One of the disadvantages of backpacking is that you find you literally have your hands full: maps, compasses, phones, equipment. And hiking is obviously thirsty work. That’s where a hydration bladder comes in. A bladder will allow you to drink whenever you need to, without having to stop and open your backpack. It will also allow you to keep your hands free when hiking. If you have been using water bottles on your hikes, we recommend you consider a hydration bladder. They will keep your water cooler in warmer weather and, if properly maintained, will be more environmentally friendly than plastic bottles.
Most backpacks now come with either a dedicated sleeve or pocket that will hold a hydration bladder. The tube will fit into an opening and the mouthpiece will hang on a strap near your face for easy access. To drink, you simply bite down on a valve that then draws water into your mouth.
We have reviewed the current crop of hydration bladders and bring you our top ten hydration bladders for 2019.
The Geigerrig hydration Engine wins our recommendation for top hydration bag. It might look like something you might find next to a hospital bed, but don’t let its appearance fool you. The Geigerrig bladder comes with two chambers – one for air and one for water. This allows the water chamber to remain pressurized, and makes this the easiest bladder from which to drink. The pressurized water offers additional benefits: you can hose yourself down if dirty, or even use the bladder as a portable shower. The bladder comes with a stress saving slide top, which means you can open the mouth of the bladder fully and refill it very quickly. It also makes cleaning the bladder a breeze, since you have easy and full access to the inside of the bladder. The Geigerrig can also be easily flipped inside out, which again makes cleaning extremely easy. If you don’t want to clean it manually the bladder is also dishwasher friendly. Another big selling point for us was the mouth valve. The water tasted fresh and free from the plastic aftertaste from which some bladders suffer.
The Geigerrig is slightly more expensive than most other bladders, but its ease of use and innovative features mark it as the current benchmark.
The CamelBak Crux, the latest in a long line of venerable CamelBak hydration bladders, makes our list for being excellent value for money and for being extremely easy to use. The Crux comes with a wide screw-top opening, which makes filling the bladder from taps very quick and easy. The screw-top also seals tight. Complementing the screw top is a large grab handle, which makes for easy holding when filling the bladder. The bladder itself, although not pressurized like the Geigerrig, is split into two compartments, which eliminates unbalanced weight distribution when walking. The taste of the water was slightly plastic when compared with the Geigerrig, but nothing too unpleasant. Unlike other bladders with zipped tops, the Crux cannot be placed in a dishwasher for cleaning; you will have to get a brush and use some elbow grease to maintain the bladder condition and keep it bacteria free.
Despite these minor points, we think overall that the CamelBak Crux is excellent value for your hard earned money.
The Source Tactical offers a number of interesting features. It comes with both a screw top and a slide lock, so you can choose how you fill your bladder. The screw top offers the convenience of filling easily from taps, and the slide lock allows easy access for cleaning as well as easy filling from streams and rivers. The bladder also comes with a number of features to prevent bacterial growth and prolong bladder life: the tube cover is insulated and blocks UV-light. This will help keep the water cool and helps block bacterial growth. The tube is also very smooth, much smoother than most plastic variants on other bladders, which again helps prevent both bacterial growth and the dreaded plastic aftertaste.
Be aware that the bite valve is not bite to drink but instead features a push/pull mechanism to open and close. It worked perfectly well, but it was not to our taste.
They Hydrapak Shape Shift is our recommendation for those backpackers for whom every ounce is vital. It has an incredibly simple design that makes it compatible with just about any type of backpack. It comes with a chamber divider that prevents water from sloshing around while you are walking, and its flip top opening makes cleaning and maintenance simple. We particularly liked the blaster valve, which gave good water flow to the mouth with little effort. It’s not as smooth as the pressurized chambers of the Geigerrig, but it does the job nicely. You can also easily turn the bladder inside out and place it in a dishwasher for cleaning. The only drawback to being so light was that the bladder was not the sturdiest. We found the closure to be a bit unreliable and the O-ring needs careful maintenance.
The Liquidpack Pro is a relative newcomer to the bladder market but the Pro Water is an extremely sturdy hydration bladder that comes with some nice accessories. The bladder comes in three sizes: 1.5L, 2L or 3L. The drinking tube is insulated, which helps keep the water cold and protects the water from UV rays. The bladder features a slider system, which makes cleaning and filling the bladder an easy process. There is a nice cleaning kit included with the bladder. There also two rotatable clips which help fix the tube to your backpack and prevent the tube from bouncing awkwardly as you walk. There are also two shutoff valves, one at the bite valve, and a the =-ring, which both ensure that there are no leaks from this bladder. Another feature we liked was the dust cover that came with the two included bite valves. One area where we felt the Liquidpack fell down was the water taste We found that the water had too much of a plastic aftertaste, but this did lessen over time.
All-in-all the Liquidpack offers some nice features, is well made and offers good value for money. If you want a slightly cheaper alternative to the more well-known brands, this bladder could be the one for you.
If you are on a tight budget and want a competent hydration bladder for a one-off hike or a music festival, you might be interested in the Artisanates bladder. This bladder is on the low end of the price scale but comes with some very nice features. The bladder has both a screw cap and also a sliding opening, as found on the pricier Source Tactical. The water flow was surprisingly good for such a cheap bladder and the Artisanates even comes with a insulated tube cover, helping to keep the water cool in hot temperatures and preventing the build-up of bacteria. The mouth valve is not a bite to drink but a push/pull model, as found on the Source. If you want to drink, you will have to pull on the locking mechanism, and if you want to lock it, you just push. This type of mechanism has the advantage of preventing spillage, but we do personally prefer the bite to drink valve. One thing we did notice was that the bladder did suffer a bit on the plastic aftertaste test. This did get better after a bit of use, but be aware that you will not get the best tasting water from this bladder. The overall build quality was not as good as found on more expensive models, but if you want a bladder for occasional use, the Artisantes fits the bill.
The Trumod is another low cost option for the budget conscious backpacker. It comes in a stylish metallic grey finish and is available in two sizes: 2L or 3L. It has a leak-proof roll top slider with a hanging notch, so filling the bladder is quick and accessing the inside for cleaning is easy enough. We liked the quick—release lock for the connection between the tube and bladder baffle, and the water flow from the bite valve was acceptable. We found that the slider and lock were both solid in build and completely waterproof. Unlike the Artisantes the tube does not come with an insulated cover, and like its low-cost rival the plastic aftertaste of the water was evident. If you are looking for a cheap bladder for casual use, although the Trumod is perfectly acceptable, we feel that the extra feature of the Artisanates give the latter the edge, but the Trumod does manage to make a plastic water bag look extremely stylish.
If you are looking for a highly versatile bladder that can serve a host of uses, then you should check out the MSR Dromlite. The Dromlite comes in three sizes: 2L, 4L or a whopping 6L. This bag is incredibly light and when not in use can collapse down to just over the size of its cap. This weight and size make it highly adaptable. As well as a portable water tank, you can use the Dromlite for hand washing, dish cleaning or, if you use the shower kit, as a portable shower. The Dromite offers a plethora of add-ons and accessories. As well as the aforementioned shower kit, you can fix a spigot cap and use it as a portable beer keg, or you could use it like a traditional hydration bladder by affixing a hose and mouth piece. The water tasted excellent as well, thanks to a laminated lining in the bag that prevents any plastic aftertaste. Even though this is a highly versatile and highly recommended product, we should point out that the hydration kit is not included in the base price, so if you do want to use the Dromlite as a traditional bladder, you will have to purchase the kit separately.
BONL are not shy of making some pretty strong claims for its BONL Hydration Bladder; BONL claim this is the strongest hydration bladder available. There is merit to the claim: the liner of this elegant emerald green bladder comes in at 0.6mm, which is thicker than most of its rivals. We found it to be as sturdy as the owner claims, so if your backpacking style involves a lot of rough handling and wear and tear, this bladder might be worth a look. The bladder come with a dual screw top and slide opening, making refilling and cleaning easier. We were also impressed by the free cleaning kit that came with the bladder. The mouth piece comes with a dust cover, and the tube has GlassAS tech, which essentially means that it has increased smoothness over normal plastic tubes, helping water flow and reducing the chance of bacterial build-up. We also liked that the tube was insulated, helping to keep the water cool.
Unfortunately we did find that the tube would tend to disconnect from the bladder quite easily. We think this was just a fault peculiar to our model, but we would be remiss in not mentioning this.
If you are in the market for a tough bladder, the BONL could be of interest.
The Unigear come in 2L, 2.5L and a new 3L size. It doesn’t have a dual slide / screw top combo, like many of the other bladders, but its very large screw top does make water refilling an easy task. There is also a large handle for holding the bladder when refilling. We were pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the water taste with this bladder. It did not have any plastic aftertaste at all. We also liked the quick release auto lock feature, which can prevent any water leaks should your tube become disconnected from your bladder. One slight problem with the Unigear was the water flow. We found ourselves having to put in quite a bit of effort in order to get a decent amount of water flow into our mouths. You don’t really want to be straining like this on a hot hike. Despite this, we were impressed by the quality of the Unigear, and it is a consideration for those looking for a casual hydration bladder.