The Best Hydration Bladders for Backpacking
Hydration bladders, or reservoirs, have become popular among outdoor enthusiasts in the last 20 years or so. If you like to stay hydrated on the trail but hate to waste time fiddling with a water bottle that you may or may not have to take your pack off to reach, then a hydration bladder might be a good choice for you. I use one even on day hikes because I like to drink as I hike and I find that if I try to drink from a water bottle while hiking I end up spilling half of it on myself. Its important to carry heavier items, like water, close to your spine so that your pack will be comfortable to carry and so that your won’t be thrown off balance. Most backpacks and daypacks have a hydration sleeve for your water bladder right inside close to your back. I also find when I am able to sip as I go with a hydration reservoir I stay better hydrated as opposed to when I just take water bottles. When selecting one of the best hydration bladders for yourself, here are some things to consider.
Things to consider
- Is the hydration bladder compatible with your backpack? Will it fit? Most bladders are long and narrow but they come in different carrying capacities. A 2 liter reservoir will fit most any pack.
- How much water do you usually need? I have a 1.5 L reservoir for day hikes and then I have a 2 L reservoir for longer backpacking trips. I also typically carry a 1 L water bottle on the outside of my pack that I use for filtering water into because it can be difficult to filter water into a water reservoir since it is flexible. I use the Sawyer Squeeze so I also carry a 1 L water bag for use with the Sawyer. This way I have the ability to carry 4 L of water at a time if need be. A 2 or 3 liter bladder is probably the smartest choice if you go on longer hikes because you can always just fill the bladder part way up if you don’t need the full 2 or 3 liters at once.
- Will you be able to refill along the way? Keep in mind that water is heavy so you don’t want to carry more than you need at a time. If I know there is a lot of water on the trail, I will only fill my reservoir up halfway and take my Sawyer Squeeze and refill along the way. That way I don’t have to lug extra weight if I’m trying to move quickly. I live in the Pacific Northwest though where water abounds at every turn.
- What type of opening do you prefer? The three main tops are fold top, zip top, and screw top. Some people don’t care, but if you have a preference go with it so you enjoy using your gear.
- How easy is the bladder to clean? I find cleaning my hydration bladder to be a pain, but I think the tradeoff is worth it for the convenience it provides me while hiking. I use mine almost every weekend so when I’m done hiking I dump out all the leftover water, leave it open, and hand it up to dry out. I’ve never had a problem with mold or anything. A few times a year, I will clean it by adding a drop of bleach to the full bladder and let it sit overnight. There are some hydration bladders that are dishwasher safe though, which is a really awesome feature and got me thinking about switching to a new brand.
- Weight. For some ultralight backpackers, finding the lightest bladder is a top priority. Other hikers might simply go with a product they have used and are comfortable with or like a certain design over another.
- Do you prefer pressurized or non pressurized? Honestly before researching for this article, I was not even aware of pressurized water reservoirs. Personally, I think this is taking a simple concept a little too far, but I have read that certain people like the pressurized system because it is useful for things other than simply drinking. Since a pressurized water bladder is able to essentially spray water, it can be used as a backcountry shower, or rinse for your shoes, dishes, or dog’s paws.
Top Picks for Best Hydration Bladders
Camelbak Crux Reservoir
Source Tactical WXP
Platypus Big Zip LP
Hydrapak Shape Shift Reservoir
|Weight (3L size)||8 oz||5.85 oz||8.48 oz||6.25 oz||4.85 oz|
|Material||Polyurethane||Polyurethane, nylon||3 layer extruded |
|Capacity Options (liters)||1.5L, 2L, 3L||2L, 3L||2L, 3L||1.5L, 2L, 3L||2L, 3L|
|Bite valve shutoff switch?||Yes||Yes||Push/Pull storm valve, integrated shutoff||Yes||Yes|
|Closure type||Lever||Slide top||Slide closure and screw top||Zip top||Slide top|
|Hose connection||Quick release hose w/ no swivel||Quick release, no swivel||Quick disconnect one way valve||Quick release w/ swivel||Quick release w/ no swivel|
|Warranty||Lifetime guarantee||Lifetime warranty against leaks||Limited guarantee||Limited warranty||Lifetime warranty against leaks|
|Best Price (3L size)||$35.00 on Amazon||$49.00 on|
|$35.00 on Amazon||$35.53 on|
|$23.99 on Amazon|
$35.00 on Amazon
Camelbak is one of the most reputable water reservoir brands and for good reason. I know I’ve owned and use two myself for at least 7 years and have had no problems. In 2017, the Crux replaced Camelbak’s Antitote. The upgrades made it easier to fill and drink from. The shut off bite valve was also replaced with a new version that seals after each drink to prevent leakage. I especially like that it has Hydroguard technology that inhibits bacterial growth so you don’t have to worry too much about cleaning after each use. The Crux has a slim profile and is compatible with most any pack. It has two chambers for water which prevents your water from moving around too much. The one drawback to this bladder is that it is not dishwasher safe, but with a lifetime warranty you can’t go wrong with The Crux.
Best for Lightweight Backpackers
Hydrapak Shape Shift
$24.96 on Amazon
While not the most durable water bladder, the Hydra Shape Shift is lightweight and simple so it still gets my vote for one of the best hydration bladders. Lightweight backpackers often do not mind making durability sacrifices in exchange for weight savings. It is only about half the weight of the Camelbak Crux. I do suggest if you want to use the Shape Shift that you also carry an additional water bag or bottle as a backup. Besides the weight, my favorite thing about this bladder is that you can flip it inside out and put in the dishwasher. It has a snap zip baffle down the middle which helps keep water from shloshing around. The bite valve automatically seals between sips and features a twist shut off. Hydrapak has a “Beyond Lifetime” warranty and will go above and beyond to repair or replace any issue you have with their products.
Best for Beginning Backpackers
Source Tactical WXP with Storm Valve
$35.00 on Amazon
Source is not as well known in the backpacking world since they make tactical gear but they still make a great product. The WXP uses a technology to prevent the plastic taste that so many hydration bladders have. When people first start out backpacking with a hydration bladder, this is one of their main complaints. Like the Camelbak Crux, the WXP has an antibacterial technology so all you have to do is empty it and hang it to dry after each use. I really love the bite valve on this reservoir because you don’t actually have to bite it, it is a push-pull valve and comparable to drinking from a straw. The dirt shield is a great addition because if your mouthpiece happens to hit the ground, it won’t be contaminated. Its also useful for keeping critters from chewing your valve, which I have had happen twice on other bladders without a shield. All the fine details that have gone into the construction of the Source WXP contribute to it being one of the best hydration bladders on the market.
$49.00 on Amazon
The Geigerrig Hydration Engine is different from the other bladders on this list because it is the only pressurized one. This means that it has a pump that you use to fill a compartment with air. The air then pushes on the water making it spray out much like a hose or faucet. This might seem unnecessary, but some hikers might prefer the convenience of using it to get water for their dog, clean a wound, take a shower, wash hands, or clean gear. Like the Hydrapak Shape Shifter, this reservoir can be turned inside out and put in the dishwasher to clean. The front water compartment is a 15 denier polyurethane, the middle air compartment is a 10 denier polyurethane, and the back is compression backed nylon. These three layers make for a very durable hydration bladder. The Geigerrig is free of BPA, Phthalates, PVC, and Triclosan.
I’d love to know which you think are the best hydration bladders? Please leave a comment or suggestion below!
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