Large, 3-liter bladder and strong nylon build holds up to extended outdoor use. User-friendly features include storage pockets, reflective strip, and on/off lever for leak prevention. Comfortable to wear and easy to refill.
Pricey. Some owners wish that the gear pockets were a bit more spacious.
Inexpensive, comfortable, and lightweight. Breathable mesh straps. Easy to use and clean w/a versatile tube that can be used on either side of the pack.
Mesh pocket for carrying extra items does not seem very durable and does not provide much space.
Provides ample water and gear storage space. Features interior and exterior pockets. A sleek design at a mid-range price.
The straps fit snugly, especially on large and tall users. Not as comfortable as some other models.
A comfortable, compact hydration pack that also offers 3 spacious storage compartments.
At 1.5 liters, this model has less hydration capacity than others we tested, and the waist strap is bulky.
In addition to its 2.5-liter bladder, owners rave about its spaciousness; it's capable of fitting ample provisions and survivalist tools. Handsome camouflage design is ideal for serious outdoor enthusiasts.
Some issues w/leaks have been reported, but owners suggest checking the tubing connections. The design is a bit impractical for light use, and it may be too heavy for some users.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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."
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