Which hydration pack is best for outdoor exercise?
Best hydration pack
Keeping yourself hydrated is one of the most important parts of any physical activity. When you’re outside and on the go, it’s not always possible or practical to carry a traditional water bottle. In those situations, you’re better off with a hydration pack, which gives you a convenient, hands-free source of water.
Today’s hydration packs come in a range of sizes and styles suited to all kinds of outdoor activities, from hiking to mountain biking.
What is a hydration pack?
As their name suggests, a hydration pack is a water reservoir (also called a bladder) that is carried in a pack. The bladder is usually made of a soft plastic material and is attached to a tube on one end that feeds water to a mouthpiece on the other. By biting down on the mouthpiece, you can then release water and drink on the go without needing to fuss with a bottle or cap.
Hydration packs can come in various capacities, from one to several liters. They can also be carried in various types of packs, from backpacks to waist packs and even vest packs. Many backpacks come with their own hydration pack sleeves, so you can easily add your own bladder before your next hike.
Do I need a hydration pack?
Everyone needs to stay hydrated while physically exerting themselves, and that’s especially true outside. In addition to normal sweating, your body is also exposed to the elements, meaning the risk of dehydration is even greater. Hiking, biking, running and even snow sports all require constant movement — and, ideally, that your hands be kept free — which means a regular old water bottle can be a real inconvenience.
Hydration packs are a great alternative during these activities since they don’t require you to stop or even slow down to take a drink of water. Instead, you can sip directly from the pack while on the go. You also don’t need to carry a hydration pack, at least with your hands — they can slip right into most backpacks, allowing you to carry more water than you might otherwise.
Types of hydration packs
Hydration packs all share a few basic features, but their design can also vary depending on type of activity and use. Hydration packs for hiking and backpacking, for example, are likely to have both a larger internal capacity but also come in a larger backpack (or at least be compatible with a larger backpack). These packs are often able to carry over 2 liters of water and fit in backpacks designed for hiking — meaning ones with comfortable straps, more cargo space, and pocket variety.
Hydration packs for more minimalist sports, on the other hand, such as biking and running, are slimmer, sleeker and generally more compact. Their water capacity often clocks in at 2 liters or less, while their accompanying packs often boast a more sporty and aerodynamic design. They’re designed to hug the wearer more tightly, so as to not bounce around when in motion.
Best hydration packs
Best of the best hydration pack for running
Our take: A professional-grade hydration vest built for marathon, trail or other competitive running pursuits.
What we like: Lots of pockets for holding various types of containers, from water bottles to bladders. Reflective paneling for increased visibility and safety. Snug fit.
What we dislike: Very expensive.
Best bang for your buck hydration pack for running
Camelbak Circuit Running Hydration Vest: available at Amazon
Our take: A lightweight and versatile hydration vest for casual runners both on trail and pavement.
What we like: Low-profile design. Stretch construction does a good job moving with you. Micro mesh fabric stays breathable.
What we dislike: Pocket space is limited.
Best of the best hydration pack for hiking
Osprey Packs Manta 34L Backpack: available at Backcountry
Our take: A full-size technical daypack that can accommodate a large-capacity bladder for all-day outings.
What we like: Same standout material quality and construction as other Osprey packs. AirSpeed back panel keeps the body cool. Integrated rain cover.
What we dislike: Limited color options.
Best bang for your buck hydration pack for hiking
Deuter Compact EXP 12L: available at Backcountry
Our take: A compact and affordable hydration backpack for shorter day hikes.
What we like: Thick waist belt and comfortable straps. Well-organized front pocket. Also great for biking.
What we dislike: Capacity is somewhat limited.
Best of the best hydration pack for biking
Hydro Flask 14L Down Shift Hydration Pack: available at Dick’s Sporting Goods
Our take: An innovative daypack specially designed for all kinds of biking.
What we like: Insulated reservoir keeps water cool for over 4 hours. Outside loops and webbing for attaching helmet and bike lights. Attractive design.
What we dislike: Fairly expensive.
Best bang for your buck hydration pack for biking
Vibrelli 2L Hydration Pack: available at Amazon
Our take: An extremely affordable and simple pack for biking, hiking or even snowboarding or skiing.
What we like: External webbing for securing helmets and clothing. Material is lightweight and not too bulky. Several color options available.
What we dislike: Not top-quality.
Best of the best hydration waist pack
Patagonia Nine Trails 8L Waist Pack: available at Backcountry
Our take: A premium lumbar pack that’s perfect for those who want easy access to water but don’t want to be weighed down by a backpack.
What we like: Lightweight, water-resistant material. Includes water bladder as well as water bottle pockets.
What we dislike: Not as comfortable when bladder is full.
Best bang for your buck hydration waist pack
Camelbak Repack LR 4 Hydration Pack: available at Amazon
Our take: A compact waist pack that manages to accommodate a lot of water for all-day hikes and rides.
What we like: Lots of pockets with space for both water containers and other essential items. Unisex fit.
What we dislike: Must remove bladder from pack to refill.
Chase Brush is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.