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Anyone active in the outdoors, whether hiking, cycling or running, will know the hassle of having to stop to access your water bottle. This is where the hydration bladder comes into its own.
A hydration bladder (also known as a hydration pack or water pouch) fits into your backpack, a hose protrudes and can be attached to your chest strap, then you can run, walk or cycle while taking sips of water at your convenience.
In this guide, I’ll share my top recommended hydration bladders for your backpack and some top tips to choose the best one for you.
How To Choose a Hydration Bladder
Here are SIX things to keep in mind when you choose your hydration bladder:
Materials: Look for BPA Free
The materials used can vary, however, make sure you choose a product which is BPA free. This is usually standard these days, but if you are buying a budget model make sure to double-check, just in case.
Some products use special materials such as a quick-dry option, or a material specially designed to limit bacterial growth.
Opening: Can You Clean it Well?
Being able to easily fill and clean your hydration pack is an important aspect of these products. Some screwtops are too narrow which make cleaning difficult and some slide openings are fiddly and make refilling difficult.
Look for wide openings which help you to access and clean your bladder. Being able to clean your product well is important because if you don’t do so regularly you can get germs and bacteria building up.
Hoses: Are they Detachable?
Detachable hoses mean you can easily remove the bladder from your backpack and unclip the hoses at the same time. This makes filling up your bladder easier because you don’t need to take the hoses on and off your bag as well when you refill.
Most bladders come in 2 or 3-litre sizes, but some companies offer smaller sizes as well such as 1.5 litres. Bear in mind, a larger size can always be ½ filled but a smaller size can’t take any more than it’s limit.
Ergonomics: Avoid Slump
Some hydration bladders use special ergonomic features to aid comfort when carrying them in your backpack. A budget product may tend to slump to the bottom of your backpack causing discomfort.
A well-designed premium product will make sure the water stays evenly distributed making sure you stay as comfortable as possible.
Backpack: Is it Included or Sold Separately?
Most of the time hydration bladders are sold separately and a special bag can be purchased separately to use them with, or they can be used with a backpack you already have.
Sometimes you can get a hydration bladder and backpack in one purchase. Depending on whether you already have a suitable backpack or not you may prefer a product which includes a backpack, or a product which is sold separately.
Can You Put a Hydration Bladder in Any Backpack?
Hydration bladders work best when used with a compatible backpack that has a hydration sleeve and the relevant holes that allow you to pass the tube through. But, can you use it with any backpack?
Well, yes, even if you don’t have a dedicated sleeve, you can technically still use a hydration bladder in any backpack. However, there is a risk that the bladder will tear on something sharp or leak over your belongings so you will need to take extra precautions.
These precautions may include using a spare side pocket to store your bladder or using a ziplock bag to catch any leakage. If placing your bladder in the main compartment, place it on the top so you can remove it before searching for items in your bag.
Using a specially designed backpack saves a lot of hassle and makes it far easier to refill as well. Luckily, most hiking backpacks nowadays have a hydration sleeve. This often doubles up as a laptop sleeve when not in use.
Best Hydration Bladders
Here are my top recommended hydration bladders for your backpack:
- Best Overall: Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir
- Budget Pick: Kuyou
- Premium Pick: Gregory Hydro Reservoir
- Best Screwtop: Camelbak Crux
- Best with Backpack Included: G4Free Hydration Pack
Below are my detailed reviews of each product to help with your decision.
Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir
Best overall hydration pack – lots of clever design features from an ethically minded brand (2 Litre)
The ethically-minded Osprey brand includes lots of well thought through features. For example, the bite valve uses magnets and there is an easy to use on/off twist lock system for when your not using the bladder.
The bladder is made from TPU film which withstands freezing or hot water (perfect for adding ice cubes). Furthermore, the anatomically shaped backplate means you can wear the bladder comfortably – it doesn’t lose its shape or slump in your backpack.
The large top-opening uses a slide seal making for easy filling and cleaning. As a bonus, the company sells spares which means this bladder can last for a long time and won’t need completely replacing if one small part of it fails.
Given that this product still needs to be added to your backpack it’s not super lightweight (just under 500g), the backplate probably adds to the weight. This isn’t a big quibble, but it’s worth considering if you want to keep your weight to the absolute minimum.
A simple choice with essential features for anyone on a budget (2 Litre)
The materials used on this 2L hydration reserve are strong and BPA free (this is pretty much standard these days). Despite the low cost they have made sure to strengthen the bladder with double seals around the edges and leakproof seals where the tubes detach.
The detachable tubes mean once the bags set up in your backpack you don’t have to take the tubes off every time you want to refill.
This product is a budget choice so you may not get the same durability as other branded products, but given the cost, it does offer good value for what you get.
The screwcap allows for easy filling although it’s a little narrow which will make cleaning a little awkward. Perhaps, you might feel this is a small ‘price’ to pay to gain some relief on your wallet!
Gregory Hydro Reservoir
A well-designed premium product with lots of useful features, and a special lightweight anatomical 3D design (2 Litre)
They have used a special anatomical 3D design which means the hydration bladder holds its shape helping to position water evenly when you are carrying the product.
Furthermore, the special 3D design means when you leave the bladder to dry the sides don’t touch meaning it will dry extra fast preventing bacteria growth. If you’re a germophobe, you’ll particularly like this feature.
The quick disconnect tubes allow you to refill without taking the tubes off your backpack every time. A magnetic bite valve improves water flow over products which don’t use this feature.
Quality materials ensure the bladder will last well, and of course, is BPA and PVC free as well. The only downside is the mouthpiece doesn’t have a dust cap… maybe not a huge problem but personally I like to keep the mouthpiece covered when I’m not using it.
All in all, this product includes lots of premium features, and the excellent design makes for an excellent choice.
A well-made product which features multiple sizes, a large screwtop opening and extra water flow when drinking (1.5, 2 or 3 Litre)
The screwtop Camelbak product comes in three size options. If you particularly want a small hydration bladder, then the 1.5L option will appeal to you.
For this product, Camelbak has designed the valve to allow 20% more water per sip than other hydration bladders. If you often find yourself frantically sucking on your hydration bladder valve and not getting enough water quickly enough then this product will suit you well.
Furthermore, the handy on/off lever located on the bite valve means you can open and close the water supply easily while you’re on the move to prevent leaks.
The product has been made from strong materials which are BPA free and incorporates hydroguard technology which limits bacteria growth.
The generous size of the screwtop opening will make for easy filling and cleaning. On the down-side, the bladder doesn’t have a backplate/ special design to improve the wearability of it, and the bite valve doesn’t have a dust cap.
G4Free Hydration Pack
A hydration bladder with a backpack included (3 Litre)
Unusually, the colour of this hydration bladder is black and the hose has been insulated which G4Free say protects the hose and keeps the water inside cool. If you don’t like drinking the sun-warmed water sitting in the hose, then this product will suit you very well.
The materials of the bladder are BPA free and the edges have been well sealed. The included backpack holds the bladder and another 15L of capacity over three compartments.
As a slight annoyance, I think the waist strap is a bit tight so I don’t think it will fit anyone with a medium/large waistline. This product will suit people best who have a slim build or petite frame.
The clips which you hang the bladder from inside the backpack are a little fiddly but most people can probably live with it, and I’m sure it will get easier with regular use. Despite the fact both the bladder and backpack are included, the overall weight of the product is low. This means the G4Free will make a good choice if you want a lightweight product.
Featured image credit: Canva Pro
Kieren is the avid traveller behind the blog. His adventures have included Interrailing through Europe, road tripping the US and backpacking SE Asia.