If you like to be prepared on your adventures, but don’t need the carrying capacity of a day pack, grab yourself a hydration pack instead. These compact backpacks are specifically designed to carry a water bladder plus some essential items. The best hydration pack gives you instant access to water – no more faffing about with water bottles – and spreads the weight evenly across your back.
Of course, there are different types of hydration packs on the market. Most are lightweight, have a breathable harness system, and extra space for gear and food. One hydration pack should work well for most outdoor activities but certain designs are better suited to certain sports.
- FAQs with choosing the best hydration pack
- Best hydration pack for hiking
- Best hydration pack for running
- Best hydration pack for mountain biking
- Best hydration pack for skiing and snowboarding
- What to look for in the best hydration packs
Summary of the best hydration packs in 2020
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|Product||Water capacity (litres)||Total capacity (litres)||Best for||Cost|
|Hydro Flask Journey Series 10 Hydration Pack||3||10||Hiking||$$$|
|Gregory Nano H2O 18L Hydration Pack||3||18||Hiking||$|
|CamelBak Octane Dart Hydration Pack||1.5||2||Running||$|
|Geigerrig RIG 500 Hydration Pack||2||10||Trail running||$|
|Osprey Duro 15 Hydration Pack||2.5||15||Distance trail running||$$$|
|Osprey Katari 3 Hydration Pack||2.5||3||Mountain biking||$|
|Platypus Tokul XC Minimalist Hydration Backpack||3||5||Mountain Biking||$$|
|Osprey Kamber 16 Snow Pack||3||16||Skiing and snowboarding||$$|
FAQs with choosing the best hydration pack
Hydration packs with 1 litre to 1.5-litre water bladders are designed for short excursions when a lightweight pack is preferable. An hour’s trail running or short mountain biking trail.
On the larger end of the scale, 3+ litre water bladders are heavy when full and bulky. They’re more suited to hikers than runners or mountain bikers. Water bladders with a 2 litre to 2.5-litre capacity are a good balance for distance runners, cyclists, skiers, or adventures in hot climates.
Best hydration pack for hiking
The Hydro Flask Journey Series 10 is the best hydration pack for hiking in hot weather. It comes with a 3-litre BPA-free insulated bladder that keeps water cool for over 4 hours. This fits inside an insulated internal sleeve that reflects heat away from the bladder. Aside from superb insulation, the bladder is easy to clean and fill. It has a wide top opening and the hose is fitted with a HydraPak bite valve.
The ventilated back panel creates a gap between yourself and the bladder, further preventing heat transfer and sweat build-up. This couples with padded waist and shoulder straps. From the outside the pack is fairly plain, there’s a zippered pocket for keys and phone but no extra bells and whistles.
- Insulated bladder keeps your water cool
- Well ventilated
- Available in two torso sizes (S/M, M/L)
- Heavy for a pack of this size
- Limited gear storage
For day hikes where only lightweight kit is needed, the Gregory Nano H20 is a competitively priced and reliable hydration pack. Its 18-litre capacity is plenty to carry water, snacks, and a mid or top layer. There’s also an external bottle sleeve and attachment point for carrying extra gear. Top and side zippered pockets give you a place to keep small items while an easy-pull drawcord provides quick access to the main compartment.
The pack comes with Gregory’s 3 litre 3D hydration pack. This fits inside the main compartment while the hose threads through straps on the shoulder and secures to the sternum strap.
- Comfortable back panel
- Decent internal capacity and external attachments
- Reasonable price
- Waist strap would not support much weight
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Best hydration pack for running
If all you need is 1.5 litres of water and a minimalist pack to carry it, then the Octane Dart Hydration Pack from CamelBak is the perfect option. The pack is ultra-lightweight and padded with comfortable 3D mesh that helps keep you cool. It’s also fitted with easy-access front-facing pockets. These stretch pockets in the harness allow you to store snacks and refuel on the fly. On the back of the pack is a zippered compartment large enough for essentials only. Plus, the front and back of the pack are fitted with reflective strips for extra safety on early morning or evening road runs.
A key feature of this running hydration pack is its water bladder. The pack comes with a 1.5 litre Crux Reservoir which features a wide opening and built-in handle for easy filling. Its On-Off valve prevents leaks while a self-sealing bite valve lets you sip with ease.
- Ventilating material
- Water bladder included
- Dishwasher safe bladder
- Very limited storage space
The rugged design and multiple attachment points make the Geigerrig one of the best hydration packs for trail running. Its 10-litre capacity also makes it a wise choice for long-distance runners, minimalist hikers and bikers. Multiple internal and external pockets keep your kit organized while compression straps minimise movement. Plus, the pack has a headphone port so you can listen to motivational music on the go!
The Geigerrig RIG 500 has a unique hydration system which allows you to pump air into the bladder. A hand pump connects via a removable tube and attaches to the front harness. This clever system allows you to maintain pressure within the bladder as it empties so the water flows easily to the self-sealing bite valve. The slide opening makes this bladder super easy to clean and refill too.
For more information read our full review of the Geigerrig RIG 500 Hydration Pack.
- Enough storage for long runs
- Made of durable nylon
- Comfortable back padding
- Dishwasher safe bladder
- Excellent hydration system
- One size – women may not be able to get the best fit from the harness
- Not enough ventilation for hot weather
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The Osprey Duro 15 is another top choice for trail runners and distance runners, although it can also double as a day bag for hiking and biking.
The pack features Osprey’s trademark waist belt that wraps around the body. This is fitted with zippered pockets on each size which provide quick access to snacks or energy gels. Two more rear zippered pockets, large enough for a hat and gloves or wallet, are accessible without removing the pack. Plus, the harness, which resembles a running vest, has two stretch pockets for soft flasks, and a zippered phone pocket. Lower compression straps let you fit the pack more snugly on your waist while an adjustable and elasticated chest straps allow you to breathe normally.
Inside the main dual-zippered compartment there’s plenty of space for kit and there’s a separate zippered pocket for the 2.5-litre Hydraulics Reservoir.
- Comfortable fit
- Highly adjustable
- Lots of storage space
- Available in two sizes (S/M or M/L)
Best hydration pack for mountain biking
The Osprey Katari 3 Hydration Pack is designed for hot weather mountain bikers who need to drink a lot but don’t need to carry much stuff. The pack comes with a 2.5-litre water bladder but has just 3 litres of gear capacity. This bladder fits into an external sleeve with buckle closures, allowing you to refill easily. Stretch side pockets give you a place to store snacks, repair kit or a small bottle.
As we expect from Osprey packs, the Katari 3 is made from durable fabric and features a comfortable harness system. Plus, a foam back panel with air-mesh and central air ventilation prevents sweat build up. So if you like to ride light or you tend to ride in hot climates where extra water is more useful than an extra layer, then the Katari 3 is a smart choice.
- Quick access to the bladder
- Comfortable and well ventilated
- Quality construction
- Limited gear storage
- No waist strap (although it’s not essential for a pack of this size)
The Nine Trails 14L Hydration Pack from Patagonia is designed for full days in the great outdoors. The pack’s main compartment gives you plenty of space for extra layers, food, and the included bladder. Plus, three external stretch pockets let you stash small items on the go. It’s also made of Cordura ripstop nylon outer fabric, a super tough but lightweight material.
This pack delivers an excellent balance of comfort and ventilation. The back panel is made from a highly breathable mono-mesh while the foam waist and shoulder straps are perforated for extra airflow. The waist strap wraps securely around the torso, minimising bounce and distributing weight evenly, and the sternum strap is adjustable.
- Durable and well made
- Multiple pockets
- Available in two sizes (S/M or L/XL)
Lightweight, streamline, and very user-friendly, the Platypus Tokul XC is one of our favourite hydration packs for mountain biking. It features a RidgeAir foam back panel that provides comfort and ventilation whilst retaining the pack’s shape. There are four pockets inside the main compartment to keep your bike kit organised. Plus, on the outside, you can enjoy bike light attachment, reflective strips, and straps for helmet storage.
The pack is available in three sizes (5L, 8L, 12L) and comes with an EVO 3 litre water bladder. This fits snugly inside its own separate pocket with an H20 port and a magnetic hose fixture on the shoulder strap. The bladder’s wide opening and detachable hose make it super easy to refill as you can leave the hose threaded through your pack.
For more information read our full review of the Platypus Tokul XC.
- Excellent ventilation
- Three size options
- User-friendly bladder
- Not the best fit for small torsos
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Best hydration pack for skiing and snowboarding
The Osprey Kamber 16 Snow Pack is specifically designed for adventures in the snowy season. It’s fitted with vertical snowboard and diagonal ski attachment points for carrying your gear when hiking in the backcountry. You can also attach other gear to these points, such as snowshoes and ice picks. The pack is reinforced to withstand abrasion from metal equipment. Plus, the main compartment is large enough to hold most probes and shovels, as well as a water bladder of up to 3 litres. Meanwhile, a zippered front compartment with internal pockets stores your sunscreen, spare layer and emergency kit.
Another nifty feature is an insulated shoulder strap which prevents your water from freezing in the tube on sub-zero days. This, coupled with a scratch-free goggles pocket and glove-friendly zippers and buckles makes the Kamber 16 the best hydration pack for snowboarding and skiing on our list. We like the shape too. Its contoured EVA harness provides some ventilation. Plus, it’s slimline and doesn’t restrict arm movement while skiing or touring.
Its 16-litre capacity is perfect for carrying water, snacks, and an extra layer, but it’s too small to carry mountaineering kit. Fortunately, this 16-litre hydration pack is also available in larger capacities and Osprey offers a woman’s specific version, the Kresta 14.
- Winter-sport specific design
- Fitted with thermal insulation sleeve
- Easy access compartments
- Available in multiple sizes
- Water bladder not included
- The hip belt is not robust enough for heavy loads
What to look for in the best hydration packs for hiking, running skiing and biking
Types of hydration backpacks
The best hydration pack for hiking will have plenty of storage space for food, clothing, and other gear as well as a full water bladder. Hiking hydration packs tend to have more padded harness systems, making them comfortable to wear all day long.
Compact and close-fitting, the best hydration pack for running should be lightweight and streamline. A wide pack will have you bashing your elbows on each arm swing. Likewise, the bottom of the pack should finish at the top of the waist rather than sitting on the hips as a normal backpack would.
Because of this, running hydration packs tend to have a smaller gear capacity and more quick-access pockets on the front of the pack. Running packs also need a more secure harness system that wraps around the upper body and prevents bouncing.
These are designed to feel stable on the back and minimise wind resistance. The best hydration pack for mountain biking is low profile and compact but should still offer enough space for a top layer, puncture repair kit, and snacks. The waist strap should be minimal too so it doesn’t affect comfort while peddling. Some are also fitted with an external helmet and light attachments and reflective strips.
Skiing and snowboarding
Skiing and snowboarding hydration packs have a similar design to hiking packs. Gear storage is important but they should also be streamlined. Key features to look for in the best hydration pack for skiing include glove-friendly zippers, helmet and equipment attachments, scratch-free goggle pockets, and insulation for the bladder’s tube.
Hydration pack features
Hydrations packs for running, biking, day hikes, and skiing usually range from 5 to 30 litres. 5-litre packs are tailored to runners and minimalist cyclists while 5 to 15-litre packs are best for a day cycling, distance running, or minimal hiking. Packs with a 15+ litre capacity are ideal for day hikes.
Work out how much space you need to carry your gear and pick a hydration pack with the right capacity for you.
As with a regular backpack, your hydration pack should match your torso size and sit comfortably on your back, hips and shoulders. The best hydration packs have multiple adjustment points so you can get the perfect fit. Some are available in two or more torso sizes or in a woman-specific or child-specific fit.
For more comfort in warm weather, we like hydration packs that have breathable materials, such as air-mesh, and moisture-wicking properties in the waist and shoulder straps. We also look for packs with ventilated back panels.
If you want to get outdoors in all weathers then you’ll need a hydration pack that withstands the elements. Look out for waterproof fabrics or materials with durable water repellent coatings (DWR). Alternatively, the pack might come with a lightweight waterproof cover.
Important features to look for in the best hydration bladder
- Water capacity: bladders usually have a capacity between 1 litre and 3 litres.
- Type of opening: fold top, zip-top, or screw top.
- Type of bite valve: a self-sealing bite valve is the easiest to use and prevents water loss
- Quick-connect tubes: these allow you to remove, clean, and refill the bladder without unthreading the tube