Cost: Podium Chill (21 oz., 610 ml): $13; Podium Big Chill (25 oz., 750 ml): $15
Features: BPA-free; spill-proof Jet valve; leak-proof lockout mechanism; removable nozzle
How obtained: review sample from company
RBR Sponsor: no
Tested: 40+ hours
Camelbak Significantly Improves Bottles with Redesign
I've been a fan of the Camelbak bottle since I first tried one several years ago. The patented Jet Valve allows you to drink without having to open or close the valve, and it is spill-proof, to boot.
That combination had me hooked from the first slug. It just makes no sense to me to have to pull open a valve with your teeth before you can drink, and then make sure you close it (using your teeth, ramming it into your thigh, or whatever method works for you) to avoid dribbling sticky sports drink all over your bike.
But just as they became known for the innovative, easy drinking valve, Camelbak's bottles became somewhat notorious for the fact that mold seemed to easily take root in the silicon nozzle-valve assembly. No matter how you tried to clean and dry the bottle after use, that black stuff would invariably start to appear inside the nozzle after a while.
And the nozzle design didn't really make it easy to get in there and clean out the works. It took a bit of effort to literally pry off the nozzle (using something more than your bare hands), while the valve itself remained on the bottle as part of the cap. Close inspection of the old nozzle and valve assembly shows that ridges and small slots likely served to "trap" liquid, leading to that pesky mold issue.
Other shortcomings of the old bottle, while not nearly as bothersome, included a fairly small "bite ridge" on the nozzle for biting and holding the bottle in your teeth (say, for when you"re switching bottles on the bike), and a fairly subtle "ergonomic" shape (with less-pronounced ridges to grip to make it easy to pull the bottle from the cage, and replace it in a fluid motion).
Vast Improvements Make for a Much Better Bottle
Camelbak's newly redesigned bottle recently hit the shelves — and it is, in sum, a significant improvement that addresses all of these things. I've been testing both the Chill (21 oz., 610 ml) and the Big Chill (25 oz., 750 ml) together for the past month.
The new nozzle-valve assembly is a vast improvement. For starters, it features a larger aperture nozzle, with no inside ridge, which both allows for improved "flow rate" of liquid from the bottle — and, importantly, no longer traps liquid that can fester into mold. The bottle remains easily squeezable to regulate the flow rate.
Moreover, the Jet Valve is now built into the nozzle assembly, and the single piece can easily be removed (by hand) from the bottle cap for cleaning. The new assembly effectively does away with any ridges or slots that can trap liquid, which ostensibly should allow it to dry more effectively and thus eliminate the possibility of mold. Through testing to date, I have seen no signs of the gunky stuff.
To wash the cap by hand, Camelbak recommends pulling off the nozzle assembly and wiping the cap with a soapy sponge. After rinsing thoroughly, snap the nozzle back on. The company warns against disassembling the small parts of the cap Jet Valve, which could lead to leaks or malfunction.
The Podium Chill bottle is also dishwasher-safe — on a normal cycle (don't use a high-heat cycle). Remove the cap, making sure the Jet Valve lockout is open, and place it with the bottle on the top rack of your dishwasher.
The new, bigger nozzle also features a much larger bite ridge for holding the bottle in your teeth when you need to switch bottles while riding or free up a hand for some other purpose.
The new bottle also features more deeply inset notches near the top of the bottle to more easily grip the bottle when pulling it from the cage, and replacing it. I found the deeper notches to be especially helpful when finishing a drink and replacing the bottle in the cage. My middle finger seemed to naturally end up in one of the notches, which makes it easy to grip the bottle and recage it in one smooth motion — without looking, of course. (Just like clicking in, That's an important skill that enhances safety when drinking in groups, etc.)
Only One Shortcoming I Could Find
This is admittedly nit-picking considering that all the other changes have really improved the Podium Chill bottle, but Camelbak did not change the insulation technology. The bottle still features the same "double-walled bottle construction that uses closed-cell foam technology" — basically, foam sandwiched between two layers of plastic — to keep your liquid cold twice as long as a standard bottle.
That works as advertised, but here's hoping Camelbak can either revive or replace its Podium Ice technology (a bottle that kept liquids cold twice as long as the Chill bottle; the company stopped producing the ice bottle, reportedly because of an inability to source the insulating material).
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of "less than podium" talent, he sees himself as RBR's Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR's great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That's what we're all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John's full bio.