Let’s face it: if you don’t want to die (seriously), and maintain optimal performance outdoors, you need to be hydrated, but finding the best hydration packs can be overwhelming. Lucky for you, we’ve done all the hard work.
Countless scientific studies have shown the importance of maintaining good hydration. Particularly while exercising or during extended periods of exertion. This is especially true when it comes to such activities as hiking, backpacking, and cycling.
With greater emphasis on hydration, many outdoor brands now offer hydration packs or packs with the ability to store hydration reservoirs.
The first hydration packs were just an IV bag wrapped in a tube sock. But these were cumbersome and difficult to use but were more still more efficient than the standard water bottles. Those early versions were a far cry from today’s best hydration packs.
Since their inception, hydration packs have become a common and efficient technique to maintain hydration levels. That’s particularly true during prolonged periods of exercise. The basic design of the reservoir has remained relatively unchanged from its beginnings. But, there have been numerous small changes to the designs of the packs and the accessories that accompany many popular packs.
With so many packs on the market today, it’s confusing to navigate the many features, brands, and styles.
Below are some things to keep in mind when searching for a hydration pack and some of the best hydration packs and systems on the market today.
Important features of hydration packs
There are a lot of things to consider before buying a hydration pack and many features that may differ from pack to pack. Many advertise a small adaptation with monumental benefits, while other adaptations are a petty nuisance. However, there are several universal traits to consider before buying any hydration pack.
This might be the most important feature for any piece of outdoor equipment, especially when that piece of equipment is relatively expensive.
Durability is the biggest complaint from most consumers when it comes to outdoor products and for good reason. As outdoor enthusiasts, we have to rely on our gear lasting as long as we do when we’re off galavanting in the woods.
We need reliable, quality gear that will withstand any sort of use, in any sort of environment we have planned.
When it comes to hydration packs, durability is essential especially if this is your primary or only source of hydration during your chosen activity.
You don’t want to be on the top of a mountain when your pack springs a leak. If you’re hiking in the desert, losing all your water can be life-threatening. While you can adapt or improvise to safely make it out of these situations, you’d rather not have to do that. Especially after spending a decent sum of money on a pack.
Capacity of the pack
There are two types of capacity we’ll be mentioning in terms of hydration packs.
The first is the capacity of the water reservoir itself, while the second is the capacity of the pack excluding the water reservoir.
Both capacities should be considered when looking for a new hydration pack and should be based upon the use of the pack. If you plan to use your pack for long day hikes, for example, you’ll want a pack that can carry small amounts of food, first aid supplies, rain gear, and any other extra equipment you might need.
In general, water capacity for hydration packs range from 1.5 liters to 3 liters. Gear capacity can range for 10 liters to upwards of 30 liters.
To determine which is right for you, obviously you need to have a good idea of what type of activity for which you’ll be using the pack.
The type of functionality I’m talking about is choosing the right style for the right activity.
For example, if you plan on using your pack for cycling, it doesn’t make sense to have a large, bulky pack on your back. You’ll most likely want a small, stream-lined pack, that easily fits on your back.
Conversely, if you plan to take your pack hiking with a substantial amount of gear, you’ll want a load-bearing style pack to save your knees, hips, and back.
How does the hydration pack fit?
The best advice I ever received before starting my thru-hike? Select a pack that feels like it’s part of you body rather than something that was dangling from your back.
Four hours and six packs later, I found the perfect fitting pack and my thru-hike was substantially better because of it.
I’m not advocating you try on every pack in the store. However you should try on a few, and determine which style of pack fits you and your needs best.
Insulation is the least significant trait to worry about (along with the bite valve). But it’s something you might want to consider. It all depends upon where you’ll be using your pack.
Many packs offer marginal or no insulation to both the reservoir and the drinking tube. This can be problematic if you prefer cooler water and you’re in a hotter environment or if you generate a lot of body heat.
Insulation for the drinking tube is a relatively new thing many companies have started including with most of their hydration packs. CamelBak was one of the first to use a thin layer of neoprene around the tube. That layer minimizes exposure of the tube to outside temperatures. This is particularly beneficial if you plan on using your pack in the extreme cold. You don’t want water in the tube to freeze and cause blockages in the tube itself.
Though not completely necessary, it is one of those extra accessories that could prevent inconveniences and nuisances.
Probably the smallest part of the hydration pack, the bite valve often gets overlooked, despite it being the key to most hydration systems.
There are several different styles and sizes of bite valves, none of which fit every single person. Despite being advertised as one size fits all, the bite valve can be an encumbrance to many people who’ve never tried a hydration pack or to those who are used to one particular size or style.
The bite valve is also the most difficult part to test or find one that works best for you.
I wouldn’t recommend checking used hydration packs to find the right valve for you. Though most companies do have different sizes available for an additional cost. If you’re hell-bent on trying the valve before you buy to save those extra $4, take some alcohol swabs.
How to decide between different hydration packs
Now that you have all the physical traits to consider before buying a pack, next you’ll have to decide the intangibles. Personal preference and financial situation become secondary.
Though there are many things to consider, there are three main things to decide prior to even walking into an outdoor store or hopping on Amazon to research.
This will be the biggest determining factor for most people when purchasing a new hydration pack. Some, such as Bill Gates, may be able to purchase any and all hydration packs to figure out which one they want. But for the rest of us, cost is a huge consideration when buying any sort of outdoor or sporting equipment.
Luckily, there are many different styles, options, and brands that make up the market as a whole. So, we’ve included in our list of best hydration packs something for every budget.
You may not get the exact brand or model you want> Or maybe a better one is available for the same price when its on sale. But there’s something out there for you.
In general, capacity and number of physical extras such as pockets or large gear compartments determine the cost.
The bigger the pack and the more accessories or options, the more expensive that pack is likely to be.
That being said, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get the most adequate pack for you.
In some ways you get what you pay for when it comes to durability and the overall quality of the product. However, most brands have similar products. So if durability and longevity aren’t your highest priority, there are packs out there that will accommodate the smaller budget.
What activity will you use the hydration pack for?
Your activity should decide which style of hydration system you’ll want to buy. Think about whether you’ll mainly use it for hiking, cycling, or trail running.
For cycling you’ll want a more aerodynamic, closer fitting pack. Generally you’ll only use it for water & nothing else. You may also want a small pocket for a protein bar or a small first aid kit. But in general, you’ll want something small and light that has one specific task.
On the flip side, for extended day hikes or even short overnight hikes, you’ll want something with both a large reservoir and a large gear capacity. Especially for food, cameras, and all the other essentials to make your trip more enjoyable.
These aren’t the only two options. But they represent the two extremes for which you’ll want to keep in mind when deciding on the pack that’s right for you.
How often will you use the pack?
This is pretty self-explanatory and the most common sense consideration, however it also the most ignored or overestimated.
Generally, we see ourselves using most of our outdoor equipment pretty frequently, despite evidence of the contrary (I’m guilty of it as well).
When it comes to the best hydration packs, it pays to be completely objective and realistic about how often you’ll be using your hydration pack. If it’s going to hang in the garage or be stored in a box in the attic for 364 days a year, it may be better to purchase a less expensive pack.
The top 10 hydration packs of 2017
Now that we’ve explored the things to consider before purchasing a pack, here’s a list of the 10 best hydration packs currently on the market.
Keep in mind, some of these packs are for specific sports and activities and are used, if nothing else, as a model for the different types of packs out there. Remember to be objective and realistic when researching a new hydration system.
|Pack||Reservoir Capacity||Gear Capacity||Ease of Use||Durability||Best Use||Amazon Rating|
|Osprey Packs Raptor 10 Hydration Pack, Black||3L||10L||Best||Best||Short day hikes, cycling||4.6|
|Nathan NS4538 Vaporhowe Hydaration Pack Running Vest with 1.8L Bladder||1.8L||12L||Good||Better||Trail Running||3.5|
|Camelbak Products 2016 HydroBak Hydration Pack 50-Ounce||1.5L||None||Better||Better||Cycling||4.4|
|Patagonia Fore Runner Vest 10L - 610cu||2L||10L||Best||Best||Trail Running, Short Hikes||Not Yet Rated|
|Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 3 12 Set Racing Vest||1.5L||12L||Better||Better||Trail Running||4.4|
|Amphipod RunLite Xtech 4 Plus Hydration Belt||1.5L||Limited||Good||Good||Trail Running||4|
|Osprey Packs Manta AG 36 Hydration Pack||2L||36L||Better||Best||Hiking, Climbing||4.4|
|Platypus Duthie A.M. 15.0 Hydration Pack||3L||15L||Better||Good||Hiking, Cycling||5|
|TETON Sports Trailrunner 2 Liter Hydration Backpack||2L||None||Better||Good||Cycling||4|
|High Sierra Propel 70 Hydration Pack||2L||3L||Good||Good||Day hikes||4|
The Osprey Raptor 10 has one of the highest ratings on Amazon and is great for medium range hikes and bike rides. Large enough to carry some essentials without being too big and bulky, the Raptor 10 provides 10 Liters of gear capacity. It also comes with a 3 Liter reservoir.
This pack is a great balance between minimalism and having too much capacity in terms of gear capacity. It provides a little more versatility and keeps you from having to buy separate packs for separate activities.
Hikers and cyclists alike would be happy purchasing this pack. It provides enough space for the small extras that you’ll need or want on the trail. But it doesn’t give you so much room that you’ll overpack.
The reservoir itself is unique and, frankly, more efficient than the common reservoirs that accompany most packs.
The Hydraulics Reservoir has two unique components. The first is its panel backing that prevents the reservoir from swaying inside the pack. The second is its slide seal top. Most reservoirs have a screw-top lid making it cumbersome and difficult to fill. Especially when you have to fill in a stream or lake. The slide seal top makes it easier to collect water and is easier and more efficient to clean and dry.
One of my favorite features of this pack, and any Osprey pack with a reservoir, is the magnetic clip that comes with the drinking tube. There’s nothing worse than setting your pack down only to have the bite valve fall in the mud or dirt. Osprey provides a magnetized clip that fits on the strap of your pack. So, it’ll be readily available to use without falling in the dirt when you set your pack down.
Typically, Osprey is a more expensive brand pack with most of their packs over $100 ($200 for their larger thru-hike packs) but with good reason.
Among the outdoor equipment brands, Osprey has one of the best warranties on the market. They fully back everything they make and everything is made to last longer than one or two seasons. That alone helps boost it into our list of best hydration packs.
This vest from Nathan is perfect for those who are looking to go on long distance trail runs. Or, for those wanting a hydration system for longer mountain bike rides (provided you aren’t concerned with being aerodynamic).
The vest comes with four pockets on the front for easy access to your phone and snacks while you’re on the trail or on your bike. The pockets can fit a large phone up to an iPhone 6+. Those pockets are also perfect for storing protein bars and snack foods.
The benefit of this particular system is the way it fits, that is, everything is balanced across your entire torso. That way, it’s not just sitting on your shoulders. In essence, this vest is a cross between a small hydration pack and a load bearing pack. That design allows you to freely move without worrying about the load on your back shifting too much.
Due to its lightweight materials and specificity of use, the vest is on the more expensive side in terms of hydration systems. However its light weight will pay dividends the longer you use it. For those ultra marathoners and extreme distance trail runners, this is most likely the style hydration system you’ll want.
One of the original hydration pack designs, the HydroBak is CamelBak’s minimalist system, designed for those looking for only hydration. CamelBak is known for having some of the best hydration packs on the market.
This pack is small, sleek, and versatile. And, it’ll accommodate those who want to stay light & have an efficient hydration system.
Due to its small size, this pack can be used by runners, hikers, and cyclists and is great for any short-duration activity.
The reservoir for this particular pack is CamelBak’s basic 1.5 Liter. It’s got a screw-top reservoir with basic bite valve. Its basic components and small size make it one of the most affordable systems on the market. But for those looking for a little more heft or a larger capacity pack, this isn’t the pack for you.
Though it does have a small outer pocket for keys and phones, it’s best for short outings, rather than a whole day or longer.
Insulation-wise, it’s got adequate protection against the elements for the reservoir. But, the drinking tube is exposed. An insulator for the tube is an add-on purchase. But it’s not included. It’s a little cheaper to snag an insulators from third-party producers.
If you’re looking to see if you’ll like a hydration pack as opposed to a water bottle or water bladder, this pack may the good option. It’s relatively inexpensive and it provides a decent overview of the functionality for a majority of hydration packs.
This is also the pack I would recommend for younger kids (there is a children’s size) and teenagers.
In a lot of ways it offers a lot more efficiency and greater access to the things you need on the trail. The Fore Runner is no exception. It offers a large capacity for both reservoir and gear for those looking for a more efficient system.
The Fore Runner has a large, 10 Liter main compartment to wear on your back with an insulated pocket for a 2 Liter reservoir. On the front of the vest are four medium-sized pockets meant for small but essential items. (Think snacks, sunscreen and first aid kits).
The vest configuration combined with the large storage compartment allows a a close-fitting feel. That means you won’t feel large amounts of sway while engaging in your chosen activity. It also allows you to carry larger amounts of gear without putting a lot of stress on your neck and shoulders.
One of the best things about this particular system is its affordability and lightweight construction.
In total, the system weighs less than 6 ounces when empty, making durability slightly questionable.
Patagonia, however is known for their high-quality products and great warranties (though not as good as Osprey). In most cases, you can buy this system for less than $100 making it highly affordable and worth buying if you’re a trail runner or day hiker.
It is lightweight, covered in pockets, and extremely expensive. This particular vest isn’t something you should purchase if you’re not an experienced trail runner. Definitely not for those looking to try out a vest for the first time.
Think of this vest as the Lamborghini of hydration systems.
This vest by Salomon boasts one of the highest ratings on REI and Amazon and has one of the best durability profiles in its class.
Salomon caters to adventure racers and consumers who are used to using their equipment in harsh, extreme environments. As a result, their gear earns high ratings for durability and high performance.
With ten pockets and a reservoir compartment, Advanced Skin is made for long, grueling races and trails. Two of the pockets have zippers for items you want to keep secure such as wallets and keys. Other pockets are varied sizes to accommodate snacks and other small items.
The only downfall of this vest, besides its cost, is the separately sold hydration reservoir and limited capacity for said reservoir (1.5 Liters). However, reviewers say it has one of the best insulation systems of any hydration system on the market. It does however come with two ½ Liter soft flasks for two of the front pockets.
More or less a fanny pack, the Xtech comes with four 10.5 ounce water bottles. Each is distributed at the four corners of the belt, creating weight balance for comfort and efficiency.
If you’re a trail runner looking for a lighter weight, less cumbersome hydration system, this may the product you’re looking for. One of the benefits many experienced trail runners give is the ease of accessibility to the pocket and water bottles. It gives access without the feeling of shifting water on your back or the water tube dangling all over the place. Many marathoners have made the switch from the larger hydration packs to the belt. Usually, that’s simply because it’s lighter and less in the way.
The Xtech also has one of the highest durability and approval ratings among water belts. And it comes at a very affordable price.
A few people complain that the water bottles are hard to remove from the belt. But most give the belt a four out of five stars on Amazon and REI. Those wishing to try a water belt rather than a pack, should try this one at a low-risk price.
The Manta is Osprey’s biggest day pack. It’s about the largest pack you’ll see without delving into thru-hiking and backpacking packs. Similar in style to many of the larger backpacking packs, the Manta comes with a hip belt to help distribute weight throughout your body rather than squarely on your shoulders.
Though not quite big enough for multiple nights on the trail, you most likely could get away with an overnight trip with this pack. It contains enough storage space for a small tent and light sleeping bag. The hip belt pockets are great for quick access to snacks without having to take your entire pack off. Its outer pockets are great for storing smaller items such head lamps.
As with the Raptor, the Manta is backed by Osprey’s superb warranty and guarantee and has very good durability and longevity.
This pack is a great transition pack for those looking to travel longer distances or for longer durations.
Its organized pockets and climbing specific set-up sets the Duthie apart from many of the other packs.
The pack has one main compartment and one outer pocket, both with separate mesh internal pockets. Climbers can organize tools and accessories, plus shoes and harness for the approach to the rock face. Additionally, the pack has a 3 Liter insulated compartment for a water reservoir (water bladder), included. So, you can stay hydrated while hiking or climbing.
Another great feature of this pack is its affordability, retailing at right around $100 depending on what site or store you go to.
For the most part, it may be worth it to wait until this pack is on sale to really get your money’s worth.
The packs downfall comes with its durability depending on how you use it. For strictly day hikes and hikes to and from the rock face, this pack will last for a good while. However, if you plan on scaling rock faces with a gnarly approach, this pack might not stand up to the abuse.
The minimalist design is akin the CamelBak Hydro but at a significantly lower cost. This pack is also great for kids and young teenagers as its cheap to replace when they outgrow it.
The downfall of this particular pack (and TETON equipment in general), is its lower grade of quality. Though great for the short-term, don’t expect this particular pack to last longer than a few months even in the best of conditions.
If you aren’t planning on using the hydration pack very often, this is a good, less expensive option. However if you plan to use a pack regularly or in harsher environments, you may want to look else where.
The TETON pack did receive high marks from most consumers in the area of affordability of both the pack and replacement parts for the pack. It’s a great pack if you’re on a tight budget.
Looking to save money? The Propel might do the trick. It offers a little more gear storage capacity than the TETON sports pack. And it’s a great alternative to the more expensive packs of similar capacity.
The water reservoir included with the pack is 70 ounces or about 2 Liters while the main compartment stores about 3 Liters worth of food and gear.
Great for the occasional day hike, the Propel is an affordable alternative to the higher priced best hydration packs of the same capacity. As with many budget options, however, this pack is lower quality in terms of materials used and overall design. It’s a great short-term budget option. But it’ll realistically not last as long as many of the other packs on this list.
Have another brand or style hydration system you absolutely love? Tell us about it in the comments section! We’re always looking to improve the list of best hydration packs.
Or, if you’re curious about camp stoves, we’ve got you covered.