Photos: Erik Hoffman
After testing 686’s new integrated hydration system, we sat down with the man behind the technology.
During a visit to the 686 office this summer, the crew there hinted at some new technology to come. They wouldn't say much, just that we'd hear soon. What they were keeping under wraps until last week is called Hydrastash, and it places a water bladder—what is commonly referred to by its proprietary eponym as a Camelbak—in the powderskirt of your jacket, with a hose running parallel to the front zipper up to the collar of the jacket, where the mouthpiece sits. With an invite to test the technology, we showed up at Copper Mountain to a few fresh inches on the ground. There, we met up with the 686 crew: Brent Sandor, Pat McCarthy, Erik Hoffman, Michi Bretz, Sammy Luebke, and your favorite snowboarder’s favorite skier, Parker White. Water stashed and jackets loaded with pocket snacks, we wasted no time finding pockets to slash.
What is immediately noticeable about Hydrastash, as soon as you fill the bladder and fasten the powder skirt, is how unnoticeable it is. This was the pinnacle goal in the jacket's design but something that took time to develop. A lot of time.
After drinking water all day, it was easy to justify a couple beers. So we sat down with the man who has put more into this tech than anyone, 686 Directory of Product Innovation, Michi Bretz, to discuss the tedious process that created Hydrastash over some Colorado Kool-Aid.
According to Michi, the Hydrastash story begins like most of 686's innovations, with the brand's founder, Mike West. "Mike really wanting to do something outside of the box," says Bretz. "It's so cool when you can bring your water without a backpack, so wanted to make that happen via a jacket. But it wasn't as simple as it sounded. We had to redesign every component of a bladder system to make that happen."
The primary problem faced in Hydrastash's design lies in previously existing bladder technology. Bretz explains, "All the hardware out there commonly used for backpacks is simply too big. You would feel it." This goes back to the goal: for the rider not to feel Hydrastash. "You would have hard pieces that could hurt you when you crash, so basically we looked into it and came up with the first prototypes."
And at this point, we're talking about big picture concepts—figuring out the most efficient carrying system for the water. "After doing the first prototypes and figuring out that the concept itself of having it in a jacket is rad, we realized two things: we needed to find a way to do this without giving the user another task and that that you don't want that weight to move around," says Bretz. "With a vest configuration, for example, the weight swings. After trying all different placements and configurations, we realized that a powder skirt is something you already fasten like a belt. and it holds the bladder in place."
Bretz explains that a bulk of the challenge from this point forward was in how to integrate the system cleanly—a task more difficult than it sounds. This is where the most impressive part of the story begins. Bretz says he went through nearly 50 prototypes in the process of finding one that is both unnoticeable and efficient.
"Looking at the backpack systems, one thing we realized is that the hoses are very stiff—they typically use a hose around 10 millimeters. But in their bite valve, there's a small cross section there's a section that doesn't allow same amount of water through that would actually be able to pass through the hose." Essentially there is a bottleneck here. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, as they say.
Bretz continues, "We realized that if we made everything that diameter it would actually provide the same amount of flow, so we started redesigning the whole system around the smallest diameter in the big systems, which was like a four millimeter diameter. In a backpack it doesn't really matter how big the hose is," he explains. "Maybe some people even want it bigger so it's easier to grab onto, but we were looking at a next-to-body solution, so we wanted it to disappear completely into the background of the user's mind.
So where did they ultimately find the right diameter line? A bar. "The tube we ended up using is what's usually used in bar tap systems. That's where that diameter tube comes from: a beer tap line," says Bretz. "It's a quarter-inch diameter hose. It's FDA food grade. But those hoses aren't usually clear, and we wanted this one to be clear so you could see if there was any obstruction or residue left in there.
But the problem didn't stop here. The bite valve is the component a user puts in their mouth to drink from, and that had to be rethought as well. "The trickiest part was getting the same amount of water through a valve that is only half the size. I started cutting it in half. That didn't work," says Bretz. "The bite valve is the limiter in a typical system. We had to make it smaller yet maintain the same water flow rate. There are multiple components we're patenting on the system because it's a completely different solution from anything else that's out there."
The bottom line:
Does Hydrastash work? Yes. If you've ever been thirsty on-hill or carried a backpack to mitigate this problem, you can appreciate Hydrastash. The system carries 25 ounces of water, the equivalent of midsize water bottle, and the result is less necessity to stop at the lodge. If you load up on pocket snacks, the midday lunchbreak, which can be expensive and lethargy-inducing, is no longer a critical component of a day at the mountain, which translates to more time snowboarding.
There is no downside to hydration; the only potential negative is lugging water to facilitate it. What 686 has created with Hydrastash, however, is a system that allows the user to forget they have the ability to hydrate until thirst strikes. And if you don't want the bladder in the jacket? It's easily removable so the jacket functions like any traditional model without an integrated hydration system. Currently, Hydrastash will be offered in one jacket for the 2018/19 season, with an option for both men and women—an insulated, 20K option. In the future, we'd like to see Hydrastash available on a wider spectrum of outerwear options, and we wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the technology licensed out beyond the snow space. The more people drinking water, the better, right?
Hydrastash will be available worldwide on September 4, 2018. More info at Hydrastash.com.