Staying hydrated during outdoor adventures not only keeps you safe and healthy, it literally makes you feel better—you’ll enjoy your time outdoors more. Two tools that make getting the fluids you need easy and convenient: hydration reservoirs and hydration packs.
Hydration reservoirs, or bladders, are effective because they actually encourage you to drink frequently, since the hose is always at the ready—no stopping to dig out a water bottle. Their flat shape slips easily into a backpack, and unlike a water bottle, they get smaller as you drink. And the latest reservoirs are durable and leakproof.
A hydration pack is any backpack (or one of its cousins, a vest or waist pack) designed to carry a reservoir, typically with an internal reservoir pocket and port for the hose to poke through. They range from small, sleek packs made for running and cycling to full-fledged daypacks big enough to handle all your hiking gear.
In this guide you’ll learn:
- How to choose the appropriate reservoir volume
- Which reservoir features and closures to look for
- What reservoir accessories are available
- How to choose the right hydration pack size and style
All reservoirs will tote your water efficiently, but they’re not all exactly alike. Consider these variables.
Reservoirs range from about 1.5 liters to 3 liters in capacity. The smallest ones hold enough water for a shorter day hike. If there are water sources available (and you carry a treatment device), you can save weight by carrying a smaller reservoir and refilling it as needed. Three-liter reservoirs are especially good for areas where water sources are scarce. When full, they’re considerably heavier (a 3-liter bladder holds about 6.5 pounds’ worth of water).
- Quick-connect hose: This allows you to easily detach the reservoir from its hose so you can refill it without having to remove and then re-thread the hose.
- Leakproof bite valve: The bite valve is what you drink from, and some can be closed to prevent leaks.
- Insulation: Reservoirs made for cold weather typically include insulation for both the bladder and hose to prevent freezing; it’s a nice feature for keeping water cold in hot weather, too.
There are two main choices.
- A screw-on closure seals like a jar lid; it’s secure, but sometimes can be difficult to thread and makes the reservoir harder to clean (a wide-mouth closure makes cleaning easier).
- With a slide closure, you fold the top of the reservoir over and slide a clip on to hold it. This type lets you open the top wide for easier cleaning.
Reservoirs don’t weigh much on their own, especially compared to the weight of the water they carry. But reservoir weights can vary by a few ounces—which might matter to dedicated ultralighters.
- Drying rack: Reservoirs should be rinsed out and dried completely after each use, so a drying rack is helpful for propping yours open to dry. You can also improvise one out of a coat hanger.
- Cleaning tools: Cleaning tablets and specialized brushes make it easier to give a reservoir a deep scrubbing.
- Bite valve covers: These are great for keeping the mouthpiece clean, and are sometimes included.
- Insulation: If your reservoir didn’t come with insulation (most don’t), you can buy an insulated pouch for use in cold and hot weather.