How To Choose A Hydration Bladder: Keep thirst at bay.

Jan 16, 2006

The Bottom Line Leave that canteen at home.

When I was a child the only way to hydrate yourself was to carry a canteen with you. There were several problems with this. First you had to stop to drink, this wasted time. You were also required to carry it on a belt that hurt or a shoulder strap that made you unbalanced.
Now we have another option. We can carry water in a specially made bladder with a long hose that makes it easier to drink. This means that we can drink without having to stop by the side of the trail. We had less of a chance of getting dehydrated because water was a sip away. It was also much easier on the person’s body because there were no annoying belts or balancing issues with a shoulder strapped canteen. I didn’t think I would like it before I bought my first hydration system but now that I own several I can’t go back to canteens again.

How much water do I need?
I recommend 100 oz for a nice day of hiking in a normal day, or 100oz for half a day in the desert. 70 oz is fine for 2-3 hours in the desert or half a day in other environments. If you have the choice between getting a 100 oz bladder or a 70 oz and 30oz in a lexan container then pick the 100 oz option. The reason is balance and comfort. Bladder backpacks are designed to keep the water weight as close to your body as possible. Now if you start loading your pack with extra stuff like water bottles and food then the center of gravity starts to move away from you. This will make you less balanced and you have to use more energy while hiking. Not a good thing.
If you just bike or jog a few miles then a 40 - 50oz bladder should be fine.
When my wife and I go for a day hike we each have one of the packs (100 oz and 70oz.) This is enough water for myself, my wife, and our two kids for 3-6 hours (depending on weather.)

Antibacterial bladder material
I cannot emphasize enough about how important this feature is. If you have a non-antibacterial bladder then you will have off tasting water eventually. I personally do not find this to be a pleasant thing. Now if you do not care about how your water tastes then don’t worry about this feature, but for the rest of us with taste buds it is essential.

Breathability of your backpack
Having some airflow across your back is a convenience that can’t be ignored. To increase airflow I have seen companies use two approaches. The first approach is to make the back out of pads with air canals running through. So instead of one solid back you have patches. The other is to layer the back pad(s) with a layer of cloth mesh. This reduces the amount of surface area that directly connects to your back and allows your body to get rid of moisture build up a little more easily. Most of my newer backpacks use both approaches and they do work.

Large shoulder straps
The larger the strap then the more surface area there is between the strap and the shoulder. This is actually the first thing I look for when I am buying a new backpack. When I first bought my CamelBak Lobo the one thing that stood out was the straps were larger than its counterparts, so I bought that. If you end up with smaller straps you will find that they will dig into your shoulders, especially if you have quite a bit of weight in them.

Do you need a hip belt?
A hip belt on backpacks allows the user to focus most of their weight on their hips. This is how all backpacking packs work. For most hydration systems you do not need a hip belt because you are not carrying a lot of weight. But a few hydration backpacks do have nice hip belts. If your needs are for 100 oz of water, 2 Lexan water containers, snacks, lunch, dinner, 35mm camera, and emergency survival gear then you need a backpack with hip support. If all you are carrying is 70 oz of water and a bag of M&M’s then you do not need this option.

Hydration packs for jogging and running.
You may want to get a hip pack hydration system. CamelBak has a few. Check out Jeff’s review if you want another opinion.

Is balance important for backpacks?
As I previously mentioned, a pack that is closer to your body is better for you. You will not have to work as hard when hiking and you will be better balanced when jumping on rocks.
The bladder compartment should always be placed in the compartment next to your back. If it isn’t then don’t buy that pack. You also need to be careful about how you load your pack. Try to keep the weight balanced and if at all possible put heavy items in the pockets closest to your back. Ultimately, just bring what you need, nothing more.

Do you need extra pockets in the backpack?
This is an important question you need to ask yourself before you purchase your pack. I find that the less you pack then the happier you will be hiking. If all you are going to use it for is exercise or 3 hour day hikes then just get a pack with no extra pockets. I love my CamelBak Lobo because it only has room for my keys and a small lunch. Even if I wanted to carry more, I can’t.
If you need to carry lunch for 4 people then you will need several large pockets. If you have smaller kids then you will need room for gear. Also if you go on long all-day hikes then you obviously need several pockets for your meals and possible an extra water bottle or two.

Do you already own a backpack you love?
If you have a backpack you absolutely love and don’t want to hike with anything else then don’t worry. All you need is a bladder without an attached backpack. This is just a bladder with an attached hydration hose. My recommendation is to get one of the MSR bladders, but both the Platypus and CamelBak bladders are just as good.

What bladders have I used.
I have used the CamelBak system, Platypus bladders, and the MSR hydration system. I like all of them but for different reasons. The CamelBak is nice because it is one complete system. It is very comfortable and easy to use. The platypus system is fairly light and originally all they had were bladders. This was nice because I used them in my other backpacks I owned (backpacking and day hikes.) I love the MSR system because the flow rate was higher and it is the most durable hydration system out there. But it was also heavier and the shape is a little awkward.

My favorite options.
I have two depending on what I am doing. If I am going on a simple day hike then I take my CamelBak Lobo or Blowfish. For longer hikes where I take my F100 and plenty of snacks then I will use my NorthFace Terra 40. It is a great day hiking backpack with a hip belt for added comfort. I use the MSR bladder and the MSR hydration system in conjunction with it.

As always, if you have any questions I did not address here then feel free to e-mail me and I will answer them as best as I can.

Some of my bladders and hydration systems I own.
CamelBak Blowfish
CamelBak Lobo
MSR hydration system
MSR 10L bladder

Read all comments (4)

About the Author ID:
Member: Alan Lake
Location: Riverside, California
Reviews written: 703
Trusted by: 265 members
About Me: "If we all_reacted the same_way we'd be_predictable, and there's_always more_than one way to_view a_situation."