Best Hydration Bladders for Outdoor Enthusiasts - 2017 Buying Guide By Experts
A hydration bladder comes in very handy on hiking trips of all durations as it provides easy access to water and you have your hands free when drinking. Therefore, a water bladder allows you to take small sips of water throughout the hike. This is recommended during strenuous activities as it ensures that the water gets absorbed efficiently as well as prevents any splashing sensation in the stomach.
Furthermore, hydration bladders keep the water cooler in warm weather and can withstand a longer period of use than water bottles. In this review, we selected and reviewed the best hydration bladders for hiking in order to make your buying decision easier. We were especially looking for products that are easy to use and while at it, offering great durability and functionality.
Geigerrig Hydration Engine
The Geigerrig Hydration Engine is the most innovative and versatile water bladder tested. With its sleek design and pressurized system, it has a variety of uses that no other bladder tested can compare with. The sleek profile is thin and narrow, which allows compatibility with all sorts of backpacking backpacks and running packs. The bladder offers you the ability to keep it pressurized or unpressurized with a double chamber - one for air and one for water. When pressurized, it is the easiest to drink from and doubles as a sun shower.
With its versatility, it is a great way to clean off your dog or dirty sports equipment before throwing it into your car. One of our caveats with this system is that when fully pumped, the water does slosh around quite a bit.
With its dishwasher safe technology, this was one of the two bladders that could easily be flipped inside out and cleaned right in the dishwasher. We also found that manual cleaning was easy with a simple brush. All parts were easy to take apart. It is more expensive than most other reservoirs, but not that much, considering its many innovations. It is a little heavy if you decide to carry around the pump.
We love the versatility and creativity that we get with this system. We are always finding new uses, from pet cleaning to showering. We originally thought this would just be a product for gear nerds, but we think that its uses extend past the tech-obsessed outdoor user.
CamelBak Antidote Reservoir
It scores very highly on our quality scale and is extremely easy to fill, easy to drink from, and one of the least expensive bladders you can find. It also comes with a limited lifetime warranty which further enhances its long-term value. We highly recommend this bladder if you are on a budget and if don't mind a little extra work cleaning.
The Antidote is the latest Camelbak bladder in a lineage that goes back decades; it may be the oldest running hydration reservoir. Over the years CamelBak has continually modified this bladder. Compared to earlier versions, it now has a large wide mouth opening, large grab handle for filling, and two chambers for water so it sloshes around less, removable hose and drying plastic tabs. The bite valves were also our favorite. Not too big, and not too small. We also liked that the bite valves weren't as easy to come off and lose like previous models.
For many people, this is the hydration bladder to get. It scores high and is a great value. This is the best value bladder both because of the price and because of the durability (cost per use).
Hydrapak Shape-Shift Reservoir
The HydraPak Shape-Shift Reservoir is the best option for lightweight adventures. It has a simple lightweight design and slim profile that makes it race-ready and compatible with any running or hiking pack. The zip-lock divider prevents water from sloshing around, while the flip top opening makes for easy cleaning and fill ups. The blaster valve delivers water quickly with little suckage required, while the quantum clip keeps the tube in place.
This Top Pick for Lightweight Adventures is perfect race-ready bladder truly excelling where lightweight design is required.
Osprey Hydraulics LT Reservoir
The Osprey Hydraulics LT Bladder stands out for its longer flip top closure, built-in handle, extended quick release hose system, and magnetic bite valve that always keeps water close at hand. It is very easy to use and compatible with most backpacking and running hydration packs; the large plastic handle also allows you to hold the bladder level while filling.
We loved the longer collar on the flip top, making it easy to collect and share water. It comes with a magnetic tube clip that attaches anywhere on the tube; this clip can also be removed and used for other packs that don't come with a tube clip.
This bladder is perfect for the person in search of a light, functional flip top bladder with a handle. The magnetic attachment is super handy for easy drinking access while the quick-release system is ideal for fully loaded packs. It has lots of cool features that create value for money spent.
MSR DromLite Bags
The MSR DromLite is a highly adaptable, exceptionally durable, lightweight water bladder. The DromLite is available in three different sizes and has a slew of optional accessories including a hose and mouthpiece, a spigot cap for around camp, and a shower kit. This is much more than the average hydration bladder.
Even though this is a versatile and awesome product, we do have our caveats. First, the MSR Hydration Kit (sold separately) that turns the bag into a hydration system (with a hose and bite valve) is rudimentary and not quick release. Second, we found the opening is hard to fill in small streams as the outside fabric gets wet and holds water. A wet bladder that needs to go back into a backpack is a recipe for wet clothing. That said, it is still one of the most durable products tested and we weren't afraid to just strap it on the outside of the backpack. It is also one of our most versatile bladders.
The MSR DromLite bag is unique. It is durable and versatile. If you're in the market the best backpacking option - this is it!
The Hydration Bladdder Buying Guide: What Should You Consider?
Hydration bladders are a relatively new invention in the outdoor world that became commercially available in the early 90s. They first showed up in the cycling world where athletes wanted hands-free access to water. Initially, hydration bladders were just sold in hydration packs. But it didn't take long for all backpack manufacturers to realize this was a very convenient way to drink while hiking, backpacking, running, and many other sports. As a result, almost all backpacks sold today are hydration bladder compatible in some way, either as simply a hole for the drink tube or as complicated as multiple compartments and ways to thread the drink tube through the shoulder straps.
The following are what you should consider while buying hydration bladders:
Size and Compatibility
How Much Water Should You Plan to Drink Daily?
Hydration Bladder Opening: Zip Top, Fold Top, or Screw Cap?
Bite Valve Size
Ease of Cleaning
Pressurized Versus Unpressurized
The first thing to consider is if the hydration bladder will fit the compartment in your backpack. Most hydration bladders use a similar shape but they all vary a little bit. More important is the size. Almost all bladders come in two-liter and three-liter sizes, and some come in even smaller sizes (1 liter = 33.8 ounces or a little more than a quart).
In general, we recommend 3L hydration bladders. Compared to 1L and 2L bladders they are about the same price and weight but give you 50 percent more water. You can choose to fill your bladder the whole way or just part way. One reason not to get a 3L bladder is if the compartment in your pack is small.
Even though we recommend a larger bladder, it may not be in your best interest. Take a gander below to see which size is best for you. All bladders we tested had large and small reservoir options.
2 Liter: Probably the most popular option. This is best for those taking off for a day hike, ski, or snowboard into the backcountry. If you're not a fan of constantly filling up, this is a great option. It provides a sufficient amount of water for most of the day (depending on how thirsty you are!)
3 Liter: The most versatile of all sizes. This is perfect for those who don't plan on filling up or are in need of a lot of water. We like this size the most because you have the option to carry a lot or a little water. Many of our backpackers found this to be a sufficient size when going through areas with little to no fill-up opportunities.
Another compatibility consideration is the profile of your bladder. Some bladders are wide while others are narrow. Some (when filled) are fat while others are flat. So what do you need? Most that are hydration bladder compatible come with a built in sleeve. Take a look at the sleeve to see how wide or narrow it is. From that, you'll be able to determine which bladder to choose.
In general, we recommend 17-25 oz of water per hour for hydration during endurance activities. The range is dependent on the air temperature and your exertion level.
When considering what kind of bladder opening to go with, you need to consider how easy it is to fill, the environment you are filling in, and how easy it is to open and close. There are three styles of bladder openings: fold top, zip top, and screw top.
Fold Top bladders were the most popular in this review. The tops flip up and fold over; once folded over, you slide a closure over the top and the bag is free from leaks! We found this to be the best type of bladder opening when filling up in streams or other outdoor environments where you need to gather water from limited sources. We also thought they were great to use under a regular tap at home. We loved that we could turn most of these inside out to clean and really get to the hard to reach places.
Zip Top bladders are similar to the fold top style. They resemble a large zip lock bag with a closure that fits overtop the zipper. Even though these are easy to use, many of our testers thought they took a little longer to open and close then fold top styles. These bladders are also great options for filling up at slowly flowing streams and at home under a regular tap. Even though they are easier to clean than screw top options, we found them harder to clean than fold tops as you needed a brush and could not flip them inside out.
Screw Top bladders take a little longer to open and close than zip top or fold top versions but were the easiest to fill in shallow basins. The screw models are held horizontally or diagonally when filling, which allows them to be easily filled in a sink or water fountain. This is especially handy at public restrooms and camping restrooms where you often don't want the bladder touching more surfaces than it needs to. You can also completely top them off; whereas with flip and zip top closures you usually have to leave a little air at the top to close it without spilling. That said, there is bound to be trouble cleaning screw top versions as there are hard to reach nooks and crannies.
Bite valves vary in size and type and most feature a locking mechanism. Some are larger while others are smaller. The size of the valve affects how easy or hard it is to suck water from the tube. In general, we found that bite valves that were larger were harder to suck water through the tubes (except if you had a pressurized system). Small valves were sufficient but didn't offer the larger water flow that medium valves provided.
For locking mechanisms, there are two types, the turn valve, and the switch. We recommend the switch as they were easier to clean and easier to use while exercising. Even though we have preferences with bite valves, we found that most reservoirs have an interchangeable tube and valve options. So if you prefer a certain type of valve/tube but love the reservoir, simply change it out.
Cleaning hydration bladders can be a nightmare. Most hydration bladders have some place that is difficult to clean and dry, making it the perfect candidate for bacteria take-over. Bladders vary wildly in how easy or difficult they are to clean. If you only put water in a hydration pack, you don't need to clean it that often. However, if you use sugary sports drinks you will need to get the sugar residue out almost every time you use the bladder. There are three main areas to clean: the hose, bladder, and mouthpiece. When purchasing a bladder, consider how easy or hard the bladder is to clean. Look for a wide mouth so you can either flip the bladder inside out or easily fit a brush inside. Make sure you can disassemble the hose and mouthpiece easily. Many bladders come with a quick-release mechanism that allows you to disconnect the hose from the hose. If a bladder doesn't come with this function, keep in mind it will be VERY difficult to clean the hose. In general, we found flip top bladders that could be turned inside out and thrown into the dishwasher were the easiest to clean.
A pressurized hydration bladder has two chambers: one for the water and one for air. Using a pump, you can blow up the air chamber to create a pressurized reservoir. This means that the water will squirt out of the bite valve without needing to be sucked. At first, we were a little skeptical of this technology because it seemed like it was solving a problem that didn't exist. We have found that pretty much all hydration bladders are easy to drink out of and you don't really need assistance. However, through our testing, we found the real benefit of pressurized platters is that they allow for a whole lot of novel uses in the field.
When considering a purchase, make sure your bladder is equipped with a quick release mechanism in a vertical orientation. Most hydration hoses connect to the bladder with a quick release mechanism that makes the bladder easy to fill and clean. Most manufacturers also use the same system that is compatible with one another, which means you can replace your hose and bite valve with whichever one you like the most.
Finally, it is also important to note that when temperatures drop below freezing, there is a good chance the water will freeze in your hydration tube and mouthpiece. A good tip in the winter is to blow the water back into your main bladder and clear the hose after each sip. You can also buy winterized tube kits that cover the hose in neoprene. This insulates the hose and prevents it from freezing.