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Best Hydration Packs

Updated October 2018
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 116 Models Considered
  • 8 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 95 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best hydration packs

    Last Updated October 2018

    Whether you're hiking wooded trails, engaging in some fast-paced mountain biking, or training for a marathon, a hydration pack is a convenient way to get that sweet H2O. But how do you find the best hydration pack for you?

    We talked with professional backpacking guide Amy Horton to shed some light on the ins and outs of this piece of equipment.

    Her first piece of advice is to think carefully about what you need from a hydration pack. "What is your sport?" she asks. "Is speed and aerodynamic design most important, or cargo capacity? How long will you be out, and how much water do you need? Answer these questions and go from there."

    Read on for our full shopping guide to hydration packs, where you'll find all the information you need to choose your perfect pack. Then check out our top picks and buy with confidence.

    Think about comfort. Padded straps, ventilation, and overall support are all important features to consider in a hydration pack.

    Types of hydration packs

    Backpacks

    • Backpacks are the most popular and widely available type of hydration pack.

    • You can find lightweight packs for short activity sessions, trail packs for longer excursions, and extra-large packs for all-day or overnight trips.

    • Hydration backpacks feature a water reservoir, or "bladder," that fits inside the bag, as well as some storage space for other gear.

    • Backpack hydration packs are generally versatile, but some may feel too bulky for certain activities, such as running.

    If you have a preference on which shoulder your sip tube hangs over, make sure that your pack has a tube portal on that side or a central tube portal.

    Amy
    Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

    Waist packs

    • Waist packs are compact hydration packs that clip around the waist, a bit like a fanny pack.

    • Since they're very lightweight and comfortable, waist packs are ideal for users who want the most unobtrusive hydration pack possible.

    • Due to their compact size, they don't hold a lot of water and have little to no storage. They're best suited for short periods of exercise, under an hour or two.  

    You want something that is comfortable and fits snugly. Opt for a waist pack or a very minimal backpack. Don’t buy something big and bulky that will ruin your run.

    Amy
    Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

    Vests

    • Hydration vests are a cross between a hydration backpack and a vest.

    • Rather than having straps, they fit snugly around the body, making them more comfortable for long periods of use.

    • Hydration vests are generally favored by marathon runners and other long-distance athletes.

    EXPERT TIP

    You can fill the reservoir [of your hydration pack] with other beverages, but it may retain their taste afterwards if you don’t clean it – and the tube – very well.


    Amy  | Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

    Hydration pack features to consider

    Capacity

    Not all hydration packs have the same capacity, but they range from one to three liters. When deciding, consider how much water you tend to drink, how long you'll be out, and whether you'll have the opportunity to refill the reservoir at any point.  

    • Compact backpacks and waist packs have small reservoirs that hold around one to two liters of water.

    • Most standard backpack-style hydration packs have a capacity of two to two and a half liters.

    • The largest hydration packs may have slightly more room in them overall, but it's rare to find bladders with a capacity of more than three liters.

    It’s quite common to underestimate how much water you need to drink. Always allow for more than you think you need, and buy the biggest reservoir that makes sense for your size, sport, and activity level.

    Amy
    Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

    Storage space

    Most hydration packs have some extra storage space for any gear you need to bring with you, in addition to the water reservoir. Our expert, Amy, advises against opting for a bag that has too much additional storage space for your needs. "I would definitely say if you are just day hiking, get a sleek pack. I have used some unnecessarily bulky day packs in the past and never needed all that space. You are better off with something more comfortable and lighter. Think about the maximum amount of gear you’ll want to bring and go from there."

    • Even the most compact and lightweight hydration packs tend to have some degree of storage space, even if it's just a pocket for your phone and keys.

    • Slightly larger trail packs offer enough space to fit some essentials for a long hike, such as snacks and a first aid kit.

    • Very large hydration packs, with an overall capacity of 20 liters or so (though about 10% of that will be occupied by the reservoir), are most useful for overnight trips.

    You may not think much about the size of the opening on your reservoir, but you’ll wish you had later. If you want to add ice or – most importantly – have an easier time cleaning it, pick one with an extra-wide opening.

    Amy
    Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

    Removable reservoir

    A hydration pack with a removable water reservoir offers you much more versatility, since you can use it in other bags or backpacks if you desire. Most backpacks have a sleeve for a reservoir, whether they come with one or not. In a pinch, you can slip the reservoir into a drawstring gym bag with the sip tube out the opening. "The best feature of a good hydration pack," says Amy, "is an excellent water reservoir that you can remove and use interchangeably in any pack you own.”

    You’re best off buying a pack with a reservoir that offers an on/off switch on the bite valve. These bite valves tend to last longer and leak less.

    Amy
    Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

    Size and fit

    It's important to find a hydration pack that is the right size and fit for you. An ill-fitting hydration pack will be uncomfortable to wear, especially over long periods of time. When buying online, look at the dimensions in the product specifications to work out whether it will fit your body. It's also advisable to buy a pack that can be returned in case it doesn't fit right.  

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Women’s packs are cut to fit the female body more closely and comfortably and are widely available in all capacities and styles.

    Hydration pack prices

    You can find hydration packs in a range of prices, from $10 to $400, to suit any budget.

    • Inexpensive: Basic, compact hydration packs start between $10 and $20. These are not from name brands, and they may not be as durable as those from trusted manufacturers.

    • Mid-Range: You can find some gems for $20 to $100. These hydration packs, especially at the middle to higher end of the price range, are made from quality components that will last for years. Note that not all mid-range packs are as durable as we'd like.

    • Expensive: High-end hydration packs cost from $100 to $400. These include large, very durable packs designed for multi-day use.

    EXPERT TIP

    Make sure that your sip tube easily detaches from the reservoir itself. This is a lifesaver when it comes to convenience!


    Amy  | Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

    Tips

    • Decide whether you want your hydration pack to provide extra protection. Some models incorporate lightweight body armor to protect you when participating in potentially dangerous sports or activities.

    • Carefully consider your needs. "Do you need to carry a lot of extra stuff,” asks Amy, “or are you cool with just your water and the bare essentials? What activities will you be using your hydration pack for? You very well may need a couple different packs if your activities vary widely."

    • Make sure your hydration pack is easy to adjust. Shoulder straps, sternum straps, and waist straps should all be fully and easily adjustable.

    • Check that a reservoir is included with your hydration pack. While most models include the bladder that holds the water, it isn't a given. You might need to purchase one separately.
    The most commonly reported issues that warrant replacement of hydration reservoirs or parts are bite valve leakage and breakage. These problems are easily avoided by going easy on the valve. Usually it takes only gentle pressure to release water.

    FAQ

    Q. Do I need to clean my hydration pack?
    A.
    Amy says, "Yes, you do need to clean it!" It may not be the most pleasant chore, but it’s a necessary one if you want to drink clean, safe water. Take the hydration pack apart and wash each component well, particularly inside the tube and bite valve.

    Q. What should I look for if I want to use my hydration pack in freezing conditions?
    A.
    You'll need a hydration pack with special adjustments so the water won't freeze in the bladder or the drinking tube. Features to look for include insulated reservoirs and drinking tubes, reservoir covers, and bite valve covers.

    Q. Can I remove the reservoir from my hydration pack?
    A.
    Our expert, Amy, sheds some light on this: "Almost all packs made these days have a portal for the hydration reservoir tube, so you can remove the reservoir from your hydration pack and use it in other packs as well if you like. That way you don’t have to buy multiple reservoirs unless you want extras."

    The team that worked on this review
    • Alice
      Alice
      Web Producer
    • Amos
      Amos
      Director of Photography
    • Branson
      Branson
      Videographer
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Jennifer
      Jennifer
      Writer
    • Lauren
      Lauren
      Writer
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor

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