The human body is made up of 60% water and we need two litres of the stuff on a daily basis just to continue functioning normally.
If you’re hiking, trekking, mountaineering, cycling or running, this amount increases massively. In fact, when hiking all day in hot weather it is recommended to drink a litre every hour.
Fluid loss leads to headaches, impaired mood and stamina decrease – none of which you want on the trails.
This is where hydration bladders come in – they help you drink water more easily, on the go. Hydration systems allow you to drink water effortlessly without taking off your pack.
Three or four-litre hydration packs are best suited to long hikes on difficult terrains where getting water bottles in and out of a bag constantly wastes time and energy unnecessarily.
Compact and lightweight bladders are designed for short hikes, runs and cycle rides.
The terms hydration bladders, packs and reservoirs are used interchangeably, but note that a hydration backpack won’t just be the plastic water holder, it will be the entire bag that carries it as well.
These serve the same purpose but you may not be able to remove the bladder and use it with other backpacks.
Let’s take a look at some of the best hydration bladders on the market right now.
Top 3 Best-Sellers
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- Capacity: 1.5 litre
- Weight of bladder (without tubes): 165 grams
- Dishwasher friendly: Yes
Source’s Hydration System Widepac is a budget-friendly bladder that can be built in to almost any existing backpack or daypack.
Constructed from three-layer polyethylene material, the reservoir might be cheap but it’s also going to stand up against punctures.
The material is treated with an antimicrobial agent to prevent bacteria growth and Source’s unique Glass-Like technology makes it super smooth and easy to wipe down.
The wide-slide opening system is simple and large, allowing users to open it up like a pack sack for refilling, draining and cleaning.
The Helix bite valve is made of silicone, with a twist lock to prevent leakages during the hike, and a cover to protect it against dirt, sand and rain water.
The main issue is the length of the hose. There is a huge amount of tubing, particularly for such a small capacity system.
It is easy enough to cut down and reattach the various pieces, thereby speeding up the flow rate when drinking.
Some people would also find that 1.5 litres is too small for any sort of thru hike, but Source have a 3-litre Widepac on offer.
All in all, an impressive hydration system given the very reasonable price tag. Easy to fill, leak proof and with a quick-release on the hose, you’ll be lucky to find a close competitor at this cost.
- Capacity: 1 litre
- Weight of bladder (without tubes): 85 grams
- Dishwasher friendly: No
The Platypus Hoser is an extremely lightweight and packable bladder at an affordable price.
A new simple, one-piece, self-sealing HyFLO bite valve is what really sets this system apart.
Combined with a wide tube, the great flow rate (a 30% increase on previous models) makes it a perfect companion on any hiking, running or climbing adventure. Wearers can hydrate hands-free without any real work.
The only catch of the valve is that it can’t be locked, meaning that during climbing or bending, any pressure applied to the hydration pack will cause leaking. Something that can be avoided with a bit of extra vigilance.
Due to its reduced size, it fits inside virtually all packs, including small running and daypacks. Platypus also manufactures 1.8, two and three-litre models, for anyone who requires increased capacity.
The tube screws into a bottle-sized cap at the bottom of the bag, which incidentally makes it usable with some water filtration systems, and could be turned into a gravity filter if the functionality is needed.
At this price you do have to forego some of the features and conveniences of more expensive models – including a basic mouthpiece cover.
But our major gripe (and something that is reflected in most user reviews) is that the lack of wide top or screw-top construction makes it incredibly tricky to clean.
Not totally impossible but the bottle-top opening doesn’t allow larger cleaning wands and it can’t be turned inside out to scrub down.
Swishing around heavy-duty cleaning tabs and water will help but if left, bacterial build-up could force you to chuck the entire bag.
Durable and affordable with a couple of design flaws, this is an amazing entry-level hydration bladder.
- Capacity: 3 litre
- Weight of bladder (without tubes): 250 grams
- Dishwasher friendly: Yes
Sitting in the middle of the price range is this Hydraulics Reservoir from Osprey. It takes a top spot on our list thanks to the integrated HydroStatic backplate that helps the bladder retain its shape.
Whether you’re sliding it into a loaded backpack on the move or want it to stay upright as it slowly empties out – the unique rigid construction will help.
On the flip-side, the backplate means that it will only fit into backpacks built for three-litre bladders. It cannot be compressed or rolled down and running packs with a slim profile may not be a comfortable wear.
There is also a two-litre option available, though this larger model is easy enough to slide in to most mid-size backpacks.
The Hydraulics bladder is superbly designed and constructed, and though some online reviews discuss durability issues or risk of puncture of the outer polymer, we couldn’t find any issues here.
There is definitely a funny (awful) taste to the water when you first use it, but this gets better over time or with a quick clean using Milton.
The slide sealer is easier to use than a regular screw cap, particularly in gloves or mitts, and a sternum strap magnet keeps the hose from flopping about.
The hose and mouth pieces can be switched out, making it highly versatile, and the hose connects halfway up the line, making it easy to unclip without having to dig through piles of stuff in your backpack.
An elongated spout helps to collect water from virtually any source, even shallow trickles and streams. Perfect for hiking and backpacking, it’s likely too heavy for running vests.
Possibly a little over-engineered, it is a great bladder overall and the extra rigidity is a clever design addition.
Osprey also manufacture a slightly cheaper version – the LT reservoir. It is inexpensive and also features a large handle and long collar for easy filling.
However it can’t be flipped inside out and unfortunately features the same plastic taste.
- Capacity: 3 litre
- Weight of bladder (without tubes): 155 grams
- Dishwasher friendly: Yes
HydraPak’s Shape-Shift Reservoir is a light, thin-profile system that fits nicely in most packs and is fully reversible for easy cleaning.
Users can even afford to add squash or electrolytes without worrying about bacteria build up.
A few 2019 updates have made it an even more popular lightweight option. The connections are more durable, the rate of flow is faster and a handle makes filling even easier.
A centre baffle keeps a slim profile (merely two centimetres in depth), enhances stability and reduces sloshing whilst on the go.
Note that it actually only holds 2.5 litres when the ShapeShift Connect in the center is put together or three if released. HydraPak also make a two-litre version of the Shape-Shift that is even lighter.
Engineered for outdoor enthusiasts and athletes, the Shape-Shift Reservoir can be frozen or filled with warm water (max temp 77°C/170°F).
A long and cylindrical bite valve lets water flow without any real sucking efforts, the twist-locking mechanism makes it leak-proof and the wide slide top opening allows for fast filling.
Unlike the above competitors, the HydraPak bladder is also reversible, so that it can be turned inside out for easy cleaning and drying.
On top of that, the polymer is treated with antimicrobial agent to prevent the growth of bacteria or mould.
HydraPak offers a mouthpiece cover, tube cleaning brush, tube insulator, extended tubes and different bite valves.
Both BPA and PVC Free, HydraPak guarantee its build for a lifetime of tough use, with a No-Leak Lifetime Guarantee.
- Capacity: 3 litres
- Weight of bladder (without tubes): 225 grams
- Dishwasher friendly: No
CamelBak are so well known for their hydration packs that the brand name is often used interchangeably with the generic product name.
Making a comeback with an improved and ergonomic shape, the Crux Reservoir is extremely durable and tough.
Its solid construction allows the bag to expand, be stretched and dropped or bumped without causing any lasting damage or leaks.
The elastic polyurethane material is tough and can be frozen (to avoid getting mold in the bladder or for hot hikes) and the snap cap closure is big enough to reach inside for thorough cleaning.
A large silicon bite valve allows wearers to take on 20% more water per sip and the valve self-seals afterwards to eliminate drippage.
CamelBak’s Crux features a snap cap closure that is leakproof and easy to open when out on the trails.
It was recently redesigned for easier refilling and seals shut in just a few twists, whilst the spout cap threads internally – so there is no more drinking off uncomfortable bottle threads.
HydroGuard technology inhibits the growth of bacteria in the reservoir and tubes, and the quick-link system disconnects the drinking tube from the reservoir to remove and refill your Crux without needing to unthread from your pack harness.
The only gripe is that the bladder has a tendency to splash back when filling and the bite valve has no cover.
CamelBak Crux also comes in a 1.5-litre and a two-litre model, as well as a lumbar reservoir.
- Capacity: 1.5 litres
- Weight of bladder (without tubes): 170 grams
- Dishwasher friendly: No
This Streamer waist model is designed to fit within the confines of a waist bag, contoured to the shape of the body.
Designed with small wings, the space is utilised to pack in as much liquid as possible for maximum hydration.
Suited to those who want to travel light and fast, the 1.5-litre hydration system allows a continuous flow of liquid without having to interrupt the activity once.
An all-round user friendly product, some of the parts feel a little bit flimsy but the materials seem to be truly puncture-proof.
The drinking straw is long enough to enable drinking with ease without having to bend or reach but short enough to avoid tubes swinging around.
A pull off cap provides quick access to water and guarantees leak free-wear.
This hands-free hydration system is durable yet straightforward with no bells and whistles to weigh you down. Easy to fill, use and clean, it can be rolled up nicely once empty for storage purposes.
As you would expect, the storage capacity of a waist pack is limited.
That is what makes them best-suited to short day activities – running, walking, biking, etc. Should you require a bigger capacity, Deuter make a two and three-litre backpack model.
- Capacity: 4 litres
- Weight of bladder (without tubes): 150 grams
- Dishwasher friendly: No
By far the most durable and well-constructed reservoir in our lineup is the MSR DromLite Water Bag.
It is versatile and lightweight, easy to use and could be used as a camp pillow, solar shower, hot water bottle or anything in between.
Shower or Hydration Kits can be purchased separately to add yet another layer of versatility.
DromLite Bags provide high-capacity water storage but can collapse down to the size of their cap. This supreme packability comes with weight savings that most hikers will appreciate.
Whether you heat it up, cool it down, fill it to bursting point or hang it off jagged rocks – the DromLite will just keep going.
Constructed with a rugged film and RF-welded seams, it will last you a lifetime on the trails.
The new svelte three-in-one cap lets you fill, drink and pour with ease.
The huge first opening option makes the bladder easy to fill, whilst the second screw top opening (that attaches to the first screw-top lid) provides a medium flow of water, perfect for decanting into a different bladder or bottle.
The final option is a trickle spout ideal for taking a quick drink.
Annoyingly, the DromLite doesn’t come with a hose or bite valve. This is because it is marketed primarily as a reservoir for extra water storage.
For anyone that wants to drink on the go, MSR’s Hydration Kit can be purchased at an additional cost.
The bite valve within this can be switched out for other options that are compatible with HydraPak or Camelbak if you prefer a different mouthpiece but the hose is not compatible with other hoses, nor is it quick release.
Given that it has the greatest capacity on our list, it is surprisingly packable and rolls away nicely once empty. The DromLite also comes in a mammoth six-litre model, or a more manageable two-litre option.
- Capacity: 3 litres
- Weight of bladder (without tubes): 340 grams
- Dishwasher friendly: Yes
The perfect piece of kit to help you beat the heat, the HydraSleeve is a fully insulated reservoir that keeps water cold in the summer and unfrozen in the winter.
Its unique system wraps both the bladder and tube with an insulating layer to regulate the internal temperature.
The interchangeable hydration system allows users to ditch the pocket or change out the insulating tubes for a regular hose.
We are impressed by the fact that the bladder is durable enough to be used outside of a backpack, be it strapped to a bike, hung from a rock or secured to a boat. Four lash points make it easy to secure to any gear or rig.
The insulation and heavy-duty construction does come at a cost – other than the financial one.
It is one of the heaviest hydration packs on our list but for anyone who wants cold, refreshing water out on their hike, it’s surely a worthy tradeoff.
Those who regularly hike in sub-zero conditions can keep their water unfrozen for twice as long.
A slider top and adjustable baffle maintain a low-profile when filled, as well as reducing sloshing, and the mouthpiece offers exceptional water flow. On top of all of this, the reservoir is fully reversible and dishwasher safe.
What should I look for in a hydration bladder?
Once you’ve decided to switch to a bladder from carting around multiple water bottles, you won’t look back. Below we’ve outlined some of the key traits for a successful reservoir purchase.
Some packs are small and minimalist, designed to be lightweight and used for shorter activities. Others are more suited for backpacking and extended hikes.
Alongside hydration, reservoirs can be used for washing dishes or showering, which will require a capacity of four to eight litres. This is fine as you won’t be carrying this around, just using it in camp.
Opting for a three-litre bladder will give you the flexibility to fill it up as much, or as little, as you like. If in doubt, go up one size as it’s better to have more than you need than not enough.
Just don’t overdo it unnecessarily as every litre of water will add a kilogram of weight. Also be sure that the bladder is compatible with the backpack that you intend to use it in.
Wedging a full bladder into a small pack will result in a very uncomfortable hike and potential leaks.
If you use your hydration rucksack mainly during winter, it’s recommended to go for a pack that has insulated bladder and hose.
In addition, to keep the water from freezing you can blow into the tube after drinking or fill the reservoir with warm water.
In the summer, don’t set your reservoir down in direct sunlight and leave it there. Ultraviolet radiation exposure will hasten the break down of the plastic.
On extended hikes your bladder will likely come into contact with sharp and rough surfaces, so splash out on a decent brand to avoid punctures.
Bladders themselves rarely cause leakages, but the joints around the mouthpiece/tube and tube/water reservoir are at risk.
The better quality bladder you opt for, the longer these will last and the manufacturer can often supply replacements.
Systems with a detachable tube and mouthpiece allow you to change the worn-out or damaged part instead of replacing the whole product.
Ease of use
Opt for a bladder that comes with a hose where possible and consider how easy it is to get the hose on and off the bladder, bearing in mind the hot/cold/wet/dry conditions you’re likely to face.
Another thing to consider is where you’ll be filling up the bladder and therefore whether the opening is only usable with a faucet or tap, or whether it’s better for stream refills.
Always make sure that your bladder is made of BPA-free material – as all of our shortlisted options are.
A divided base enables you to stand the bottle upright and it will stay open for drying and a wide top means you can use all manners of brushes.
The best designs are those that can be turned totally inside out and always purchase a brush to clean out the tubes.
Although plenty of hydration packs are dishwasher-friendly, this may decrease their lifespan. The best idea is to half fill with water and a few drops of lemon or soap, shake well and rinse.
For bladders that aren’t properly cleaned and dried, heavy bacterial build-up might force you to bin the entire hydration system.
That said, if you are diligent in your clean-up practices or stick to just water inside (rather than sugary drinks), you shouldn’t have any problems.
Avoid filling the bladder with other liquids as this stimulates bacteria growth.
Closure types and mouthpieces
Hydration systems have either a snap cap closure or a wide slide closure at the top. Both allow easy refilling but wider closures are far easier to clean.
Bite valves provide the most hassle-free access to water without needing to use your hands. Some systems have push/pull valves that require wearers to manually close the valve (with hands or teeth) after drinking.
Hydration Bladder – Amazon BEST Sellers
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Last update on 2020-10-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API