Desert water bags were once a common sight on the highways of the American Southwest. Designed to keep water cool under hot conditions, desert water bags were available at service stations and general stores, where they could be filled with water and hung on the outside of the vehicle to keep cool. Desert water bags fell out of favor in the 1950s, but they are still made in limited quantities, and vintage desert water bags are valued by some as antiques.
How It Works
Desert water bags were traditionally made from a porous material like canvas, flax or linen. The bags were tightly woven to keep water in, but porous enough to allow a small amount to seep through the bag. A motorist could hang the bag on the outside of his vehicle or sling it across the hood during a drive, and the forward motion would evaporate the water that had seeped through the bag, cooling the water inside. Most bags included a sturdy handle for hanging outside the vehicle, an opening at the tip for filling the bag and the brand name printed on the side. Some also had a spout toward the bottom for easy emptying.
Desert water bags were initially intended to keep water cool for human consumption, and were used by farmers, miners, construction crews and other workers, along with ordinary travelers. They also became useful for motorists on long drives as a source of water for their car radiators. Overheating was a common problem in early automobiles, and desert water bags proved an effective solution. They became less common with car engine improvements and the advent of the cooler in the 1950s. Desert water bags have also been adapted for military use in desert climates.
When Richard Corrigan isn't writing about the outdoors, he's probably outside experiencing them firsthand. Since starting out as a writer in 2009, he has written for USA Today, the National Parks Foundation and LIVESTRONG.com, among many others, and enjoys combining his love of writing with his passion for hiking, biking, camping and fishing.