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Hands-Free Hydration

Posted by desflurane on August 11, 2015

Like me, I’m sure that you have noticed how many of the top hard enduro riders are using “hands-free” systems to allow them to sip from their hydration pack at any time without taking their hands off the bars.

Several variations exist on the same theme. They are basically an extension to a regular hydration pack where the bite valve is mounted inside the rider’s helmet. Want a drink? Just bite down and have a swig!

This is the complete kit available for $35 that will allow you to convert your current Camelbak to a hands-free system.

This is the complete kit available for $35 that will allow you to convert your current Camelbak to a hands-free system.

The quick-disconnectors allow you to take your helmet off without strangling yourself…

The helmet-mounted portion attaches via a patch of Velcro applied beneath the helmet’s removable cheek pad. The tubing runs along the side of your neck (where the female connector is located) and passes through a hole drilled through the helmet’s front air vent.

Several manufacturers are offering essentially the same thing, but the Leatt system appears to be the most common.

Since I am convinced that adequate hydration is one of my own personal deficiencies on the trail, I decided to try this idea out.

A ride was planned for the next afternoon, so I ran down to my local dirt bike shop – RMS. They had complete Leatt hydration packs in stock, as well as some of the individual parts to the system, but not the specific chunk I needed. I have a pile of Camelbaks on hand so I wasn’t really in the market for another complete system. I just required the bit of tubing that actually mounts to the helmet, its associated Velcro and a set of connectors. (The stuff you need is sold as a complete kit for $35 all over the internet, but I didn’t want to wait.)

Being good pals with the shop owner came in quite handy this time (it always does). My friend Paul just yanked the part off of one of the packs and sold it to me, along with an additional connector set, for about the same price it would have cost me to order online.

I rushed home and had the thing installed in about 45 minutes.

It would have taken 15 minutes, but I proceeded with some caution before drilling holes in my helmet. I unscrewed the little grille at the front put the helmet on and looked in the mirror to see where the hole ought to be located in order for the bite valve to be positioned at my mouth. I’m glad I did this because it turned out to be much higher that I would have guessed. Looking head-on it appears as though the hose is going into my left nostril, but in reality it sits almost perfectly at my lips. If I had drilled the hole where I thought it should have been, the valve would have ended up around chin level – no bueno!

And, for the record I didn’t use a drill at all. Afraid that a twist drill bit would just shred the delicate aluminum and plastic screens, I used my Dremel tool to carefully nibble away the material that had to go. Very precise and tidy.


A little careful checking was carried out prior to cutting my Camelbak’s tubing to the correct length. I deliberately left it a bit long, just in case. This was fortunate because it ended up being just right. Any shorter and the tube would have pulled tight when I turn my head. There has to be a slight loop of tubing at your shoulder for things to work comfortably.

The barbs on the Leatt connectors seem to be just a shade smaller than the Camelbak ones. They fit securely into the blue Camelbak tubing, but I put a single zip-tie on the male connector for a little added insurance (see first picture). In reality this is probably overkill. The red Leatt tubing is much stretchier and tighter-fitting, so I didn’t bother zip-tying those.

Because I bought the parts slightly piecemeal, I ended up with a spare female connector. I realized that this is the perfect scenario! I put the spare connector on the left over piece of Camelbak tubing with the old bite valve, and now I can use the same pack hands-free or the old-fashioned way if I wanted to.


So, How Well Does It Work?

I have only a single ride with this system so far, but I think it will become my new standard. It takes just a bit of fiddling to get the bite valve situated properly so that it is immediately reachable, but not actually between my teeth. I found the best compromise to be where the valve was resting between my lips just touching my teeth. To take a drink I just have to lift my chin a bit. The geometry is such that this motion pulls the valve fully between my teeth where I can bite it and get the water flowing.

For me, this will probably be a big improvement in my hydration strategy. Even with 100 ounces of water right on my back, I still don’t drink nearly enough when out for a ride. I just don’t want to take my hands off the bars to put the valve in my mouth often enough. With this setup I can sip away almost constantly – a nice feature when you are inhaling somebody else’s dust on the trail, not that I ever do… (kidding, of course.)

On the downside, it’s like any other new piece of gear (a neck brace, for example) – it feels a little weird at first, but after a few hours of riding I was used to it. And you have to remember to disconnect the tubing before you take your helmet off. I’m sure there is enough stretch and slack in the tubing that you could get the helmet off just fine, you just wouldn’t be able to set it down.

I’ll report back on this after a few more rides.


One Response to “Hands-Free Hydration”

  1. Jim Elliker said

    I am pleased that the updates are starting to flow again and that you are setting yourself up for success. Ride Hard, my friend.

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