Buying Guide for Hydration Packs
Why buy a hydration pack?
Also known as “camel backpacks,” hydration packs are an ideal way for bikers, hikers, runners, campers, kayakers, and anyone else engaging in the outdoors to have easy, near-instant access to water whenever they need it. While water bottles are certainly a tried-and-true option, it may be awkward or challenging to bring along a water bottle or two for many of these activities. That’s where hydration backpacks can be a practical solution. They sling comfortably across your back and offer easy access to water without breaking your stride, all while keeping your hands free. All you have to do is grab the tube that connects to the water reservoir (also called the bladder) and take a sip.
Many hydration backpacks hold more water than standard water bottles, allowing you more convenient and efficient access to a larger water supply. And, unlike water bottles, they’re backpacks as well as hydration systems, so they provide storage space for food, gear, your phone and keys, and any other items you want to bring along; they serve two functions for the price of one.
What should you look for in a hydration pack?
- Reservoir Size: A hydration pack’s bladder capacity is possibly the most important factor to consider when picking one out. Not every activity will require the same quantity of water; for instance, the amount of water you’ll need for a 30-minute bike ride versus a few days of camping in the woods is quite different. Most hydration packs will list their bladder’s capacity in liters; 2 liters is more or less the standard size, though there are plenty of larger and smaller options.
- Storage Capacity: The size and storage capacity of the backpack are crucial factors based on your activity and the equipment you need to bring. You probably won’t need many extra items if you’re going for a run around the neighborhood, while campers and hikers will likely want spacious backpacks to hold food, maps, spare socks, ponchos, bear spray, and so forth. A runner might seek out something smaller and more lightweight so as not to weigh them down, while a backpacker will want a more heavy-duty pack that’s able to better withstand the elements. Like water capacity, storage capacity tends to be measured in liters; anything that’s 5 liters or below is considered small, 21 liters and above is considered large, and everything in between is mid-sized.
- Fit: Your hydration pack won’t do you much good if it’s slipping off your shoulders or too tight and cutting into your skin. You might want to measure your torso’s length and the circumference of your waist and hips, depending on the pack’s length. There should be a spot in the hydration pack’s product listing that lets you know which measurements it will fit best. If possible, look for a model that is adjustable to some degree so that you can customize it to fit your body and tighten or loosen it based on how thick or thin your clothing might be. Keep in mind that there are some specialty hydration packs. Models contoured to better fit women’s bodies, models made for kids and youths, and even packs for dogs are all available as well.
What are some extra features worth considering in a hydration pack?
Hydration packs can have features that, while not strictly necessary, make them even more convenient to use. Some have a shutoff switch for the water valve, which is more secure than a twist-off one. Some come with clips or ties, so you can secure the water tube in place; this is especially useful for cyclists so they don’t have to constantly come to a complete stop to reposition the tube to their mouths.
Others have rain covers, which are useful for camping, hiking, and braving the elements in general, especially if your pack isn’t totally waterproof or weatherproof. Some may have cords where you can externally hang items like helmets if you so choose. If you plan to be outside at dusk or after dark often, a backpack with reflective qualities is a must-have. There are even some specialty add-ons for cold weather, like insulated tubes and reservoirs to keep your water from freezing during cold hikes, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and other similar activities.
Our Picks for the Best Hydration Packs
TETON Sports Oasis Hydration Pack
A hydration backpack that's every bit as comfortable and convenient as it is stylish.
Pros: The foam stabilizer and mesh covering of this backpack were designed with your comfort in mind. You’ll be able to wear it for hours without it digging in or weighing you down, and the straps adjust to fit people of various ages, shapes, and sizes. The large, 18-liter main pocket has plenty of storage space with a bungee cord system attached on the outside to hang your bike helmet or climbing helmet. The water bladder measures 2 liters, and the 2-inch opening is large enough that you can slip in ice cubes on hot days to keep your water colder for longer. There are also 12 color options to better match your personal style.
Cons: Some users found the outer mesh pockets too small for their liking, especially those who wanted to stash extra water bottles in those spots. The bladder itself may leak, and the zippers aren’t quite as long-lasting and durable as the rest of the backpack.
Bottom Line: This classic 2-liter hydration pack is suitable for just about any sort of outdoor exercise or activity you might take part in. And thanks to its adjustability and ergonomic design, it should be comfortable to wear no matter your body type.
U`Be 2-Pack Hydration Backpacks
If you're buying a hydration pack for your significant other or friend as well as yourself, this lightweight pair gives you better bang for your buck.
Pros: You receive an excellent bang for your buck with this pair of adjustable hydration packs. They’re very slim, compact, and lightweight, so they won’t weigh you down or put much pressure on your shoulders and spine yet still hold a classic 2-liter reservoir. A hose clamp helps to keep the quick release water tube in place, and the reflective logos on the back of each pack are ideal for evening jobs or bike rides.
Cons: While the slim size of these hydration packs ensures that they won’t weigh you down, it also means that they have a smaller storage capacity than many hydration backpacks. Thus these packs are best suited for running, cycling, and shorter hikes rather than camping or serious backpacking that requires a lot of extra equipment.
Bottom Line: If you and your significant other or friend enjoy hiking, biking, or running together, buying this pair of hydration packs is a great way to save money and ensure you both stay hydrated during your days together on or off the trail.
MARCHWAY Tactical Molle Hydration Pack Backpack
A tough, durable hydration backpack designed with extra storage space and increased airflow.
Pros: This is a backpack that is every bit as tough as it looks. The webbing is military-grade, strong, and anti-fading, and the nylon is water-repellent and wear-resistant. The backpack itself is streamlined and compact, ergonomically fitted to your upper body with padded straps to avoid weighing you down. The back is made of soft air mesh to speed up airflow and help keep you cool on long hikes. The double main pocket design allows you to slip the 3-liter water bladder in one pocket and your belongings in the other. The bladder also has an on/off valve, so you may adjust the water flow to your liking. And it’s less expensive than many other hydration backpacks.
Cons: The bladder may come with some residue inside that makes it taste off at first; it’s recommended to wash the bladder with dish soap and warm water and rinse thoroughly before drinking from it. Also note that the clips and buckles are plastic rather than metal, so they’re not quite as sturdy as the rest of the pack.
Bottom Line: Outdoor activities always come with the risk of inclement weather, so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared with a heavy-duty hydration backpack that can hold up well against the elements. And this tough, military-like hydration pack fits the bill perfectly.
CamelBak Mini M.U.L.E. Hydration Backpack
This hydration pack was designed specifically to fit kids, so those who love the great outdoors can stay hydrated as they explore.
Pros: This compact, lightweight hydration pack was made to fit kids of various ages, so they can stay hydrated while biking, hiking, or camping. That said, this pack will still fit some adults, too. It has excellent safety features to set parents’ minds at ease: reflective accents, a built-in easy access safety whistle on the front strap, and several vibrant color options that are easy to spot among trees. There’s also an on/off level to control the water flow, which will help prevent your child from spilling and wasting their water. And the back and harness are made of breathable mesh to encourage airflow and prevent your child from feeling too hot and sweaty.
Cons: The bladder included with this hydration pack is slightly smaller than average at 1.5 liters in size. The horizontal bladder compartment is also quite narrow, and if you fill the bladder up to maximum capacity, you may not be able to fully close the compartment.
Bottom Line: Many kids love the outdoors as much as adults, sometimes even more so. If your little one enjoys exploring, hiking, and camping, this hydration backpack will be perfect. It was designed specifically with kids in mind and will even fit toddlers.
RUFFWEAR Dog Hiking Backpack with Hydration Bladders
If your pup accompanies you on outdoor excursions, this hydration pack allows them to carry their own water.
Pros: Dogs get thirsty on walks and hikes, too, and this hydration backpack was made especially for dogs, so they can carry their own water. The three sizes will fit most dogs; sizing is determined by the width of the broadest part of their rib cage, so measure them and then pick the size according to the corresponding number. This pack will fit chests between 22 and 42 inches, all but the smallest and broadest dogs. The straps are adjustable, so they won’t come loose or dig into their skin. The low-profile design and two side pockets ensure it won’t get in the way while exploring, get caught in the underbrush, or weigh down your dog. And the reflective trim coupled with the two bright color options ensures you’ll always be able to see your dog, even in the dark. Besides space for the two 0.6 liter water bladders—one on each side—the pockets have room for extra necessities like treats, pick-up bags, and even small leashes.
Cons: Ironically, your dog’s hydration backpack might cost more than your own. And if it gets dirty, you’ll have to hand wash this pack before your dog wears it again, as it’s not washer- and dryer-friendly.
Bottom Line: Many dog owners love bringing their pups on hikes and outdoor adventures to enjoy quality bonding time and ensure they get enough exercise. With a hydration pack made for dogs like this one, your pup can carry their own water, so they won’t go thirsty on the trail, and you won’t have to shoulder the extra weight.
Whether you’re planning a 30-minute run or a camping journey of several days, ensuring you stay hydrated is crucial. Those refreshing sips from a hydration pack can help you feel cooler and more energized during your outdoor excursions.