Ever since hydration packs hit the market in the 90’s, everyone from military and law enforcement to professional athletes and weekend hikers have picked up on their usefulness. Having a steady stream of water at your fingertips can be essential. This really is one piece of equipment everyone should own. Whether you’re on a multi-day summer trek, a weekend ski trip, or just heading to the park with the kids and the dog, having that ready supply of water can make or break your day.
As with most outdoor equipment, there is no shortage of choices, and choosing the right pack for your needs can be tricky. That’s why we rounded up a few of the top brands and pack types to give you a better idea of what you’re looking at. Here at WinterWomen.com, we’ll cover everything from pros and cons to best uses for and proper care and maintenance of hydration packs.
- Wide mouth piece
- Lots of different pack sizes
- Tons of accessories
- Easy to take apart
One of the first companies on the hydration pack scene, Camelbak has been on top of the market for nearly two decades. During that time, they’ve fine-tuned their packs to meet the needs of the most demanding conditions. That’s probably why the U.S. military trusts them to supply the troops abroad with quality hydration gear. With tons of different pack sizes, and accompanying accessories, Camelbak makes everything you need to stay hydrated on the go. Combine that with their patented Quick Link ™ system, which makes taking the bladder and hose apart a snap, and you’ve got a great product.
Some of the few cons to the Camelbak brand are, as mentioned above, cleaning and price. These packs typically run a little more expensive than some other brands, but the vast amount of accessories and packs available make up for it. Although the system is easy to take apart, it still requires purchasing a cleaning kit, which involves snaking a brush through the tube and scrubbing out the bladder. This can seem a little daunting after a long day running or hiking.
- Extremely ergonomic pack design
- Wide bladder opening
- Easy to take apart
- Pivoting mouth piece
- Magnetic sternum strap
- Small mouthpiece opening
Known more for their technical backpacks, Osprey teamed up with Nalgene to develop their own unique hydration bladder. These bladders fit seamlessly into Osprey’s vast line of packs, and overall, the quality of the packs these hydration units come in are some of the best out there. However, that is the difference between a company that makes backpacks who developed a hydration unit, versus a company like Camelbak who has a completely opposite storyline.
Having owned at least one pack from all of the manufacturers listed here, I will say that the Osprey packs are some of the most comfortable. This is especially true if biking is your thing. The built in curve conforms to the shape a hunched cyclist quite well, and they maintain that comfort in upright positions. The cleaning of the Osprey hydroform system is relatively the same as that for Camelbak, and requires a similar kit. Also, I would note that these packs have some of the smaller mouthpieces out there, and can be awkward to use at first, as it requires biting a specific section of the mouthpiece. This can make using it to wash hands or fill a dog bowl a little tricky.
- Pressurized Valve
- Not many pack options or colors
One of the newer entrants to the game, Geigerrig has won several awards in the last year or so for the innovative pressurized hydration packs they’ve developed. These hydration units are by far and away a favorite of the WinterWomen.com staff, and don’t be surprised to see other major brands develop their own versions of pressurized packs in the near future. The bladder has two hoses that come out from each side; one is the traditional drinking hose that routes to your mouth, the other has a small rubber bulb attached to the end for pressurizing. What you end up with is the drinking hose over one shoulder, and the primer over the over.
I’ll try to keep it short, but the benefits of having a pressured system are endless. For one, it completely eliminates having to suck the water from your pack, which can be a serious pain if you’re winded and trying to breathe and hydrate simultaneously after heavy exertion. Also, not having to place your mouth directly on the mouthpiece drastically cuts back on the amount of bacteria entering the unit. Fill a water dish, spray your face, spray someone else’s face, clean your gear, again we’re talking countless possibilities here.
As if that weren’t enough, the Geigerrig bladders are made to be completely dishwasher safe. Just pop the hoses off and throw it in with your dinner plates. The only cons potentially posed here are the price, which is actually pretty close to similar Camelbak products, and the available options. There are only about 10 or so packs in different sizes to choose from, and the majority come in black.
Do’s and Don’ts
Now that we’ve ran through a few of the top hydration units out there, I though I would end with a few tips for usage and care. Whichever brand you decide to go with, always purchase an insulated tube cover with a mouthpiece garage and any cleaning kit right away. Having an insulated tube means your water will stay cold, even when the sun is beating, and the garage will help fight freezing of the mouthpiece during the colder months. Remember, the water about to enter your mouth is sitting in the tube over your shoulder, exposed to the sun and elements. Without insulation, it won’t matter how many ice cubes you put in before you took off.
Any cleaning kit is also a must. Bacteria can build up rather quickly in these things if you don’t take care of them after multiple uses. It may be a pain in some cases, but it’s better than ending up parched only to take a big gulp of dirty water. Knowing this, most major brands today have some sort of coating that helps with taste and prevention of bacteria buildup, so cleaning is becoming easier.For those really looking for the cleanest drink possible, it’s worth noting that Geigerrig and Camelbak also make in-line filters for their hoses, giving you the ability to fill on the go from not so savory water sources.
Whether you’re a first time user about to take the plunge, or a devoted fan still clutching that old pack you’ve never really washed, hopefully the information here has shed some light on this essential piece of gear. Whatever the activity, these packs are going to keep you and yours hydrated and having fun all year round.