Hydration Packs - Buyer's Guide

We can’t remember the last time we used a water bottle on our mountain bike, they pop out on rocky descents, get covered in dog crap and only hold 750ml anyway. A sure way of getting frustrated and de-hydrated that’s for sure!


Not only is a hydration pack the best way of staying hydrated, it allows you to keep you hands right where they should be – on the bars! Drinking on the move means you never have to stop or fumble around for a bottle, meaning you get more time to think about which line to take next.


These days most riders carry some form of hydration system on their back, whether over body armour for some alpine free riding or a local ride in the woods. There is a good range of female specific packs to choose from too, so there’s no excuse to find the right pack for you and one that fits well too.



Fit and form

Women tend to have a tougher time finding the perfect fitting hydration pack than men, mostly due to narrower shoulders, often a shorter torso or being more petite and of course us having boobs. With standard men’s packs the chest or sternum strap is situated right where our lovely appendages are, some offer height adjustability but not always enough to make for a comfortable fit around breasts.


When trying out a new pack make sure all the straps can be adjusted properly for a comfortable, stable and secure fit. This is vital if you’re planning on carrying heavy items, for say a commute or long day in the saddle. Check that the weight can be carried by the waist strap and hips, this will prevent sore shoulders and neck.


Sternum and waist straps can be very effective when tightened; they stop the pack moving around on rough terrain and reduce the weight on the shoulder straps. Contoured shoulder straps are a great idea to prevent rubbing against the arms when in the riding position, padding adds to comfort and is vital for larger packs


If possible check the pack won’t interfere with your helmet in the riding position, if it does, see if you can adjust the pack’s position accordingly. Take your helmet to the shop when you’re buying a pack or do a test run before removing the tags.


Another major consideration should be the rear of the pack, some brands have developed elaborate systems to allow airflow between the pack and your back. This can be in the form or a mesh and frame structure or cleverly positioned padding, either way this increases comfort and reduces heat build up.



Hydration packs



What size to choose?

Obviously this depends on what you want to carry and how long you ride for, so think about how much water you ideally need before you whiz off to your local bike shop and buy the nicest looking bag.


If full day adventures are your thing then a bag with 2L reservoir or larger is a good choice, you’ll probably need to carry a waterproof and tools too, so overall capacity of 15L or more is useful. XC riders will be looking for a lighter and more aerodynamic pack with less bells or whistles, where water capacity and comfort are the most important factors.

Bigger packs in the 20L range are great for commuting and for alpine adventures, where you can stash body armour, helmet, lunch and waterproof clothing etc.

Some packs come with a reservoir and others allow you the freedom to choose your own size, type and brand. Make your choice based on the pack as the reservoir is easy and relatively cheap to replace or upgrade.



What to pack

Water, or energy drink is likely to be the primary content of your luggage, so make sure you have a large enough reservoir and it’s full if needed. Essential tools include a set of Allen keys, tyre levers, spare tube, tube patches and glue, a chain tool and pump. A good multi-tool is invaluable and they often have additional tools such as screwdrivers and wrenches all rolled into one tidy unit. Carrying a lightweight water and windproof is a good idea even on warm days, especially if you’re in the mountains or planning a long ride. The amount of food you’ll need depends on your route and length, but always pack a couple of energy bars/gels for real emergencies as well as any other foods you may choose. It’s a good idea to have a phone, emergency contact details and medication you need and some money just in case.

Pack heavy stuff at the bottom, and try to distribute the weight evenly, and remember to keep multi-tools and puncture repair kits close to hand for emergency use, and preferably away from reservoirs to save any unexpected leaks.


When choosing a pack, think about how many pockets/pouches/compartments you need, inside and outside, do you need strapping to hold clothing or helmets etc. Also think about waterproof fabrics and zips, some packs have a fold out rain cover, which can be useful.




Bladders vary in size from a sub 1 litre reservoir to over 3 litres for longer rides, choose one that’s big enough to service you for the longest ride you plan so you won’t be caught out.


A large opening is essential for good hygiene and proper drying, a variety of closure techniques are used from sliding top and roll-tops to screw-on lids so you won’t be short of choice. Ideally you need to be able to get your hand inside for proper cleaning, the Hydrapak reservoirs allow you to turn them inside out! Some reservoirs, like Nalgene, have detatchable hoses and don’t leak once the hose is detached too!


Bite valves are a personal preference and some are at 90degrees for a more comfortable route to the mouth and others have lock-off switches to prevent leakage when in transit.


The Armoured Reservoir by Purehydration.co.uk stands out, not only because it’s black but also as it’s been designed to cope with the harshest of environments. The specifically formulated Armour Weave® is incredibly durable and tear resistant, we watched a Landrover drive over it on YouTube and it did not leak! 


Many have a way of preventing the bite valve/tube swinging around whilst you pedal, out favourite is the Northface solution with magnetic clip which allows no-fuss, one-handed stowage.



Squeaky clean

As quickly as you can after each use, wash with hot soapy water, making sure you then rinse with clean water and drain the drinking tube. It’s essential to dry the reservoir and tube thoroughly, try a folding dryer that you simply shove inside to allow air to circulate. Every once in a while you should soak the reservoir and drinking tube in sterilizing fluid to kill any lingering germs. Some reservoirs have drinking tubes that are removable and some reservoirs even turn inside out for no-nonsense cleaning rituals. It’s worth considering the fill-hole size, as a wide one definitely helps with cleaning and drying.


So whether it’s a low profile race pack for the mere essentials or a full-day pack with room for sarnies and spare clothes, there’s plenty on offer to suit your riding. We love them and have a cupboard full; well can a girl really have enough bags with so many biking occasions to attend?

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