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How To Choose the Right Bike Hydration Solution for You

There are two main options for on-bike hydration: water bottles and cycling-specific hydration packs.

Whether you’re hustling on your favorite stretch of tarmac, exploring a gravel road, or bombing steep singletrack, few factors are as important for sustaining your ride as staying hydrated. Replenishing your fluids won't just keep you comfortable; it’s essential for performing at your best and staying safe on the bike.

There are two main options for on-bike hydration: water bottles and cycling-specific hydration packs. This guide will help you determine what hydration solution is best for you.

Questions To Ask Yourself

Before you begin shopping, narrow your hydration needs.

Will I have access to water on my ride?

Carry enough water to get you to the next fill-up location. Don’t carry large amounts of water if you don’t need to. 

What do I like having with me on my bike?  

When sizing a hydration bag, get enough storage space for the things you need. Anything bigger will add unnecessary weight and bulk.

Which bike will use this on?

Get a pack appropriate for your riding discipline—a streamlined pack for road cycling, for example.

Water Bottles

For many cyclists, the answer to hydration is simple: a water bottle. Cycling water bottles are usually made of flexible plastic that make them easy to grip and squeeze, so you can shoot water from the bottle into your mouth. They hold anywhere from about 12 to 28 ounces of water, and they’re shaped to fit in a bike’s bottle cages or in the back pockets of your cycling jersey. For many, they’re a great option.

Bottles do come with downsides, however. They offer only limited water-carrying capacity, and they can be difficult to use while riding. To overcome those issues, a cycling-specific hydration pack is often the best answer.

Cycling Disciplines

Where and how you ride will determine the kind of hydration pack you need. Here are some common types to know.

Mountain Biking Packs

Mountain biking hydration packs are often larger and offer more space for non-liquid cargo like extra layers, rain gear, and food. They generally have a more durable design to deal with bumps and scrapes on the trail, and they’re not usually built for sleek aerodynamics. 

Road Cycling Packs

Hydration packs designed for road bikes and city riding are often smaller, with less capacity for gear, and benefit from a sleeker design. The smaller size and improved aerodynamics help you stay streamlined on the bike so you can ride faster. 

Photo: Dan Holz/Tandemstock

Capacity

When assessing hydration packs, there are two capacity considerations to keep in mind: the volume of the hydration bladder and the amount of storage space in the pack that surrounds it. 

Hydration Capacity

The longer your adventure and the hotter the weather, the more water you’ll need. But water is heavy, so bring only what’s necessary—not the most water you can possibly carry.

Standard Capacity: Bladders with a capacity of 1.5 to 2.5 liters are good for most riders. They’re great for rides of a few hours or so, and they can be used for longer rides if you can stop and refill the bladder at a water fountain or gas station along your route. 

High Capacity: Bladders over 2.5 liters are great for exceedingly hot days and long rides in undeveloped areas where refilling opportunities are scarce. 

Bag Capacity

In addition to a bladder, many hydration packs come with pockets for gear and food storage. Choose a bag with just enough carrying space for essentials—a bag with extra pockets will just weigh you down. 

Minimum Capacity: Packs under 4 liters of storage are great for road cycling and commuting. They have just enough space for must-haves like a phone, bike multitool, and a pouch of energy gel.

Medium Capacity: Packs with 5 to 10 liters of space are great for mountain biking and longer rides when you’ll want an extra layer, any repair equipment and more food for the journey.

Large Capacity: Packs with over 10 liters of space are overkill for most riders, but they can be good options for those using a hydration pack as part of a bikepacking setup. They’re also great if you use your bike to run errands like grocery shopping and need to carry big loads. 

Fit

Your hydration pack should fit comfortably while you ride. When trying packs on, look for bunched up or stretched out material where the pack rests against your back or along the straps—these are signs that you need to go up or down a size. The pack shouldn’t stretch beyond your torso, and you should be able to tighten the straps so that it stays in place but doesn’t restrict your movement as you ride. Many companies also make women’s versions of packs to better fit women’s body geometry. 

Additional Features

Aside from riding discipline, capacity, and fit, there are few other hydration pack features to consider:

Hip Packs

Your hydration pack doesn’t have to go over your shoulders. Hydration lumbar or hip packs come with a single strap worn around your waist, and they keep the load on the small of your back as you ride. Their design limits their water capacity, but many prefer them for their secure fit and lightweight feel. 

Padding

Some packs offer extra padding in the hip and shoulder areas. This can make them more comfortable on longer rides and while carrying heavier loads. For shorter rides, however, a closer fit and less fabric is often a better choice than piling on the padding. 

Ventilation

Some packs have unique designs to keep them from resting directly on your back, which can cause sweating and eventually chafing. Look for a pack with air channels through the load-bearing zone that will vent heat and keep your back from getting overly sweaty. 

Locking Valves

To prevent spills and leaks, look for hydration packs with a locking bite valve that allows you to close off the water supply at the valve.

Tube Management

Many packs have clips or magnets to secure the hydration tube so it doesn’t flop around while you’re riding. Also consider which side of the pack the hydration tube comes out of—some packs allow you to switch the tube to the other side, others don’t. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.