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Hiking’s Tiny Dynamic Duo or Much Ado About Magnets
Montana Senior News Oct./Nov. 2016
Never let it be said that the little things in life can’t make a hiker happy. Proof of that humbly resides on my backpack’s sternum strap which buckles across my chest. Measuring a mere 1/2-inch in diameter and weighing all of 4 grams, the object of my affection is none other than an old-fashioned magnet. When employed as a means for taming a wayward drink tube dangling from said backpack, its status shifts from inconsequential to indispensable faster than it takes to swallow a mouthful of water.

Turning back the calendar three decades when I began hiking, I relieved my thirst with a pair of water bottles sidesaddled in my fanny pack. To avoid spilling the precious liquid meant frequent but necessary stops to remove and replace bottle caps before returning each bottle to its holster. This method worked fine until I started venturing higher and deeper into the backcountry.

Longer treks, I soon discovered, required downing more water more often while I inhaled and exhaled my way up breath-stealing switchbacks. These treks also required persistently putting one foot in front of the other if I wanted to reach a mountain pass or fire lookout before moonrise or the age of 90, whichever occurred first.

Some years later after water-bladder hydration systems became more visible on trails, I bought one to insert in the backpack I was then using. My new best friend came with a refillable reservoir, a flexible drink hose, and a bite valve from which I could sip water as I walked. All well and good, or so I thought.

The frontal plastic tube was a definite improvement over the fanny-pack system. It eliminated awkward stretching, fiddling with bottle caps, and unwanted stops. However, it also exhibited a trait about which I was not so enthusiastic. Thanks to the pressurized water within its confines, the tube seemed to possess a mind of its own akin to a rambunctious two-year-old, with rambunctious being the operative word.

Despite a pair of elasticized bands on my shoulder strap that attempted to keep the tube tucked close to my pack, they couldn’t subdue its quirky nature. The jouncing appendage would migrate to different positions with each boot step, at times bumping into my arm as I wielded my hiking poles. Or, it would get entangled with the cord attached to my sunglasses or ensnarled in the cinching strap of my hat if either rested off-line around my neck.

Eventually, I began to notice water tubes on the trail that displayed no such tendencies. They actually behaved themselves remaining obediently in place until needed. And they all had something in common.
The secret, I found out, was attributable to a pair of small round magnets—one placed on the pack’s sternum strap, the other affixed at the base of a companion bite valve. Furthermore, I learned the pair could be purchased as a set for less than ten dollars at my local sporting goods store. Well, you could have knocked me over with a granola bar.

Once I realized how simply the problem could be solved, I replaced my original bite valve with the magnetized version and fastened its 4-gram mate to the partner strap. Granted, those two magnets are little. But acting in tandem they have the power to make this hiker very happy.