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Reviews > Hydration Systems > Bottles > Blue Desert SmarTube > Test Report by Jamie DeBenedetto
SmarTube Hydration System
The BlueDesert SmarTube is a tubular hydration system for bottles. The concept is similar to hydration bladders or reservoir systems in that it employs a drinking tube with bite-valve to carry the water from the container to the user's mouth. The difference between bladders and the SmarTube is with the SmarTube users can place the tube into several different sizes and types of bottles. This is made possible by the various cap sizes the manufacturer offers with the system. The SmarTube I received is labeled as code SO937 on the manufacturer's website. It came with one drinking tube with protective spring, a straight mouthpiece connector with bite-valve, a grip clip tube holder, a Velcro strap and three caps of differing diameters. The caps in this package are 28 mm (1.1 in), 30 mm (1.18 in) and 63 mm (2.48 inch), which is designed to fit Nalgene wide mouth and OTG bottles, Camelbak Bottle, and standard wide mouth bike bottles. There are at least four other cap sizes that are sold separately. The caps all come with two holes, one for the drinking tube and one for the special One-Direction Valve. There was only one valve included with the package I received so it has to be switched from one cap to another when I change bottle sizes.
The SmarTube arrived on September 25th in straight from the factory condition. All components looked to be in good working order. In addition to the product information printed on the packaging the SmarTube came with a little four page informational brochure. The product is pretty straight forward and I found the concept behind how it works and what each piece does to be very intuitive. Still, the brochure does have a nice diagram illustrating the components and their uses and it offers this information in English as well as German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Dutch so even if it wasn't obvious the diagram makes it easy to figure out. Instructions for using the SmarTube and how to care for and clean it are also listed on this brochure, the later of which was particularly helpful.
The manufacturer's website is pretty thorough, right down to showing an example of the packaging so the product I received was pretty much exactly what I was expecting. I wasn't sure which caps they would send so that was a surprise but otherwise my expectations where completely met.
If I had to sum up my initial impressions of the SmarTube with one word I'd use, promising. Even though I own a few hydration reservoirs I really like using bottles when I hike. I trust them more with regard to punctures and they are easier to freeze and measure water in, having said that, I really miss the convenience of the hydration tube when I use bottles. I was happy to see someone come up with a way to merge the two ideas. The question is, will the SmarTube work as advertised and be a true solution for those of us that want our bottles and our drinking tube? This is what I will be testing over the next four months and I hope the system will work as it should.
The product BlueDesert sent has three different sizes of bottle caps so naturally
after taking everything out of the package and looking it over for defects, etc.
I began rummaging through my water bottle "collection" to see what I
have with those same size lids. I found several compatible bottles but I had
one weird discovery when I started replacing lids with the SmarTube caps to see
how they fit. It appears the smallest cap, the 28 mm (1.1 in), does not thread
into some of the smaller bottles I own. The cap fits over the opening and appears
to be the right size but it continues to spin when twisted and ultimately will
not tighten. This happened with both the Arrowhead brand and the Kirkland brand
Costco sells. The cap did work with an Aquafina bottle and a Platypus collapsible
tank though. Those were the only four brands I had in the house with that diameter
opening so I'm not sure what results I would get from other types. I will continue
to test the cap on other brands if I come across any.
The picture to the right is of some of the bottles that work with the caps included with the SmarTube. There are more not pictured but this gives an idea of how many options I have with this system.
My only concern right now is whether or not the tube will be long enough. All my packs have side compartments for bottles but they sit at different distances from my head. When placed into a 24 (710 ml) or 32 fl oz (1 L) container, several cm/inches of the tube have to be pushed down into the bottle to reach the bottom. This doesn't leave a great deal of tube left to run up my side and over my shoulder eventually ending up within reach of my mouth. This issue will likely the first I look into during my inaugural outing with the SmarTube drinking system.
This is the second of three reports; all opinions and observations in this section have been gathered after just over two months of using this item.
To date the Blue Desert SmarTube has been used on three extended day hikes and on numerous shorter ones. Here is a break down of the longer hike locations and a general idea of the conditions for the shorter treks.
Day hike through a lush forest in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness just outside Flagstaff, AZ, elevation 8,500 ft (2,600 m) up to 10, 500 ft (3,200 m). Temperatures reached a low of 39 F (3 C) with clear skies and very windy conditions.
Day hike through a sandy wash in Oro Valley north of Tucson, AZ, elevation 3,000 ft (900 m). Very clear and somewhat hot day, temperatures were in the upper 80's (31 C).
Day hike into Bear Sign Canyon in Sedona, AZ. The elevations ranged from 4,800 ft up to 5,200 ft (1,450 m to 1,600 m). Not sure of the temps, I'm guessing mid to upper 50's (14 C) for the low and at least 80 F (27 C) for the high. Clear and sunny weather through the whole day.
Multiple day/night hikes in the Sonoran Desert in and around Phoenix, AZ. The elevation on these trails fluctuates between about 1,500 ft (450 m) up to 2,100 ft (640 m). Temperatures ranged from the low 50's F (10 C) up to the low 80's F (28 F). Weather was a mixed bag of just about everything from calm up to mild thunderstorms, including light rain. Time hiking varied in length from one to four hours.
Before I begin with how the SmarTube has been performing I need to mention a little setback I had on my first outing. It turns out the bite valve I received was not properly made. The little slit where the water comes through was missing. I contacted customer service via email on October 9th and about a week later I received a message from the customer service manager telling me all they needed was my shipping address and they'd have a replacement sent to me right away. I received a new valve a few weeks after that. Considering the distance between Israel and Arizona I thought the time delay was reasonable.
While waiting for my replacement mouth piece to arrive I borrowed the bite valve from a bladder style hydration reservoir I own with a similar tube diameter. With a little effort I was able to get the surrogate valve in place and continue with the testing.
I have primarily been using the SmarTube with large mouthed bicycle style bottles so the largest bottle cap, the 63 mm (2.48 inch), has been getting regular use. I was also successful in finding a bottle that worked for the 28 mm (1.1 in) size so I have tried that cap a few times as well. So far they both have worked okay. I did have a little leakage from the 63 mm (2.48 inch) when it was filled very close to the top but it was an insignificant amount and as soon as I drank the water down a little it stopped. My assumption, based on the fact the caps do not have flexible washers, is the water came though under the cap and not out the hose hole or the One-Direction Valve.
The concern I had in my Initial Report about the hydration tube's length not being adequate has so far been unfounded. I have used the bottle set up in the side pockets of two different packs and in both cases the tube has been plenty long enough to reach up over my shoulder and a few inches/cm below my pack's chest strap. I have also been using both the little Velcro strap to run the tube along my shoulder strap and the grip clip tube holder, which I have attached higher up to keep the hydration tube clipped to the top side of my pack. Both have been helpful in positioning the tube. I'm not sure if I absolutely NEED both, I'm still experimenting.
I have only two nitpicks with the SmarTube at this time. The first has to do with the hydration tube and changing caps. The diameter of the tube is just slightly larger than the tube opening in all the caps. This makes pushing the tube through a new cap very difficult. Pulling is much easier but not at the beginning because there isn't much of the tube to grab onto and pull it through the hole. Thankfully Blue Desert cut the tube at an angle at this end so there is a sliver of a point of which I have been grabbing with my teeth until enough of the tube can be pulled through the opening for my fingers to grip. I'm concerned this method will not be sustainable over the life of the tube as I have a feeling I may end up biting off too much of the end at some point. I will keep watching this and report on how it holding up in my Long Term Report.
My second criticism has to do with the bite valve. I feel like the flow could be better. The material is easy enough to bite and it's a comfortable fit in my mouth but the flow of water just seems a little low for the amount of effort I have to put in to get it out. I have also experienced a little leakage from the mouth piece. It's is a minor drip that only happens as far as I can tell periodically, but it is there nonetheless. I will keep an eye on this to see if it worsens with use.
This is the third and final report; all opinions and observations in this section have been gathered after four months of using this item.
All use of the Blue Desert SmarTube since my last report has taken place in the Sonoran Desert near Phoenix, AZ. I have used it on several day hikes ranging in length from two miles up to six (3 km to 7 km). Elevation on these trails is between 1,500 ft (450 m) and 2,100 ft (640 m). Winter temperatures ranged from the mid 30's (2 C) up to the mid 70's F (24 C). The weather on my outings over this last month and a half has been pretty tame, mostly sunny conditions with either light wind or none at all.
My overall assessment of the SmarTube is that it is indeed a useful hiking item. Overall it has performed as advertised with the exception of the difficulty I originally had in finding a bottle that was compatible with the 28 mm (1.1 in) size cap. I'm assuming this is a product of the metric and imperial differences and is not at all surprising. The caps continue to keep the water in, other than when I have over filled the bottle.
Changing the caps so the SmarTube can be used on various sizes of plastic water bottles has been a little challenging with regard to reinserting the tube. As I mentioned in my Field Report I have been using a method involving pulling the tube through the cap opening with my teeth. This has so far worked pretty well and not resulted in any destruction of the tube tip. I am very careful to only bite down as much as I need to, however, as I don't want to damage the pointed tip. I'd like to see this improved if possible.
The tube itself has stayed reasonably clean, although, admittedly I haven't been overly fastidious in cleaning it out or even detaching it from the water bottle after every use. In some cases I have left it for a couple of days before emptying the water and rinsing it out. The smell is normal and there isn't any mildew or other gross build-up. Same goes for the bite valve. It too has remained free of gunk and continues to spit water. I have experienced a small amount of dripping from the valve opening, not sure if this will get any worse over time. It's a little troublesome but not a major issue since I tend to tuck the valve facing up under my sternum strap anyway.
Aspects I likedů
Aspects I feel could use improvement...
My thanks to Backpackgeartest.org and Blue Desert for the opportunity to be part of this very fun test series. - Jamie J. DeBenedetto
Read more reviews of Blue Desert gear
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Reviews > Hydration Systems > Bottles > Blue Desert SmarTube > Test Report by Jamie DeBenedetto
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