The garage door opens, allowing a light offshore breeze to enter, drying the kayaks and freshly washed lifejackets. Packing for a multi-day kayak expedition, I stand amidst of a mountain of gear—paddles, dry bags, food, and multiple dromedaries of water. Guiding sea kayak expeditions means equal parts adventure and planning, and sea kayaks can hold a ton of gear, yet I can’t help but wonder how all of this will fit. Packing is an art that takes patience and creativity, so making sure boats are properly packed (not too heavy or unevenly balanced) helps for efficiency of the team.
Water is the heaviest item on any given expedition. While paddling through the straits and open seas, the human body is exposed to the elements for long periods of time. With little shelter from the sunshine while kayaking, it’s especially important to hydrate in order to stay alert, happy, and comfortable.
As a rule of thumb, each person needs a gallon of water a day on an expedition—weighing roughly 8 lbs each. With four guests and one guide for five days that means 25 gallons or approx. 200 lbs of water. Even though we split the gear between the group, that’s still a lot of weight, so any opportunity to lighten the load is happily considered.
The map shows fresh water sources on two of the islands where we’ll be overnighting. Thanks to the Platypus GravityWorks Filter System, I can leave some of the water weight behind and let gravity do the heavy lifting. Because this filter works on gravity alone, you don’t have to worry about pumping or waiting patiently for iodine before having fresh, potable drinking water. This allows us more time for wildlife, taking in sunsets, and using our valuable energy in more rewarding ways, like paddling farther and camping in more remote and wild places.
I used the GravityWorks filter to gather clean water where accessible, for two of our expedition days (that’s 10 gallons of water, or 80 lbs., that we didn’t have to pack), giving us more space and allowing us to conserve energy.
How to use the GravityWorks water filter:
Locate Your Water Source
Before you go into the backcountry with only a water filter as your source of hydration, make sure that water is available and accessible. This seems obvious, but often in the middle of summer, those water sources that were once reliable in spring can become dry. My map showed a large amount of fresh water sources and after a little internet digging and chatting with local fishermen, I knew that fresh water lakes would be plentiful. When choosing your water source, be sure to use the cleanest and clearest water obtainable for filtering.
Once you have found your water source, open the reservoir labeled “dirty” and fill with water by scooping it into the bag or collecting it. The filter has a wide brimmed mouth, making it easy to fill no matter the size of the water source.
Choose Your Gravity
Now that you have filled your dirty reservoir, it’s time to filter your dirty water into potable, freshly harvested drinking water. Find an option for hanging your reservoir, be it a tree, a boulder, or a strong arm. For the quickest and most efficient flow of water, hang or place your dirty reservoir well above the clean reservoir, water bottle, or hydration system that you will be filling.
Make The Connection
Now that you’ve chosen your location to optimize gravity, it’s time to get the water flowing! Ultimately, you will be connecting the dirty reservoir to the clean reservoir, bottle, or hydration system via the long tubing. Platypus color-coded the connections to ensure you don’t cross-contaminate. Blue and white indicate clean components; grey and black indicate dirty.
1. Attach the longer hose with the white connection at the bottom of the GravityWorks filter.
Make sure the big blue arrow is pointing down. You want the arrow to indicate that clean water is flowing towards your clean reservoir. Now is also a good time to make sure the black shut-off clamp is connected to the long tube. This is helpful for pinching off the flow of water.
2. Attach the blue capped end of your clean hose to the reservoir labeled “clean,” and place the clean reservoir on the ground.
If you have the GravityWorks Carbon Element, this will be placed between the GravityWorks Filter and the clean reservoir. (When in doubt, always just make sure the blue arrows point down towards the clean reservoir!)
3. Attach the shorter hose with the grey component to “dirty” reservoir, and then to the black plug atop the GravityWorks Filter.
Once you release the shut-off clamp, water will begin filtering through the system. Pro tip: If you allow a little water to run through the shorter hose before attaching it to the filter, it will prevent air bubbles from getting trapped in your filter.
If you don’t want to connect the flow of water to your clean reservoir bag, you’ve got options. You can add it to your water bottle or one of the Platypus hydration systems. This is super easy to do with Platypus’s many adaptable and versatile components.
The water should be flowing and filtering now! The GravityWorks system filters dirty water into clean water quickly at roughly 1.5 liters per minute. If you see the filter begin to slow down, you can always give the “dirty” reservoir a light squeeze. Also make sure to periodically backflush your filter. This can be done by simply lifting the “clean” reservoir above the “dirty” reservoir and allowing the water to flow backwards. Don’t worry, you aren’t contaminating your system. This can help dislodge any clogged hollow fibers in the filter, and prolongs the usable life of your filter.
Cheers—Your Water Is Ready To Drink
You should have clean water ready for drinking! When gravity is doing the work, as a team we have more time to check gear or eat snacks, and as a guide it gives me the opportunity to check on guests, while they sit on the edge of the beach, enjoying the experience.
There is something magical that happens when you get to harvest your own drinking water from the land. It allows our modern day mind and bodies to see the important connection between human beings and the earth—a concept that’s often lost in today’s uber-accessible world. This realization helps us all to appreciate our valuable resources and work hard to conserve this wild world we get to call home.
How To Clean Your Platypus Hydration Bladder
By Platypus Staff | June 11th, 2018
One of the most common questions we receive around our product is, “How do I clean out my hydration bladder?”
We sat down with our team of engineers to uncover how best to clean and maintain a Platypus hydration bladder (commonly referred to as a hydration system). We’ll go over the importance of routine maintenance, how to clean or disinfect your hydration bladder, and some handy tips for drying your favorite hydration bladder.
Why is cleaning my hydration bladder important?
You don’t want to give bacteria a chance to build up in your hydration bladder.
How often should I clean or disinfect my entire system?
It’s up to the user and their personal preference. Our engineers rinse and dry their hydration bladders after every use, and this is a simple and effective way to keep your system in shape. Ultimately, it all comes down to your frequency of use and what you’re putting in your bladder (the bag that holds your water).
If you use a drink mix like Nuun or SkratchLabs, you should rinse after every use. These substances can leave a lingering taste and can also allow for bacteria growth. Make sure to always rinse after using these!
If you’ve filled it with water directly from a stream or lake in the wilderness without treating or filtering it, you’ve theoretically exposed your hydration bladder to bacteria. In the backcountry, this can be necessary from time-to-time, so just make sure to disinfect when you get home.
What is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?
Cleaning is really to make sure the product is rinsed out and free of any lingering tastes, while disinfecting is an attempt to sterilize your system. The determining factor is what the last liquid in your reservoir was. Disinfecting has more of an application if you’ve used your reservoir in ‘dirty water’ or notice visible signs of bacteria growth in your hydration bladder.
How do I clean my hydration bladder?
The simplest option is to rinse and dry your entire hydration system (bladder, drink tube, and bite valve). This typically is an okay option if you’re only using clean water in your hydration system, and this should suffice for routine cleaning. Our Cleaning Kit can also greatly assist in scrubbing the bladder and tubes! If you’ve used spirits or a flavored, sugary mix in your bladder, or simply would like to wash out your system because you detect a “lingering taste”, we suggest the following method:
Step 1: Baking Soda & Water
Fill your bladder with a solution of water and baking soda (Roughly ¼ cup of baking soda per ¾ cup of water). Make sure to seal the Slidelock™ closure and invert to test. Shake the bladder vigorously for 20-30 seconds. Make sure the solution also runs through your drink tube and bite valve.
Step 2: Add Lemon Juice
Now add ¼ cup of lemon juice to the solution, seal the Slidelock™ closure, and shake the entire bladder for another 10 seconds. You may now open the bladder, but make sure to point it away from you! The lemon juice and baking soda may cause pressure to build in the bladder, and you don’t want to take that solution to the face. Make sure to include the drink tube and bite valve in the cleaning process.
Step 3: Shake & Vent
You’re going to want to do this process of shaking, venting, and running the solution through your drink tube and bite valve three times. After that is done, try to expel as much air as possible, and leave the entire system to soak for 20 minutes.
Step 4: Empty & Rinse
You can now empty the bladder, and flush the entire system with warm water three times.
It’s important to make sure to clean and rinse the tube and bite valves as well. Often times, people will just clean their bladder, but that ignores the part that actually touches your mouth! Point your bite valve down towards the sink and pinch the mouthpiece to allow the mixture to flow through the drink tube and out of the bite valve for a thorough cleaning.
How do I disinfect my hydration bladder?
Step 1: Bleach & Water
Add a couple of drops of bleach to water (2-5 drops per liter of water), and it’s okay to do this with the water already in your bladder. Make sure to use bleach that is fragrance-free and does not include any dyes. You may then seal up the bladder, swirl the solution around, and run it through the drink tube and bite valve. Now leave your hydration system to sit overnight.
Step 2: Rinse & Dry
The next day, empty the bladder. After emptying the solution, rinse the entire system with warm water three times. You can now leave the system to dry.
How do I dry out my hydration bladder after cleaning or disinfecting?
Step 1: Remove Excess Water
First, always attempt to remove any water left in the bladder. Shake out any excess droplets of water, and dry the inside film with a paper towel if possible (Our Big Zip™ has an extra-wide opening to help your hand get in there).
Step 2: Prop Bladder Up
We’ve done extensive testing in our water lab, and the most efficient means of drying your bladder is to leave it pointed up. This allows water to evaporate and easily escape the bladder. Sunshine can also help to speed up the evaporation process, and all of our hydration systems are UV-safe and can be left in the sun to dry.
Step 3: Keep Interior Open
When the sides of your bladder touch each other, it drastically slows down the drying process. The interior will dry much faster if propped open to prevent the sides from touching each other. We suggest using something like a cooking spoon, spatula, or the Slidelock™ closure to prop open the bladder.
Getting the most out of your hydration system.
Never use dehumidifying substances or materials designed to absorb water like a silica gel pouch. These are often not food-grade substances and can leave inks or residues behind that should not be consumed, and can even deteriorate the lining of your bladder. Also, don’t try the ‘newspaper in wet shoes’ trick as your newspaper could be dirty or leave traces of ink behind.
Keeping the bladder in the freezer is a common trick that many of us do to avoid having to frequently clean our bladders. It’s easy to come back at the end of a ride or hike and quickly rinse the entire system and throw it in the freezer. It saves you from having to worry about the sanitation of the product between uses as the freezing temperatures prevent bacteria growth. You can just throw it in your freezer while wet and it keeps the hydration system clean for the next use (make sure to flush any extra water out of the drink tube and bite valve if possible).
Water & Living On The Road
By Kathy Holcombe | August 25th, 2017
Moving our family and photography business into an RV and living on the road (often by a river) has been nothing short of a dream come true, however, it does have a few inherent challenges: namely, sourcing and managing water, power, and finding a decent internet connection. After three years on the road, we have made a few modifications to both our lifestyle and our Winnebago View that have allowed us to maximize our time in our favorite places, which often lie well off the beaten path.
For power, we have solar panels on the roof of our RV that keep us fully charged. We also have a built in generator that serves as a noisy, but effective plan B. Internet is a bit trickier: we rely on our phones, a hot spot, and a signal booster for most of our needs. With this setup we manage to stay powered up and connected to the civilized world—at least most of the time.
Water, however, is another story. It seems that our RV has an insatiable thirst, using on average about 5 gallons a day for our family of three. This includes basic hydration, cooking and hygiene—no matter how conservative we are with our usage, we are constantly searching for the next spigot to resupply. You would think that the 40 gallon storage tank in our RV would allow us to stay off the beaten path for an extended stint, but just a few days of careless dishwashing will leave us parched, and a shower in the RV using up to 3 gallons/minute? Forget about it!
After over a thousand days under our belts living on the road and managing a very limited water supply, here are three water conservation strategies that have served us well and allowed us to maximize our time in the wild:
1—Oftentimes we find ourselves in a roadside situation where there might be a water spigot available, but for whatever reason we cannot use it to refill the freshwater tanks in the RV. It might be because we can’t get the RV close enough for the hose to reach, or that there is no dump station to purge the wastewater—and I promise, it is a REALLY BAD IDEA to fill with fresh water without first dumping the waste water!! Regardless, if there is water available outside the RV, take advantage of it. This is where portable water storage—like our 6L Water Tank—comes in really handy. It has a large enough capacity that it conveniently meets most of our immediate needs around camp, but folds away to almost nothing so that it is easy to store when we aren’t using it.
Photo: Kathy Holcombe
2—Dishwashing is our single biggest drain on our water supply, but with careful management, you can minimize water consumption with the following tips: First, always wash your dishes immediately—they are far easier to clean if you catch them before food gets really stuck. Second, get your sponge wet, apply soap and start scrubbing all of your dishes. We can almost always scrub an entire meal of dishes for our family of three without any additional water than the initial sponge soaking. Third, only when your dishes are thoroughly scrubbed do you use additional water to rinse your dishes. Depending on the amount of dishes you have, sometimes it is better to fill a shallow basin to rinse the dishes, and sometimes it is better to rinse them under a trickle straight from the spigot. Use your best judgement.
3—While we live in an RV, it is simply the tool that allows us to chase adventures kayaking, climbing and exploring the backcountry. For sourcing water when we are miles down the river or trail, our GravityWorks filter is our go-to tool to keep the weight in our packs/kayaks to a minimum while providing us with filtered water to keep us well hydrated. It’s lightweight and easy to use, and when we come across a good water source, all we have to do is fill up the reservoir, hang it on a nearby bush or tree, and in minutes, we have fresh, filtered drinking water to refill our bottles.
While water will always be a limiting factor in our never-ending road trip, we’re getting better and better in stretching every single drop so that we can spend our time out in the wild—kayaking, climbing, or exploring the backcountry as much as possible… instead of searching for the next spigot to fill our tanks.
About the author: Four years ago, Kathy and her family took a radical leap when they traded in their beautiful Boulder, CO home for the freedom of the open road in a Winnebago RV and have been chasing adventures ever since. You can find them climbing in the mountains, kayaking in the rivers and exploring remote and wild places as they criss-cross their way across North America. Through their stories and images, they hope to inspire others to get outside and set out on their own adventures. They call this lifestyle Famagogo.com.
How Reservoirs Solved My Hydration Problem
By Jenny Abegg | July 21st, 2017
I’ll admit it: I’ve struggled with hydration in the past. As an alpine rock climber, on long, arduous approaches, I’ve often opted to put my head down and hike rather than stop to take water breaks. I’ve bonked more times than I can count, my lack of water consumption resulting in trailside naps or sufferfest summits. However, when I made the transition from water bottles to hydration reservoirs earlier this year, my solution to dehydration became clear: drinking water became infinitely easier, and in turn, I was more likely to do it. Since switching over, the proof has been in the pudding: I haven’t bonked once.
Case in point: this June, my friend Alix and I set off to climb a peak high in the Rockies. We began early, with a plan to move fast. Using reservoirs allowed us to move continuously upwards without having to stop to retrieve water bottles from our packs. It was a relief to have my reservoir with me, knowing that with a water bottle, I would’ve held up Alix with frequent water breaks, or, more likely, not stopped at all to hydrate.
In Wales for a wedding around the summer solstice, I went for a trail run on the coast with a 1.5L reservoir in my running pack. Instead of a hard water bottle riding against my back in the pack, the flexible reservoir was almost imperceptible. As I ran over the rolling sea bluffs and across sandy beaches, I was able to hydrate as needed, avoiding interruptions to my rhythm or stiff legs from having to stop to retrieve a bottle—the bite valve of the reservoir was always available.
Hydrating while rock climbing can be a challenge, too: often I’m hanging at belays with one hand free, and given that I have a chronic case of the “dropsies,” the possibility of fumbling a water bottle is dangerously high. Over the years I’ve learned to streamline every process while on a long climb—I eat mostly bars, carry the route description in my pocket, and am very particular about managing the rope and gear for speedy transitions. While climbing Devils Tower in July, I threw my 3L Big Zip LP reservoir in the pack for my partner and I, stashing the hose inside as well. Not only was it a streamlined setup for us, it was also ridiculously easy to hydrate—we just had to fish out the hose and open the valve, a one-handed process that could be done while belaying, looking at the route description, or swapping gear. To add to that, the reservoir shrunk as we drank, making the backpack smaller and easier to carry up chimney sections. Brilliant.
Home in the Pacific Northwest mid-July, my parents and I took off on a quick two-day trip into the North Cascades. I carried a pack of overnight essentials, including a full 3L reservoir—I slipped the 6+ pounds of water into the hydration sleeve in my pack, placing it close against my back. In the past, carrying multiple liters of water in various bottles and locations made my pack unruly and unbalanced, in turn making me rather unruly when scrambling on technical terrain. Up high on Church Mountain, however, I realized that this instability was mostly alleviated when the water was carried close to my back. Problem solved.
My summer with reservoirs has made me a convert. There is surely no better way to stay hydrated in the outdoors, from fast-and-light adventures and backpacking trips to rock climbing and day hikes. Not only that, but by happenstance I discovered that reservoirs are useful for more than just outdoor pursuits—they are perfect for those endurance journeys that happen between the main events: road trips. From bonks to bumps in the road, I found reservoirs a great solution for hydration.
Raised by mountain-loving parents on the flanks of the North Cascades, Jenny Abegg’s idea of a perfect day starts and ends wearing a headlamp, and includes a snowy approach, dry granite, and endless high fives with a favorite partner. Her passion for adventurous climbing has led her from the jungles of Rio to windy spires in Patagonia, from the unexplored faces of the Purcell Mountains to heady granite domes of North Carolina. Currently based out of her GMC Safari nicknamed “Ol’ Blue,” Jenny is a climbing guide and a writer, exploring the topics of climbing, life, and the spaces between.
Getting Dirty for the Sturdy Dirty Enduro
Platy Contributor | June 13th, 2017
Issaquah, Washington: Mud-spattered and breathing hard, two mountain bikers emerge from Tiger Mountain’s lush, fern-scaped forest. They’ve just dropped out of “the Legend” trail, expecting a short fire road recovery before catching another trail back up the ridge. They do not expect to see us.
“We got pizza!” someone yells out. The riders—a father and son—look up with amused smiles to see our crowd welcoming them to a table stacked high with still-toasty pizza boxes and growlers of beer. An easy-up tent keeps off the drizzle, a constant companion here in Western Washington. It keeps things verdant green year-round, and it also makes for good trail building.
Today is a Sturdy Dirty Dig Day, one of a series of trail work events designed to let riders give sweat equity back to the trails and get them in prime condition for the Sturdy Dirty Enduro, a women-focused mountain bike race to be held here on June 17, 2017.
Counting more than a dozen, these hard-working, dirt-encrusted volunteers have been toiling on the “Easy Tiger” trail just up the road. Like many of the Tiger Mountain trails, Easy Tiger feels a world apart with its thick stands of trees and ubiquitous ferns. The recent trail work has made the place feel primordial, with the fresh earth scent of clay and turned-up duff in the air. Along the trail lay signs of civilization: Rogue hoes. McLeod shovels.
The workers have been on finishing duty: backsloping the top part of the bench-cut trail so it won’t erode, and replanting ferns to stabilize the grade where it’s been built up with exposed dirt. “The replanting also narrows the trail and makes it prettier,” says Bryan Connolly, trail crew chief at Tiger Mountain and a member of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, the largely grant-funded nonprofit organization that maintains the trails at Tiger with the help of volunteers.
The dig day is sponsored by Sturdy Bitch Racing (which organizes the Sturdy Dirty Enduro), and several of the enduro’s sponsors: Bell Joy Ride, EVO and Georgetown Brewing. The work party event attracted as many women as men, and all are hoping to come out to the race to either compete or cheer.
Now in its 4th year, the Sturdy Dirty Enduro is an enduro-style mountain bike race that brings women racers together to experience timed downhill-oriented course sections interspersed with more relaxed, transition trail riding. Famous for its fun-filled, themed aid stations (a Mexican cantina is one favorite) and costumed volunteers, the Sturdy Dirty takes a serious race and makes it into an all-day party.
Harrison Gill, one of the volunteers at today’s dig day, is ready for that party. When asked why he’s planning to volunteer at the Sturdy Dirty, the Redmond resident is beat to the punch by Ady Lane.
“Because there are going to be 250 women?” says Lane, one of the enduro’s organizers.
Gill laughs and agrees.
The Sturdy Dirty Enduro has become such a popular mountain bike event in the Northwest, the organizers decided to expand it this year to a 3-race series with the help of Roam Events and title sponsor Liv Cycling. The series now includes the race at Tiger Mountain and two other races in Oakridge (Westfir, Oregon) and Big Bear (Big Bear Lake, California).
“When we started the Sturdy Dirty back in 2015, it was the first women’s enduro mountain bike race in the country,” says Lane. “Now we’re putting on the only series of its kind in the world. It’s a daunting task, and we could never do it without all the amazing men and women who come out to volunteer. They really make the Sturdy Dirty.”
Not everyone among the dig day attendees is planning to volunteer at the enduro. Natasha Weiss, a Bell Joy Ride brand ambassador who helped organize the dig day, plans on racing it. A youthful woman with an air of toughness that makes you think twice about calling her cute, Weiss is happy to see women flocking to the Sturdy Dirty—and giving back to the trails.
“It’s a value to get women out to dig days.”
Want to volunteer or race at a Sturdy Dirty Event? Visit sturdydirty.com to sign up to volunteer or register to race.
Want to help build trails in Washington or Oregon?
Washington: Check out Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance’s calendar of events, including dig days, here.
Oregon: Visit Disciples of Dirt’s calendar for dig days and other bike events.
Sturdy Dirty Enduro Series Calendar
Sturdy Dirty Seattle: Tiger Mountain (Issaquah, WA), June 17
Sturdy Dirty Oakridge: Westfir Portal (Westfir, OR), August 19
Sturdy Dirty Big Bear: Snow Summit (Big Bear Lake, CA), October 14
Meet the Meta Maker
The story behind the making of our Meta Bottle + Microfilter
Platy Staff | May 1st, 2017
Hi there, Platypus wordsmith Keith here—I recently corralled one of our resident product design engineers, Mikk, and asked him about his efforts in making our Meta™ Bottle + Microfilter personal water filter bottle. Turns out, there’s a lot that went into it. Note: we weren’t able to go back in time and get Arnold Schwarzenegger of the 80s to test the flow rate, so that’s a speculative estimate for illustrative purposes. Also, nobody was hurt in any shattering incidents. Enjoy the interview!
Hey Mikk, remember that XKCD cartoon that touched on the amount of time and work behind ordinary things? When that came out, it immediately reminded me of our process in making the Meta Bottle + Microfilter. As the design engineer, you were at the heart of that. So let’s go back and talk about it…
So… what is the Meta Bottle + Microfilter?
It’s a water bottle, it’s a personal filtration system, and it’s a not-so-personal filtration system—I personally used it on St. Helens to filter the water for me, my mom, my dad, and my sister when we went up for Mother’s Day… Well, we couldn’t get the permit for Mother’s Day, so we went the day before Mother’s Day. [Laughter]
But it’s just a 1L bottle—you were filtering for a group of four? Was that because it’s compact, or…?
It was compact, and I brought it because, yeah, I’d designed it and it was just finished enough at the time to bring it on the trip—it wasn’t production quality, it was a prototype and had issues, but I wanted to see how well it worked. It was easy having it hanging off the side of a pack. You could grab it, scoop up water and keep going. For group filtration, I was melting the water, dumping it in the bottle and squeezing it, and it was fine.
Why did we make it?
Platy wanted a bottle that was close to a hard bottle in functionality—it stands up on its own, you can set it on a desk and it won’t ever fall over no matter how full or empty it is. It’s also easy to drink from—you can hold it any direction you want and drink from it. We wanted to make it so you could integrate a water filter into it, too—that was the other part of it.
We wanted to give customers an option that could be used hiking, but also be a bottle that you could use in the car. It has the microfilter, so it’s also your water filter.
How wide, how far, how deep was the concepting adventure?
It was as wide as Google goes. Almost. [Laughter] I mean, sure, I can look at what other outdoor brands are doing. But there wasn’t anything out there like this at the time, there wasn’t a “go to the trail, use it around town” filter bottle out there. We wanted to have a traditional tip and sip solution. So I went out and researched as much as I could.
It was this continuously branching tree. As soon as I found out about things that held water that are soft, or hard, or a combination of both, I’d keep researching things until it was clear that they weren’t viable or relevant any more.
So the discovery phase was a super-broad—?
SUUUUUPER broad [laughter]… because we had no idea what the product was going to be made of, or even what it would look like. It was a new thing for us. It was unlike anything Platy had ever made—it’s semi-rigid.
At what point was the discovery phase over and things started gelling?
I think… [laughing] realistically, I think the discovery phase was over when the product was done. We weren’t quite sure—I wasn’t 100% positive that it was gonna work until it actually worked 100% functionally. Until then, it was like “We might not have a product…” But the initial discovery, I think that was about 6 months.
Walk me through the validation process.
First, you have discovery so you know what’s out there. Then you ask “What can we do with this information?” We had figured out we could do maybe four or five different designs. Then there’s discovery phase two. You’re narrowing down what you’re really going to put engineering work into; you’re learning and talking to people. You go to experts and ask “Can you do something like this? Is this possible? Is that possible? Do you know?”
A lot of the answers we got were “We don’t know, and no, we don’t think it can be done.” We would say back, “Well, okay, we see your point… but… could you at least try?”
So there was some back and forth?
Totally. For the bottom of the bottle, one source was telling me “You have to do this this certain way so you can actually manufacture it.” But that didn’t align with what we wanted to do. We talked to some other sources, and they said “Yeah, you can do that, but it’s really, really expensive to make.” I suggested we try a different approach, and because we were using a softer material it ended up working out; the material was so forgiving.
So you have discovery phase two—narrowing down options, researching what we could actually do. Around then, you’re going into initial prototypes. For our first proof of concept, we took a hard bottle, cut a hole in it, glued a silicone piece over the hole, and stuck a filter in the lid. You’d push the silicone piece to squeeze water out of the bottle. We did more research and proof of concept testing. From the testing, we realized that the challenges we were initially encountering were because of difficulty in deforming the materials, not because of the filter.
Did you know from the start that a Hollow Fiber microfilter was going to be the filter?
Not exactly. We started with a huge base of understanding—we have people on the team who have a ton of knowledge about water filter media. Initially, though, we considered everything.
We were working closely with our water lab people, too, asking them if we could do this or that with certain filter media. The water lab people were awesome resources—chances are they’ve tested whatever you’re asking about, and they know all the benefits and drawbacks, so it was really easy to narrow things down quickly.
What about the hard top half, was that easy to design?
In terms of the concept, the top was pretty well nailed down early on. In terms of how you could make it, it was complex because there are so many threads on the bottle. There are two sets of internal threads and one set of external threads.
We did start with a single, continuous thread on the outside where you drink from. A single, continuous threading is great—it works, it’s on everything, but you have to turn the cap a bunch to close it.
You wanted a maximum of a half turn or something?
Yeah, because we wanted it to be super usable, where you weren’t unscrewing the top one or one and a half times to open it, like on some hard bottles.
So we went with a two-start thread—there are just two “short” threads, instead of one continuous one—which allows you to open or close the cap with a half turn. A little less of a half turn, technically.
There was a mention of “This bottle has a great ‘mouth feel’”, which is hilarious, but when you’re designing something that people are putting their mouth on…
What does “mouth feel” mean from an engineering perspective?
That’s always kinda funny. With the two-start thread design, there aren’t any threads that go all the way around the lip of the bottle, so you have a couple smooth vertical parts that your lip can rest against instead of a thread. Once we knew we’d have a two-start thread, I wanted to add a radius on the smooth vertical parts. Instead of a flat surface, it’s cupped just enough that it feels a little different and more natural than a flat surface. Most people will probably never notice it, it’s super subtle, but if you were able to compare them side-by-side, you’d notice the difference. The cupped one just feels better.
For the microfilter, one of the earlier things you were working on was the stacking of the adapter—
The first hope was that you could just screw the microfilter itself directly into the top. We tested that out with one of our GravityWorks filters, but that testing confirmed that we needed an adapter with an air return valve so the bottle could reinflate after filtering.
I called the second iteration the “Rocket Ship”—it literally looked like a rocket ship. But with that design, you’d end up with this lake of water that you couldn’t ever get through the filter.
I then made an adapter that was offset, where the microfilter is able to essentially go all the way up to the top of the Meta bottle, and the air-return valve sits right next to it. We added holes in the sides of the microfilter’s housing, which allows more water through.
We tried some other random stuff, too. We looked into maybe making a GravityWorks-sized filter for the Meta Bottle, so you would have this massive-sized filter, but we already had a much smaller filter that did two liters a minute, so there wasn’t much of a point.
Speaking to the two liters a minute thing—in terms of one’s ability to drink water comfortably, you researched that…
Well, there are tons of variables… but, generally, the typical rate that somebody will drink at when they’re thirsty, it can be two to three liters a minute at a time. It’s not like they’re at a party doing a chugging contest, but they’re thirsty, so it’s still a fair amount.
So two liters a minute is not nothing?
It’s a lot of water. And that two liters of water a minute that we list as the flow rate, that’s the average flow rate of the filter. If we gave this to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 80s, he could probably get almost four liters a minute through the filter if he was trying.
You were measuring how hard people were squeezing the bottle, too?
Yeah. I had to figure out how to relate all these different variables. You can’t just measure how hard people squeeze a bottle and then measure the flow rate of the filter and say that’s what people will get when they use it. You have to measure people drinking from the bottle and see what pressures they’re generating when they’re squeezing and drinking.
We started with, “How hard do 20 people squeeze the bottle?” We collected that data. Then we asked, “How hard do 20 people squeeze when they’re drinking from the bottle?” We collected that data, and it was like half of what we’d found before. We were always collecting data.
For us, we wanted to speak to real-world use—how people would be using it on the trail. So we wanted to know how hard people squeezed when drinking, and we wanted to accurately talk to that.
So we had this choice where we could say “Hey, we can do four liters a minute”… But we don’t say that.
Two liters a minute is a great flow rate for a filter, and it lines up with the average, easy squeeze we found in our research. Two liters a minute covers 99% of users. Technically, we could advertise faster, but then it becomes advertising wars… and we’re engineers.
Were you sourcing materials, too?
The materials part was super, super early because we have our taste-free guarantee. We knew that regardless of what the final product ended up looking like, we would be using certain materials, so we figured we could go ahead and do the taste testing.
Early on, we thought we might use silicone because it’s supposed to be taste-free. Turns out, it’s not. It tastes really bad. Granted, maybe not every silicone that’s available—there are literally thousands available—but all the ones I was able to test came back very poorly in our own taste testing.
We moved on to TPE, and even within the TPEs, there were some that weren’t good enough for us, but they were better than the silicones. Then we found a few TPE options that met the criteria for our taste test, which was nice, because it meant I could stop drinking really disgusting water.
You know that urethane flavor you can get with some other reservoirs? Especially if you let them sit for a while in the sun? That’s what I was drinking almost every day for a while.
Wait, you were self-testing??
Self-inflicting, yeah. [Laughter] It was for the good of our customers!
Any other things that were cool or interesting in the making of the Meta Bottle + Microfilter?
I really love the cap. Like, really, really love the cap. The lanyard is flush inside the top of the cap. The cool thing is that, for the cap, we did an overmold. There’s a hard inner part, and then a soft outer part. The soft part is a second process, so you can use that to hide geometries and mesh things together. We use that to make the lanyard disappear into the cap effectively. It’ll still spin freely, too, but it’s totally integrated.
You spent a chunk of time working on the lanyard—the weighting, the texturing…
Yeah, and specifically the transfer from the ring to the flat section of the lanyard. There’s a lot that went into that… like, literally, those two millimeters of 3D model are really complicated to make. [Laughter]
You have the manufacturing mold that opens up and down, and then you have to have parting lines perfect so it’s comfortable in hand, and cosmetically looks good. To make the lanyard comfortable for carrying, I changed the model so that the parting line wasn’t where one’s fingers would touch, which wasn’t how it was originally spec’d from the tooling maker. They wanted to put it elsewhere, and I had to push back and say, “No, we really need it over here…”
So designing for use, not designing for manufacturing ease?
It’s like, if you have the parting line here [in the middle of the lanyard], you’re going to feel it on your fingers and it’s going to hurt. So I designed that out so it’s smooth and comfortable, but that’s one of those little things that nobody’s going to ever know…
Now they will…
Ah, right! [Laughter]
The other crazy thing was choosing the hardness of materials. And choosing materials! The first material that was recommended? I should have chosen it. But I was mostly new to injection molding, and so I’d also heard, “This polypro is a great polypro” Great! Turns out, it’s a great polypro… if you need a stiff polypro. BUT, if you dropped it ten feet, it would shatter.
I remember the shattering of stuff…
[Laughter] Yeah!! A piece shot like 30 feet, which was COOL… but not acceptable for our users. So we found a different material that doesn’t shatter into a thousand pieces, which is kind of an obvious thing that we can’t let happen.
Dialing in the softness of the bottom was another deal. We tested a ton of options to figure out which one was hard enough to make the bottle reinflate, but still soft enough to squeeze easily. It was a big balance game. AND, we had to make it so that it doesn’t over-inflate on an airplane… which was a fun test. Pressure testing is fun. I never got any of them to actually explode, but some of them did turn into really cool balloons.
It’s true, you do get to do some fun tests. Well… I think that’s it, Mikk. Thank you for chatting and for all you did in making the Meta Bottle + Microfilter!
Totally! It was fun.
Editor’s note: Mikk is busy working on the next generation of hydration awesomeness, so we appreciate him taking the time to humor us and recount his adventures in designing our first water filter bottle. As this long, albeit entertaining interview revealed… a lot of work can go into something as simple as a bottle. Thanks again, Mikk! And thank you, dear reader, for joining us!
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