Why would you use a hydration bladder instead of a water bottle?
Hydration bladders are much more convenient. If you are using a water bottle, then you have to get it out of a backpack, open the lid, drink, put the lid back on, and then put it away again.
With a hydration bladder, you can drink from a hose and a mouthpiece. You will not have to get anything out of your backpack or stop moving.
Hydration systems keep water cool better than bottles
In a bottle, water will get hot fast. Companies design their hydration bladders to keep water at a refreshingly cool temperature for much longer. While the first gulp of water from a hydration system is usually warm because it was stored in the tube, the rest of the water will be colder because the water in the tank is still cold.
Hydration systems are durable
A good quality hydration bladder that you take care of can last for five years or more. The reservoirs are surprisingly durable - these are not flimsy bags that will easily pop.
Mere pressure is not likely to do any damage to a good hydration system. It usually takes a sharp object or fire to break one of these sturdy bags.
Hydration systems are easy and not a hassle to clean
One reason why some people might prefer disposable water bottles to hydration systems is that they would rather not have to clean any equipment.
However, repeatedly throwing away disposable water bottles is bad for the environment and, in the long run, much more expensive than a hydration system. Many hydration bladders are dishwasher safe, so it is not at all time consuming to keep them clean.
Advantages of hydration bladders
- High water capacity
- Much more convenient to use
- Keep water at the right temperature
- Cheaper in the long run than disposable water bottles
- Less garbage, more environmentally friendly
Advantages of water bottles
- Cheap enough to be thrown away rather than cleaned
- Very simple and familiar to everyone
Best hydration bladders for hiking
Osprey Hydraulics LT
The Osprey Hydraulics LT offers an attachment for a longer hose, which could come in handy for many people. Usually, the hose won't have any trouble reaching your mouth, but this is the product to get if you need a longer hose.
The handle is very well designed and allows you to fill the bag while holding it side to side rather than up and down. Filling it up in shallow streams and small sinks should not be a problem with the Osprey Hydraulics LT. You can fill the Osprey up anywhere.
The valves in the Osprey Hydraulics LT are well made and will not break or leak. I find the mouthpiece lock to be slightly annoying to use - it is not really a problem, but a standard switch lock is better than the unusual lock the Osprey has.
While the Osprey Hydraulics LT is not hard to clean (you can easily scrub inside of it), it is not possible to turn it inside out, which means you cannot quite clean it as thoroughly as some other options. While the durability of the mouthpiece is very good, and the bag is reasonably good as well, the bag has no puncture resistance.
- Attachment for a longer hose
- Easy to fill up
- Durable mouthpiece
- No leakage
- The bag is not quite as durable as it should be
If you are looking for a hydration bladder that takes up very little space without being flimsy, the MSR Dromlite might be your best choice. It is great for hikers that don't want to carry too much gear around.
Not only is the MSR Dromlite resistant to pressure, but it is even somewhat hard to puncture. If you were to stab it with a sharp object intentionally, it would break, but it is not easy to accidentally puncture the bag. Since it is so durable, you can even use it as a camping pillow without bursting it.
One disadvantage is that the opening is small, which makes it hard to clean. If you rinse the bladder often and store it in your freezer when it is empty, there will probably be no bacterial growth. However, a wider opening would have been a better idea, and the MSR Dromlite does not even come with a hose, you have to buy the hose separately.
- Takes up very little space when empty
- Above-average durability
- The opening is small, so you cannot scrub inside it
- Hose sold separately
Possibly, this is the best hydration bladder you can get if you are looking for something that can keep the temperature right in either heat or cold. If you fill the bladder with ice water, it will stay icy and not merely cool for many hours on a hot day.
Staying hydrated in the winter and not just the summer is important, and if you take the Hydrasleeve outdoors in the cold, the insulated hose won't freeze for quite a while. As long as you drink from the nozzle on occasion, it will take a long time for the tube to freeze.
You can effortlessly get a lot of water out of the Hydrapak Hydrasleeve as well. You will never only get a trickle out of it; the water comes out easily. The product also does not have any durability problems, so this is one of my favorite choices.
There is one flaw, which is that the Hydrapak Hydrasleeve is large and heavy, not light and packable. While I like the Hydrapak Hydrasleeve very much, it is not for those who need something lighter.
- Very good at keeping the water cold in the summer
- Very good at not freezing in the winter
- Bigger and heavier than other options
Unlike the Hydrapak Hydrasleeve, the Hydrapak Shape-Shift is not very reliable and durable. It is not quite delicate, and it might even last for years if you are gentle with it, but it is easy to puncture it. The mouthpiece might also last for very many trips if you are gentle, but otherwise, it will start to leak.
On the plus side, it is very easy to drink out of, and very easy to refill in a sink because of its small size and excellent handle. The water also doesn't slosh around very much in the Hydrapak Shape-Shift when you are walking.
It is small and will fit into a small backpack. It is also easy to clean (perfectly fine to put it in the dishwasher) and cheaper than most of the other products. Hydration bladders are not exactly expensive, so if you like the Hydrapak Shape-Shift, you should get it even if it might not last for years.
- Designed to prevent the liquid from sloshing around a lot inside
- Easy to drink out of and refill
- Light and easy to fit into a thin backpack
- Reasonably priced
- Durability problems
The Platypus Hoser is cheap, reliable, durable, and lightweight. It is the lightest hydration bladder I have tried. It will also fit into a narrow sleeve on a backpack that could not hold a bigger bag.
While the platypus hoser could be perfect for some people (all three of cheap, strong, and light), it has its flaws. The mouthpiece is not lockable, so if anything pushes against the mouthpiece when you are walking, it will leak. It is not as easy to clean as it should be either.
- Low price
- No durability problems
- Fits into narrow sleeves
- The mouthpiece can leak if anything accidentally presses against it
- Not very easy to clean
Platypus Big Zip EVO
If I have a favorite product, it is this one. The Platypus Big Zip EVO is a one-sidedly good hydration system with no real disadvantages. It offers everything - easy to clean, easy to use, reliable, and easy to fill up.
The water flow rate is great; a lot of water comes out when you suck only a little. It also has more than one point where you can connect a hose to, and it is more than narrow enough to fit into backpack sleeves in my experience.
On another level, while I have never had trouble fitting this into a backpack sleeve, some other people have. If the sleeves on your backpack are too narrow for most hydration bladders, you might have to go with another product. Most likely, the Platypus Big Zip EVO will fit into your backpack sleeve just fine, and you will love the product.
- Multiple ports to connect hoses
- Very good flow rate
- Durable bag and mouthpiece
- Easy to open up and clean
- Not as narrow as some other choices are
CamelBak Crux Reservoir
While I love the look and performance of the CamelBak, it does not quite have the durability to make it one of the best products on this list. The water flow is perfect; you can clean it thoroughly, and if you are careful with it, the CamelBack may last for a long time.
The locking mechanism is excellent, and it doesn't take up much space, either. Since the screw-top opening is huge, you can easily get a brush inside it and clean it properly. You can also take the CamelBak apart fully to disinfect all of the parts.
On the downside, the CamelBak is not always free of leaks. Some of these products may not be very well made, so there is a chance that you will get one with a leaky screw top.
- Great water flow
- Attractive appearance
- Large opening for easy filling and cleaning
- Potentially leaky screw-top
Source Tactical WXP 3L
The Source Tactical WXP looks great, is easy to clean, and is easy to use. The screw-top is on the side rather than the top of the bladder, so you can fill it up horizontally, which makes it easy to fill up anywhere. It isn't any larger than it needs to be to hold 3 liters.
Another impressive thing about the Source Tactical is that it offers antimicrobial plastic - you still have to clean it, but the anti-microbial technology is a great feature. Another great thing about it is that it has both a flip top and a screw top opening, so it is as easy to fill as possible. You can also change the hoses, as they are compatible with many other products.
While this is one of the better products on this list, it is not quite the best because the plastic handle is not very firmly attached to the bladder. The handle seems cheap and flimsy. Nonetheless, this is a good choice even if it is a bit more expensive than other products and has a handle that you have to be slightly careful with.
- Antimicrobial plastic
- Puncture resistance
- Not any bigger than it has to be for its capacity
- Two openings to fill the device from
- The handle is a bit weak
While the Deuter Streamer is easy to clean and packable, it is disappointing in other ways. You can roll it up very easily and store it in a tiny space, and the bag is not likely to end up with a hole in it. Another plus is that you can hang the Deuter Streamer up from holes at the top of the bag.
While it is easy to get water out of the Deuter Streamer, the stream is also relatively weak. I prefer products where the water comes out faster. Some people might like the smaller stream the Deuter offers, but I don't think the smaller stream is a plus for most people.
Some of the parts of the Deuter Streamer are also a bit flimsy - the bag is not, but other parts of the hydration system might break if you are not gentle with them. Being able to turn the Deuter Streamer inside out when you clean it is another advantage, but it is not one of the best products on this list.
- Clips to hang the bladder up
- Easy to store in a small space
- You can turn it inside out to clean it
- Water comes out slowly if still easily
- Some parts are not very durable
Badlands Hydration Reservoir
The Badlands Hydration Reservoir is another excellent choice if you are looking for an all-seasons hydration system that keeps your water the right temperature in hot or cold weather. The tube is well insulated and will avoid freezing as long as your drink from it. In particular, it takes a long time for the water in the bladder to freeze.
The water flow is slower than what I prefer and slower than for most of the competition. The mouthpiece can also leak. While impressively cold-resistant, it is not all that well designed.
While the bag is easy to clean (you can both turn it inside out and put it in the dishwasher), you cannot take the mouthpiece apart. You could try dropping the mouthpiece in a container of cleaning solution and hoping it gets clean. Probably that would be enough, but it is better to be able to take the mouthpiece apart and scrub it.
- Very good performance at extremes of temperature
- Dishwasher safe
- Slow water flow
- The mouthpiece may leak and cannot be taken apart
Buyers guide for hydration systems in 2020
Hydration bladders need the right features to be truly superior to water bottles. A hydration bladder must be easy to drink from, durable, reliable, resistant to bacteria, and reasonably priced. It might also have distinctive features that help it stand out from the other products.
Is the hydration system easy to use?
One of the first things that makes a hydration bladder a lousy product is being hard to drink from. If you can drink from it and end up with only a trickle of water coming out, it is not any good. You should also not have to suck very hard - a lot of water should come out with little effort, or else it is an inferior product.
Some hydration systems are more resistant to freezing than others, and these are a must if you plan to be outdoors in cold weather. At best, an insulated bladder can keep your water from turning entirely into ice for as much as 24 hours, though the usual standard is less. If you spend a long time outside in the cold, ice will form in your reservoir - but it may take a long time for it to freeze solid and be impossible to drink from.
If you want to use a hydration bladder in cold weather, make sure you buy one that is resistant to freezing. Not all hydration systems are cold-resistant, and the water may freeze just as easily as in a water bottle if you are outside for long enough in cold weather.
The water in the tube will freeze faster than the water in the reservoir. Even if the hose is insulated, it may not take very long for the hose to freeze. If you frequently take a small drink on a cold day, that will prevent the tube and the mouthpiece from freezing for as long as possible.
A good hydration bladder should also keep the water cold for a long time in hot weather. People usually hike in the summer, so insulation against heat is even more critical.
A quality hydration system should be able to keep ice-cold water quite cold for at least six hours on a hot day. Anything much beyond that is pushing it even for high-quality hydration bladders. The heat will inevitably get through.
How easy is it to refill?
A hydration bladder should be easy to open and should be easy to fill in a stream. Ideally, you should be able to fill your hydration system in a shallow stream.
You might also need to fill your hydration bladder at a sink that is small and hard to use. If the opening is positioned right, you should be able to fill it in a small sink or a shallow stream. Hydration bladders that have a screw top are more straightforward to fill than those with a flip-top.
The last kind of product you want to buy is one that breaks quickly. A poorly made hydration bladder will have a mouthpiece that starts to leak not long after you buy it. Only buy a hydration bladder that has a reputation for durability.
Is it easy to take care of?
Cleaning your hydration system should be a quick task and not a chore. It should be safe to wash your hydration system in the dishwasher without any risk of damage. For many products, the dishwasher is not safe.
It should always be possible to clean the product thoroughly and not just partly - you should be able to take it apart entirely and disinfect everything that needs to be cleaned. If you cannot take the mouthpiece and apart properly, bacteria or mold may build up somewhere that you can't clean.
Resistance to bacteria
A high-quality hydration system should be resistant to bacteria as well as easy to clean. The hydration bladder should boast some technology that makes it resistant to mold and bacteria.
Never let your hydration system sit with water in it for a few days without cleaning it properly. Mould can build up in the reservoir or, more likely, the tube if you let it sit. Storing your hydration system in the freezer (empty, certainly not with water in it) can keep it free of bacteria or mold and help it last as long as possible.
Is the hydration bladder light and easy to pack?
If weight is not an issue, you might want to go with a hydration system that has a larger tank. If you don't want to carry too much with you on a long hike, you might want to go with a smaller one.
Some hydration bladders can also be folded up and made very small when you are not using them. If you want a hydration bladder that takes up hardly any room when it is empty, you should get one without a handle.