A decent hydration pack is an absolute must to carry all the essentials for both rider and machine
Find the best mountain bike hydration packs with our grouptest that compares hydration packs and bladders from mid-size through to all-day ride capacity.
We start with a list of all our favourite hydration packs. Below this list is our comprehensive buyer’s guide info about what top look out for in a good hydration pack.
The best hydration packs
EVOC CC 10L hydration pack review
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.
Camelbak M.U.L.E. LR 15 hydration pack review
A comprehensively equipped pack capable of swallowing everything you need to enjoy a full day out on the hills. The MULE is not without its faults. At over 1.1 kilos it is heavy and the bladder is frustratingly fiddly to fit. But it should last a lifetime.
Deuter Compact EXP 12 pack review
Whether looking for a pack for two hour rides in the woods or for day and night adventures, the Deuter Compact EXP 12 will fulfil your needs. Some handy features, robust construction and the ability to expand or shrink the pack at a whim make it seriously worth considering.
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 eclipsed the other packs 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 also 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.
Evoc CC 10L hydration pack
The slim profile of the CC range makes it ideal for riding fast and light. Similar to other packs it includes a easy-fill, two litre Hydrapak reservoir. Storage is spread over three logical pockets and it also includes a pull out helmet cover for transportation.
Dakine Nomad 18L hydration pack
The helmet-packing compartment at the back also doubles as a mesh-lined overflow pocket for wet jackets. This is a tough, durable and well-thought-out pack, topped off with an excellent Hydrapak reservoir.
EVOC CC 16L hydration pack
Evoc has been producing reliable and well-made packs for years. The excellent strap system just clamps on and doesn’t slide around once cinched down. As a result these packs are very popular with the enduro crowd.
Wingnut Enduro hydration pack
The Wingnut feels stable and well-positioned when weighed down with a lot of kit, but it is less effective when underpacked. More than one tester complained about twisting the straps when taking it off, but overall it is the pack we’d use for toting heavy loads.
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 compartmentalised pockets, giving you a place for everything. A magnet holds the bite valve in place. The Osprey Viper 9 allows organised carrying and can be loaded up for all-day riding, but it works best when travelling fast and light.
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
With its slim profile and long contact area, the Evoc pack was undoubtedly one of the best trail performers on test.
Mavic Crossmax Hydropack 25L hydration pack
The first thing that caught our eye on the Mavic was its clean lines. With streamlined, but generously-sized, side pockets and one large rear panel, it really appealed to the minimalists among us.
Osprey Syncro 20 hydration pack
We often overlook the weight of packs, considering it largely irrelevant once fully laden with kit, but we could immediately feel a benefit from the lightweight Syncro — it is more than half a kilogram lighter than most of the others on test.
Wingnut MPS hydration pack
The ride is as good as any other Wingnut we have tried; the weight is down on the hips, keeping the centre of gravity low and making the waist belt work hard. It all felt very secure on the move, and even heavy loads sat well on the back.
How we test
Working from these basics we set about packing and unpacking, thrashing our local steep and twisty trails to test stability, and grinding over distant Scottish mountains on longer routes to check long-term comfort. We got soaked, got baked and scraped mud off once we were done. We also packed them half full to see how they coped at less than maximum capacity.
For the packs that don’t include a reservoir, we tried several different types, from our favourite Osprey Hydraulics stiff-backed bladder, to the widely available Hydrapak. We also assessed the little extras, such as helmet carriers and tool rolls, to see that everything functioned, before finally throwing them into a pile, and deciding which one should sit at the top.
In the hunt for the best all-round mid-size pack we narrowed our selection to just three. We took them out again and again, hot-swapped and scratched a lot of chins before the final decision was made.
It was almost too close to call between them — the Mavic Crossmax 15, Fox Portage 16L and Osprey Raptor 14 — but at the end of the day the sheer innovation and attention to detail on the Osprey brings it through as a deserving winner.
We love the stiffened reservoir that simplifies the filling process; the well-placed and well-executed storage and the powerful magnetic hose retainer. In fact they are just a few examples of its advantages. Pardon the pun, but the Osprey is just packed with useful features, so at the end of the day its victory was unanimous.
When it came to larger capacity packs for all-day adventures then our pick has to be the Camelbak Hawg Low Rider. One of the most expensive packs out there, but it’s easily the best for big days out.
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.
To do well in the test, a pack must be comfortable, practical and functional. Scroll down to find the best hydration packs.
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.
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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.