The first time I got a CamelBak I was so excited to use it. I filled it up, hit the trail only to find out pretty quickly that my water tasted awful.
A funky CamelBak doesn’t really motivate me to stay hydrated. But unfortunately, they’re pretty prone to developing weird, bad, and sometimes outright nasty tastes — sometimes out of nowhere.
But what exactly causes bad tastes in a CamelBak bladder? And how do you get rid of them?
The two most common causes of a bad tasting CamelBak bladder are that new bladders often have a plasticky taste or that mold is starting to grow in the reservoir. If you’re leaving your water in your bladder too long, aren’t cleaning other drinks out thoroughly enough, or are letting too much backwash into the tube when you drink, a funky taste is also likely to develop.
Most bad tastes in a CamelBak bladder can be fixed by soaking it with fresh lemon juice or cleaning tablets and washing thoroughly.
No matter how well you clean and care for your CamelBak, a bad taste is likely to develop sooner or later.
The good news is, if you know how to figure out the cause and exactly how to fix it, it’s no big deal. You’ll be back to fresh, clean water in no time.
1. New CamelBaks Sometimes Taste Like Plastic
Brand new CamelBaks, and sometimes CamelBaks that haven’t been used in a long time, may have a faint plastic smell and taste.
It’s nothing harmful and will often go away on its own after a few uses (and a few washes). But if you want to get rid of it sooner, it’s not usually that difficult to do.
- Fill your CamelBak as full as possible with hot water and either ¼ cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice per liter of water that your reservoir holds or a couple cleaning tablets of your choice.
- Let soak for at least 20 minutes or, even better, overnight.
- Wash your bladder as normal.
2. You Have Mold In Your CamelBak
That funny taste in your CamelBak may be more than just gross. If it’s caused by mold, it could make you pretty sick.
A musty, earthy, or mildewy taste in your CamelBak is a good sign that you have mold growing. It’s best to stop using it until you can thoroughly clean it and treat it for mold (and don’t forget to treat the tube for mold as well).
- Rinse out the tube and bladder under hot running water.
- Soak them, fully submerged in a 50/50 mix of hot water and distilled white vinegar (or more vinegar if you want) for at least 20 minutes.
- Scrub a paste of water and baking soda on every interior surface of your bladder and tube. Let sit for about 15 minutes.
- Wash your CamelBak as normal.
To prevent mold from growing in your CamelBak going forward:
- Wash your bladder properly at least every few times you use it. Rinse it out every time.
- Let the bladder and tube dry completely before reassembling or storing them.
- If you don’t have time to let them fully dry, store your bladder in the freezer to slow the growth of mold and bacteria.
3. You Left Water In Your Reservoir For Too Long
Water left to sit in a CamelBak for days or weeks isn’t going to taste very good when you finally get around to drinking it.
Even if patches of black mold aren’t visible, it’s very likely that some amount of mildew has already grown. Especially if the pack was left sitting in warm temperatures.
Water sitting in a CamelBak may also begin to taste plasticy after a few days, even if you’ve already fixed this issue before. The longer your water sits, the more time chemicals have to leach from the reservoir and collect in your water.
Your best bet is to dump out your CamelBak and rinse daily, always filling with fresh water shortly before use.
4. You Have Leftover Drink Residue In Your Reservoir
If you drink coffee, tea, or anything else other than water from your CamelBak, that strange taste may just be leftover drink residue in your bladder or tube.
You have to keep in mind, a bladder is a lot harder to clean than a cup or bottle. It has lots of tight spaces where residue can build up out of sight.
Regularly and thoroughly cleaning your reservoir and tube, with the right tools for the job, is key to keeping your bladder smelling and tasting fresh.
A CamelBak cleaning kit comes with a soft bristled sponge for scrubbing the reservoir, a tube brush for scrubbing the interior of the hose, and a couple reservoir cleaning tablets to loosen residue and sanitize all those hard to reach places.
Features a large brush for the reservoir and a extra long straw brush to clean the drinking tube plus CamelBak cleaning tabs which will help clean away any scum. After cleaning use the reservoir drying kit to easily hang your bladder and get it completely dry.
A must have for CamelBak bladder owners.
I’d recommend one even if you only drink water from your CamelBak but, to me, if you’re drinking anything else it’s more or less mandatory.
5. Your Ice Cubes Are The Problem
A few months back, I was staying at an Airbnb near a few trails I wanted to hike. I filled up my CamelBak and headed out the door.
A few hours in, I noticed that the water in my CamelBak tasted awful.
I had just cleaned it pretty well the day before, but I guess not well enough. I gave my reservoir a super thorough cleaning that night.
The next day I had the same problem.
Then I finally realized, the ice from the Airbnb’s freezer was the problem.
I'm guessing the filter needed to be changed in the ice maker or maybe it just needed to be cleaned. Either way, I stopped using that ice and started filling my reservoir half full with drinking water and freezing it the night before instead (a better way to keep water cold longer anyway).
No more funky taste for the rest of the trip.
The moral is, if your CamelBak has tastes funny. It’s not always the CamelBak that’s to blame.
6. You’re Letting Backwash Into The Tube
If all else fails, you may need to take a closer look at how you’re drinking from your CamelBak.
You should be gently biting the mouthpiece, pulling enough water through for a drink, and then releasing pressure from the bite valve before swallowing. Repeat until satisfied.
If you’re keeping the bite valve open and taking multiple chugs, some water is likely to flow from your mouth back into the tube between pulls.
If too much backwash enters your tube and bladder, it may start tasting pretty nasty. Especially if it’s allowed to sit in the tube and warm up.