The moment you leave your house, especially if you’re going to be doing anything physical, or out of doors, you should be carrying plenty of water. Hydration is not only life, it’s imperative for preventing heat stroke, muscle cramps, and keeping your mind functioning properly. If you’re dehydrated, you’re more irritable, quicker to tire, easily nauseated, and can suffer from long-term health risks such as irregular heartbeat. Since your body needs approximately one gallon of water each day it is out in the wilderness, you should have as much of it on hand as possible, and the easiest way to accomplish that is a hydration bladder.
Hydration bladders have become increasingly popular in favor of ordinary water bottles because they are easier to transport, lighter weight, simpler to drink from, and far more convenient. Most newer hiking or day packs come pre-equipped with a sleeve specifically intended for these bladders, so finding a way to carry them is rarely a chore, but getting a good one can be a challenge.
What Makes a Good Hydration Bladder
Since these are nothing more than bags of water, it seems that they would all be created fairly equal. Such is not the case. Quality hydration bladders are puncture-proof, capable of standing up to extreme temperatures, offer valves that are easy to drink from without spilling, have measurements to help you track water consumption, fill simply, fit in any number of bags without a hassle, never leak, and are easy to clean so that you don’t end up with the black funk of manganese and mineral deposits. Those that meet all these criteria are the best bladders for your drinking pleasure.
Platypus Hoser Hydration System
Made with dual layers that help water taste fresh even after miles in the hot, hot heat. It’s BPA free and has an antimicrobial treatment that prevents any scum from surviving long in the bag. The threaded hose permits that addition of a closure cap, while the bag itself has a handle for hanging from a branch should you want to get a basic camp sprayer that isn’t quite a shower. In sizes that range from 1 to 3 liters, you can get one that fits, and a tough build that’s tough to break. Purchase: $16+
Double soldered on the inside for added hold and dual openings for accessing the interior however you please, the Emerald’s only real error is also its major selling point: It’s rigid. That rigidity makes it easier to drink from, and harder to break when the hits start coming, but can also limit how and where you carry it. It can also be a hot water bottle, and provide a modicum of insulation for holding temperatures either up or down thanks to the hardened exterior. Purchase: $17+
Nalgene Hydrapak Shape-Shift Reservoir
There’s no bag on the planet that provides a better body for runners who are looking to fight slosh in all its forms. You barely need to suck to get the water out, which means allowing you concentration to stay on the road ahead, and maintaining your breathing. Clips and locks help keep the bladder in place, and maintain a tight internal division that keeps fluid where you put it. Quick cleaning and filling thanks to a dishwasher safe material and large opening, it’s rare to find a pack this won’t fit into. Purchase: $23+
Polar Bottle Cenote
Part of the reusable or disposable hydration bladders, these aren’t intended to last a lifetime, but to be a cheap way to carry your water with environmental kindness in mind. They’re plenty tough, if a bit simplistic, and come with more than one to a pack, should you need to swap out on the fly. It skimps on extra add-ons, but not on clean flavor, BPA-free makeup, and the ability to recycle it when (and if) it goes out on you. If simple is your state of mind, here’s the bag for you. Purchase: $25/3
Osprey Hydraulic Reservoir
Convenience is the box that Osprey tries to check, and they hit it time and again. It has a big top that flips open for rapid filling from sink or stream, a hose system that can be taken out or slapped in at speed, and the bite valve is magnetic so it can stay close and avoid swinging low like that sweet chariot. Where Osprey really seems to hit the mark is with their astounding customer service and All Mighty Guarantee. If you have an issue – and these sometimes will leak where the tube meets the body – they will replace it without quarrel. It’s peace of mind and company backing that more than pays for itself. Purchase: $26+
CamelBak Antidote Reservoir
CamelBak once ruled the roost when it came to hydration bladders, though they’ve fallen out of favor in recent years due to increasing disappointment with the resiliency of their products. Still, they often make exceptional gear, and the Antidote is proof positive that they have what it takes to shine. The quick snap cap provides easy filling and emptying, with the lowest profile of any bag we’ve tried, which is an honor unto itself. It stays stable without shifting or sloshing, which heaven sent if you’re a trail runner or a serious cyclist. Purchase: $27+
MSR 2L DromLite Bag
These aren’t just hydration bladders, they’re go anywhere survival bags that survive in the worst conditions, can carry hot and cold liquids equally well, are able to hang on the outside of a rucksack (or vehicle) without fear that they’ll pop at the first sign of trouble. The bags themselves are exactly that, just really strong, clean bags that can be outfitted with all sorts of features and attachments – sold separately – to make them dishwashers, showers, drinking stations, or almost anything else you can imagine. Purchase: $27+
Source Tactical Gear WXP Helix Valve Hydration System
Source is made to military specifications for the Israeli Army, who are the badasses that gave us Krav Maga. They don’t go gently into that good night, nor does the Helix Valve. It has a big, simple mouth that’s easy to fill, complete with a twist cap that helps with speed filling or precision where needed. What can be said about this above all other is it takes a pretty peccadillo of abuse, including being battered around during hill training runs riding with a bag full of broken concrete. There just isn’t an endorsement higher than that. Purchase: $32+
Geigerrig Hydration Engine
Slim and able to slip silently into a wide variety of bag shapes, the Hydration Engine offers a quick-pump air system that allows you to keep it pressurized for easier drinking on the trail. When not in use as a water bottle, it can quickly be turned into a flash camp shower as applying pressure and opening the nozzle will give you a nice spray for rinsing off. The pump itself adds a little extra weight, but is removable should you decide you don’t need it. Best of all, turning this inside out and putting it in the dishwasher is all the cleaning required. Purchase: $47+