Best Hydration Bladder: A Simple Solution to The Most Important Human Requirement

Best Hydration Bladder review
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

One of the most useful items you could have on an outdoor activity, trip or a survival situation is a hydration pack. This way you solve the problem of finding pure water to drink and you avoid getting dehydrated or worse, catching a disease that will diminish your power of surviving. So you can see why hydration systems are ideal.

There can never be enough said about the importance of hydration, and especially when you are expending energy during whatever activity you chose. The effects of dehydration should provide you with more than a casual interest in finding convenient and effective ways of staying hydrated.

And if you are lucky enough not have experienced the signs and symptoms of dehydration, even mildly, count yourself amongst very few. It is well worth spending a bit of time getting to know what signs and symptoms to look for, before you get active.

In essence, the best hydration bladder simply replaces the water bottle, and adds a bunch of additional conveniences in the process. To make your search easier we take a look at 6 products, but before we do, let’s look at the ins’ and outs, of these remarkable aids.

It’s an awful amount of money to be paying for something which is essentially just a water bottle

Hydration reservoir

Well, not so, and until you have tried one of these packs, you may well remain under the impression that it is a waste of money. We can only think of two applications during which a conventional bottle may deliver more effective results, and we have deliberately avoided using the phrase “more convenient.”

The first would be needing water while you’re riding your bike on the road. It’s just not cool to be wearing a hydration pack on your back whilst trying to be as sleek and aerodynamic as possible. The other application is when you doing time on your treadmill at the local gym. Here there is space a plenty, not to mention any number of water bottle holders.

Whether you are charging, white-knuckled, along a single track on your mountain bike, kayaking in the surf, trail running, or hiking in the wilderness, the benefits of a hydration pack will soon become apparent.

Some Important Features to Consider

  1. How easy is it to use? – Pretty easy to measure, or so we would think, and yes the most important thing is can you easily drink water from it, if you can’t it becomes an expensive hot water bottle or pillow.
    And to make drinking as effortless as possible, much design focus is placed on the mouth piece to ensure that you get just enough water on demand, too much and you and you could find yourself aspirating (particularly when you’re out of breath) and too little and you feel like ripping the reservoir apart. And lastly does the mouth need or have a lock-out function.
  2. How easy is it to care for? – Especially important if you enjoy filling your hydration pack with isotonic sports drinks (a nice name for sugar drinks), but even for those of us that require nothing more than water, cleaning and maintaining your reservoir is critical to avoid illness which, with the build-up of bacteria can happen pretty quickly.
    Wide opening bladders can be turned inside out and cleaning is a pleasure. And if the screw lid type is your preference, you will need to consider one of the cleaning products available (often as simple as dropping a tablet into the reservoir and letting it do its work). In fact, many are top-shelf dishwasher safe.
  3. How easy is it to fill? – Whilst the wide-mouth design provides a large opening for you to pour (or scoop) water, they are a bit tricky to close when full. The screw lid design is obviously a little more difficult to fill, but is easier to manage when it is full.
  4. The overall quality and weight of your hydration reservoir – Whilst for the vast majority of active users, weight is not an important consideration, but quality is. In the case of these “active aids” quality is largely determined by the gauge of the material used. Most of them are BPA-free and will withstand a moderate amount of normal abuse, but some are truly quite remarkable, and this includes the units which have welded seams.

How to Take Care of Your Hydration Reservoir

Avoiding dehydration is not just a question of replacing the liquids you lose during exercise, it is also about replacing the minerals that your body discharges along with water, which combine to make up your sweat.

For many of us, we are inclined to want to carry our own special concoction which we hope will give us a lift as we go, or we’ll simply rely on one the dozens of off-the-shelf sports drinks to fill our pack.

Hydration Bladder features

In most cases, these energy drinks contain a range of natural, and sometimes not-so-natural additives, which will convert into one form of bacteria or another, and often fairly quickly in warm climates.

It is for this reason that a thorough cleaning and storing regime must become second nature. With a little care, your hydration pack could easily outlive you, and before we look at the do’s and don’ts, always consult the manufacturer’s instructions.

  1. Hot water & two table spoons of baking soda or bleach. – Not boiling water, just hot water will suffice; fill your hydration pack half to three quarters full, add either baking soda or bleach. Close up the reservoir and shake. Raise the reservoir (with tube attached) above your head and pinch the bite valve, allowing the water to drain through the tube. ALWAYS RINSE YOUR RESERVOIR AFTER YOU HAVE CLEANED IT.
  2. Cleaning tabs. – Drop a cleaning tab into your reservoir containing clean water, and allow to sit for 30 minutes before draining as explained above.
  3. Air dry your reservoir – It is important that your reservoir is completely dry before storing, so hang it out dry, preferably out of direct sunlight.
  4. Cleaning the tube and mouth piece – The tube may require little more than a simple rinse through, which is achieved when cleaning the reservoir. It may however require a little more, since this is the place that mold takes root fairly quickly. There is a range of tube brushes which are designed to clean the tube. It is helpful to know that mold can easily stain the inside of the tube, and so it may well be clean after you have used any one or more of the cleaning methods, these stains are unlikely to go. This is not a problem, and the tube is safe to use.

NOTE: If you need to detach tubes or clips from your reservoir for any reason, soak the end in hot water for 5 – 10 minutes, whereafter the tube should slide off, repeat the process to reattach the tube. It is not recommended that you deconstruct the bite valve, as a little soaking and cleaning should be sufficient.

Top Products on The Market

Geigerrig Hydration Engine

Geigerrig Hydration Engine

Capacity: 3.00 l

Specific Features: Pressure pump, detachable hoses, wide opening, very good grade plastic bladder.

Cost: $31.45

Description: It was never going to be too long before someone came along and said; “what if we could add a bit of pressure to the bladder and get the water to squirt out” and Geigerrig gave it a go.

And it is the first real significant change to the hydration pack in the past decade or so. In fact, it is the only real change. Some would say that the jury is out on whether the application is as good as the idea, and this is largely due to the unit’s ability, or inability to retain pressure.

The overall construction is excellent, the bite valve is good, and the hoses detach, enabling quick filling through the wide slide opening. The alternative is to gently squeeze your regular hydration pack to get a similar effect of squirting out water, if you are looking to share your water with man’s best friend.

The Geigerrig Hydration Engine is compatible with most backpacks.

Camelbak AntidoteTM 70oz Reservoir

Camelbak AntidoteTM 70oz Reservoir

Capacity: Available in three different sizes; 50 oz. (1.5 L), 70 oz. (2 L) and 100 oz. (3 L)

Specific features: 23cm / 9.1 in. tall, replaceable trail filter is good for 300 cycles, produces 16oz’s in 15 seconds, robust stainless steel construction.

Cost: $22.06 – $89.07

Description: The mere mention of the name “Camelbak” is generally sufficient to deal with any misgivings that you may have regarding quality and product support, and this comes from consistently producing high quality and durable hydration packs.

In fact, Camelbak are quick to point that if they make it, they’ll back, and back it they do, for a lifetime of hydration. Needless to say, the idea of carrying a water bladder around with you has been duplicated hundreds, if not thousands of times.

You are either a fan of the ‘quarter turn’ filling cap, or a fan of the ‘wide mouth’ opening, ‘slide sealer’ mechanism. For my money the ability to hold onto the Camelbak AntidoteTM 70oz Reservoir, by gripping the ring around the filler lid, makes for really easy filling, and yes I am a fan of the filler cap models.

The wide construction style makes for a low profile reservoir, a feature which is becoming common place with most designs, and eliminates the ballooning effect created by narrow reservoirs when full, a rather uncomfortable result along the center of your back.

Platypus Big Zip LP Reservoir

Platypus Big Zip LP Reservoir

Capacity: Available in three different sizes; 50 oz. (1.5 L), 70 oz. (2 L) and 100 oz. (3 L)

Specific features: Taste free and BPA free water, transparent bladder, twin chamber design.

Cost: $34.95

Description: There are two specific stand-out design features with the Platypus LP Reservoir; the transparent bladder and the twin chamber system. I have yet to fully understand why it is that manufacturers of hydration systems elect to color the bladder skin.

For my money, I want to see exactly what is going on in my bladder, particularly to check that I have not inadvertently collected some unwanted sediment on the way. The twin chamber design is a clever way of eliminating water from sloshing around in your pack, which  is something that irritates many users and lasts a while until the bladder is empty.

Another simple yet clever feature is the fact that the slider is attached to the pack, one only realizes how useful this is when you have lost one or two sliders. It is also a wide, low profile design.

Platypus Hoser Hydration System

Platypus Hoser Hydration System

Capacity: 2l (70 oz.)

Specific features: Single filler / outlet port, extremely simple design, very well priced.

Cost: $16.07

Description: The Platypus Hoser Hydration System is probably one of the simplest designs you are likely to encounter across the broad range of hydration system options.

Sure, the filler port is small, and yes, expect to get a bit of water splashing around as you fill it up, but the filler port is also the outlet port. And it goes without saying that the fewer the openings to your hydration bladder, the fewer the chances are of leaks.

For the folk that want to really scrub the inside of their hydration bladders, this one is not going to work for you, nor will you be able to turn this one inside out, and hang to dry. But, dry it will, it will just take a little longer than most.

Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir

Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir

Capacity: 3l.

Specific features: Rigid back plate.

Cost: $410.30.

Description: Osprey’s Hydraulics™ 3L Reservoir may well have a rigid back plate, and one can see how this would assist in inserting the reservoir into a backpack, particularly if the pack is rather full. But at $410.30, it would need to do a whole lot more than just slide in and out of your bag. The question is; does it?

It is claimed to be manufactured from Metallocene PE high-strength and taste-free film (BPA/PVC free), and anti-microbial formula to prevent bacteria and mold, and this is the case with many other hydration reservoirs.

It has volume graduations printed up the reservoir, which many have, in fact, it is a mystery to me why everyone does not include this as a standard feature. It features flexible 1/4″/6.35mm hose for faster water flow, but so do all of the others. The advertised low profile shape is equally something many other brands are following.

In summary, does it do a lot more than most other hydration reservoirs do? I don’t think so.

NRS PFD Hydration Pack

NRS PFD Hydration Pack

Capacity: 1.5l.

Specific features: This is a complete hydration pack, not just the bladder or reservoir, and is designed to fit onto a PFD.

Cost: $41.21.

Description: NRS PFD Hydration Pack (personal flotation device) or life jacket, as they are commonly referred to, and typically donned when on the water in a one of many crafts. In particular, you would be a kayaker or paddler of some sort to find this hydration pack useful. Although, with a capacity of a mere 1.5l, don’t expect to go too far between fresh water points.

So Are Hydration Packs Worth The Money?

Staying hydrated will always be the single most important consideration that you will ever need to make to stay fit and healthy in the wilderness. Whether you are out on a 5-day survival trail, or simply enjoying a hike or ride in your local park, anticipating the need and preparing for clean drinking water should be your first priority.

Remember: NEVER consider if you are going to need water – ALWAYS consider how much water you are going to need.

Top tip: One of the early signs of dehydration is thirst, and so avoid taking big gulps when it may be too late by sipping occasionally as you go, as this is the best way to maintain hydration levels. This is a habit which one needs to consciously practice, since we all generally tend to wait until we are really thirsty before drinking something.

Osprey Hydraulics on test

You are either going to take enough water along with you, or you are going to take the right equipment with you, to ensure that you get enough water. How will you know if you have enough water? The answer is simple: you don’t, but large hydration reservoirs will hold up to 3 litres, and this is a great start.

Out on the trail or during almost all moderate to strenuous activity, sufficient water will be the difference between enjoying your outing, and having a torrid time. It is surprising how much water you can conveniently and easily take along with you in a hydration reservoir, the ease of use will certainly improve the frequency with which you drink water.

ARE THEY WORTH THE MONEY? – Every cent and then some. Having water and not needing it, is always going to beat, needing it and not having it.

Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Mike Walker

    I really like the NRS PFD Hydration Pack. You can easily mount it on PFD. It’s easy to remove and insert the waterpack but it fits only 1.5 l. And the best thing is that you can convert it into a personal floatation device. Overall it’s a good purchase.

  • Mark Foster

    HI Mike! Like you, I’m quite taken with this dual-purpose hydration pack. It’s also inexpensive and won’t break the bank. When you’re out there in the wild, it’s easy to get dehydrated. These hydration bladder packs are the ultimate solution. Make sure you always have one with you when you’re camping or trekking.

  • Jim Clark

    I’ve been using hydration packs since the day they came out, but the Geigerrig Hydration Engine amazed me. Back in the day it was just a couple of thin, padded straps with a black sack that held the bladder. I love the way it opens. I dig the fold and slide. It works seamlessly on my dry bags, why not this application? It isn’t going to leak. The closure is a proven design. No more threaded cap. No more difficult cleaning. No more difficult drying. Just good thinking. I’m happy with the engine. I am happy that the weekend is coming, and I can use my Geigerrig in the back country some more. I am looking forward to getting more used to it. Get one and get used to it yourself!

  • Mark Foster

    You’re one happy camper Jim! So glad that you love your Geigerrig Hydration Engine because it’s one of my favorites. It’s so easy to use and a no-brainer. And no, it is not really going to leak. The design is impeccable and the durability is for the long haul.

  • Harry Tomlinson

    I am glad that you included Geigerrig Hydration Engine on your list because it is really awesome. It is my favorite because of its huge capacity. I also like that is very easy to clean so it will not be too much of a hassle. You can also see right away that it is made from a durable material.

  • Mark Foster

    It sure is made of durable material! We love it!

  • Mark Garrett

    Out of the brands you mentioned, I have only tried Platypus Hoser and so far, so good. What I like most about it is its tubing and valve which is obviously made from high quality materials. It also has a wide zip opening making it very easy to clean. Lastly, the bite valve is very helpful.