by Johan Hjord
Source was founded in 1989, and has since built itself into a globally distributed brand specializing in outdoors footwear and hydration systems. Well-known in the general outdoors/adventure market and recognized for its innovative approach to hydration, the company has also recently introduced a line of packs designed specifically for mountain biking. Curious to see what they can bring to us riders, we put their range of hydration reservoirs to the test.
Source Hydration Systems Highlights
- Triple layer taste and odor free PE film with anti microbial agent
- PP, PE & POM injected plastic parts
- Silicon mouthpiece
- Widepac™ closure (U.S Patent No. 7,648,276,B2) - allows easy filling, cleaning, draining, and ice insertion. Airtight seal
- Glass Like™ Film Technology - A multi-layer polyethylene film utilizing Source's Glass-Like™ technology, which prevents bio-film build up making the system self-cleaning. SOURCE's Glass-Like™ Film is 2000% smoother than standard TPU films, with virtually no difference from glass itself
- Taste Free™ System - Co-extruded PE film retains pure liquid taste with no plastic flavor. BPA and Phthalate free
- Grunge-Guard™ Technology - Inhibits bacteria growth on the reservoir and drinking tube surfaces for the life of the system. Technology utilizes FDA-approved and EPA-registered anti-microbial agent
- Easy Care & Low Maintenance
- SQC™ - Source Quick Connect (QMT compatible)
- Helix™ Valve - Source bite valve
- Dirt Shield™ - Valve cover
- MSRP: $26 - $35 USD (depending on model)
A hydration bladder is often included when you purchase the riding pack itself, and for that reason, many of us never pay much attention to how it’s put together or delivered. But when you think about it a bit more, the bladder is a crucial component of your riding experience – you’ll be drinking from it for years to come, hopefully. With that in mind, we checked out all the little details when we took delivery of a few Source bladders and accessories to test out.
Checking out the packaging (which is made from recycled materials mostly), the feature list is long. So long that it leaves you wondering if it’s just a list of terms and acronyms dreamed up by the marketing department, or if there’s actually room for that much tech in a simple bladder. Well, turns out that there’s quite a lot to it.
One of the most common complaints regarding hydration systems is that they can leave a bit of a plastic taste in the water. Source utilizes a co-extruded PE film which is meant to be entirely taste- and odor-less. Additionally, Source has developed what they term “Glass-Like” technology, which is essentially a way to make the inside surface of the bladder extremely smooth, thus providing less real estate for assorted microbial life forms to throw a party in your hydration system. Coupled with “Grunge-Guard” anti-microbial surface treatment, Source claims that the system is virtually maintenance free. For anybody who has ever taken a shot of old grungy water from a bladder, this sounds like good news.
On close inspection, the bladders appear well put together. One of the aspects we noticed straight away is how rigid the material is – not floppy like most hydration bladders we’ve tried. The welds also seem strong and the product is well finished off, with no apparent quality issues. All the bladders we tested feature the Widepac slider opening, which is a clever system that folds the end of the bag unto itself and then holds it there with a plastic slider. This creates a wide opening which makes it easy to rinse out and dry the bladder, or to add ice to your drinking water for warm days.
The bladders all feature quick connect hoses, which is helpful for quick drying and also for swapping bladders or connecting different accessories (the connectors have a built-in stop valve that prevents water from pouring out when you disconnect the hose). Some of the hoses are wrapped in a weave that protects from UV rays – not to keep the water cool (there’s an optional insulated hose for that too), but to keep the tube from deteriorating under sunlight and tainting the taste of water over time.
All the bladders on test feature the “Helix” bite valve, a spring loaded valve that claims to be drip free and easy to drink from. To finish off the feature tour, the Helix valves come with a dirt guard in the form of a plastic “docking station” that holds the valve in place on your pack and also protects it from dirt and various other naturally occurring substances you’d rather not be drinking. There is also an optional magnetic clip solution for those who prefer it that way.
And with that said, time to hit the trails to see what the real world would have to say about it all…
On The Trail
Filling up Source bladders is easy thanks to the wide opening. We were skeptical at first regarding how leakproof this system would be, but that turned out to be completely unfounded. Once filled and closed, you can stand on these things without causing a leak or any other damage. The quick connect hoses also turned out to be just as functional and leak proof, all of which translates to a system that is easy to manipulate and that holds water where it’s supposed to be. We tested the bladders in a couple of Source’s own riding packs, which provide a handy strap for attaching the bladder, but the bladders will work in any pack.
The Helix bite valve works very well, definitely one of the best solutions we have tried to date. It really is drip-free, and very easy to drink from. You can leave it in the open position for the whole ride, we only closed it down when we knew our bag would be thrown in with a lot of other bags and equipment in the car for example. In normal use, the valve does not leak at all, even when in the fully open position. It’s easy to take apart and clean, especially important if you use more than just water in your hydration system. We also appreciate that it rotates 360 degrees, which means it’s easy to position for drinking on the go.
The included Dirt Shield works well to hold your hose securely and your bite valve protected from the elements while riding, especially useful if you ride in lots of mud or come across lots of, erm, other organic matter. In the dry, you might want to opt for the magnetic clip which makes drinking even easier. The magnetic clip is strong and holds the hose in place while riding, including over rough terrain.
Source has come up with a very nifty solution for refilling your hydration system while on the move. Called the “Universal Tube Adapter” or “UTA”, it is a rubber baffle that takes the place of the bite valve and allows you to connect a water bottle or a faucet to the drinking hose to fill the bladder without removing it from the pack. This simple solution could make a big difference during Enduro or other stage races for example, where riders don’t have much time available during refueling stops. (The UTA is available to order as an accessory.)
As previously mentioned, Source bladders are quite rigid, and therefore hold their shape well in the pack. This helps keep the liquid from sloshing about too much. Some of the models offered also have built in separation walls that serve to keep the profile of the bladder slim and further prevent the liquid from moving around. If you are really concerned about keeping a low profile, there is a special donut shaped bladder that really distributes the load, ideal for shorter rides (since it only contains 1.5 liters of water).
The ultimate question asked of any hydration system is the taste of the water. Curious to test out Source’s claim that the system is virtually maintenance free, we started our test by running the same bladder for 4 months, without cleaning it and without letting it dry. At an average rhythm of three rides per week, we would simply fill the bladder for each ride, and then leave it in the pack once we got back. Amazingly, the bladder still serves up fresh tasting water and there are no signs of any build-up of gunk or other unsightly occurrences in the bladder. We cleaned the bite valve every now and then, especially after dunking it in mud, but other than that, the system has basically cleaned itself. Touching the inside of the bladder there is the slightest hint of slime build-up on the walls, but nowhere near what we were expecting to find. Of course, Source still recommends that you rinse and dry the bladder out between each ride (easy to do thanks to its non-stick properties and rigid material), and in doing so, we can’t see the system ever becoming contaminated. If you run anything but water, it goes without saying that you have to rinse and clean it each time.
Things That Could Be Improved
We have a couple of very minor observations to make. As previously pointed out, the bite valve works extremely well. It is actually drip-free, and easy to drink from. Every now and then we noticed that the hose and/or bite valve would get a little air in it between sips (probably pulled down from the bite valve), which meant the next sip would be a bit bubbly. Not really a big issue, and if it’s the price to pay for the drip-free design, we’ll gladly take it. (Some prefer to drain their hose back into the pack between sips to avoid water heating up in the hose, in which case this would not be an issue).
We would also love to see a small eyelet added at the bottom of the bladder to help with hanging it upside down to dry out.
Long Term Durability
As previously pointed out, we’ve used mainly one bladder for the entire first four months of testing, and it still performs every bit as well as when new – even without maintenance. There are no signs of deterioration in any of the materials or welds, and the water still tastes as fresh as it did when the bladder was new. We’ve since started riding with several of the other Source bladders on offer as well, with the same excellent results so far. The system really does manage itself most of the time (as long as you use only water of course), and with minimum care, it should last you a very long time. What’s more important, it should give you tastefree water for a very long time, and that is a claim that not every other brand out there can make.
What’s The Bottom Line?
Source has put considerable effort into designing its line of hydration systems, and it has paid off. It is one of the easiest to use thanks to its nearly self-maintaining properties, and it is completely taste-free. Add in the very innovative Universal Tube Adapter and numerous sizes, configurations, and accessories to cater to any kind of adventure you might want to go on, and you’re looking at a great hydration solution that will work with any riding pack. With prices in line with competition too, there’s not much to not like.
More information at: Source
About The Reviewer
Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.