Find the best hydration packs that combine well-organised storage with convenient hydration bladders and stable, comfortable fit.
Welcome to our run-down of the best hydration packs for mountain biking, including hydration packs and bladders from mid-size through to all-day ride capacity. The trend for riding packless might be liberating, but for big rides in the hills or multi-day adventures you’re going to want a hydration system for carrying essentials. This comprises a bladder and a backpack, but there are usually a host of other design features to look out for that make it more suitable for mountain biking.
If you don’t necessarily need to carry that much with you, you need our buyer’s guide to the best mountain bike hip packs.
Best modern hydration pack
Weight: 947g | Reservoir: 3L | Storage: 7L | Rating: 9/10
Pros: A lot of the benefits of hip-packs but much more versatile. Great bladder
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 eliminates 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 all but the most OCD of trail riders. In use, more frequently accessed stuff is nicely stored in the capacious side wing pockets. You rarely need to take the pack off fully, which really helps reduce mid-ride faff and fuss. The lack of much compartmentalisation inside is excused due to the inclusion of an excellent tool-wrap. Camelbak also boasts a reservoir that’s head and shoulders above the rest thanks to its leak-free valve that delivers a great flow rate of liquid.
Best traditional hydration pack
Weight: 902g | Reservoir: 2.5L | Storage: 10L | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Ingeniously capacious whilst still being lightweight
Cons: Can feel overkill on shorter rides
Osprey’s latest Raptor pack retains the familiar slimline profile of previous generations, and we quickly forgot we were wearing it. It also retains the excellent AirScape back system, making it one of the least sweaty packs in use. The lower pocket with removable tool roll is genius, keeping weight low in the pack, and it even features a fold out section to place parts when carrying out essential repairs. The Hydrapak 2.5L reservoir is more than ample (we rarely if ever fully fill a 3L bladder). Whilst not quite as stellar as a Camelbak bladder, the Hydrapak reservoir is fine and the bite valve flows freely. The easy and quick magnetic clip-on to the sternum strap layout is a nice touch that keeps things out of the way yet accessible. Although only packing a modest 10 litres of storage capacity, it is very well distributed. The twin side pockets are really useful and Osprey’s Lid-Loc helmet holder comes in really handy for keeping your kit together in car transit and/or during protracted rest stops. All in all, the best choice if you prefer a traditional slim-tall pack over a new-style, low-slung lumbar pack.
Best value hydration pack
Weight: 825g | Reservoir: 2L | Storage: 12L | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Unbeatable performance for the price
Cons: Not quite as well finished as premium packs
If you are on a tight budget, the Decathlon Rockrider ST900 hydration pack offers excellent performance at a bargain price. It has 12 litres of storage capacity and 2 litre reservoir (which looks pretty much identical to reservoirs from respected hydration pack brand Source). Removing or installing the reservoir is fiddly due to all the bungees and portholes it needs to pass through, but it’s a price worth paying bearing in mind the, er… actual price. Generally, the pack is a bit oversized, chunky and comes with a more features than necessary, but it’s perfectly decent and more than up to the task of carrying water and kit for longer mountain bike rides. Perhaps the main thing that dates this pack is its relatively unsophisticated shape, especially the back panel. It requires thoughtful packing of your kit inside it to prevent it from ending up as a lumpy mess against your body. It may not be quite as fancy or lightweight as the other hydration packs here but nothing else offers this much bang for your buck.
Extremely versatile outdoors backpack
Weight: 971g | Reservoir: N/A | Storage: 14L | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Extremely well made and airy despite its size
Cons: Not mountain bike specific
First up, don’t get too excited by the sub-£100 price tag. Deuter’s Compact Explorer 14 pack does not include a reservoir. So you need to add £30 on top to get a complete system. Having said that, if you already own a reservoir that’s not an issue. Also, should you need to get a reservoir, you can choose which ever one suits your needs best (a 2L Camelbak bladder would work really well with this pack, for example). As with anything made by Deuter, this pack boasts incredible attention to detail. This is most immediately apparent in the AirStripes back panel design. Not only does the broad channel/pad layout afford excellent airflow, it also helps spread the load of the pack across your back. This both aids with pack stability as well as general rider comfort and unimpaired bike handling. Despite it top-heavy appearance, the Compact Explorer 14 holds it shape well without clonking you on the back of the helmet during rough descents. It does help if you remember to stow heavier items into the pack first (so their weight is lower down). The design does actually work really well off-the-bike too, which further helps offset the price tag because you can use it perfectly well as a pack for walking or even general commuting and so on.
One for multi-day epic adventures
Weight: 1,280g | Reservoir: N/A | Storage: 30L | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Unashamedly large pack that won’t let you down in the wild
Cons: Expensive, especially when factoring in additional reservoir cost
The Explorer Pro 30L is pretty much the biggest backpack that Evoc produces. There’s also offer a slightly more compact 26 litre version. With this in mind, the main chamber is adaptable and user-malleable into different layouts. You can even close-up an internal divider – which remains independently accessible from the outside – which is great for keeping wet or dirty items away from other contents. The pack also features two full length zips for opening it up without the need to rummage about via the top. Aside from the main compartment there are two other external pockets: one multi-zoner for tools and hardware spares, the other is soft-lined for delicate items such as smartphone or glasses/goggles. The Explorer Pro 30L doesn’t try to hide its size. In fact, it uses it to good effect. The shoulder – and especially the waist-straps – are excellently and usefully oversized. The shoulder straps sort of ‘float’ on a pivoting design which really reduces the distracting pinch and pull that comes when MTBing with a large pack. The weightlifter-style waistband bears a lot of weight and distributes it really effectively. The pack in general is tough and well made with very wise choice of abrasion resistant materials.
How we test the best hydration packs
Ask a dozen riders what they want from a trail pack and you’ll get a dozen answers – stability, tool access, fit and even hose routing are important. In all our hydration pack tests we’ve looked at every one of these things, but specifically the fit and overall comfort, especially when the pack is fully loaded. And since this is a system, we’ve looked at each individual reservoir, focusing on ease of filling, cleaning, bite-valve durability, hose routing and storage. We also checked they didn’t leak!
How to choose the best hydration packs
Reservoirs come in several sizes, but we’d recommend at least a 2.5L reservoir because it’s large enough for a few hours riding and you obviously don’t have to fill it right up if you’re just going out for a short blast. The same is true of storage capacity – it’s better to have slightly too much, because sod’s law dictates that the tool/gear you leave behind due to lack of space will be the one you actually need. We recommend a starting point of around 10-12L of internal storage. That way you can accommodate a decent amount of food, a waterproof jacket, tools, a couple of inner tubes (good back-up even if you’re running tubeless), a pump and a first aid kit.
Some packs on test come with an adjustable back panel, which is helpful for riders with an especially long or short torso. There are also packs in di erent sizes, again allowing smaller and taller riders to find a pack that is comfortable and secure.
If you don’t want to empty the contents of your pack all over the trail when looking for your multi-tool, some sort of pack organisation is useful. Internal mesh pockets and a few suitably sized compartments will help to prevent your tools rolling around and everything congregating at the bottom of the pack.
A separate tool roll can make the di erence between emptying your kit onto a wet trail or simply reaching in for the part you need. Individual compartments and a good layout are essential.
Compressions straps not only hug large loads closer to your back, but they can also draw in excess volume to prevent things rattling about. The straps are also handy for attaching wet gear to the outside.
A few manufacturers, like Camelbak and Scott, produce their own reservoirs, but many use a third-party design, and the most popular of these are from Source and Hydrapak. Regardless of the brand, the reservoir needs a free-flowing bite valve, a secure closure that doesn’t leak and if you can get your hand inside it’ll be easier to clean.
Handy for enduro racers who might want to swap between full-face and open- face helmets on course. These are either elasticated tabs that pass through the helmet vents, or even just a few clips for sliding the helmet strap through.
Some packs are designed for harder riding and come with reinforced spine protectors, which are often made from a smart material such as D3O. Most of these protective panels are removable, which means you can save weight if you’re just out for an easy or mellow ride.
A lot of packs now use a magnetic quick-release attachment on the hose. This means you can easily unclip the hose to move it closer to your mouth, and it also stops the hose flapping about when you’re belting downhill.