Hydrapak Gel Bot falls into the latter category. I initially came across the Gel Bot when a friend asked a question about it on Twitter a week or so ago. I was intrigued, so I published a short preview post on the Gel Bot, and the folks at Hydrapak got in touch with me and offered a free sample to formally review (thanks guys!).
There's generally not much you can say about a water bottle - if they're comfortable to carry and you can drink effectively from them on the run, they more or less accomplish what they're supposed to. What makes the Hydrapak Gel Bot unique and innovative is that it doesn't just carry water. In addition to 20oz of fluid (they also make a larger, 24oz bottle), the Gel Bot also has an internal chamber that can be filled with energy gel (it's the red cylinder in the picture above and to the left) - thus, you can both hydrate and fuel up from the same place!.
The reason the Gel Bot initially appealed to me is because I hate carrying gel packets when I run. In addition to having to find a place to put them, the act of ripping them open and eating them usually results in my hands turning into a sticky mess, which is virtually impossible to deal with unless you're also carrying water and are willing to give some up for the clean-up. In race situations I've resorted to carrying small, disposable gel bottles (travel shampoo bottles from Target) in which I mix gels with a bit of water to make them easier to ingest - this works for me in a marathon, but isn't ideal for long training runs where I usually prefer to carry a handheld water bottle.
The Gel Bot solves this problem because it allows me to carry both water and gel in one place, and yes, it works. Before a 10 miler a few days ago, I loaded up the Gel Bot's gel chamber (see above picture - holds about 3oz of gel) about halfway with Carb BOOM! banana-peach gel (I have a large bottle of gel - thanks @petfxr! - which makes for easier filling than using individual packets), then added a little water to thin it out. I pushed the cartridge plunger up a bit until the mixture was level with the top of the cartridge, and popped it into the lid (see video below for a demo on the filling mechanism). Next, I filled the bottle with some ice and water and screwed the lid on. Very easy, and no mess.
The way the Gel Bot spout works is that when it is pushed down, you get gel when you suck or squeeze (get your mind out of the gutter please!). When you pull the spout up, it delivers only water. It's an easy switch, and the mechanism works great. The spout is rubberized, which is my preferred kind, and is very easy to drink from on the run. The gel mechanism also worked great, with the only drawback being that I ate it all too quickly - apparently I got more gel per suck than I realized (I really wish there was a less euphemistic way to write this).
One last note on cleanup. I've read a few reviews of the Gel Bot where people have complained that they forgot to clean the gel chamber and it got moldy. I view this as operator error, and I honestly had no trouble cleaning mine out after the run by disassembling and rinsing some water through it. No problem at all.
All in all, I'm very impressed with the Hydrapak Gel Bot, and will be using it again on my middle distance runs where I prefer to use a hand-held water bottle and need to carry along a few gels.
Update 6/21/10: Thought I'd confirm that I'm still using the Gel Bot as a hand-held regularly on my runs, and it continues to work great. Love being able to stash gel inside the bottle, and having it surrounded by iced water actually makes the gel much more palatable on a hot day.
You can view the Hydrapak Product page for the Gel Bot here: http://www.hydrapak.com/products/bottles/gel-bot
The Gel Bot is available for purchase, with or without a waist belt, at Amazon.com:
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