Find the best hydration packs that combine well-organised storage with convenient hydration bladders and stable, comfortable fit.
Find the best hydration packs with our grouptest that compares 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 make it more suitable for mountain biking.
If you don’t necessarily need to carry that much with you, you should head on over to our buyer’s guide to the best mountain bike hip packs.
Best hydration packs
- Camelbak Skyline LR 10 – TEST WINNER
- Osprey Raptor 10 – RUNNER-UP
- Decathlon Rockrider 6L MTB ST900 – BEST VALUE
- Deuter Compact Explorer 14
- Evoc Explorer Pro 30L
- Camelbak KUDU Protector 20 Dry
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 this test we’ve looked at all 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!
‘View Deal’ links
You will notice that beneath each product summary of these best hydration packs is a ‘View Deal’ link. If you click on one of these links then mbr may receive a small amount of money from the retailer should you go to purchase the product from them. Don’t worry, this does not affect the amount you pay.
Camelbak Skyline LR 10
Best modern hydration pack
Price: £114.99 | Weight: 947g | Reservoir: 3L | Storage: 7L
Pros: A lot of the benefits of hip-packs but much more versatile
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 all but the most OCD of trail riders. Although it may sound strange to say so, the recently redesigned Skyline LR 10 almost resembles a hip-pack albeit one with shoulder straps/braces. 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 excellently useful tool-wrap that keeps things together whilst also making for easier repairs whenever said tools are needed.
It’s easy to take things for granted with Camelbaks but we must point out that their reservoirs really are head and shoulders above anyone else’s, which is a fact really worth bearing in mind when it comes to actually living with a hydration pack week in week out.
Osprey Raptor 10
Best traditional hydration pack
Price: £110.00 | Weight: 902g | Reservoir: 2.5L | Storage: 10L
Pros: Ingeniously capacious whilst lightweight
Cons: Can feel overkill on shorter rides
The overall pack retains the familiar slimline profile of previous generation Raptors, helping it almost disappear when worn. This helps remove any possibility that it might restrict movement when on the bike. It also retains the excellent AirScape back system, making it one of the most comfortable and least sweaty packs to wear. The lower pocket with removable tool roll is genius, keeping weight low in the pack. The high viz tool roll 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 vlave 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. There is a compact pocket at the top and bottom of the pack, the former for items like glasses/goggles and the latter for the integrated tool-wrap. This tool-wrap is really excellent by the way.
The twin side pockets are really useful and Osprey’s Lid-Loc helmet holder, whilst we would never advise not wearing a helmet during a ride, does come in really handy for keeping your kit together in car transit and/or during protracted rest stops.
The back panel is deceptively simple looking; Osprey really know their backpack tech and somehow manage to get plentiful airflow up and though between the pack and your back. All in all, the best pack choice if you preer a traditional slim-tall pack over a modern low-slung lumbar pack.
Rockrider Mountain Biking 12L/2L Hydration Backpack ST900
Best value hydration pack
Price: £39.99 | Weight: 825g | Reservoir: 2L | Storage: 12L
Pros: Unbeatable performance for the price
Cons: Not quite as well finished as premium packs
If you want a lighter mid-size trail pack there are great options in this buyer’s guide, and one of the cheapest is the Decathlon Rockrider. This feels like a Camelbak from 8-9 years ago but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that because it has all you need for a rock- bottom 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).
The pack is rather fiddly to fully remove or install the reservoir 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. Forty quid is simply incredible for this decent bit of kit. It actually reminds us of Camelbaks from a couple of generations ago, except perhaps not quite as well fabricated (the zips and buckles feel flimsy, and the stitching isn’t quite as refined or well finished as on premium brand packs).
Generally, the pack is a bit oversized, chunky and over-featured (very noughties) but 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, despite its fussiness, is its relatively unsophisticated shape, especially the back panel. It requires thoughtful packing of your kit inside it to prevent it from ending up bunchy or lumpy against your body.
You pays your money and you takes your choice. If your money is only forty quid then there simply isn’t any other hydration pack worth choosing. 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.
Deuter Compact Explorer 14
Extremely versatile outdoors backpack
Price: £90.00 | Weight: 971g | Reservoir: N/A | Storage: 14L
Pros: Extremely well made and airy comfy despite its size
Cons: Not mountain bike specific
First up, don’t get too excited by the sub-£100 price tag. This pack does not include a reservoir. So you need to add £30 on top to get a complete system. Having said that, many mountain bikers won’t need to as they already own a reservoir which this excellent backpack will accommodate no bother. 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).
Anyway, back to the backpack itself. The key thing with anything made by Deuter is their incredible attention to detail. This is most immediately apparent in their 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 feeling like its going to clonk 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) and leave the top half for lighter items such as clothing layers, for example.
Some fashion victim mountain bikers may be put off the Deuter by its generic ‘techno rambler’ aesthetic but that’s their loss. 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.
Evoc Explorer Pro 30L
One for multi-day epic adventures
Price: £154.99 | Weight: 1,280g | Reservoir: N/A | Storage: 30L
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 produce. If this 30 litre beasty looks just a bit too much, they also offer a slightly more compact 26 litre version. If you want this much storage chances are you need the space for items that aren’t typically taken on regular bike rides. In other words, you need to be carrying photographic/video equipment and/or bikepacking overnight camping stuff.
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.
Speaking of external access, the pack also features two full length zips for opening up the pack 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. It doesn’t have to minimalist anywhere, which means 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. Evoc have saved weight where they could but not at the expense of durability. This pack should give you years and years of good service.
Camelbak KUDU Protector 20 Dry
Piece of mind for big mountain riding
Price: £189.99 | Weight: 1,527g | Reservoir: 3L | Storage: 17L
Pros: Class-leading enduro or alpine adventure pack
Cons: The crazy price means you need to hunt around in the sales for one
The KUDU is part hydration pack and part body armour. Unlike some backpacks that purport to offer back/spine protection, in reality this is rarely anything more in-depth than a section of thick foam (like those weeding knee mats that gardeners use) stuck into the rear sleeve of a backpack. These foam inserts don’t offer much in the way of genuine protection. Partly because they’re too narrow and partly because they shift about under impact due to the main pack not really being adhered to the rider’s body sufficiently firmly.
The KUDU is different. The back protection is real, full-width and effective. The protector helps protect ribs as well as vertebrae. And that’s not where it ends; for pure gravity days you can zip the backpack part off and use the back protector on its own. Genius really.
It is this versatility and complex design that costs the money. There is a whole load of R&D gone into the pack, not to mention some elaborate labour-intensive construction methods. This pack costs a lot partly because it cost the boffins at Camelbak a lot to design and make. There are very few flat and/or straight panels or stitching runs on this pack. The result is an impressively capacious pack that still sits low-profile with an adjustable hug-all-over fitment for all sorts of varied body shapes and sizes.
Storage-wise, it’s not an afterthought or secondary concern either. Camelbak call upon all their experience to offer a comprehensive array of compartmentalised storage options to see you right on full days out in the hills or between the enduro race tape.
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 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.