This is a gear review about the Best Hydration Bladders for Hiking and Backpacking 2023.
What is the best way to carry water when out hiking and backpacking on the trails? Water bottles are good, but water bladders are better, especially when you need to access a large amount of water such as hiking in summer or hiking in the desert.
Secure, safe, and easy, these hydration bladders are a vast improvement on a standard water bottle, but which one is the best of them?
Table of Contents
- Best Water Bladders for Hiking 2023
- Best Hydration Bladder 2023 – Overall
- Best 3L Water Bladder
- Best Water Reservoir for Hiking
- Buyers Guide
- Frequently asked questions
Best Water Bladders for Hiking 2023
The Best Water Bladders for Hiking 2023 are:
- Hydrapak Shape-Shift Reservoir
- Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir
- Platypus Big Zip EVO Water Reservoir
- Gregory 3D Hydro
- Platypus Hoser
- Camelbak Crux Reservoir
Best Hydration Bladder 2023 – Overall
> Design makes fluid capacity easy to carry
> Simple and easy design
> Very sturdy
> Not much
Hydrapak is a small company in comparison to others in the outdoor industry. They deal almost exclusively in hydration systems.
Hydrapak has managed to produce some of the best hydration bladders. It is only surprising on the surface because when you take a closer look you can see exactly why it made the list.
On offer at 2 to 3 liters, the Hydrapak Shape Shift has ample variation to suit your needs and with its flexible design, filling this bladder too full capacity shouldn’t create a space issue in your backpack.
Speaking of flexibility, the design of the Hydrapak Shape Shift is made with ease in mind, the plastic is completely malleable, and it uses a slide-off top for easy refills. The material used has you in mind as well, it’s easy to clean and dishwasher safe. In fact, this is one of the easiest hydration bladders to clean.
Finally, we reach durability, and this is where the Hydrapak Shape shift shines. Being very flexible, it is incredibly sturdy and unlikely to break under pressure, so you can rest easy knowing it will last the whole trip. And the best high-flow bite valve is one of the best in the business with great water flow out of the valve and a great locking mechanism.
This is the current water bladder that I use when hiking and trail running. I have been using and testing this product for well over 12 months.
Overall, the Hydrapak Shape Shift is one of the best hydration bladders for hiking 2023 and the current water hydration system that I personally use.
Best 3L Water Bladder
> Large carry capacity
> Good design
> Durable material
> Bite valve can leak on very rare occasions
The first thing to look at with the Osprey Hydraulics hydration bladder is its carry capacity and with a range of sizes available – from 1 and up to 3 liters of fluids.
Even with the range of water capacity, the design of the bladders means it would easily slip into a backpack while taking up minimal space.
This brings me to the second point, due to its slim design this reservoir can slip in and out of a backpack while causing minimal discomfort to the wearer, and with the shaped backplate molding itself to your spine, it should never have discomfort in the first place.
It is also incredibly durable with the bladder primarily made of a strong, flexible plastic called thermoplastic polyurethane, meaning it will last for as long as you need and even beyond.
I used the 3L hydration bladder when hiking the CDT and tested it in the desert of New Mexico. It is a strong, worthy water bladder for hiking in the desert with a good hose, a good magnetic bite valve system with a magnetic clip, and a good amount of water flow. Although some people have experienced issues with the bite valve.
Overall, the Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir is one of the best water bladders for desert hiking.
Best Water Reservoir for Hiking
> Variety of different fluid capacities.
> Flexible designs
> Not as durable as other bladders
Being a company at the cutting edge of water technology and producing products to match, it’s not hard to see how they made it onto this list with the Platypus Big Zip EVO Water Reservoir.
Available in different sizes from 2 liters – for small adventures – to 3 liters – for more physical activities – its shape is more fluid than the previous entrants, allowing for the hydration reservoir to mold to your backpack and your body.
Thanks to this flexibility, the Platypus Big Zip is incredibly comfortable to wear and utilize while maintaining its shape. Not only that, but it comes in a more standard elongated shape or an entirely horizontal shape designed to sit easier on the body.
It may not be as strong as many of the other water bladders when pressure is placed on the bladder inside an overfilled backpack.
However, its design and variation mean it’s perfect for short sojourns.
Overall, the Platypus Big Zip is a great water bladder for day hikes.
> Easier to clean and dry than some of the other bladders
> Like many other bladders in this review it is prone to leaking
The Gregory 3D Hydro is one of the most popular water bladders for hiking in 2023.
The Gregory 3D Hydro is durable and able to withstand a bit more abuse than some of the other bladders. They are also quite light considering how solid they are.
They come in several size options including 3L, 2L, and a wider version of the 3L called the 3L Trek.
Probably the stand-out feature of this water reservoir is the way it keeps its shape when empty which allows it to dry. This is a great feature for those that don’t plan on using it on a daily basis. And it is one of the easiest hydration bladders in this review to use.
Overall, the Gregory 3D Hydro is one of the most durable water bladders on the market and well suited to someone wanting a durable bladder.
> Good range of sizes and variations
> Versatile design
> Bite valve can leak from overuse
Coming back to Platypus once again with their original hydration product: The Platypus Hoser.
Known by hikers throughout the backcountry, it may be difficult to see how it matches up to the Big Zip, but there are reasons it became a success and reasons why it still is.
As before, the Platypus Hoser has a fantastic carry capacity of three liters, but this reservoir has also the biggest variation in size going from 1 liter to 3 liters, with 4 different sizes in total. That means the Hoser can provide hydration no matter the length of your trek.
The Hoser follows a more versatile design than its Big Zip counterpart, sacrificing the ease at which to refill it by getting rid of the top zip and having a hook instead.
With this hook, you can attach the Platypus Hoser anywhere on your backpack. So, if you need to make space in your bag, you can simply hook the Hoser on the outside and go on your way. This also makes for one of the best water reservoirs to strap to the outside of a bicycle when on a bikepacking trip, or fit inside the framebag.
Unfortunately, like before, durability is where the Platypus Hoser seems to stumble slightly. With the bite valve occasionally being prone to tearing, it can ruin your trip and leave you in a bit of a lurch during a big adventure.
However, once again for short journeys or weekend trips, it’s a perfect companion.
> Large liquid reservoir and able to drink more in one go
> Well designed and tested for leaks
> Made to endure high-stress competitions
> Can leak at the base of the bladder and hose
At 3 liters, the Camelbak Crux reservoir holds enough fluid for any athlete to finish their event, however, it also allows for 20% more water per sip, while utilizing an on/off lever to prevent leaks and loss of water during your adventure.
The design of the Camelbak Crux reservoir means that it is very easy to refill with a big leak-proof bite valve and cap for easy opening and closing and a handle for easy grip. The Cruz also comes in two designs: the elongated one and the horizontal lumbar one for added support, so you are always ready to go.
Aside from being put through multiple stress tests by Camelbak, this bladder is made of strong plastic and has been tested and used by countless people and athletes through the years. Camelbak is one of the original names when it comes to hydration packs.
The hydration bladder opening means it’s not as easy cleaning compared to a hydration reservoir with a larger opening. There are also some hydration bladder accessories such as a cleaning kit and a slip-on insulated tube so it can be insulated in hot and cold weather. The bite valve and quick release hose also work well.
Overall, the Camelbak Crux is one of the original hydration reservoirs on the market. It is still very strong and is a great hydration bladder for backpacking or bikepacking.
When looking at a hydration system, it is important to think about why you might want one.
Most people buy them for an outdoor activity that goes on for a long period of time, a hike, or a day-long cycle, for example.
Since water is so important in these activities, it is vital that a person’s water be readily available, unlikely to be lost and not become a burden to that person. With that in mind, the criteria were narrowed to 3 things that every hydration bladder needs.
Before using any of the water reservoirs listed above be sure to give them a wash to remove the plastic taste that most hydration bladders have when new.
The amount of water each bladder can carry is hugely important, especially if you are engaging in rigorous activity. Long periods without enough water can lead to dehydration, confusion, and, sometimes, death.
Therefore, it is imperative that the bladder can carry the right amount of water.
However, variation in bladder sizes was also a factor, as the right size is important for the right circumstances, a large, heavy bladder would be too much for a short race and a small, light bladder would leave you dehydrated on a long hike.
Most backpackers including myself find the 2-liter versions to be the best. The larger 3L versions are almost too big for backpacking, however, the 3-liter hydration bladders are great for backpacking trips in the desert.
A good design is absolutely necessary for a hydration bladder, a poor design can lead to many problems, with number one being the loss of water.
If the bladder’s cap is letting water escape it puts you at risk of dehydration, similarly if the bladder is uncomfortable you may be unable to continue with your activity due to the discomfort.
As before, this extends to variation in designs, as people have ways to make their body comfortable, if someone has a bad back they may want a bladder that doesn’t put too much pressure on it for instance.
Likewise, if the bladder isn’t sitting right, it may begin to cause problems as well.
Ease of Use
There are a couple of factors to consider with ease of use. Do they allow for quick and easy refilling, are easy to clean, and easy to drink from.
Easy to Fill
Screw cap lids are very easy to fill and are very familiar to most people. The zip lock style lids are a little more difficult to fill when using for the first time but with practice, they are easy to fill and easy to close.
The bite valve is arguably one of the more important devices on the bladder. It is the part that allows the water to flow into your mouth. There are a couple of different designs such as the twist type valve used on Hydrapak which I love and the switch type valve used on Camelbak.
Twist Style Bite Valve
The twist style works well and is my preferred option as it is reliable and allows for a high-flow bite valve system. The water flow on these styles of valves is usually great. But I have found if you are hiking with kids they find this design difficult to use and it also means you might have unhygienic hands and fingers touching the bite valve. That is the big negative about these devices.
The Switch Valve
The switch style bite valve is the style used on Camelbak and this system also works well. It doesn’t feel like it has the same water flow rate as the other styles but it is simple to use and is a more hygienic option as dirty fingers don’t touch the same place as the mouth. It is reliable and works well.
Some of the hydration packs above can be purchased with specific Hydration Backpacks. These are usually smaller in size and best suited to short day hikes or trail running.
Most day hiking backpacks and Backpacks for Backpacking are water reservoir compatible so the hydration bladders can be safely placed into an internal hydration sleeve inside the backpack. Most backpacks also have an exit hole for the tube and some even have a plastic clip for the drink tube on the shoulder harness. Maybe it is a good idea to look for a hydration bladder-compatible backpack when you are next looking for a pack.
Considering that most people buying bladders are doing a form of strenuous activity, you want the bladder you buy to match in durability. If a bladder breaks during a particularly hard workout, you will be left without water and potentially in danger.
The hydration pack needs to be able to hold up under any stress you put it under. All the items in the review above are solid with a durable bladder, strong hydration tube, and bite valve. Nothing worse than when you notice the bladder leaking all over the rest of the contents of your backpack.
The bite valves are the weak point on many of the water carriers and are replaceable if needed. Having said that I would not expect the bite valve to fail.
It also needs to last a long time, as there may be a period where the hydration packs are not needed. If this happens, and it is left for say months, when it is picked up again it needs to work as it did before.
Be aware that when using the hydration bladders in cold weather it can cause the water to freeze and can break the whole system. Frozen bite valves are a particular issue that you need to try and avoid.
Cleaning the hydration bladder is a necessary chore that needs to happen from time to time. For most bladders, it is as simple as using mild soapy water and a dish brush to clean and flush the system. A hydration pack that has a wide opening zip lock style closure or fold-over closure is easier to clean than those that have a screw top lid.
Be sure to clean all three sections, the bite valve, the bladder, and the hydration hose with mild soapy water to prevent bacteria growth. And ensure it is flushed with clean water to remove any soap. Also, make sure it is air dried.
When it comes to cleaning some are able to be turned inside out and placed in a dishwasher but be aware that not all hydrations packs are able to do this.
When you buy a new hydration bladder it is a good idea to give it a thorough cleaning and flush clean water through the system to remove any plastic taste that seems to be on most new products.
The Gregory 3D Hydro is the easiest to clean due to the design that keeps the water storage section open when it is empty. This makes it easy to clean and easy to air out.
In this article, we looked at the best hydration reservoirs currently on the market, their capacities, their design, and their durability.
A bladder is an incredibly important piece of equipment for any hiking or backpacking trip, and it’s important that it can hold up to the rigors that a hiker could put it through.
With the options laid out in this article, your fears can be allayed, and you should be ready to take the treks, hikes, or desert roads you’ve always wanted to without worrying about water.
Overall the best water reservoirs for hiking in 2023 are:
- Hydrapak Shape-Shift Reservoir
- Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir
- Platypus Big Zip EVO Water Reservoir
- Gregory 3D Hydro
- Platypus Hoser
- Camelbak Cruz Reservoir
Frequently asked questions
A good water bladder is one that you know will hold a good amount of water, will be comfortable for you to wear for long periods of time, and will not break when you are using them.
The best way to find good bladders is by looking at companies that specialize in making them for sporting events or have been making them for a long time. These companies often have a reputation to uphold or an ideal they follow, and they will often provide the best quality product.
Absolutely. A hydration bladder has all the benefits of a water bottle with few negatives. They are hands-free, and you don’t have to struggle to pull them out or put them back in a backpack.
They are a less obstructive shape, meaning more free room in your backpack or bag. Also, they take up less space when they are empty and are malleable, making them easier to store and clean.
All around, hydration bladders are a huge benefit for the person using them compared to other means.
Think about what you are looking for in a hydration system. Does it need to be light? How comfortable do you need it? Will you use it regularly or only occasionally? Do you suffer back pain? These are all important questions that you need to ask before choosing.
Since hydration bladders act as additions to a backpack or use a backpack purposely to carry the bladder, it is best to look at it from the perspective of what is the effect on my journey? And: what is the effect on my backpack?