While many trail runners default to using a hydration pack with a bladder for their hydration requirements, mostly as these are the most widely available option and provides space for extra gear to be stored, there is still a place for the good old water bottle in the modern trail runner’s arsenal.

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Initial impressions
When I first saw the CamelBak Podium Chill bottles in the store, I was obviously sceptical if they were worth the large premium in price over normal water bottles. A water bottle is a water bottle. Or is it?

Looking at the tag attached to the CamelBak Podium Chill bottle, its list of features was highlighted and I quickly realised that there was more to this bottle than just fancy looks. I was initially attracted to the CamelBak Podium Chill bottle for its added insulation; but I quickly learnt that it’s a properly constructed, insulated, anti-bacterial, chemical free, leak-proof bottle with a special lockable “Jet” valve instead of the normal pull/push type valve found on most ordinary bottles.

The construction of the whole CamelBak Podium Chill bottle speaks of its quality. The seams are well joined and sealed, while the well-placed insulation stays intact and in place between the two layers of the bottle. The CamelBak logos are printed consistently and neatly on the exterior of the bottle without any smudging and in a variety of colours, so you can colour-coordinate your bottles with the rest of your kit and look fast too!

The CamelBak Podium Chill bottle has a long list of features that sets it apart from other “normal” water bottles used in trail running. The two main features are the Double-wall construction and the Jet Valve™. The Double-wall construction consists of an inner and outer plastic layer with a layer of insulating foam sandwiched between them. The foam is encased in a foil covering, which besides being more pleasant aesthetically, also serves to reflect light and thus heat from the bottle’s exterior. Lastly with the two layers there is also air trapped between them, which serves as the 3rd and final part of the CamelBak Podium Chill bottle’s insulation. These three functions work in unison and aim to keep water cold twice as long as regular sport bottles. This construction and insulation delivers a lightweight, easy to squeeze bottle. While it is unlikely to be used in such a manner in our generally mild climate, the insulation also keeps warm beverages like tea warm during cool weather rides.

The Jet Valve™ is unique in that it is always open but always closed at the same time. It is a self-sealing valve, similar to that found in the CamelBak bite valves, but differs in that it can be either sucked on or the CamelBak Podium Chill bottle itself squeezed to dispense liquid. Thus one does not have to open and close the bottle each time one wants to take a drink, it is always ready to use when you need it. In the same way it can also be “locked” to ensure no liquid can get out, which is handy when storing the CamelBak Podium Chill bottle while traveling. The rubber mouthpiece of the valve can also be removed to facilitate easy cleaning, which is especially useful when using sports drinks that contain sugars that can cause mouldy growth on bottle mouthpieces that are traditionally difficult to clean.

The CamelBak Podium Chill bottle is made from 100% BPA-Free TruTaste™ polypropylene which means that the bottle does not impart any taste to the liquids inside it, unlike some bottles that can add a “plasticky” taste to your drink. It is also coated with their HydroGuard™ coating, which inhibits the growth of mould and bacteria on the internal surface of the bottle, especially useful for multi-day events where cleaning one’s bottles properly may not be entirely possible, as well as when using sports drinks containing sugars and protein.

The CamelBak Podium Chill bottle also features a wide mouth opening, making it easy to fill with ice and add powder to mix sports drinks as well as providing a wide opening for easy cleaning. The lid on the Camelbak Podium Chill bottle also features a pattern on its sides to make opening and closing the lid with wet and tired hands easier.

The South African summer is unrelenting and has produced quite a few scorching days already that have allowed me to put the CamelBak Podium Chill bottle through its paces.

It’s hard to quantify the actual improvement in terms of how much longer the liquid in the CamelBak Podium Chill bottles stay cool for, but I can safely say that they do work very well. Where a normal bottle would have produced a luke-warm drink, the CamelBak Podium Chill bottle still provided me with cool fluid after 2 hours of trail running in the heat and after that it tends to keep the fluid at a stable room temperature, preventing it from becoming warm like most other bottles and bladders especially. This was done while carrying the bottles against my body in my pack, so the CamelBak Podium Chill bottle also helps to prevent your own natural body heat from raising the temperature of the fluids.

In my testing I put the empty CamelBak Podium Chill bottles in the freezer overnight and then proceed to fill them with cold water from the fridge before mixing my sports drinks. This worked well for me as I could start sipping from the bottles from the start of my long runs. One can obviously freeze the bottles with the fluid inside already, but I found the hard bottles uncomfortable to wear in my pack as they could not deform to take the shape of my chest. If you like to hand hold your bottles with a hand grip bottle holster type contraption, then this may work well for you as the extra heat generated from your hand will be off-set by the frozen fluid. There will also be less sloshing which is always a bonus.

The Jet Valve™ locks and unlocks easily and securely, so I never wondered if I had locked the CamelBak Podium Chill bottle or not and it hasn’t leaked on me yet, so I really trust it. Nothing worse than finding your gear inside your bag full of wet and sticky liquid! The cap also screws and unscrews easily and securely without effort, stripping the threads or going on skew. The Jet Valve™ itself works a treat and always disperses the right amount of fluid in an even and consistent stream, whether I sucked or squeezed on the bottle. I have never had it leak, clog or jam either. My only gripe is that sometimes when I did cross terrain that was very rough and the bottles were full, they could spurt out the occasional burst of liquid when the Jet Valve™’s threshold was surpassed by the inertia of the liquid. If that happens you can just lock the bottle. The great thing about the Jet Valve™ is that for those that like to use a fizzy drink like Coca-Cola and water, they can leave the valve open to drink and it will let the carbonated gas escape while not spilling half of the content like regular bottles would.

The TruTaste™ and HydroGuard™ features worked really well for me too. Being lazy I had left a few of my CamelBak Podium Chill bottles closed after using them with both water and a sports drink. Normally that would result in a pretty funky, science experiment like situation where you’re the inside of you bottles look like Petri dishes. While there was a slight bit of gaseous build up, there wasn’t any growth inside the bottles and they were like new again after a thorough scrubbing. The sports drink smell does linger inside the bottles, but it does not affect the taste of any liquid put in there in any way.

In the long run the CamelBak Podium Chill bottles have really lasted well. No seams have split, they don’t leak and the graphics remain mostly intact even after multiple scrubbings. Even dropping the bottles a fair few times have done nothing it halt their stellar performance.

While the HydroGuard™ coating does go a long way to prevent a build-up of bacteria and mould on the inside of the CamelBak Podium Chill bottle, one still needs to take proper care of the bottle as the coating does wear off over time with cleaning and normal use. Investing in a proper bottle brush to clean the bottle inside or out is the first step to caring for your CamelBak Podium Chill bottle. The Jet Valve™ also needs cleaning, which is best done with a thin pipe cleaner type brush to get into the little nooks and crannies present in the valve. This can be combined with periodically cleaning the bottle with an effervescent type tablet like those used to clean hydration bladders, that will ensure any foreign growth, taste and odour is thoroughly removed from the bottle. The silicone mouth piece can also be twisted to remove it when cleaning and allows access to the Jet Valve™ to properly clean that as well.

If you prefer bottles over bladders or do most of your training and racing in hot conditions, then the CamelBak Podium Chill bottle is definitely worth a look. It keeps drinks cools and palatable for much longer than normal bottles, leading to more effective fuelling and hydration.

With its advanced HydroGuard™ coating it is well suited to multi-day races where proper cleaning is not always possible as well as helping to reduce fatigue in long trail runs with the easy to use, always-on Jet Valve™.

Where to buy
The CamelBak Podium Chill bottle is available at most major sporting goods retailers for a RRP of R149.95, in blue, green, red and pink colour ways. A larger 750ml Podium Big Chill bottle is also available for those seeking a larger capacity bottle for longer usage between refills.

Review by Luan van Schalkwyk
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