better at sucking and it’ll work better.  Or perhaps it’ll never work better and always remain as a reminder of what could be…but isn’t.

If you’ve got the CamelBak Flow Meter – I’d love to hear about your experiences below.  Thanks for reading!

Finally, if you’re looking for recommendations on specific CamelBak’s or Hydration Packs, check out Donald from Running and Rambling.  He was one of the very first blogs I followed years back, and he knows just about everything there is to know about hydration packs (he’s from an Ultrarunning background).  He did a series a while ago on exactly these types of hydration systems, here’s the packs from that.

(Note: I purchased the CamelBak Flow Meter with my own dough.  CamelBak has no idea who I am, and I don’t know anybody there. The Flow Meter was merely a curiosity that I wanted to check out just like every other person out there.)

(Secondary Note: I’m currently away on my honeymoon, but due to the magic of automated publishing, you’ll be enjoying content in the meantime.  Thanks for reading!)

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16 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    If you are going to start doing a Gadget or Gimmick section, I would like to see your thoughts on ‘Expand a Lung” and see if it actually helps your times.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Hey Ray, you should consider doing a review on Camelbak hydration packs! Theres so many, how should one pick one that suits THEIR needs? Does the pack bounce during the run? does it feel cluncky and weird?

    Im Currently in limbo between the Camelbak Octane LR 2011 which has some weird new water pouch style. Or the Camelbak Octane XCT 2011.

    Reply
  3. i am very glad that you wrote about this “toy”. I was thinking about getting one, but am glad that I didn’t. I would of thought that with water in the turbine and it bouncing around it would read that you drank more then what was in the container.

    Reply
  4. Hallo Ray.

    I was a little bit surprised that there is no review of your CamelBak hydration pack.

    I would love to hear your thoughts about it, how are you using it, which one you have and if you have tried / used some other ones.

    I’m planning to buy one myself in the near future for my running. I think this would be interesting for others as well.

    Reply
  5. that sucks! ;-)

    Reply
  6. Thanks for reviewing this, it might actually be useful for me to have something like this. I use a camelbak for hiking and I found I was drinking continuously with the straw being right thre in front of me, probably drinking TOO much water.

    Reply
  7. Oh, just read in more detail (sorry, there is a ton of background noise where I am, plus its 8:15 AM so brain hasn’t woken up yet. ) :-P

    Reply
  8. First off: Congrats! :)

    Second: Thanks for checking this out. I was contemplating getting one, but I guess I will wait until an upgrade comes along

    Reply
  9. Mike

    If this is consistently wrong you could compensate with a little math.

    For example by telling it you have 9oz less than you really have, it should read zero as you finished the liquid (in theory).

    If it just sucks at suck measuruing (which it seems to) this would not help, but if it is largely a calibration problem, then a plus or minus or % adjustment could make it useful.

    Just a thought.
    Mike

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    Any estimate as to how much water was remaining in the drinking tube when the reservoir was empty?

    Reply
  11. Nice work, as always, and I hope your honeymoon is is going well!

    An alternate approach to checking the meter with water volume is to weigh the camelbak before and after drinking through the tube. Since you know the density of water (1 g/cm³ to decent approximation) you can calculate how many ml of water have been removed = change in grams in the total weight of the bladder contents.

    Reply
  12. For those looking for a suggestion of which pack, the site Ray linked to was really quite good I thought:

    link to runningandrambling.com

    Reply
  13. added a link to this post on their product page:

    link to camelbak.com

    under “post a review”

    tee hee…

    Reply
  14. I used mine this weekend, on a 72 oz camelback that I over-filled to 78, and it was off by only 2oz at the end. I think if you take lots of small sips, it works better. The instructions are definitely awkward, and I had to email Camelbak to get a PDF of them, but I did have some good success. I also set it at 48oz/hr, and it was definitely accurate enough to remind me to catch up or slow down. I think my biggest issue was that when you put the tube on the left shoulder, the thing reads inverted. Also, if you touch any of the buttons when riding, it can confuse you or send you into uncharted territory, which then leaves it sort of useless.

    With the Texas Heat Wave upon us, I’ll be using this every time I go out.

    Reply
  15. Jesse

    I bought it also and will be returning it since it kept saying I consumed water when I never took a sip. Then it work correctly, then it wouldnt. I need products that work when running ultras

    Reply
  16. gilad

    is there any other equipment like this?

    Reply

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