Can you wear a Camelbak in a Triathlon? (rules and advice)


Racing a triathlon can take from 1h for super sprint triathlons and up to 17h for Ironman triathlons. Hydration is definitely key when racing, especially for longer events. Therefore, you will probably wonder if using a Camelbak is an option for your next triathlon.

Wearing a Camelback is permitted in a triathlon according to UCI and Ironman Triathlon rules. It is considered a hydration pack which is not forbidden by the rules.

Hydration packs are great as they allow you to drink on the go and are able to carry large amounts of water, generally between 50 and 100 oz (1.5-3L). They can look very attractive especially for beginner triathletes to help them access water during the cycling part of a triathlon. Indeed, taking water bottles out of their cage and putting them back in can be challenging and needs some practice.

We have seen that triathlon rules do not prevent you from using a Camelbak but should you wear one?
I will give you some more details below about the pros and cons of wearing a Camelbak in a triathlon.

Should you wear a Camelbak during a triathlon race?

During official triathlon events, you will find aid stations regularly along the course filled with food and drinks. Depending on the race organizer, the frequency of the aid station and their content will vary. But you will always find plenty of water and sometimes even energy drinks. When registering for your race event, read the competitor handbook to find out the content and location of the refill stations.

Water at an aid station. Image courtesy of Jorge Royan under CC license

So it looks like there is no need to carry plenty of water when racing. For the run it is quite easy to grab water at an aid station. You can even stop running for a few seconds in order to drink without much impact on your race result. But for the bike, it looks more difficult to be able to grab a bottle of water while cycling. You definitely need some skills or at least some practice to do it. This is why you might prefer using a Camelbak for the bike leg.

Why a Camelbak is not ideal for a race?

Please consider the following points before making your decision:

  • There is plenty of water available along the course. The shorter the event the least amount of water you will need. You can manage even if you miss out on an aid station.
  • A Camelbak is heavy to carry – it depends on the amount of water you put in but let’s take the example of an ironman: you will most likely take 100oz (3L) and you will have to carry it for hours.
  • A Camelbak is not very comfortable in the road riding position as you are bent forward.
  • A Camelbak will stick out a lot on your back and generate drag which will slow you down.
    The drag from an hydration pack is much more important than the one generated by water bottles located in the bottle cages.
    One way to reduce the air resistance from the use of a Camelbak is to put in under your jersey. But this will be time consuming during the transitions.

In summary, wearing a Camelbak for a triathlon race is not the best option. Having to carry extra weight around and being slowed down on the bike course with the extra drag will not help your performance but also require extra effort from you.

If you wonder about using Camelbak because you are not comfortable grabbing water bottles easily on your bike, I would recommend you take some time practicing. First, practice grabbing the bottle out of the cage while riding on the flat is the best way to start. You can even stop pedaling at first and then with time try to keep pedaling while doing it. One piece of advice: keep your eyes on the road! Look straight ahead, never at your hand grabbing the bottle and you will see it will be easy.

Once you are more comfortable with grabbing your bottle from your bottle cages, then just practice with a friend or family member grabbing a bottle on the go. This one is easier, you should get it faster.

Should you wear a Camelbak when triathlon training?

We have seen that wearing a Camelbak for a race is not the best option and there are quite a few triathletes wearing them. But now let’s talk about training.

Training is a very different aspect of triathlon. Whether you train with a club or solo, you won’t have aid stations along the way on your runs and rides. If you are training for long-distance triathlons, you will need to train on long-distance runs and rides without support. There are different solutions available to deal with your hydration problem:

  1. Plan ahead your route to include water stops on the way to refill your bottles.
  2. Wear an hydration pack (especially for running, on the bike 2 big water bottles can be enough for a long ride if the temperature is not too high).
  3. Do a loop (or more) that goes by your house or a friend house for instance to refill when needed.
  4. Ask a friend to meet you at a certain time and location and hand you water.

Solution 2 is the easiest option because you are autonomous and do not rely on others (friends’ availability, shop’s opening times, etc). Also being able to run with a Camelbak is a different exercise that can only make you faster when not wearing it. It feels like you have lost some weight when you don’t take it with you. It is very rewarding.

What I personnaly use to hydrate:

I train for long-distance runs with a hydration vest (Salomon Active Skin 4 as you can see me wearing it on the right).

I really enjoy this solution because unlike a Camelback the weight of the water is located at the front of my body. Also, I feel like I am not carrying extra weight for no reason as the vest is very light, especially when you are not using an extra bladder in the back.

For long-distance cycling training, I have always used 2 big water bottles that I refill along the way. I never really felt the need for a camelback on a road bike.

Conclusion

In my opinion, Camelbaks are a great piece of kit and if you buy one you will always find occasions to wear it. For triathlon racing, I don’t think it is worth the extra weight and drag penalty. But for training it is a great tool all year long: in winter, you can start training with extra layers, and then when warm just put them in the bag. In summer, you can just take more water. And it is usually possible to keep the water cool with Camelbaks.

So if you were to buy a hydration pack, I would recommend going for a classic Camelbak: the Rogue Hydration pack which can carry up to 85oz [2.5L] of water. It is not too expensive, a good design that is practical and will last with time.

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