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Reviews > Hydration Systems > Bottles > Blue Desert SmarTube > Test Report by Ernie Elkins

BlueDesert SmarTube
Drinking System for Bottles

Test Series by Ernie Elkins

Initial Report: October 4, 2007
Field Report: January 7, 2008
Long Term Report: February 19, 2008


Personal Information

Name: Ernie Elkins
Age: 34
Gender: Male
Height: 5'9" (1.75 m)
Weight: 130 lb (59 kg)
E-Mail Address: ernie.elkins@yahoo.com
City, State, Country: Denver, North Carolina, USA

Background

I've been an avid hiker and backpacker since the late 80s. I try to get out at least once a month, and most of my trips are two to three days in duration. I prefer solitude, so I usually hike alone. I also prefer a light and simple gear kit -- my base pack weight (excluding consumables) averages about 8 lb (3.6 kg) in summer and 12 lb (5.4 kg) in winter. I usually rely on a tarp and/or bivy for shelter.


Product PhotoProduct Specifications

Manufacturer: BlueDesert
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturerís Website: www.bluedesert.co.il
Listed Weight: N/A
Weight as Delivered: 2.4 oz/68 g (w/ one cap)
MSRP: N/A

Product Description

According to the ad copy on the package, BlueDesert's SmarTube is ďa new hydration system with special caps, tube and mouthpieceĒ that ďallows you a hygienic and convenient drink from any standard water bottle during activity.Ē The package that I received includes a 40 in (1 m) hydration tube with protective spring, a bite valve with a straight connector, a grip clip tube holder, a Velcro strap, a one-direction valve, and three caps (63 mm, 30 mm, 28 mm). The 28 and 30 mm caps are designed to fit standard PET water bottles; the 63 mm cap fits a variety of other bottles, including Nalgene Wide Mouth, Camelbak, and bike bottles.

Individual ComponentsInitial Observations

Although brief, the SmarTubeís usage and cleaning instructions are straightforward and easy to follow. BlueDesert also provides several clear and informative pictures on both the package and enclosed instruction sheet that identify the included components and illustrate the steps necessary for switching caps.

So far, Iíve successfully attached the provided caps to a Platypus bottle (28 mm) and a Nalgene bike bottle (63 mm). In both cases, the cap fit snugly and securely, and the tube and one-direction valve were easy to switch between caps. I didnít have any luck with the two brands of bottled water that I had on hand. I fully expected the 28 mm cap to fit the bottle from Deer Park brand water, but it proved to be too large. Both the 28 and 30 mm caps were too small to fit a Le-Nature brand bottle.

I also did a quick test fit on my backpack: I attached the cap and tube to my Platypus bottle, inserted the bottle into my backpackís side pocket, and attached the tube to my packís shoulder strap with the Velcro strap and to my shirt with the grip clip tube holder. The process was quick and easy, and I didnít encounter any problems along the way.

Test Plan

In the coming months, Iíll use the SmarTube while hiking and backpacking in western North Carolina. My plan is to use it primarily with standard PET bottles (assuming that I can find a brand that works with either the 28 or 30 mm caps) and my Platypus bottle, both of which Iíll carry in my backpackís side pocket. My goal will be to evaluate the SmarTubeís overall performance, including its ease of use while active, its durability and reliability, and the steps that are necessary to keep it clean and in good working order.

Summary

My initial impression of the SmarTube is positive Ė the instructions are straightforward and easy to follow, the parts are easy to interchange, and the 28 mm cap fits the Platypus bottle that I use most frequently. Nonetheless, the fact that the provided caps fit neither the Deer Park nor Le-Nature bottles that I have on hand is a concern. After all, the systemís compatibility with standard PET bottles is one of the SmarTubeís major selling points.

This concludes my initial report. My next step will be to put the SmarTube to use on the trail, so be sure to check back in mid November for my field report.


Field Report
January 7, 2008

Test Locations and Conditions

During the field testing period, Iíve used the SmarTube on five day hikes in four North and South Carolina state parks: Lake Norman State Park, South Mountains State Park, Crowderís Mountain State Park, and Kingís Mountain State Park. Elevations ranged from about 600 feet (183 m) at Lake Norman to about 3,000 feet (914 m) at South Mountains, and the trails at all four locations were well established and offered relatively even footing. Iíve also used the SmarTube while riding my mountain bike on neighborhood streets and trails. Weather conditions have been dry and relatively mild: morning lows have ranged from the mid 30ís F (1 to 2.5 C) to the upper 40ís F (8-9.5 C) and afternoon highs have been in the upper 50ís (13.5-15 C) and lower 60ís F (16-17.5 C).

Observations

With the exception of two problems that Iíll address below, my experience with the SmarTube has been overwhelmingly positive so far. I havenít used drinking tubes in the past, but Iíve quickly become a convert thanks to the SmarTubeís convenience and performance.

My favorite bottle for use with the SmarTube has been my two-liter Platypus, which the 28 mm cap fits perfectly. Since I tend to drink at least a liter and half in a typical day, I prefer the convenience of not having to switch between smaller bottles as I empty one and move to the next. Nonetheless, unless I need to change caps, switching between bottles is fast and easy.

My usual setup is to place the Platypus against a foam pad that serves as the back panel of my Golite Ion daypack and to then pack all of my other gear around it. I run the SmarTube through the hydration tube port at the top of the pack, slip it under the tube loop near the top of my shoulder strap, and then attach it to my packís sternum strap with the tube clip. I donít have to disturb this setup for the remainder of the day, and a quick drink of water is only inches away from my mouth.

SmarTube in Use

Iíve settled on attaching the tube clip to my packís sternum strap because I havenít had a lot of success attaching it to my clothing. On my first outing I attached it to one side of the zipper track on a fleece pullover. It held securely, but it proved to be very difficult to remove at the end of the day. Iíve also attempted to attach it to my silkweight crew top with no success Ė the fabric is too thin, even when doubled over, for the clip to hold. The sternum strap works well enough, though, and it has the advantage of allowing me to remove my pack without having to unclip the tube.

The only other noteworthy problem that Iíve encountered relates to the compatibility of the SmarTubeís included caps. Iíve now tried to use the 28 mm and 30 mm caps with a total of five brands of bottled water Ė Deer Park, Le Nature, Spring!, Nestle, and Harris Teeter (a grocery store brand). As I mentioned in my initial report, neither Deer Park nor Le Nature were compatible with the included caps. Unfortunately, I found the same to be true of the Harris Teeter and Nestle bottles, both of which appear to use the same cap size as Deer Park. Spring! is the one exception: I found that the 30 mm cap fits it snugly.

Other than these two complaints, Iíve been happy with all other facets of the SmarTubeís performance. Most importantly, Iíve had no problem with water flow: the bite valve is as easy to use as the name implies (just bite and suck), the flow rate is generous enough to be satisfying, and itís easy to suck water through the tube (thanks, I assume, to the design of the one-direction valve). The SmarTube has also proven to be leak free, both at the bite valve and at the cap, even when the bottle to which itís attached is on its side in my pack. I did notice a plastic taste to my water when using it for the first time, but that taste has faded with subsequent use. Finally, the SmarTube has been problem-free in terms of durability, and cleaning has proven to be a snap Ė I just let the tube air dry and then put it away.

Summary

Although my problems with the tube clip and cap sizing are noteworthy, theyíve definitely been overshadowed by the SmarTubeís strengths: ease of use, satisfying flow rate, leak free design, etc. Iíll continue to test the SmarTube in coming weeks, and Iíll report my final conclusion in mid-February. Please check back then for my Long Term Report.


Long Term Report
February 19, 2008

Test Locations and Conditions

Since posting my field report in early January, Iíve used BlueDesertís SmarTube on one additional day hike in Lake Norman State Park and one overnight backpacking trip in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. The weather for the day trip was pleasant and mild, with temperatures in the upper 50ís F (13.5 to 15 C). I hiked in temps ranging from the lower 20ís F (-6 to Ė4.5 C) to the lower 50ís F (10.5 to 12 C) while at Linville Gorge, although the high on day two of my trip didnít climb beyond the mid 30ís (1 to 2 C).

Observations

Iíve used the SmarTube exclusively with my Platypus bottle over the last six weeks, and Iíve continued to be very happy with how the combination performs in the field. However, I have made one minor change to how I use the SmarTube: rather than attach the tube clip to my sternum strap, as I did during the field test period, Iíve found that I prefer to leave the tube clip off entirely.

I settled on the former method after having trouble attaching the clip to my clothing. This worked reasonably well, but, because the tube is just barely long enough to reach my mouth when clipped to the strap, I found that I had to take care not to inadvertently dislodge the clip. In order to compensate for this, I tended to duck my head slightly and take my eyes off the trail when I wanted a drink. On one occasion when I did accidentally pull the clip free, I didnít bother to reattach it Ė thatís when I discovered that the tube clip really wasnít necessary at all. Instead, I slip the tube through the loop on my packís shoulder strap and let it dangle in front of me. When I want a drink, I simply lift it to my mouth. This allows me to drink more comfortably and safely while moving.

I did encounter one small but recurring problem with the SmarTube during this final phase of the test: I noticed a small amount of dripping from the bite valve on several occasions. The first occasion was on the afternoon of my second day at Linville Gorge, when water dripping from the bite valve froze on my shoulder strap. At the time, I wondered if ice forming in the bite valve might have opened it enough to allow a leak, but two further incidents on my trip to Lake Norman State Park dispelled that theory. Nonetheless, the drips are few and far between, so they havenít added up to much prior to catching my attention. Once Iím aware of the leak, I open and reseal the valve, which seems to take care of the problem.

I also made a somewhat obvious discovery Ė if I expect the temperature to dip below freezing overnight, I should drain the tube before going to sleep. I failed to do this at Linville Gorge, so the next morning, the tube and bite valve were plugged by ice. It took several hours for it thaw, so thatís not a mistake Iíll repeat.

Summary

Over the last four months, Iíve been very impressed with the performance of BlueDesertís SmarTube, especially with regard to its ease of use. Iíve also been pleased with how well it mates with my water container of choice, a 2 Liter Platypus bottle. Unfortunately, though, it hasnít proven to be as compatible with commonly available bottled waters as the manufacturer claimed. This failing aside, itís proven to be a pleasure to use, and I intend to continue using the SmarTube on future outings. I will, of course, be monitoring the bite valve for dripping, but, as long as the problem doesnít grow worse, itís not a serious concern for me.



Read more reviews of Blue Desert gear
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Reviews > Hydration Systems > Bottles > Blue Desert SmarTube > Test Report by Ernie Elkins



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