A decent hydration pack is an absolute must to carry all the essentials for both rider and machine
Find the best hydration packs with our grouptest that compares hydration packs and bladders from mid-size through to all-day ride capacity.
Mountain bike hydration packs have a hard life; rammed with gear, soaked by rain, splattered with mud, poked by tree branches and dragged over rocks. They take a beating when you crash, get sat on when you stop for lunch and tossed in the cupboard under the stairs at the end of a ride, where they’re left to fester until the next outing.
Despite this abuse, a good trail pack can easily last four or five years before it needs replacing. Whether you’re looking to renew your crusty old satchel or purchase your first proper trail pack, we’d recommend choosing one of the mid-sized variety.
These offer the most versatility, with enough space for a generous lunch, waterproof jacket, tools, spares and room for a three-litre water reservoir (the largest size available), these packs will let you disappear for a day or two into the hills and yet are light enough for a short thrash on a summer’s evening.
Most the hydration packs tested here are of the larger size. This is because more and more people are not bothering with smaller hydration packs for shorter rides these days, instead they prefer to use a water bottle and kit/spares strapped to their bike frame.
Having said that, not all bikes accept water bottles – and some riders still need to carry more stuff than is strap-on-able – so we’ve included some reviews of hip-packs (don’t call them bumbags okay?)
To do well in the test, a pack must be comfortable, practical and functional.
The best hydration packs
All of the following hydration packs scored at least 9/10 in our test. Here’s a complete list of all the hydration packs we’ve tested.
Shimano Unzen 6 hydration pack
The good news is how secure and comfortable it felt, staying firmly put even down super-steep and rough tracks that would have others bashing the back of my helmet. The bad news? It’s not available to buy in the UK so you’ll have to buy online from Europe.
Camelbak Chase Bike Vest
If quick blasts around local trails or enduro racing is what you tend to concentrate on then the Chase is a perfect companion.
EVOC CC 10L hydration pack
The Evoc CC 10L is a really well thought out pack with a range of clever features. It’s comfortable to ride in, but the niggles caused by the straps need some attention. Personally I would buy the pack without a bladder and put the savings towards a Camelbak Crux reservoir.
Osprey Raptor 14 hydration pack
Osprey Raptor 14 hydration pack
Although a shade less stable than other trail packs, the Osprey is very well thought out, and with the best reservoir on the market for £90, it very almost eclipsed the other packs here to take the win.
Camelbak Volt 13 LR hydration pack
We’re all in favour of innovation, particularly when it genuinely offers an advantage on the trail. In this case, Camelbak has cut the height of its normal reservoir, widened it, and then designed a pack with big wings at the waist belt to carry the bladder.
Fox Portage 16L hydration pack
We were particularly impressed by the organising pockets — there are plenty of them, sensibly placed and easily accessed. Each had a task that it fitted perfectly and the hip belt even had two well-proportioned zip pockets that are easy to get to on the move.
Mavic Crossmax Hydropack 15 hydration pack
A Hydrapak reservoir is included, boasting a wide, easy-fill mouth, quick-release hose and lockable bite valve, and there’s a sneaky helmet holder that can be zipped away until needed. The only thing we missed was a magnetic hose retention clip.
Osprey Viper 9 hydration pack
Osprey’s Viper 9 is a compact daypack that comes with a 2.5-litre reservoir, and five varying sized Despite it only having nine litres of storage space, it seems to be able to carry more — there was room to spare even after loading it up with my pump, multi-tool, snacks, windproof and first-aid kit.
Camelbak Hawg Low Rider hydration pack
The Hawg LR is one of the few packs on test that came with a reservoir as standard and, while we like the ability to choose our own, in this case it was a good thing. Sure, it’s one of the most expensive packs out there, but it’s easily the best for big days out.
EVOC FR Trail hydration pack
Compartment sizes are well specced and the tool compartment is one of the best on test. The rest of the pack consists of a single compartment, always handy for bigger items, and two small side pockets ideal for tools and energy bars. One small omission is the lack of easy-access pockets on the harness.
Mavic Crossmax Hydropack 25L hydration pack
When weighed down with the full 25 litres of kit, the wide shoulder straps and waist belt proved very supportive, and with its wide profile, the pack had plenty of contact area to aid stability when riding technical trails or pushing down steep descents. This was further aided by four effective compression straps.
Endura Singletrack Backpack hydration pack
lightweight and excellent stability means the Endura Singletrack Backpack almost disappears in use. Easily one of the comfiest packs to wear for long rides. Only the air flow rate for the terminally sweaty and long term durability of the fabric stops it from being perfect.
Camelbak Skyline LR 10 hydration pack
Camelbak’s low-riding LR series sits its mass on your hips, dropping the centre of gravity and improving stability. It’s a great idea that really works, eliminating the chance of your pack hitting you in the back of the head on steep descents and stopping it sliding around when slamming turns and weaving through trees. The LR10 has space for three litres of water and seven litres of kit, enough for a big day in the hills, and the organisation – both external and internal – will satisfy even the most OCD trail rider.
Osprey Duro Solo Belt
We have no idea whether bum bags are now cool again, or uncool because they’re too cool, or were never cool in the first place. And honestly we don’t care, because they’re simple, cheap and let you carry the essentials on a quick blast without being encumbered by a massive hydration pack. The Osprey Duro Solo is designed for running, but works brilliantly on the bike thanks to its wide wide belt that remains stable when you’re making shapes. The angled holster holds a 570ml bottle that’s not only squishy, but shaped to fit against your hips, and there’s a clear pocket for sneaking vital glances at your smartphone.
Mavic Crossride Belt
The Crossride Belt is one of the best options for riders wanting to ditch the pack for shorter rides. After a bit of playing about to get it comfortable it remains stable even for lairy riding. Storage is logical and well presented and the Mavic bottle is super easy to get at.
Best hydration packs for 2020: the verdict
Best large size hydration pack: Camelbak Hawg Low Rider.
Best medium size hydration pack: Camelbak Skyline LR 10.
Best hip-pack/bumbag hydration pack: Osprey Duro Solo Belt.
The most effective packs use a suspended, trampoline-style mesh back to maximise airflow, while others rely on large blocks of padding interspersed with gaps to channel the air over your back. Whatever the style, try it on and get the right size.
Organisation and compartments
Emptying the contents of your pack all over the trailside when looking for that elusive Power Link is a pain, so pockets, compartments and organisers are essential. Look for mesh pockets and a variety of internal compartments to let you organise your tools and prevent them rolling around at the bottom of the bag.
A large main compartment allows you to be flexible in carrying bulky items, but you will still want a variety of smaller ones tagged on for spares and smaller bits of gear. These also help organise your kit and save rummaging around in the pouring rain.
As with the cargo compartments, having an effective tool organiser can make the difference between emptying kit onto a wet trail and simply reaching in for the part you need. Zipped mesh pockets are handy, as are pump slots, but some manufacturers are now providing a tool roll, which is really handy to remove all your tools with one dip.
The bigger the pack, the more critical the strap system for controlling the movement of this bulk and weight. Compressions straps, when correctly tensioned, not only hug large loads closer to your back, but they can also draw in excess volume to prevent smaller loads rattling about. They are also handy for attaching wet jackets or extra gear to the outside.
More and more manufacturers are selling packs without reservoirs, or making them optional. The upside is that you are free to choose your favourite model, with the best- flowing bite valve or quick-release hose. You may also already have one from an old pack. The downside is, you may have to extend your budget.
Handy for enduro racers, who might want to swap between full face and open-face helmets during a race, or simply keeping all your kit together in the car. These can come in the guise of clever elasticated tabs that pass through the vents, or just a couple of clips for securing the helmet straps.
If you spend a fair bit of time on your back looking at the sky wondering what just happened, it might be worth considering a pack with built-in protection. A tough armour-plated lining will protect your spine in case of accident, but remember to keep your harness snug for it to work properly.
>>> Day to day commutes? Check out ‘Best cycling backpacks’ at Cycling Weekly
You don’t always want to remove your pack to access tools, food or your phone, so pockets on the waist belt or harness come in very handy. The best ones are secured with zips, as the bumpy world of mountain biking doesn’t respect flimsy elastic closures. Some packs angle the side pockets so they’re easy to reach while wearing the pack.