While the chem/bio CamelBak was first available back in 2000, they weren't well known or really even approved for use by Big Army. Well, the Army just got around to testing and approving 3 liter hydration systems for use in a chemical, biological, radioactive or nuclear threat environment. The first one we've heard about is the CamelBak CBR X. It was just approved for use by the Army's office of the Product Manager-Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment (PM-SPIE) and the Army's Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) this morning.

The Army doesn't endorse products but they do test them for use in combat. And they put the reservoirs through the ringer. Part of the testing they did was to subject the reservoirs, fittings and tubes to chemical nerve agents after 30 days of field use. After 6 hours, the water inside the system was tested and the approved systems were clean enough to drink without consequence.

UPDATE 1: We just heard from Source Hydration that they're CBR system was also approved by the Army. We're waiting on them to offer up some details on their system.

UPDATE 2: I was remiss in pointing out that the new M50/M53 Avon masks have the same hydration fitting as legacy gas masks. So, the standard type A gas mask hydration adapter will work with the new M50.

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The challenge in creating the CBR X reservoir was making it as, or, more durable than a regular reservoir without making it too stiff, heavy or affecting taste. While the reservoir is thicker and tougher than a standard or military spec CamelBak reservoir, CamelBak's head of R&D, Jeremy Galten explains "the breakthrough came when we figured out how to combine an RF weldable urethane material and a chemically resistant barrier in a way that didn't compromise the reservoir's durability or performance."

While the materials are cutting edge, the form it comes in looks a bit dated. It's got that sausage roll look and smaller opening that was state-of-the-art back a half-decade ago. That's because the approval process took a loooong time. It started in 2004, but the CBR-X took it's final form when it was submitted to the Army back in 2006. Once the approval process started, there was no way to swap in newer features (like a wider opening cap) without invalidating the Army's testing. Those features may appear down the road on a model that doesn't bear the Army's approval.

In the meantime, all of the submitted adapters and fittings were unchanged and approved for use so the system works seamlessly with current gas mask adapters, bite valves and filling options (i.e. filling from a squad sized bladder). The system could replace a military spec hydration system and still function in a CBR environment after months of daily use, according to CamelBak, though the army is only approving it's use in accordance with its 30 day testing protocol.

In order to provide CBR protection, the whole CBR X is slightly heavier, a little thicker and about 2-3x the cost of a mil-spec CamelBak reservoir system. But, it's going to be your best friend when you hear those three painful words. The CBR X will be out sometime in the first quarter of 2011.

Straight from CamelBak's release:

CamelBak's Advanced Chemical and Biological Resistant Reservoir Receives U.S. Army Approval

PETALUMA, Calif. (November 16, 2010) – CamelBak Products, LLC, announced today that its Chem Bio Reservoir X™ (CBR X), the next-generation of hydration safety equipment, meets the US Army's stringent requirements for a Multi-Purpose Personal Hydration System and is able to withstand 6 hours of chemical challenge after the rigors of 30 days of use, making it easier and safer to stay hydrated in a CBRN threat environment. The product is safe for everyday use and suitable for hydrating with military gas mask during a chemical or biological incident.

By combining CamelBak's DuraFlex Barrier™ material, HydroGuard™ technology and HydroLink™ modular attachment systems, the CBR X sets a new standard for providing hands-free access to safe drinking water while working in some of the world's most lethal environments.

The CBR X advanced hydration system is ideal for military, law enforcement, homeland security, HAZMAT and emergency personnel faced with chemical and biological threats.

"We design, test and manufacture our hydration systems to perform in the most challenging and lethal environments in the world," said Sally McCoy, CEO of CamelBak. CamelBak introduced their first chemical and biological resistant reservoir in 2000 to ensure safe, hands-free hydration while wearing protective masks and related clothing. The company has since invested significant resources and research in the design and production of various improved versions of its original, groundbreaking product.

Current military and law enforcement branches using CamelBak hydration systems include individuals and units in all U.S. military services, numerous federal tactical units in most DHS agencies, Naval Special Warfare, U.S. Army Special Forces."