One of the challenges of our trip through the Carrizo Plain and Sespe was that there were little to no services for very long stretches. That means no stores, few residences and unreliable creek beds. The problem is compounded by the fact that few people travel the route we took. On one day, we were passed by all of two cars. One of which, was a ranger who saw our bicycle tracks on the dirt road and came up to see who these crazy people on a bike could be.
All this meant that we had to carry water and lots of it. We were aiming to carry approximately 2 gallons per person. This can be tricky on a bike. Not everyone had the same equipment, so we each had to find a way to carry our respective water weight and this created an interesting situation in which we could compare different means to carry water.
I mention this only half-facetiously but IT IS important to drink as much water as you can when it is readily available. The less thirsty you are when you set out, the less you’ll have to take from your stores when you’re on the road. We made it a point to drink a lot of water when it was available.
We all had water bottles and none of them failed. I carried three 27oz Kleen Kanteens. Two of them were on my bike and one was tucked inside a pannier. In addition, I also had a plastic water bottle that I took with me from the Great Western Bike Rally. I used it to bathe with since I could squeeze a jet of water in…places. I suppose the only downside to water bottles is that most bikes aren’t equipped to carry more than two of them. If I were going to do a lot of touring in remote places, I might find ways to mount more of them on the bike, like the Salsa Fargo.
Plastic Gallon Jugs
This is the cheapest and probably most readily available method of carrying water. You can get these in almost any super market. The KEY to using the plastic jug method is to get one which has a THREADED cap and not the “pop top” which is so common these days. The reason why this is important is that you may have to bungee the jug to a rack and a jug of the “pop top” variety will burst open spilling water all over the road.
Chris and Michael both were carrying gallon jugs they survived intact for the most part. However, on one particularly bumpy stretch, the top happened to unscrew itself. Check the tops periodically, especially over bumpy terrain.
You can either bungee these to a rack or use a strap (like a toe-strap, or those strap that Riv sells) and tie them off the D-ring of a Carradice. When they’re empty, they weigh nothing, but can be a little bulky.
Mini Water Cooler Jugs
Our friend Jenny spotted these in a market in Paso Robles. They resemble the large water cooler jugs you may have in your office, but smaller. The plastic was harder and seemed more durable than the regular gallon jugs. The cap threading was also a lot more confidence inspiring. The cost was negligible so it seemed like a better way to go.
Things were fine for a few days then Laura sprung a leak with her jug that was strapped to her Jannd Extreme Front rack. A closer inspection showed that the mini water cooler jug had cracked! The 8 hours of bouncing along dirt washboard had fatigued the stiff plastic to the point of cracking. The cheaper gallon jugs seemed to handle the bumps better exactly because they weren’t as stiff and the material would give way.
Jenny carried a mini cooler jug and had no problems. She, however, didn’t have it strapped down to a rack. Instead it was suspended from her handlebars, bound by some bungees and nylon rope.
If you plan to use these and are strapping it to a rack, it would be beneficial to place a sweater between the jug and the rack to help cushion the bumps, especially if you’re going over rough terrain!
There were three types of dromedary bags that were being used on the trip. Laura and I had MSR dromedary bags. Jenny carried a combination of Platypus bags and a Camelback bladder with hose.
After using the MSR Dromedary bag in this situation, I have to say that I highly recommend them! They have a tough outer Cordura nylon shell that will take abrasions without splitting open. They also have a strap that runs through grommets around the bag that you can use as lashing points. At first, I strapped the drom bag to my folding chair that was in turn bungeed to my rack pack. I found that over time, the drom bag would slide down because of the weight of the water. In the end, the most ideal placement for me was to use toe-straps to lash the drom bag to the loops on my Brooks saddle. This kept the weight in a nice centered position on a piece of equipment that was designed to bear the weight.
Jenny’s Platypus bags worked well, but didn’t have any outer lashing points and the plastic was a little less resistant to abrasions. She had to place them in her panniers to carry them. She also experienced some problems with using the bare Camelback bladder. Since it had a built in tube and valve, it couldn’t be put under bungees. The pressure from the bungees would squeeze the water out of the valve.
Of the the various methods, the common milk gallon jug was the least expensive solution that provided pretty good results. The Platypus bags and Camelback bladder worked well, but their downside is that they can’t be readily lashed on to the bike (with bungees…I suppose if you had cam straps it would work) but have to be carried in a pannier taking up precious volume.
For me, I prefer and highly recommend the MSR Dromedary bags. Laura and I both each had a 6 liter bag and had no problems with them. They’re tough, reliable and can be lashed to the bike in a multitude of ways. They also aren’t that expensive when compared to a Platypus or Camelback system. When not in use, they can be folded up and take less volume than even the gallon jugs. Another plus is that they worked well with the MSR water filter we were using.
I find that they were a good investment and literally a life saver on our recent trip.