Review: Camelbak Flowmeter

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BIKERUMOR REVIEW: The Camelbak Flow Meter brings some intelligence to your hydration by keeping tabs on your fluid intake, amount of liquid remaining and suggesting hydration goals to keep you performing at your peak.

I tested it out on a number of rides over the past few months and, despite some initial skepticism as to its usefulness, came away impressed. At first, we were all thinking this was TMI (too much info).  Just drink a lot and you’ll be fine.  But after seeing just how little I drank on a few rides, its value became apparent… especially on colder rides.

Is it worth the $30 MSRP?  The short answer is probably.  Particularly for those that know they aren’t drinking enough during their rides or for those that ride in particularly warm regions.  There are lots of cool features, and it’s pretty easy to use.

Read on for the full review, specs and pricing…

FEATURES:

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The Camelbak Flow Meter is pretty small, and it weighs in at just 19g with the battery installed (but excluding the inline attachment):

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It has a number of data views (toggled via the blue button) that keep you in-the-know about your consumption and remaining fluid.

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AC = Amount Consumed. Shows how much you’ve drank since resetting the Flow Meter.  If you just want to see how much you are drinking, you can leave it set on this and forget about the following advanced options.

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ET = Elapsed Time. Shows how much time has passed since resetting the Flow Meter.

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PHG = Personal Hydration Goal. This is an optional setting that automatically calculates a recommended amount of fluid you should consume every hour based on your body weight.  You can also adjust the setting based on your own preferences or the current conditions.

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AG = Amount to Goal. This tells you if your under- or over-consuming based on the PHG.  A negative number indicates you’re not drinking enough, and “0″ means your right on target.

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AR / TV = Amount Remaining / Total Volume. As the name suggests, this shows the amount that you start with (TV) and how much you have left (AR).  For me, this was one of the most useful settings.  Rather than rely on the weight of the pack or trying to reach behind and lift/bounce it to see how much fluid jostles around, this tells you exactly how much you have left.  On longer rides, it lets you portion it out if you’re running low but still have some distance to ride.

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ETE = Estimated Time to Empty. Based on your consumption rate and total volume, it’ll tell you about how much longer you have to go until you run out.  Personally, I think the AR/TV is more useful, but to each his own.

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PAUSE. The pause feature (gray button) stops the timer, which helps keep the PHG and ETE settings more accurate.  However, there are two caveats with using this:  First, you have to remember to restart it when you get riding again.  Second, if you leave it on Pause after a ride, it’ll keep blinking Pause until the battery dies.  Although that might be a long time, it sat on my desk after a ride for a couple of days and kept flashing “Pause” until I un-paused it.  Left to its own devices, it’ll put itself to sleep automatically after 24 hours.  Camelbak says the expected battery life under normal usage is about one year.

USAGE:

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Once the inline hose adapter is installed, the Camelbak Flow Meter can be attached in either direction, allowing the hose to be run on either side of your body and still have the display read “right side up”.  Our test reservoir came with it pre-installed, but installation is fairly straightforward: cut your hose and insert it in the proper direction.

Camelbak recommends running it between 2″ and 8″ from the bite valve.  Ours was on the high side of that figure, and personally, I would have preferred it about 2″ closer to the valve.  That would have made it easier to read and give the tube a little more slack when clipped into the retention clip as shown.  Too low, though, and it would swing around and become annoying.  It’s only 19g, but that’s enough to bang against your chest if you give it too much room to move.

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The inline flow meter uses an impeller that spins as water passes over it, likely driving a magnet to spin, much like a cycling computer works.  The Flow Meter slides and snaps onto the hose piece.  While it looks like it’s pretty bulky inside the tube, it didn’t seem to impede flow.

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If you leave it out without opening it up, it’ll “fog” up inside, which will most likely lead to some funk.  I didn’t want to experiment with that, so I kept it pretty clean.

(TIP: If you put the reservoir into the fridge immediately following a ride, you can just top it off before the next ride without it building up funk or having to empty/wash/dry between every ride.  Depending on whether you’ve got water or sports drink in yours, you can get away with one to three weeks in the fridge without anything growing in there…at least nothing that you can see.  If you can’t see it, it’s not there, right?)

While I’ve used this on most rides, there were two long rides in particular that I tested the settings on, one road and one mountain bike ride.  I did a third ride to test the TV versus the volume marks on the reservoir.

RIDE #1: On the road ride, we did a 4+ hour ride from Boone Bike & Touring to the top of Beech Mountain.  I started the ride with 80oz of fluid, measured exactly with a measuring cup, and added 20oz of sports drink purchased at Fred’s General Mercantile.  I updated the TV after adding the additional fluid.  At the end of the ride, the Flow Meter flashed “LO” with about five or six good, big gulps of drink left.  It was on this ride in particular that I realized how little I was drinking, and the Flow Meter spurred me to keep up with my consumption.

RIDE #2: On the mountain bike ride, I started with exactly 80oz, again measured with a measuring cup, and by the end of the ride, it was flashing “LO” as I finished the last few big swallows.

RIDE #3: Using the volume guides printed on the Camelbak reservoir, I filled the bladder to 50oz for a mountain bike ride.  On this ride, I ran out of fluid before the Flow Meter was flashing “LO”.  It wasn’t saying I had a lot left, but clearly the marks on the bladder are not exact…there are too many variables, like how you’re holding the top and bottom of the bladder, to get it exact.  This was a cold ride, and again, the Flow Meter made it painfully obvious how little I was drinking.

So, if you want exact fluid measurements, measure your drink with a measuring cup first, then pour it into the bladder.  Otherwise your settings will be close, but not exact, and you could run out of drink a before you realize it.

BIKERUMOR RATING:

At $30, it’s a relatively cheap accessory, and it proved useful.  It received a lot of “what’s that” comments on the trail, and after explaining it, everyone seemed to think it was neat.  When measured exactly, it tracked my consumption accurately, and it provided quick, easy-to-read data that helped me stay on top of my hydration, undoubtedly playing a part in my destruction of Daniel climbing up Beech Mountain.  That alone would make it worth the price of admission.  Considering all that, what’s not to like?

bikerumor-thumbsup-5NOTE: Based on a visual inspection of a competing brand’s tube, it doesn’t look like the Flow Meter will fit non-Camelbak tubes, but you could always bring your other-brand pack into the store and visually compare for yourself  (I doubt they’d let you return this after sticking it into your tube…gross).  It’d be nice if it’s compatible with other brands, but you could always just by a Camelbak bladder/hose and use it in any pack you want if you really wanted the Flow Meter.

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