Outdoor pursuits like hiking, cycling, backpacking, and running continue to grow in popularity. One of the most important health and safety precautions for these and other physical activities is drinking plenty of water. But the old days where your only option was to lug around a canteen or water bottle are long gone. Throw-away plastic bottles are no good for the environment, and refillable bottles can be cumbersome to carry and access on the go. Enter the hydration pack.
A hydration pack is a specially designed backpack providing easy access to water. Some have easy-access external water bottle pockets. Many are built with a soft-sided water bladder or reservoir inside. A straw attached to the bladder threads through the side of the pack to the top of the shoulder strap. Instead of stopping to rifle through the pack to get a drink, the wearer simply sips from the straw without breaking stride.
A variety of pack designs allow shoppers to choose the best hydration pack for their needs. Some offer plenty of space to pack gear for a long hike. Others feature low-profile designs that contour closely to the body for a greater range of movement. If you want to spend more time moving with less downtime, one of these hydration packs may be right for you.
- BEST OVERALL: TETON Sports Hydration Oasis 1100 Pack
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Neboic 2Pack Hydration Backpack Pack with 2L Bladder
- BEST FOR BACKPACKING: MARCHWAY Tactical Molle Hydration Pack
- BEST FOR CYCLING: KUYOU Hydration Pack with 2L Hydration Bladder
- BEST FOR ALL-DAY HIKES: Mubasel Gear Insulated Hydration Backpack
- BEST FOR RUNNING: G-Run Hydration Running Belt with Bottles
- ALSO CONSIDER: Water Buffalo Hydration Pack Backpack
Types of Hydration Packs
Hydration packs offer space for gear storage but prioritize water access. The basic designs include backpacks, vests, and waist packs. Each offers unique benefits tailored to different travel needs.
Backpacks and Vests
Hydration backpacks typically feature a water bladder and straw, added space for storage, and a hip belt for stability and weight distribution. Road cycling and running packs offer more stability and less wind resistance with a low-profile design that closely fits the body. However, these may only fit a snack and emergency rain gear in addition to the water reservoir. Whereas hydration backpacks for hikers and mountain bikers look and fit like regular backpacks, with plenty of gear storage capacity for food, bike tools, extra clothing layers, and more.
Hydration vests fit similarly to the low-profile backpacks, but with pockets on the front of the shoulder straps. Some include a bladder and straw, others are sold separately. They do not have hip belts, but they typically offer pockets on the front for water bottles.
Hydration waist packs fit around the waist with pockets for water bottles. These are a good choice for quick outings when you’re traveling light, such as a trail run or quick day hike. They have enough cargo space for your phone, a snack, and maybe a small first-aid kit, plus one or two water bottles.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Hydration Pack
Size and Weight
Hydration packs are rated for both water volume and cargo space. The smallest water bladders, between .5 and 1.5 liters, are typically found in waist packs and kid-size backpacks. The larger 2-liter bladders found in many backpacks are adequate for most adventurers to go half a day or longer between refills. Larger 3-liter bladders are available for backcountry travel or other conditions where fill-ups happen less frequently.
Cargo capacity within hydration packs varies between less than 5 liters and more than 21 liters. The smallest sizes are best for quick or ultralight traveling. They offer enough space to carry the bare essentials like a phone, keys, granola bar, and maybe a rain jacket. A pack with 5 to 10 liters of cargo space is sufficient for longer day hikes and mountain biking. This will hold bike tools, food, and an extra layer of clothing. A pack with 10 to 20 liters of volume is a good choice for a day hike, with enough space for a first-aid kit and other emergency gear, along with plenty of food and extra layers for a long day. Overnight trips require a pack with more than 20 liters of space to allow for camping gear.
Of course, your activity of choice affects which hydration pack is best for your needs. Runners and bikers tend to opt for comfort in the form of a lower-profile pack. They may sacrifice storage space in favor of more room to move. Day hikers and mountain bikers need more gear and water, both for being further from conveniences and to be prepared for an unexpected breakdown or injury. Overnighters and extended trippers might actually prioritize the pack size and fit for their gear needs, and consider the convenience of a hydration bladder as an added bonus.
Comfort and Fit
When you know which type of hydration pack you want, look for the measurements to be sure of a good fit. Check the product details to find a pack that fits your torso length and waist. Most feature adjustable suspension systems for a customized fit. Some packs are available in different sizes, from extra large to extra small. Some are available in women’s or youth models that are contoured differently.
Storage Pockets & Compartments
Hydration packs typically hold the water bladder in its own compartment, separated from other gear space. One way that manufacturers differentiate their products is with unique storage capabilities. Many low-profile models have limited cargo space and use it wisely by creating zip pouches with organizers that perfectly fit a cell phone, wallet, or keys. These compartments help to secure the load, rather than allowing the items to shift and bounce as you run. Large day packs may incorporate some of these specific gear holders, but they also offer large open pouch space for bulky gear.
Ease of Filling & Drinking
Water bladders have two holes—the fill port at the top and the straw port at the base—both of which should be built for easy assembly/disassembly while resisting leaks. Some users prefer to do refills with the bladder still in the pack, but many remove the bladder to fill it and eliminate the chance of soaking the pack and gear. It helps to have an easy on-off connector for the straw system. Look for a wide mouth opening with a sturdy gasket and a leak-proof quick-disconnect attachment for the straw tubing. A drinking valve on-off switch makes it easy to drink while preventing leaks.
Useful options include:
- Right and left side tube portals that allow users to thread the straw tube to either shoulder strap.
- Clips on the shoulder straps to help keep the tube in the proper position for drinking.
- Cold weather add-ons, like insulated tubing, drinking valves, bladders, and covers to keep the system operable in wintry weather.
- A rain cover to keep the pack and the other contents dry, while you stay hydrated.
Our Top Picks
Whether hiking, running, or biking, drinking plenty of water is one of the keys to a comfortable and healthy adventure. A hydration pack can help. These are some of the best hydration packs for a variety of outdoor pursuits.
TETON Sports Oasis Hydration Pack features a 2-liter water bladder and 18 liters of cargo space, which is suitable for day-long adventures. A durable kink-free straw tube, push-lock cushioned bite valve, and large 2-inch fill opening makes for easy filling and smooth drinking. The adjustable suspension system comfortably fits youth, women, or men. It is available in five colors: black, bright blue, bright green, olive green, or orange.
A large main pocket holds plenty of food, gear, and clothing for longer day trips. The external surface includes a bungee cord system that easily secures biking or climbing helmets. A notched foam stabilizer and mesh covering make the pack comfortable. This pack is a great choice for all-day use in a variety of activities.
Keep two workout buddies hydrated with the Neboic 2Pack of Hydration Backpacks. These compact, low-profile packs are built for short trips like running or road biking, and hold 2 liters of water. They are lightweight, stable, and do not create wind resistance.
The packs feature three extra pockets, an easy access mesh pocket, and two zippered side pockets to secure the essentials. Both the waist belt and shoulder straps are adjustable for a custom fit. Quick-disconnect tubing, a wide mouth bladder, and a push-lock bite valve make filling, cleaning, and drinking easy. This set of hydration packs is suitable for a variety of short, quick trips that require little gear.
The MARCHWAY Tactical Molle Hydration Pack is made of heavy-duty, water repellent 1000 Denier nylon for superior wear resistance. It features an ergonomic design for a comfortable fit at the shoulders, chest, and waist. Adjustable shoulder straps and a waist strap provide a custom fit. A generous 3-liter water bladder lasts 50 percent longer between fill-ups than other hydration packs. It features a wide mouth and quick-release drinking tube.
The 360-degree rotatable mouthpiece is made with a quick-release valve for easy drinking and washing. The air mesh back improves air circulation between the pack and wearer’s back, and its heavy-duty webbing and shock-resistant buckles are strong and durable. Two zipper pockets hold the essentials for a full day’s hike. More gear can be attached to the exterior webbing suspension system.
The KUYOU Hydration Pack is made of lightweight, durable nylon with mesh shoulder straps. It features a simple two-layer design, with a larger compartment to hold the 2-liter hydration bladder and a smaller compartment for keys, wallet, and phone. The exterior features a reflective surface for better visibility in traffic.
The water bladder features a wide mouth opening for easy filling, and a quick-detach straw tube connection system. The mouthpiece includes a leakproof shutoff valve and cover. The breathable shoulder straps are fully adjustable for a great fit. Back panel cushions provide comfort and improve air circulation. Available in five colors: black, orange, blue, red, or green, this hydration pack is useful for cycling, short day hikes, festivals, and more.
The Mubasel Gear Insulated Hydration Backpack includes a 2-liter hydration bladder in an insulated bladder compartment to keep water cold for up to four hours. Three zip storage compartments and an external bungee cord system create more gear storage solutions. Padded shoulder straps with a breathable mesh lining and a lightweight design offer a comfortable carry for day hikes and bike trips.
This pack includes two zip pockets on the waist pads, a large zip compartment with gear organizers on the main pack, and a mesh easy access pocket on the rear of the pack. In all, there’s enough storage space for lunch, an extra clothing layer, and some small essential gear. Also included is a flexible cleaning brush to keep the straw tube clean. Choose from 16 different fabric colors and patterns.
The G-Run Hydration Running Belt is built to keep athletes hydrated on long-distance runs. The padded wide web belt distributes weight evenly and comfortably while staying in place. The two leakproof 10-ounce water bottles will keep a runner hydrated for miles. The belt is built with a rubberized, water-resistant, zipper close pocket with two inner pouches to hold keys, phone, ID card, a snack, or other small items.
A reinforced earphone hole in the pouch allows for streaming favorite workout music with the phone securely stored out of the elements. Reflective stripes on the exterior surface offer better visibility for early morning or late evening runs. The belt is black but comes in accent trim colors including blue, neon green, purple, or turquoise. It’s available in small, medium, or large.
The insulated Water Buffalo Hydration Pack features rugged ripstop nylon fabric and a 2-liter hydration bladder. The bladder features a wide mouth design and a quick-detach drinking tube connection. A low-profile design gives a comfortable close fit for running or cycling. The pack also offers a roomy main compartment, inner sleeve, exterior pocket, and external bungee system to store and organize food and gear for a whole day out.
The insulated bladder keeps water cold for up to five hours. Padded, ventilated shoulder straps and back pads increase comfort. Tube clips keep the waterline conveniently located and securely in place. Reflective trim increases visibility during morning and evening runs. The chest strap buckle features a built-in safety whistle for emergencies. This hydration pack works well for running a few miles, cycling for an afternoon, or a day-long hike.
FAQs About Your New Hydration Pack
If you’re buying a new hydration pack, you may have questions about owning and maintaining one. Read on to learn more about what to expect and how to keep the system in top condition.
Q. How big of a hydration pack do I need?
Consider how much gear you typically carry and how long you typically go out. Match the cargo volume to the amount of gear needed, other than water. The water bladder should be large enough to keep you supplied until the next fill up. For running a few miles, .5 liters is probably enough. For a day hike, at least 2 liters is recommended.
Q. Can you put a hydration bladder in any backpack?
It is possible to alter a backpack to install a hydration system, although it will likely be a more expensive option after purchasing the backpack, bladder, and tube.
Q. Can I put ice in a hydration pack?
Yes, you can put ice in a hydration pack. However, to avoid condensation wetting the bag and possibly freezing the back, choose an insulated bladder if you intend to use ice.
Q. How long can you keep water in a hydration pack?
First, only put clean, potable water into a hydration bladder. If you start with a clean bladder and tube and store it in a dark, cool place, you could probably keep it in there a year or more with no ill effects. But if you’ve put your finger in there, or there’s a little air bubble or the tube is not quite clean, it could cause a variety of microbes to grow. It is best to empty and clean the bladder after each use, rather than leaving old water in it.
Q. How long does a hydration pack last?
Hydration packs are quite durable, especially if they are protected from punctures. They typically last between one and four years, but with proper care, they may last longer.