Do I need the best hydration bladder for backpacking? When should I use it? How big of one should I get? We help you figure out your individual answers to these questions. Hydration bladders first showed up during the ’90s in the cycling world where athletes wanted hands-free access to water.
Initially, they were just sold in hydration packs. But it didn’t take long for all backpack manufacturers to realize this was a very convenient way to drink while hiking, backpacking, running, and many other sports.
Most recreational backpacks sold today are compatible in some way, either as a sleeve to hold the bladder, a hole for the drink tube, or ways to thread the drink tube through the shoulder straps. Below we discuss what is important when choosing a hydration bladder and what to consider before purchase.
What to See When Buying
Size and Compatibility:
The first thing to consider is if the model you want fits the compartment in your backpack. Most hydration bladders use a similar shape, but they all vary a little bit. More important is the size. Almost all bladders come in two-liter and three-liter sizes, and some come in even smaller sizes.
In general, we recommend 3L hydration bladders. Compared to 1L and 2L bladders they are about the same price and weight but give you 50 percent more water. You can choose to fill your bladder the whole way or just partway.
One reason not to get a 3L bladder is if the compartment in your pack is small. For example, in trail running sports, a running pack like the Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set will typically only hold a 2L hydration bladder. That said, you can still use a 3L hydration bladder, we just can’t fill it up the whole way. If you’re looking for something versatile, go larger, but if you want a bladder for a specific purpose, find out what size your pack will best accommodate, and get that. Take a look for best hydration bladder for backpacking sizing.
Choose Your Size:
Even though we recommend a larger bladder, it may not be in your best interest. Take a gander below to see which size is best for you. All bladders we tested had large and small reservoir options.
1 Liter: A great size for minimalists, commuters, or kids. It’s perfect for quick hikes and trail runs, or if you intend on filling up often on the trail.
2 Liter: Probably the most popular option. This is best for those taking off for a day hike, ski, or snowboard into the backcountry. If you’re not a fan of constantly filling up, this is a great option. It provides a sufficient amount of water for most of the day.
3 Liter: The most versatile of all sizes. This is perfect for those who don’t plan on filling up or are in need of a lot of water. We like this size the most because you have the option to carry a lot or a little water.
Many of our backpackers find the best hydration bladder for backpacking to this to be a sufficient size when going through areas with little to no fill-up opportunities throughout the day.
Another compatibility consideration is the profile of your bladder. Some bladders are wide while others are narrow. Some (when filled) are fat while others are flat. So what do you need? Before you purchase a reservoir, take a look at your Hydration Pack.
Most that is hydration bladder compatible come with a built-in sleeve. Take a look at the sleeve to see how wide or narrow it is. From that, you’ll be able to determine which bladder to choose.
When considering what kind of bladder opening to go with, you need to consider how easy it is to fill, the environment you are filling in, and how easy it is to open and close. There are three styles of bladder openings: fold top, zip-top, and screw top.
Fold Top bladders are the most popular in this review. The tops flip up and fold over; once folded over, you slide a closure over the top, and the bag is free from leaks! To find your best hydration bladder for backpacking.
This design is the best type of bladder opening when filling up in streams or other outdoor environments where you need to gather water from limited, trickling sources. They are also great to use under a regular tap at home.
Zip Top bladders are similar to the fold top style. They resemble a large zip lock bag with a closure that fits overtop the zipper. Even though these are easy to use, many of our testers thought they took a little longer to open and close then fold top styles.
These are also great options for filling up at slowly flowing streams and at home under a regular tap. Even though they are easier to clean than screw top options, they are harder to clean than fold tops as you need a brush and cannot flip them inside out.
Screw Top bladders take a little longer to open and close than other versions but are the easiest to fill in shallow basins. The screw models are held horizontally or diagonally when filling.
This is especially handy at public restrooms and camping restrooms where you don’t want the bladder touching more surfaces than needed.
The amount of water you need to carry will depend on your total time exercising, as well as how long you will go between water availability. As a general rule, bring more than you think you will need, but as little as possible.
A 2-liter bladder is typically the largest single water carrying option, and many packs now offer dual bottles in the front pockets as an alternative to a rear-carrying reservoir. The front bottles usually don’t provide as much water storage, but they might be a more comfortable alternative for some runners.
Keep in mind that extra reservoirs and bottles are available for sale separately, should you need to add additional fluid capacity later on. In general, we suggest carrying about 2 liters of water for runs lasting longer than two hours.
However, because water needs vary from runner to runner, it’s important to know how much you will require for your conditions. You will need the best hydration bladder for this.
For example, you will need more water in hotter conditions due to your body producing more sweat, while cooler weather may mean that you’ll be fine with less.
Amount of Gear:
The best hydration bladder for backpacking has much amount of gear. The amount of gear you need will depend on the running conditions and your personal preferences. Inclement weather may require additional layers, time of day determines if lighting will be necessary, and the length of your run will dictate how much nutrition you should carry.
If you typically run for under three hours in fairly consistent weather conditions, you will likely find that a pack with a capacity of 5 liters or less should suffice. However, if your run is in constantly changing the weather or is longer than four hours, you might prefer a larger pack with more storage options to accommodate extra clothing layers.
While the fit is the key for any pack at any length of run, it becomes more critical the longer you’re running. In general, hydration packs within a given brand will differ based on pack capacity and features.
However, some brands offer a separate, high-end option which is differentiated from the basic packs based on fit and materials. These high-end packs tend to use more comfortable fabrics and feature a dialed-in, personalized fit, usually at a higher price point.
Frequently, these packs are offered in multiple sizes for an even more specific fit. High-end packs and vests use softer, lighter, and often more durable fabrics, thereby extending their comfort and lifespan. Find the best hydration bladder for hiking.
These premium packs are ideal for runners who will be wearing them for more than a few hours at a time, or on a frequent basis (at least once a week). Even if you won’t be running for many hours at a time, a high-end pack is ideal for runners with sensitive skin or those with specific fit needs.
The Bite Valve and Hose:
Seemingly small, but oh so essential, the bite valve is crucial as its where the water meets your mouth. Bite valves are typically comprised of soft rubber. Some require a simple squeeze to unleash the flow of water; others require pressing a button with your tongue.
Almost all bite valves have a lock or shut off feature which is invaluable when tossing a hydration pack in a car or another larger gear bag. The hose on most packs can be trimmed to length.
On the pack itself, there’ll be hose guides and mounting clips to stay the hose from swinging or flopping regarding once riding. Best hydration bladder for backpacking is easy to find.
Optional hose accessories include sleeves to keep the water warm or cold (depending on the season) and even semi-rigid setups for angling the bite valve close to your mouth.
Built-In Body Armor:
All it takes is one crash to realize falling on a hydration pack is a lot nicer than landing on your back. Don’t worry; you’re not going to pop the bladder. Reservoirs are built tough so they’re able to withstand the force of a hit.
Taking that bit of protection even farther, a few pack manufacturers incorporate body armor-style padding and impact-absorbing plates into their packs to enhance this protection. Best hydration bladder for hiking.
Care and Feeding:
Cleanliness is essential to hydration pack bladders. Ideally, they should be emptied immediately after use and hung out to dry. Several corporations build drying inserts to stay the inner surfaces apart, and plenty of riders modify a coat-hanger for the task.
Another solution is keeping it in the fridge, the cold keeps nasty stuff from growing and cold water on a hot day is heavenly. It’s recommended to only put water in the reservoir, simply because cleaning out nutrition drinks thoroughly is almost impossible.
This inevitably leads to bacteria growth and then buying a new hose, bite valve or entire reservoir. Find the best hydration bladder for backpacking.
Access and Filling the Reservoir:
Hydration packs vary in how you get at the bladder itself. Some reservoirs reside within the most pack that saves weight, whereas others have their own dedicated compartment for defense from pokey tire pumps, tube valves, and multi-tools.
Most reservoirs feature a detachable hose to make filling easier. To fill bladders with a permanent hose requires either slipping the hose out of the bag or carrying the whole bag over to the faucet. Consider your best hydration bladder for backpacking.
- CamelBak Crux Reservoir
The Camelbak Crux wins our Best Buy Award for its impressive performance and fair price. The Crux is the latest Camelbak bladder in a lineage that goes back decades; it may be the oldest running hydration reservoir.
Over the years CamelBak has continually modified this bladder. It now has a large wide-mouth opening, large grab handle for filling, two chambers for water to reduce sloshing and a removable hose.
The bite valves are our favorites because the size is right and the locking mechanism is easy to operate. A huge plus is the limited lifetime warranty which further enhances its long-term value.
We highly recommend this bladder if you’re on a budget and don’t mind a little extra work cleaning (if you use sports powders). The Camelbak Crux is easy to use with its numerous features and lavish bite-valve technology.
The bag itself has a thin profile that fits into most backpacks. The tube is long enough to reach around for easy water access, and the bite valve is fantastic! The rubber is large with a huge opening that allows ample water flow.
- Geigerrig Pressurized Hydration Engine and Reservoir
This is by far the easiest hydration bladder to drink from if you pressurize it. The pressure system sprays the water without the need to suck at all. Simply bite down, and water will come!
The bite valve is smaller than the CamelBak Crux but because of the pressurized system, it didn’t have any major performance differences (except when depressurized). When it’s not pressurized, though, the flow rate is about average.
A huge benefit to the spray function is that we turned our bladder into a sun shower and a way to clean off ourselves, animals, and equipment before getting into our vehicle. We also like the option of a shower after long days on the trail or to remove sand post-surf. best hydration bladder for backpacking.
Initially, part of our skepticism with the pressurized system is it felt like it was solving a problem that didn’t exist. All the hydration systems we tested are relatively easy to drink from. However, the benefits don’t exist so much in how easy it is to drink from, but the variety of uses it fulfills when pressurized.
Our biggest caveats with the bite valve are that the on and off switch is pretty difficult to turn, and actually got stuck when not adequately cared for. We prefer switch-locks like on the Crux instead. We are also surprised that this bladder did not have a measurement system on the side of the bag.
This made filling more difficult when we were trying to be very specific with the amount of water we wanted to carry on trial runs. We would recommend almost any other bladder if you’re interested in one with a measurement.
- Hydrapak Shape-Shift Reservoir
This lightweight, slim, and sleek hydration bladder by Hydrapak comes with a zip-lock divider that prevents your water from jostling around as you move. The top is a flip-top design that makes it easy to use and easy to clean.
It comes in 32-ounce, 50-ounce, 2-liter, and 3-liter sizes. The blaster water valve allows you to get to your water without having to suck hard, and tube stays in place because of the quantum clip. The bite valve also features a locking mechanism so you won’t have to worry about spills or leaking when you’re on the go.
When it comes time to clean the Hydrapak, you simply open it up, flip it inside out, and pop it in the dishwasher or scrub it with a brush. You’ll also be sure it dries thoroughly between uses because of the reversible design. It comes 100 percent welded, and it has very few seams to add to its durability.
The new bite valve offered in this iteration is advertised to offer “20% more flow” in the 2019 update. Indeed this design offers a faster flow compared to its predecessor. It’s easy to hydrate on-to-go, and it is one of the easiest bladders to use because of its simple design. Best Hydration Bladder for Backpacking
- Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir
The Osprey Hydraulics bladder is unique for its integrated backplate that helps the bladder retain its shape when empty. Offered in 2L or 3L options, it features a slim profile and an elongated spout, perfect for collecting water from shallow trickles in the backcountry. Best Hydration Bladder for Backpacking
It slides easily into backpacks making it easy to remove, fill, and replace without frustration. While good for hiking and backpacking, it’s a little too heavy for running vests. While we didn’t experience any durability issues or note any problems during our testing period, some online reviews express issues with the durability of the outer fabric.
Also, the taste of the bladder was bad during the first few uses, but it went away after several uses. Overall, this is a great hydration bladder for those seeking a rigid and easy-to-use hydration bladder.
A feature unique to the bladder is the ergonomic Hydrostatic backplate that adds structure and rigidity to the bladder that maintains its flat profile when stuffed inside a pack. While this is a cool feature that many backpackers and hikers may enjoy, it limits the versatility of its fit.
Since the backplate is rigid, it is designed only to fit inside of packs that are large enough to accommodate it. For example; if you have a 3-L bladder, you need a backpack that can hold a 3-L bladder. Best Hydration Bladder for Backpacking
The bladder does not compress down, nor is it comfortable to wear with a running pack that requires a smaller bladder with a slimmer profile. That said, it provides a little more structure to an otherwise unstructured backpack, a cool idea.
- Platypus Big Zip LP Reservoir
The big bite valve and wider tube used with the Platypus Big Zip offers the best rate of water flow and is comfortable to drink from. It’s easy to load into a bag but has a wider profile. The bite valve is relatively larger than other options out there and fits comfortably into the mouth. This new bite valve is a step up for the previous version.
The lock on it is a big lever that opens and closes smoothly. Over the last months of testing, it hasn’t clogged up or been hard to turn, even while ski touring with a pair of gloves on. The tube clips into a point half-way up the tube, which makes unclipping the tube from the bladder nice and easy.
While on a climbing trip, we had our bladder stuffed deep into the back of the pack, with gear and a rope inside. To load up with water, we simply unclipped the tube from this point, and removed the bladder, making it easy to access.
This clip-in point makes the bladder a great option for backpacking or longer trips. If you don’t like the clip-in point half-way up the tube, you can simply pull the hose off the bottom attachment point, remove the mid-clip-in hardware, and reattach the tube to the bottom of the bladder. Best Hydration Bladder for Backpacking
We haven’t found any other bladder that offers this type of clip-in versatility. We really appreciated this when we wanted a little less hose (it’s very long) and wanted to reduce weight on a longer trail run.