LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, TX – While many outdoor enthusiasts and weekend warriors are investing in backpack water systems to help hydrate themselves during their lengthy workouts, the Air Force is studying whether trainees could benefit from this increasingly popular type of equipment, too.

About 50 trainees in each of Lackland Air Force Bases’ seven basic military training squadrons are being issued backpack water pouches in a yearlong study to compare their health with that of fellow trainees who hydrate using canteens.

“I think everybody intuitively thinks CamelBaks, or a similar backpack hydration system, is the best way to go,” said Maj. Rob Passinault, 322nd Training Squadron commander. “However, we’ve got to support it with the data.”

Maj. Gen. Loyd S. Utterback, 2nd Air Force commander, has voiced support for personal hydration system use by all trainees, but he wants a larger study before giving final approval. A smaller study conducted in 2004 compared one flight of trainees wearing hydration backpacks with a flight wearing canteens – the study overwhelmingly supported the backpack system.

Each backpack holds roughly three canteens of water and allows trainees to easily sip water from a tube while marching or running. Robert Dill, who recently graduated from training, said the backpacks, which the airmen get to keep, are easier to carry than the canteens are.

“There is more water in (the backpacks), and the water stays cooler,” Dill said. “We could run with them, and they didn’t bounce around. That way, we could hydrate while we’re running our (physical readiness training).”

The backpacks may also help with trainees’ health. Staff Sgt. Ronald Coulter, a 322nd TRS military training instructor, said a pilot test indicated that trainees wearing backpack water pouches were healthier than trainees wearing canteens with no heat-related or dehydration-related incidents. Injuries, both from dehydration and muscle strains, are part of the data in the larger study.

When the yearlong study ends next August, data will be compiled to compare the two groups regarding injuries, time lost to injuries, time savings in fewer fill-ups, functionality of the two hydration systems and their suitability to training.

Major Passinault said medics at Lackland Air Force Base would begin a companion study later this year to see if backpacks increase trainee performance.

(Photo: Trainee Latoya Warren drinks water from a canteen as Trainee Mike Thomas sips water from a tube leading to his backpack water pouch. They are in the third week of basic military training in the 322nd Training Squadron and are part of a yearlong study to determine which method of drinking water is more beneficial. U.S. Air Force photo by James Coburn.)