Hydration pack buying guide
What is a hydration pack?
A hydration pack is specially designed backpack or waist bag that carries a bladder full of fluid. This bladder feeds a hose, which is then led over your shoulder and clipped in place on the chest strap of the bag. The result is an easy to grab means to drinking; just by sucking the valve on the hose you can easily quench your thirst, but still keep your hands safely on the handlebars or helping you run.
The primary function of hydration packs is to carry your fluid supply, however most packs also have an ability to carry cargo as well.The level of storage for other essentials such as food, tools and phones varies significantly, and you can select a size that best suits that amount of carry capacity you demand.
The benefits of using a hydration pack are significant. You can concentrate on what you are doing, keep your hands free and avoid the need to carry equipment in your pockets or on your bike. For riders of full suspension bikes, where bottle cages are often hard to fit, hydration packs are often a necessity on longer rides.
What should you look for when buying?
When selecting the best hydration pack for your activities, there are a number of factors that are worth considering:
- Fluid capacity: The capacity of the fluid carrying bladder is a key thing to consider. Bladders typically vary in size from 1.5 litres to 3 litres. This is a significant difference in carrying capacity; if you are planning day long expeditions then it is worth going bigger. If you are sticking to local trails or places you can top up with fluid, you can afford to reduce weight and go for a lower capacity.
- Cargo capacity: Similar to fluid carrying capacity, cargo capabilities also depends on the duration that you are likely to be using the pack for, as well as your discipline of choice. For all-day adventures you will need to carry more clothing, food and tools with you in your pack. For downhill riding, you may need to have the ability to carry body armour and a helmet when you are on the up-lift. Many packs are designed with this in mind, and have added straps and compartments to hold pads and extra gear whilst you ride.
- Size and fit: Although hydration packs don’t have sizing levels like clothing, there is definitely a case for picking a hydration pack that will suit your torso size. Straps, waist straps and back length vary depending on the size and volume of the pack, and whilst all packs are adjustable, so they can be made to fit almost all riders, a smaller rider will be more comfortable with a small bag. In our range we have unisex packs, female specific packs and kid’s hydration packs.
- Hydration bladder designs: There are several different styles of hydration bladder, and some bladders are not cross-compatible between packs. For example, Camelbak have two different designs of bladder; one that is designed to fit in their ‘Lumbar’ waist belt hydration packs, and one that is designed to fit in their rucksack style hydration packs. If you are choosing a new hydration bladder for an existing pack, just replace like for like. If you are choosing a hydration bladder for a rucksack that doesn’t have one already, then consider the shape of the area you are going to be placing the bladder in.
- In-built Protection: Specifically designed for the all-mountain and downhill disciplines, there are now hydration packs available that provide body armour style protection, as well as carrying your kit. These packs have a special back panel that contours to the shape of your spine, and provides significant shock absorption in the event of a fall. This is a great way to add protection, without the extra bulk and weight of body armour.
Do you need to buy the bladder separately?
A lot of hydration packs come with a bladder supplied, however this is not a rule. It is worth looking at the product description table on the product page, to identify whether you also need to purchase a hydration bladder with your new hydration pack.
If you do need to buy a bladder as well, look in our ‘Hydration System Spares’ section.
Women’s specific hydration packs
Female athletes may find that female-specific hydration packs fit them better than unisex packs, making them more comfortable and easy to wear. Obviously the right pack is the one that fits you best – irrespective of gender – but generally speaking they differ from unisex packs in a couple of ways.
The padded shoulder straps are usually narrower both in actual size and the angle at which they come off the pack. This helps avoid any potential hot spots and rubbing from straps that are too wide. The chest strap is also usually higher to ensure that it fastens correctly above your chest and not across it, so that it is not restrictive for women.
The waist strap is smaller to account for slimmer waists, and the packs are proportionally smaller and more compact so that it fits on your back correctly. This means that the weight of the pack is evenly spread-out in the correct place, so women should find the packs comfier for longer rides and runs.
Female-specific hydration packs have been cleverly designed and have the same features and water capacity as their unisex counter-parts, however some have slightly less storage capacity due to their more compact size so this is worth checking if this is a critical factor for you.