Hydration Backpack – What’s The Best Way To Carry Water While Hiking?

What Exactly Is A Hydration Backpack?

A hydration backpack is a pack used for hiking that can literally be any backpack which contains a form of water or fluids. All hikers should be aware of how vital it is to stay hydrated during the course of a hike, even if it’s just for the day. You may wonder; which is the preferred way to carry water while you’re on the trail? Let me explain the various ways and then you decide what works best for you.

Hydration Bladder Backpacks
Some backpacks have a hydration water system built into the hiking bag. These packs have a water bladder with tubing to allow you to drink over your shoulder as you continue to hike. Typically, most bladders have a large carrying capacity (2-4L), don’t take up lots of space when empty. Backpacks with bladder systems carry the water close to your back, because it helps balance the weight. It’s also makes water readily accessible for sipping water frequently as you keep moving. This is the ideal way of insuring that you drink enough.

Drawbacks Of Using A Drinking System
Hydration backpack bladders can be difficult to judge how much water you have left without removing the bladder because they have no gauge. So, the hiker is left wondering how much they have drank and how much is still available. You really don't want proper hydration left to guesswork.

Refills Can Be Tricky
After consuming the amount of water in your bag, you must remove the bladder in order to refill it when you find a water source. Filling it from a slow moving creek can truly be a challenge requiring the utmost of patience. I like to use the scoop and funnel method to refill the bladder pack because it’s quicker and those tools are lightweight.

A Hydration Backpack - Carrying Your Water Bottles
The capacity of a typical 1 liter Nalgene water bottle is 33.8 oz. and weighs 2.2 pounds when filled. That means with only 2 bottles, you’ll be carrying over 4 pounds. The goal is to consume 6 to 12 ounces of water or sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes. That means with two bottles, you would be good for about 2 hours before you needed to replenish your water supply.

Convenience is Key
The empty bottles are rigid and will take up room in your hiking bag, even when empty. Carrying water in this manner since heavy items are carried close to your back inside a backpack, your water would be hard to access and you may not drink as much as you should. Most backpacks have mesh side pockets specifically for water bottles, which makes it easy to grab one without taking the pack off. I like this feature, but it may not be ideal because the weight could throw your balance off.

Hydration Backpack – All Water Bottles Are Not Alike


Classic sports bottles, as previously mentioned, are hard plastic and nearly indestructible. They will last for years and can also hold hot liquids. Another version is a soft flexible-type bottle similar in texture to a hydration bladder. These are reusable, they pack down small when they’re empty, and stand up like a normal bottle when full. However, they are less durable, and it’s not recommended to carry hot liquids in them.

Why Not Re-Use Disposable Drink Bottles?
I have been known to reuse my Gatorade bottles, but I have since learned that reusing plastic bottles is not safe or sanitary due to the plastics used to make them. The components break down with heat and soap, resulting in harmful chemicals leeching into the liquids you refill them with. That’s just not cool. Water pouches that are collapsible are safer, but should be cleaned between uses.

Safely Staying Hydrated
Your hydration backpack can carry all the water you need for a day hike or a weekend of camping and beyond. The best way to determine how you should carry water is by the length of time you are hiking. For lengthier trips, make sure your map indicates water sources on the trail or in the wilderness. Take the time of year into consideration because there may be times a creek is dried up due to lack of rain.

Keep It Clean
When gathering water from a lake, stream or pond, always use a filtration device, drops or tablets in the water you drink to insure what you capture does not make you sick. Whenever available, choose moving water because stagnant water is a likely breeding ground for more bacteria and parasites. You want to enjoy your hike not be ill.

Hydrate For Health And Happiness

Spare yourself headaches, nausea and muscle weakness by staying hydrated through every hike. Water is vital for life so make sure you take along a liter for every hour you are hiking unless you know you will have access to water along your path. Happy hiking!


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