Mountain biking is thirsty work and it’s important to stay hydrated. Hydration packs have a number of advantages over water bottles for mountain biking:
- Hands-free drinking means you can sip water as you go along
- You can carry more water for long rides
- No need to worry about drinking from dirty water bottles
- Some packs offer protection for your back in case of a fall
In this article we cover what you need to know when buying a hydration pack, plus our pick of the best packs for different riders.
Our Top Hydration Packs for Mountain Biking
|Water bladder capacity
|Thule Vital 8L Hydration Backpack
|Multi-purpose use, downhill, racing
|Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 Hydration Pack
|Dakine Shuttle 6L Backpack
|Multi-purpose use, short rides
|Osprey Raptor 14
|All-day rides, long rides
|CamelBak K.U.D.O. Protector 10L
|Racing, enduro, cross-country, downhill
|CamelBak T.O.R.O. Protector 8L
|Racing, enduro, cross-country, downhill
|Dakine Hot Laps 5L Lumbar Pack
|Short rides, enduro, racing
|Osprey Raven 14
|Multi-purpose use, all-day rides, long rides
|Miracol Hydration Backpack
|General use, budget
$ – under $50
$$ – $50-$100
$$$ – $100-$150
$$$$ – over $150
Hydration Pack Buying Guide
Backpack or Waist Pack?
Hydration backpacks are most mountain bikers’ choice – they have flexible capacity and storage, don’t restrict your movement, and offer some protection in the event of a fall.
But on the enduro scene, the 80s fanny pack is making a resurgence. Designed to carry minimal bike tools and gear plus a water bladder or bottle, if you bike light and hate the sweaty feel of a backpack, then a hip pack may suit you better.
When you’re shopping for a backpack you want to consider your torso length (as opposed to your overall height) and how snugly the pack fits your back. Many hydration backpacks come in different torso sizes and most will have a hip belt and chest strap to stop the pack from moving around.
Women’s packs are typically designed for shorter, narrower torsos so may also suit men with a slight build or younger riders.
Capacity and Storage
Hydration packs come in different sizes, both for water capacity and storage. It’s easy to think that bigger is better but remember, you’re the one having to carry it up the hills!
Water bladder capacity
How much water you need to drink to stay hydrated will depend on the weather conditions, how much you sweat and how long you’re biking for.
A 1.5–2 liter water bladder will be sufficient for short rides, but for longer rides or biking in hot weather, you’ll want a 3-liter bladder. You don’t have to completely fill the reservoir, so if you’re not sure what size to go for, a bigger bladder will give you more flexibility.
A pack of between 6 and 10 liters will give enough space for a spare layer, food and bike tools without being too cumbersome. If you tend toward longer, remote rides then you may want a larger pack to carry additional water and food, and emergency gear. If weight is your priority and your rides are short, then a 3–5 liter backpack or waist pack will give enough space for car keys, an energy bar and a phone.
Features to Look Out For
Hydration packs often tout a list of features as long as the Great Divide. But all those bells and whistles add weight. Here are some of the most useful features to look out for:
- Bite valve with shut-off – some types of bite valve are better at delivering water than others, but if you’re sucking frantically and not getting any water out then chances are your hose is blocked or twisted. If you’re struggling with the valve that came with your bladder, you may be able to buy a valve from a different manufacturer to replace it. Most bite valves come with some kind of shut off to prevent accidental leakage, usually either a twist-lock or switch system.
- Hose length – you want a hose that’s long enough for you to drink comfortably from without twisting your neck, but not so long that it gets in the way. On some hydration bladders, such as the CamelBak Crux system, you can cut the hose to the length you want.
- Hose insulator – if you ride in very cold conditions, then there’s a risk of the water in your hose freezing. You can buy an insulated sleeve for your hose to help prevent this, but a good tip is to blow back any water in the tube into the bladder each time you drink – that way, there’s nothing in the tube to freeze. If it’s really cold, tuck your hose inside your jacket to help keep it warm.
- Wide-mouth opening – water bladders with a large opening (ideally one you can completely open up) are easier to fill and keep clean. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to clean a bladder through a tiny opening. If buying a bladder on its own, this would be my number one requirement.
- Interior and exterior storage pockets – However minimalist you are, you probably want something to separate your iPhone from your tire levers. A range of storage pockets can make it easy to stash your gear and know where to find it. Fleece-lined pockets are handy for protecting glasses, cameras and phones.
- Body armor – some hydration packs incorporate plates or body armor-style padding into the pack to help protect your back if (when?) you crash.
Helmet and pad straps – larger packs often have straps or a mesh pocket on the back to let your helmet or pads.
Looking After Your Hydration Pack
Keeping a hydration bladder clean is perhaps the one thing that sends many riders back to water bottles. Black mildew in your hydration bladder hose doesn’t exactly inspire you to drink from it. But with a little TLC, you can keep your hydration pack fresh and clean for years to come.
Tips for looking after your hydration pack:
- Always make sure the bladder and hose are completely dry before you pack them away. Some bladders come with a drying hanger or you can make your own.
- DON’T use your hydration pack for anything apart from water. Sports drinks are a breeding ground for bacteria and it’s almost impossible to properly clean them out of the reservoir and hose.
- Some manufacturers suggest putting the water bladder and hose in the dishwasher to help kill bacteria. Not all bladders are dishwasher-safe so check before doing this.
Storing your bladder and hose in the freezer will help prevent mold and mildew forming. (Just remember to dry it first!)
Best Hydration Pack for All-Around use
If you just want one pack that will do it all, here’s our pick of the best.
Thule have three hydration packs specifically designed for mountain biking. This is the largest, and if you don’t often need to carry spare clothing or pads, you may want to opt for the 6L version. In both packs there are plenty of pockets and dividers to organize tools and food, plus a fabric-lined pocket for your phone or sunglasses and easy-access external sleeves for gels or energy bars.
The pack’s low centre of gravity and strap system make it one of the most stable packs for downhill riding and a neat magnetic sleeve holds the hose firmly in place when you’re not drinking. The 2.5-liter water bladder will be sufficient for most mountain bike rides and the slide-off top makes it easy to clean. Overall, a well thought out pack with everything you’ll need for most rides.
The Duthie A.M. pack has pretty much everything you could want in a hydration pack, with the exception of a back protector. Instead, it has a FloatAir back panel which is designed to keep your back sweat-free during uphill slogs and long cross-country rides.
Like the Thule pack, the water bladder has a slide off top for easy refilling (making it much easier to clean than the CamelBak design). The only downside is that you have to suck pretty hard to get water out of the bite valve, but if you find this an issue, you should be able to swap it for a different valve.
Best Hydration Pack for Short Rides
A minimalist hydration pack with a 2-liter water bladder that should be more than enough for most short rides. The breathable mesh straps and back panel will help keep you cool and there’s a dedicated fleece-lined sunglasses pocket and a pump sleeve.
In terms of storage capacity, there’s enough room for carrying the basics for a short ride: bike tools, a phone and snacks.
Best Hydration Pack for All-Day Rides
Lots of storage options and a large 3-liter water bladder make this pack one of the most popular hydration packs for mountain biking. Store your tools in the removable roll-top tool pouch, spare glasses in the scratch-free eyewear pocket and energy bars in the zippered hip-belt pockets.
Fully laden, it’s not the most stable of packs but the design – a main compartment, stretch-mesh panel, LidLock helmet carrier and compression straps – means that if you’re going for a shorter ride, you won’t end up with an empty bag flapping around. Perfect for all-day rides or bikers who need to carry a bit of extra kit.
Best Hydration Pack for Enduro Racing
With back protection mandatory in many races, it makes sense to combine hydration and protection in one backpack. CamelBak’s K.U.D.O. pack does just this with a flexible CE2 certified back protector that conforms to the curves of your body. To help get the right fit, it comes in two torso lengths.
The K.U.D.O. is pricey but packed with features: a 3-liter water bladder, removable tool organizer, straps to secure a helmet and pads and a high-viz rain cover for rainy days. If you’re going on a short ride, the cargo bag zips off leaving you with just the back protector and a couple of mesh pockets to stash essentials.
If you’re on a budget, the minimalist T.O.R.O. 8L pack is smaller, lighter and includes a slimline version of the CE2 certified back protector.
Best Hydration Hip Pack
If you don’t carry much stuff, a hip pack will be smaller and lighter than a backpack and stops you getting a sweaty back!
With a 2-liter water bladder and an additional 3 liters of storage, this isn’t the smallest of waist packs, but the size does give you flexibility. If it’s a hot day you can fill up on water or for shorter rides, when the weather’s looking iffy, pack a small waterproof instead.
There are two straps on the bottom of the pack which untuck to hold bulky knee pads or a waterproof, but if you’re carrying this much kit, a backpack may be more comfortable. The magnetic buckle is a nice feature, helping you quickly place the hose back on the belt after drinking.
Best Hydration Pack for Women
(And guys who prefer a shorter, slimmer fit.)
The female equivalent of the popular Raptor pack has a shorter back and a height-adjustable sternum strap. It’s a neat, compact design but you can fit a surprising amount inside, including a 3-liter water bladder, spare layers, and food. As with the Raptor, this pack includes a removable roll-up tool pouch and the hose has a handy magnetic clip.
If you don’t need as much additional storage, the Osprey Raven 10 is a smaller version with the same features.
Best Budget Hydration Pack
Even small hydration packs can be pricey. If you’re on a budget, your best bet is to keep an eye on end-of-season sales where you should be able to pick up an end-of-line pack at a bargain price. When you stray away from the big brands, users often report issues with bladder quality and leakage, but you might get lucky.
One of the few highly-rated budget-brand hydration packs, this backpack comes with a 2-liter water bladder and a thermal insulation system that claims it will keep water cool for up to four hours. It’s not specifically designed for mountain biking, but there’s enough storage for tools, snacks and a spare layer and the waist and chest strap will stop it moving around too much when riding.
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