How to Choose Hydration Packs

Read our expert tips on how to choose a hydration pack, so you buy the best pack for you!

Determine pack use

The size and style of the hydration pack should be largely determined by the intended activity. Before picking a pack, decide whether you will be running, cycling, hiking, Nordic skiing, or backpacking.

Pack use for high aerobic sports

Runners, cyclists, and skiers should opt for a waist pack-style or a low-profile (slender) backpack-style hydration system. These designs will not yank you off balance.

Hydration Pack styles for hiking

Hikers can afford to go with a bulkier backpack that includes plenty of cargo space for gear.

Hydration systems for backpacking

Backpackers cannot wear an independent hydration pack, but they can stow a bladder and hose inside their full size backpack. In this case, they should ensure that their backpack includes a port for the hose and an interior sleeve that will hold the bladder.

Decide on reservoir size

Hydration requirements differ quite a bit depending on the person, the activity, and the weather. A runner can easily sweat a liter (34 fluid ounces) an hour. Know your own body's needs and take into account how long you will be out for, and if you can refill along the way. The most common reservoir sizes are 50, 70, and 100 fluid ounces.

Determine cargo requirements

What do you need to carry besides the water? A trail runner might just want to stash an energy bar, while someone on a long day hike might pack a veritable picnic. Think about what you usually bring with you. The cargo capacities of hydration packs are measured in cubic inches.

Consider Pack weight

When choosing water and cargo capacity, also take into account how much the pack will weigh when full. 100 fluid ounces of water weighs about 6.5 pounds. That is a lot for a runner to carry on their back.

Choose insulated or non-insulated packs

An insulated bladder sleeve and foam insulation around the hose will help prevent freeze-up in winter. Conversely, the insulated sleeve also keeps cold water from heating up too rapidly in hot weather. These can be nice features, though they do add to the cost of the pack.

Waist belt

Any hydration pack that weighs six or more pounds when full should include a waist belt. This will keep the pack from flopping around too much when you run and jump.

Sternum straps

Always a good idea, a sternum strap keeps the shoulder straps in place, no matter the activity