Hydration Packs - staying well-hydrated in the outdoors

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2012

We have written in previous blogs, newsletter articles and even in the notes section of our packing list about hydration packs. But I wanted to emphasize again why this piece of equipment can be superior to water bottles for outdoor adventure travel.

For those of you who are not familiar: a hydration pack is a water bladder (usually 50-100 oz./1.5 -3 L ranges) that fits inside a backpack and has a long tube that stretches from the water bladder, through the pack, over your shoulder and to the front of you (when you wear it). There is some type of soft silicone valve on the end of the tube that allows you to “bite and suck” when you want a drink, but it closes off when you want it to just hang loosely.

I got my first Camelbak hydration pack for bicycling, but now I carry it on hiking adventures and sometimes even bring it for sea kayaking tours as well.


1) You will drink more, drink more regularly and stay better hydrated. With the tube in easy reach of your hands and mouth, you can drink as often as you want or need to. You don’t need to stop and get your water out of your pack, take your hands off the handlebars to get your bottle out of its cage or even stop paddling very long for a quick drink.  Plus it is fun to drink from a long straw.

2) It easily fits in a backpack (or fanny pack). Most backpacks made for hiking these days come with hydration pack compatibility.  Typically there is a separate pocket on the pack for you to put the bladder in and a portal in the top of the pack for the hose to fit through so it easily can reach around your shoulder strap to the front.  While there are still some backpacks with the hydration system built into the pack, more are separate, which means if your hydration bladder gets a leak, you do not need to buy a whole new pack; just a new bladder.   Also, with it being carried in a backpack you also have the room to carry camera, wallet, rain jacket, bike tools, snack, etc. The packs vary in extra cargo sizes, so pick one that is right for you.

3) The water stays cold/cool longer. How many times have you stopped to drink out of your water bottle on a hot hike only to find it like bath-water? The hydration pack keeps the contents of the water bladder cold for quite a while, especially when you put ice in it. You can also freeze the bladder when it is half full, take it out the following day, top it off with water and the ice chunk will melt even more slowly than ice cubes throughout the day. The top layer of water is not always cold, but there is nothing more refreshing than sipping through that layer and hitting icy cold water in the middle of a 30-mile bike ride or 10-mile hike.

4) You can carry a larger quantity of water. Getting a 70 oz or 96 oz. bladder allows you to carry a lot of water pretty easily and all in one space. You would need 3 to 4 water bottles to equal that. You don’t have to fill it totally full if you don’t want, but I have been on several hikes and bike rides where I drank it dry. And as you drink, the bladder empties and gets smaller, as opposed to drinking out of a bottle where you still have to carry the bottle around once it is empty. This feature also means it takes up less space in your luggage when traveling for the equal water capacity as bottles.

5) Cleanliness: I have found that my bladder has stayed much more clean and less smelly than any of my water bottles.  However, they do need to be cleaned, as does the tube. It is inadvisable to put flavored beverages in the hydration bladder due to the difficulty of thoroughly washing the tube. In that case bring a smaller water bottle for your Elixir/Gatorade/Crystal Light/etc and leave the bladder for water only. Most bladders have wide mouth/ziplock-type opening which makes it easier to clean as well as to fill with ice and fill in a variety of water sources (though many bladders are not a compatible fit with water filters)

The hydration pack is certainly not suitable for every situation (like winter sports or high altitude trekking - due to freezing temperatures). But more often than not it is the ideal choice for staying superbly hydrated while being active in the outdoors.

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