By Jenn K.
There are times on the trail when I wonder how much I am drinking, or how much water is in my pack. If I knew exactly how much water I had remaining I think I could better plan when I needed to refill, or I would determine if I could skip refilling at a water source. Knowing how much water I had would also allow me to drink more water at times when I find myself being afraid to drink because I may run out.
Camelbak has designed a new product called the Flow Meter. This is an electronic device that fits to any sized Camelbak hydration reservoir tube and can be programmed to display how much fluid is consumed and how much is remaining. It also calculates the time to empty based on the drinking rate and has a personal hydration goal that I can program to indicate how much fluid I want to drink per hour. The Flow Meter is marketed as being water-resistant and should not be submerged in water.
I personally think the Flow Meter is kind of big, and I wonder if it will get in my way while mountain biking. Maybe I just need to get used to it. The Flow Meter measures at just over 2.5 inches long and the display screen is just over 1.5 inches long. The numbers on the display are large enough to read without my glasses. I will have to see if I can read the screen while riding my bike when I can only look away from the trail for a second or two.
The Flow Meter comes with a battery, thank goodness. I know I do not like to get an electronic device and then have to go shopping for batteries.
It has two pieces: the display unit and the fluid sensor (attaches to the tube). The display unit easily snaps on and off the fluid sensor in either direction. I like the idea that the display unit can be removed because I like to chill my water before my rides. If I like this product, it would be nice to purchase just the fluid sensors so that I can switch the display unit easily between multiple sized reservoirs, without having to purchase an entire Flow Meter. The unit has two buttons: a mode button and a reset button, pretty simple.
I was able to easily install the Flow Meter on the drinking tube of my 72 oz. Camelbak hydration reservoir. This is the reservoir I use the most on my mountain biking rides and for hiking. The instructions were very clear on the installation. Here is a tip: The Flow Meter must be installed correctly with the “flow arrow” pointing towards the bite valve.
The initial programming was easy; there is a simple set-up and an advanced set-up (to track personal hydration goals). For the simple set-up I selected oz. for my fluid measurement unit, and then entered my reservoir volume. I decided to go ahead and program the Flow Meter using the advanced format, since I am interested in meeting my hydration goal. I entered my fluid measurement of ounces, my reservoir volume, my weight, and how many ounces I want to drink per hour.
I wanted to play around with the Flow Meter on a mountain bike ride to see how it worked. I did not get into measuring the volume to see if it is accurate. That will be in a later update. I toggled between the screens to view my amount consumed, elapsed time since setting it up, my hourly personal hydration goal, amount to drink to get to my goal per hour, amount remaining/total volume, and the estimated time until I am empty. The Flow Meter seemed to be working O.K. since there were data in the fields.
Some Additional Features:
The Flow Meter can be paused during a rest break or when I do not want the time to count towards my hydration goal. This is done with just a press of the reset button.
The device runs for 24-hours before going to sleep. I personally think this is a long time. Maybe just a regular on/off setting would be the ticket, then I could turn the Flow Meter off when I wanted to. But, for now I can just “pause” the Flow Meter and the elapsed time will stop.
The device can be reset in a few different ways. A complete reset should be done if the unit is not used for a few days or to erase the previous data. The volume can be reset, say when the reservoir is refilled without completing a total reset. Also the unit of measure and the personal hydration goal can be changed without doing a total reset.
Come back again in about a month to see how I am doing with the Flow Meter. Hopefully I am better at meeting my hydration goals while hiking and mountain biking. I use a hydration pack at least three days a week while mountain biking, so I will be getting plenty of use out of the Flow Meter.
Camelbak Flow Meter Update (February 17, 2010)
For the past month I have used the Camelbak Flow Meter on a one night bikepacking trip, day-hiking, and while mountain biking. Primarily it was used while mountain biking. By having the Flow Meter attached to my Camelback I thought I would drink more. And at times I actually did. This is mostly because I was interested in seeing how accurate it was and to meet my personal hydration goal.
While hiking I can easily walk and still toggle through the screens of the Flow Meter with the push of a single button. However, operating the Flow Meter is more difficult on my mountain bike. There are times I am comfortable looking at the screen while I am riding, and at other times I can not take my eyes off the trail. It would be nice if the Flow Meter had an audible alert when the personal hydration goal was not being met.
Another issue I have is there is no backlight on the device. So, I can not read it at night while mountain biking, without stopping and leaning over my handlebars to position the Flow Meter in front of my headlight. This issue may be alleviated if I wore a helmet light, however I do not have one. So, it is not an option for me to read the Flow Meter in the dark while I am riding.
I was able to pump filtered water into my Camelback using a Katadyn Vario Filter. Of course this is after I removed the bite valve. The water passed through the fluid sensor and the Flow Meter deducted water consumption. I found it important not to take this reading into any consideration of how much water I pumped through (and it is not intended to). As indicated in the instructions the Flow Meter needs to be reprogrammed to track the correct volume and water consumption.
I found the Flow Meter to be accurate by one ounce over several times. But, there are many times that the Flow Meter is just way off. During the most recent occurrence it was off by 20 oz. The instructions indicate that if the Flow Meter is reading low to suck firmly through the bite valve. I was riding at night and did not want to stop to check the Flow Meter’s data during my ride. If I would have been able to read the display in the dark, I would have been more likely to investigate the issue. I find that I am sucking though the bite valve with the same force as I have in the past without using the Flow Meter. Maybe I need to suck harder.
When sucking though the bite valve with the fluid sensor in place, I hear a spinning sound. This is the water passing through the fluid sensor. I am thinking in the future I need to pay more attention during my activities, to determine if I do not hear the sound of the water passing through.
I would like to know how to remove the fluid sensor off my tubing without cutting the tube. I just can not twist it off. I tried wetting it and pulling/twisting it with force. This creates a problem that I can not clean my tubing with my tube brush from the bite valve end, and my brush does not go though the end inside the reservoir. I can not blow air through the bite valve either to get the remaining water out with the fluid sensor in place. I now have to empty the reservoir and suck the remaining water out through the bite valve end. I can live with this to get most of the water out of the tubing, but I like to clean the tube with a brush every month or so.
I will continue to use the Flow Meter for the next month and attempt to see why all my intake volume is not recording. During this time I will be using it while hiking and backpacking. I also need to figure out how to get the fluid sensor out of the tube.
Camelbak Flow Meter Final Update (March 17, 2010)
Another month has gone by and this will be my final update on the Camelbak Flow Meter. During the past month the Flow Meter was used while mountain biking and day-hiking. Unfortunately I was unable to get a backpacking trip in this past month.
I have some good news about the Flow Meter. I found that if I sucked the bite valve harder than usual the consumed fluid volume was pretty much right on. In order for me to do this while mountain biking I have to think twice about it, because I generally just take sips. It was neat to finally be able to accurately track my water consumption and the amount of water remaining. But, if I do not suck harder than usual on the bite valve, the water volume consumed and volume remaining is inaccurate. One time the Flow Meter did not record anything after about using it for 45 minutes. This frustrated me!
I still have a hard time reading the Flow Meter while riding my mountain bike. There are too many hazards on the trail for me to read the screen. I can press the buttons, but focusing on the screen is an issue when I am trying to keep my balance and stay on the trail.
I am still mountain biking at night, and I have not changed my mind that a backlight would be handy. Because, at night I cannot see the Flow Meter screen since I do not wear a headlamp or a helmet light. And what is the purpose of me using the Flow Meter if I cannot read it.
My issue with cleaning the tube is almost resolved. I found that if I run hot water on the end of the hydration tube that travels from the fluid sensor to the reservoir it can be pulled apart. This allows me to clean my tubing with a brush. I also cleaned the bite valve end with a brush; by just removing the bite valve. This was easier than trying to remove the tubing from the fluid sensor. I noticed that some water stays inside the fluid sensor component. I hope I do not get mold!
I believe by having a recorded and measurable goal that I am actually drinking more by using the Flow Meter. But, I really do not know if the Flow Meter is for me and my activities. I have a hard time reading it while mountain biking and I can not view the screen at night. And to be honest I think that the worry of mold from the inability to dry the tube and clean it, easily combined with the sometimes accurate metering makes this more of a novelty than something I really need.
If you would like more information on the Flow Meter visit http://www.camelbak.com. The Flow Meter retails for $30.00.