One increasingly popular camping/hiking accessory has been hydration packs. Allowing easy access to something so essential as water has made these a must-have for many outdoor enthusiasts. You may be inclined to think that such bags would only be available in a handful of styles. However these packs now come with a variety of features making them appealing to a wide selection of consumers. Before we jump in and talk about specific bags, let’s talk about hydration packs in general and discuss what to consider when shopping for one.
Most hydration packs have similar designs when it comes to the functionality of the bladder (also called a reservoir) and tubing. Basically the bladder attaches to the upper interior of the bag and allows for it to hang. Attached to the bottom of the bladder is the tubing that will act like a giant straw when used.
Typically the drinking end of the tube is equipped with what’s known as a bite valve. These mouthpieces prevent leaking by requiring you to bite down in order to create an opening and allow you to drink. Once this opening is created, you can get water just by sucking like you would from a straw.
Aside from the basic design, the specifics of each bag can vary. This includes unique reservoir designs, different styles of bite valves, and even pressurized ones that don’t require you to suck at all. While these are important elements to consider, the most important thing to think about when choosing a hydration pack is the size.
When it comes to picking the right hydration pack there are actually two types of sizes to consider. First you’ll want bag that will also be able to carry your additional gear and so you don’t have to carry more than one pack. On the other hand, if all you’ll need is the water and maybe a couple of energy bars, there are plenty of small options that will be light on your back.
Next you’ll want to choose the size of bladder that will fit the activity you’ll need to keep hydrated for. Reservoir capacity may be measured in ounces or liters, with 3 liters being about the max. Keep in mind that while additional bladders can be purchased later on, the bag are designed only for the reserviors they came with and so you may run into issues trying to swap them out. For this reason, it may be better to get a larger size at the time of purchase.
The good news is that you don’t have to use the full water capacity each time. For example, if often take longer journeys that may require a 3-liter capacity, you can simply put only 1 liter of water in the bladder to meet your needs and save the extra weight. This only furthers the argument that you should purchase a pack that will meet your “worse-case scenario” need.
Hydration Pack or Hydration System?
A common misconception is that dedicated hydration packs are the only ones that offer hydration systems. While these bags are specifically designed for the task, other bags (including larger ones) may offer “hydration capability.” This mean that if you’re in the market for a multi-day pack or expedition pack, you may be able to purchase a hydration system separately and install it in your bag, giving you the best of both worlds.
One concern some outdoorsman have about hydration packs is how hard they can be to clean. While it can be a bit more difficult to clean than a water bottle, don’t the sanitation issue shouldn’t scare you away.
Each pack will include directions for how to properly clean your hydration system. Also keep in mind that while any type of liquid can techniquely be used in your bag, anything aside from water is not recommended — including sport powders added to water. However if you do use your pack for these powders or other drink just make sure to clean the system as soon and as thoroughly as possible. Additionally there are cleaning kits that can be purchased to ensure proper sanitation after each use.
Now let’s take a look at some of the best-reviewed hydration packs on the market.
The brand CamelBak has nearly become synonymous with hydration packs in the minds of many hikers and campers so it’s no surprise that the company’s products dominate the market. First up is the Helena Backpack. Offering more than just the bladder that has made CamelBak so famous, the Helena easily doubles as a daypack for women. Complete with trekking pole loops and several compartments, this bag is perfect for anyone looking for an all-in-one solution.
Equally suited for both genders the Alpine Explorer pack has a number of features that will appeal to both casual and more experienced backpackers. In addition to this pack being great for a day of hiking, it’s also highly recommended for short climbing expeditions. One of it’s added value features is extra loops for picks, perfect for those cold-weather climbs.
Similar to the Alpine Explorer, the Fourteener offers a 100-ounce bladder system but a somewhat different look to the bag. In fact a lot of what makes these various Camelbak daypacks different from each other are the styles and colors offered. While staying hydrated is the main goal, finding a bag that’s visually appealing to you and compliments your personality can be an important consideration when determining the best backpack to buy.
Next up is the Cloud Walker, which fits in the middle of the Camelbak product line as far as features go. While it’s still can be used as a light daypack, the Cloud Walker offers less space and a smaller bladder (70 ounces) than the other’s we’ve covered so far. However with its lower price point it is an excellent choice for the casual outdoor enthusiast.
If you’re searching for a pack to outfit your child, the Camelbak Scout is a great option. Not only does the bag have enough room for their camping needs, but (of course) includes a 50-ounce bladder to keep them hydrated. In fact this pack could also be used for casual use like vacations or even school.
Finally if all you need is simple access to hydration, the UnBottle has you covered. The 100-ounce bladder can easily be attached to a number of packs you may already have. This is a great option for those using larger packs that might not offer hydration.
Ensuring that you have enough water on your journeys is paramount. Whether you’re looking for a hydration bladder to add to your current bag or are in the market for an hydration-integrated daypack, these well-reviewed bags are made to fit your needs. Drink up!