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Published Dec 19, 2021 1:20 PM

Drinking enough water is key to basically any outdoor activity, and there’s no better way to meet that goal than with one of the best hydration bladders on your back. Having an accessible, steady supply of water may even be what motivates you to run those extra few miles or push through the last leg of a tiring climb. The bladder market is no longer dominated by CamelBak, and there are now ample options to choose from to throw in your hydration pack, hiking, or backpacking bag. 

Some hydration packs prioritize durability and ease of use, while others boast additional features, like an insulated system or easy pairing with a water filter. Whether you are looking to stay hydrated on your next ultralight trail running adventure or backcountry backpacking trip, read on for our picks for the best hydration bladders.

This top pick from Platypus is known for its extreme durability and reliability, whether you are backpacking in the mountains for days or bouncing around on a trail run. Available in three sizes, this bladder is made of a combination of polyethylene and polyurethane materials to make it resistant to punctures. You also won’t experience that nasty plastic taste with this option, and the embedded silver-ion technology protects against mold and bacteria growth. The bladder is completely see-through, so you can always tell if your water looks dirty. Most notably, this bladder is known for its Ziploc-style closure, which allows users to easily fill, empty, and clean the reservoir, and it has a pincher handle on the side to aid with refilling. The water flows at a high speed through a big bite valve that also features a full-proof locking mechanism.

While the ziplock feature is a plus for many, some reviewers reported it can be hard to use after time or in cold conditions. Due to its rigid structure that helps the system keep its shape, the bag can’t be turned inside out for cleaning purposes, though the big zip allows users to easily reach inside to clean. This system doesn’t come with a cover to protect the valve against dirt or a tube insulator for extreme conditions, though Platypus sells these features separately.

Product Specs
  • Capacity options: 1.5L, 2L, 3L
  • Weight (3L): 6.9 oz.
  • Type of closure: Ziplock
PROS

Durable, puncture-resistant design

Fast water flow

Free of plastic taste

Easy to fill

Good carry handle

Mold and bacteria protection

CONS

Not the easiest to clean

Ziplock feature can become hard to use

Source provides a simple and durable bladder for an affordable price. This no-frills bladder is composed of three layers of polyethylene material, which is free of plastic taste and is treated with an antimicrobial agent to prevent bacteria growth. The bladder’s traditional fold top makes it easy to refill, drain, and clean, and a wide slide closer makes it easy to close the reservoir tightly and prevent leakage. The bite valve can also be locked, and — unlike most other models — it comes with a cover to protect against dirt, sand, and other substances.

Like the Platypus Big Zip, this bladder is a bit rigid, so it can’t be easily turned inside out for cleaning purposes, though it’s simple enough to dry it out with a rag. It’s tube is also not insulated, though users can easily disconnect the tube and replace it with an insulated version. For a steeper price, Source also offers a hydration tube with a Sawyer filter, making this a go-to for all your backpacking needs.

Product Specs
  • Capacity options: 1.5L, 2L, 3L
  • Weight (3L): 6.34 oz.
  • Type of closure: Fold top and slide closure
PROS

Great bang for your buck

Durable, simple design

Free of plastic taste

Mold and bacteria protection

Valve cover included

Easy to fill

CONS

Not the easiest to clean

Editor’s Choice

CamelBak bladders are known to stand the test of time, and as a longtime Camelbak user myself they are my go-to. The Crux Reservoir is a redesign that includes the classic Camelbak features while introducing a few improvements. This bladder has the same great handle that Camelbak users know and love, making the reservoir easy to fill and drain. The system also relies on the same screw top, though this version is larger than past models and prevents any leakage (assuming you make sure to screw it on properly). With this huge opening, it’s relatively simple to put a brush in the bag and scrub, though with protection against mold and bacteria you won’t have to do this too often. The bite valve also has a versatile locking mechanism and the widened hose provides a higher water flow than post models.

On the downside, this is one of the heavier models on our list, so if you are looking to cut ounces, look elsewhere. The handle and screw top can also make this model a bit bulky when pressed against your back, though with proper adjustment, you’ll forget it’s there. It also can’t be rolled up for packing purposes, and like many other base-line models, you’ll have to purchase an insulated tube separately.

Product Specs
  • Capacity options: 1.5L, 2L, 3L
  • Weight (3L): 8.4 oz.
  • Type of closure: Screw top
PROS

Great handle, easy to fill

High water flow

Durable design, doesn’t leak

Mold and bacteria protection

Long-lasting

CONS

Heavier than other models

Can’t be rolled up, not the most packable

Best Durable Bladder

A top seller at REI Co-op, this Gregory bladder gets high marks for its durability and ease of use, making it a great choice for any adventure. Its narrow, rounded body allows the bladder to slip into almost any pack, and it’s innovative body-length handle makes it extremely easy to fill. Like CamelBak products, this option uses a screw top, though it’s a bit smaller and less bulky. The system also includes an extremely intuitive push switch to lock the bite valve, which can be unlocked by merely biting down on the valve, and reviewers report a great water flow rate. The product also comes with a drying hanger, so users can easily rinse out and dry the reservoir.

This is a great option for longer backpacking trips, though as one of the heavier options you may want to look elsewhere if you’re going on an ultralight run. Because of the rigid handle, this bladder is not rollable, and it can be harder to clean out with a brush because of its smaller lid.

Product Specs
  • Capacity options: 2L, 3L
  • Weight (3L): 7 oz.
  • Type of closure: Screw top
PROS

Durable design

Very user-friendly

Narrow profile that fits into most bags

Body-length handle allows for easy filling

Comes with drying hanger accessory

CONS

Can’t be rolled up, not the most packable

Heavier than some other models

Smaller screw top lid than other models

Best for Lightweight Adventures

Weighing in at just 5.4 ounces for the three-liter version, this Hydrapak bladder is a great choice for your next ultralight adventure. Its slim profile will fit smoothly into most trail running packs. With a mechanism to clip the bladder’s sides together, you can prevent sloshing while moving at high speeds. This model can also be flipped completely inside out for easy cleaning, and you can even throw it in the dishwasher. Additionally, the water flow is super fast, and a simple twist lock prevents any leakage. A handle also makes filling it up quick and painless.

By dropping a couple ounces, you will make a few sacrifices: This bladder is less durable than some heavier models, and it can’t hold three liters of water when using the baffle, which prevents sloshing. Like most models, you will also have to invest in an insulated tube if going on below-freezing adventures.

Product Specs
  • Capacity options: 2L, 3L
  • Weight (3L): 5.40 oz.
  • Type of closure: Fold top and slide closure
PROS

Lightweight

Easy to fill with handle

Easy cleaning with flipping bladder inside out or dishwasher use

Mold and bacteria protection

Fast water flow

Simple to clean

CONS

Less durable than other models Plastic taste out the bo

Plastic taste out the box

Best for Backpacking

Have you ever packed up your entire backpacking pack only to realize you forget to load up your hydration bladder first? With this Osprey reservoir, that’ll no longer be a problem, as a unique backplate makes it easy to squeeze into even full backpacks. This backplate helps it keep its shape and, with an ergonomic design, remains comfortable against your back through long hours of hiking. This bladder also features an elongated spout, which is good for collecting water from small springs in the backcountry, and the hose disconnects from its middle, making it easy to refill without having to take it out of your pack.

With additional features, this bladder is a fair bit heavier than most other models, and with the rigid backplate it won’t fit into smaller packs. Reviewers also reported a plastic taste at the beginning of use. It can be hard to clean the entire hose, and since you can’t flip the bladder inside out, you’ll have to stay on maintenance with this option.

Product Specs
  • Capacity options: 2L, 3L
  • Weight (3L): 8.75 oz.
  • Type of closure: Flip top and slide closure
PROS

Rigid backplate makes it great for backpacking

Elongated spout, good for shallow water sources

Easy to refill

Durable

CONS

Heavier than other models

Plastic taste at beginning

Won’t fit in every pack

Hard to clean

Best Insulated Hydration System

If you are looking for a way to keep your water ice cold in the summer or unfrozen in the winter, the HydraPak HydraSleeve is the way to go. This option comes with an insulated sleeve and hose, making your bladder system durable enough to hang on the outside of your backpack. The bladder itself — the HydraPak ShapeShift — is our pick for ultralight activities, so you’ll always have the option to drop the sleeve if not in extreme conditions. You can also change out the insulated tube for a regular hose, making this product extremely versatile. This option also has great water flow, and the bladder is extremely easy to clean.

On the downside, this option is a lot heavier than others, but you can always drop weight by not using the sleeve. It’s also a bit more expensive than other models, but with great versatility, we think this option is worth a few extra bucks if you are searching for a way to keep your water cold or unfrozen.

Product Specs
  • Capacity options: 3L
  • Weight (3L): 12 oz.
  • Type of closure: Fold top and slide closure
PROS

Extremely durable

Great for extreme conditions

Very versatile

Simple to clean

Easy to fill with handle

CONS

Very heavy

More expensive than other models

Best Big Hydration System

While not great for hiking, the Sea to Summit Pack Tap is another worthy addition to your gear list. These huge bladders — which come in 4-, 6-, or 10-liter sizes — are great to hang on a tree at your campsite as a steady source of clean water. These bladders are extremely light and packable, so you can even throw them in your backpacking bag to have at camp. They are great for trips where you don’t have reliable water and need to have some backup liters, and they are also a good option for your weekend car camping adventure. Even though they can store ample water (or wine!), they are easy to fill up with just one hand.

The downside of this option is, of course, there’s no hydration hose, so it can be less versatile than traditional bladders. Additionally, because of its large size, it can be difficult to keep clean. But, all in all, for an affordable price, this product has a great value if you are looking for a big hydration system.

Product Specs
  • Capacity options: 4L, 6L, 10L
  • Weight (10L): 6.75 ounces
  • Type of closure: Screw top
PROS

Variety of large sizes

Extremely light

Compact and packable

Durable design

Reasonable price

CONS

Difficult to clean

No hydration hose

Best Pressurized Hydration Bladder

If you don’t like having to use energy to get water out of your hydration bladder’s hose, look towards the Aquamira Pressurized Reservoir. This model uses a pressure system to make it so water flows freely from your hose, without having to bite down or suck. A relatively user-friendly system, this reservoir includes an air pump, which fills the air compartment with pressure, forcing water to squirt out of the hose. This is great for high-energy activities, where you want to easily drink water, or other uses, such as sharing water, showering off, or washing your dishes.

This model is dishwasher-safe, and it is easy to pair with the Aquamira Frontier Max Filter for on-the-go water filtration. On the downside, this system is heavier and more expensive than other options, so make sure it’s what you need before you make the leap.

Product Specs
  • Capacity options: 1.5L, 2L, 3L
  • Weight (3L): 13 oz.
  • Type of closure: Fold top with zip closure
PROS

Very versatile, pressurized option

Easy to fill

Compatible with water filter

Simple to clean, dishwasher-safe

Durable

CONS

More expensive than other options

Heavy

Why you should trust us

I’m a recent convert to the hydration bladder lifestyle. Whether I’m cross country skiing, backpacking in the mountains, or on a multi-pitch rock climb, you’ll never find me without my trusty CamelBak. I used to be someone who struggled to drink enough water because I never wanted to stop whatever activity I was doing to pull out my water bottle, but that all changed once I embraced my hydration bladder. I understand what features users need in a bladder for different activities, and I pride myself on being able to find the highest quality products out there, for the most affordable price. So, when it comes to choosing the best hydration bladder, you can trust that I will lead you to the right place.

Types of hydration bladders

Durable hydration bladders

Since hydration bladders can be known for leaking, it’s important to go for a durable model. Lucky for us, most of the top-of-the-line models today are both reliable and affordable. Their thick plastic materials can handle being pressed against a hiker’s back or squished in a pack, without the plastic seams bursting. 

Options like the Platypus Big Zip EVO Reservoir, the Source Outdoor Widepac, and the CamelBak Crux Reservoir are all known to be long-lasting and puncture-resistant. The HydraPak HydraSleeve is perhaps the most durable option on this list, as it can even be strapped on to the outside of a pack without getting damaged. 

Ultralight hydration bladders

Hydration bladders most frequently weigh between five and 10 ounces, and while that may not seem like a large range, when you’re a marathon runner, cutting a few ounces can make a difference. Ultralight bladders can also be good for backpackers, skiers, or anyone else looking for a lightweight option. Our pick for lightweight adventures is the Hydrapak Shape-Shift Reservoir, which weighs only 5.40 ounces, though it does sacrifice some durability to cut those few ounces.

Keep in mind that, while you can lose a few ounces in your bladder, the water it’s carrying is the weight you’ll notice. If you are looking to cut down on weight, try only keeping a liter or two of water in your bladder and filling up every couple miles, if you have water sources available.

Insulated hydration bladders

Have you ever heard someone complain about taking a hydration bladder snowmobiling or skiing, only to have the water freeze before being able to drink any? I sure have, and that’s why I find insulated bladders so useful. In addition to keeping your water from freezing, these bladders will keep your beverage ice cold on a hot summer day.

Our pick for the best insulated hydration bladder is the HydraPak HydraSleeve, which provides extreme versatility when it comes to using it for different activities. If you go with another option on our list, most brands sell insulated tubes separately, which you can sub out for your bladder’s normal tube if need be.

Key features of hydration bladders

Reservoir closures

When it comes to using a hydration bladder, it’s extremely important to have a good way to close your reservoir to keep the water from leaking out. The products reviewed above utilize three different types of closing devices: screw tops, ziplocks, and fold tops. While each user may have their own preference, we found all of these types to have their own benefits. 

Bladders with screw tops, such as the CamelBak Crux Reservoir, are easy to fill and get inside to clean. Ones with ziplocks, mainly the Platypus Big Zip EVO Reservoir, are also easy to fill, empty and clean, though some reviewers reported the ziplock feature becoming hard to use. Lastly, fold top bladders — the seemingly most popular option — open wide for filling and can often be turned inside out for cleaning purposes.

Bite valve locks

In addition to closing your water reservoir, locking the valve at the end of your water hose is also essential for preventing leaking. With most bladders, the valve doesn’t always need to be locked to prevent leaking, but if the bladder is squeezed into a tight backpack, you’ll want to keep it locked or risk losing significant water. 

Types of locks vary. Some bladders have a twist lock on the valve, while others have a clever lock button. No matter which option you choose, make sure to familiarize yourself with the locking device before heading out on your next adventure. 

Cleaning capabilities

While most bladders claim to protect against bacteria and mold growth, you’ll still want to regularly clean your hydration system. Some bladders come with their own cleaning kit, while other brands sell them separately. These kits often include cleaning solutions and special brushes that fit in the hose and reservoir. 

Some bladders are easier to clean than others. Ones with big lids in the reservoir, like the CamelBak Crux Reservoir, or ones that can be turned inside-out, such as the Hydrapak Shape-Shift Reservoir, are the most simple to clean. Extra bonus points go to the ones that are dishwasher-safe (on the top rack).

Benefits of hydration bladders

Staying hydrated

Hydration bladders are a great way to stay hydrated because, compared to normal water bottles, they have much larger capacities. You also won’t have the excuse of not drinking water because you can’t stop moving, because bladders are easy to drink from while on the go. Your bigger problem may even be drinking your water too quickly, because they’re so easy to drink from. This hands-free system is just one benefit of using a hydration bladder.

Lightweight and comfortable

Bladders also weigh far less than most water bottle options. They are a great option for runners or backpackers looking to cut weight. It’s also handy having all your water in one place, rather than split between multiple bottles throughout your pack. This can help your pack feel much more balanced on your back.

Built-in filters

Hydration bladders with built-in filters are a great option for runners or backpackers looking to consolidate their gear. The Source Outdoor Widepac, for example, has an option to add a Sawyer filter to the hydration tube. The only pressurized option on this list, the Aquamira Pressurized Reservoir, also gives the option to add on the Aquamira Frontier Max Filter. 

Pricing considerations for hydration bladders

Budget

These most affordable hydration bladders fall under $30. They often are no-frills options, with few features. This includes the Source Outdoor Widepac, the 4- and 6-liter versions of the Sea to Summit Pack Tap, and some of the smaller liter options for other bladders.

Mid-range

This category, ranging from $30 to $50, includes the vast majority of bladders. This includes everything from the Platypus Big Zip EVO Reservoir and the CamelBak Crux Reservoir, to the Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir and the Aquamira Pressurized Reservoir.

Premium

The most expensive hydration bladders are over $50. In this case, you’re likely paying for more features. The HydraPak HydraSleeve, for example, is the most expensive item on this list, but it is the most versatile when it comes to hot and cold weather. If you are buying hydration bladder accessories —like an insulated tube, a water filter, or a valve cover — in addition to the bladder, that will also likely put you at this price point.

How we chose our top picks

When choosing our favorite hydration bladders, we first considered which product excels in each category, looking at factors such as weight, durability, and other features. We identified the best of each category of bladders, from ultralight to insulated bladders. I have only used CamelBak hydration bladders myself, but I have experience with other kinds of products from our reviewed brands, such as Gregory and Osprey, and I know their products to be top-notch. For additional information, I also scoured product reviews online to identify my top picks. I made sure to look at several sources for each product, including GearLab, Camping Maniacs, Cool of the Wild, and more.

FAQs on hydration bladders

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q. How do I clean a hydration bladder?

A: While each bladder may come with a different cleaning regime, you will generally rinse the tube out by filling the reservoir with a cleaning solution and then wash the reservoir out by scrubbing it with mild dish soap.

Q. How do I dry a hydration bladder?

A: Disassemble all pieces of the bladder, and either hang the reservoir and tube or prop them upside down. You can also use a rag to dry out the inside of the reservoir, or turn it inside-out, if the model allows.

Q. How do I pack a hydration bladder?

A: If a hydration bladder doesn’t have any backbone that gives it structure, make sure to put it in your pack first, before anything else. If it does have a backbone, it doesn’t matter as much when you pack it, since you can typically still squeeze it in full backpacking packs. Make sure to put the bladder in the sleeve that rests closest to your back for maximum comfort and accessibility. 

Q. What size hydration bladder should I get?

A: It depends on what activities you use. For easy day trips running, hiking or skiing, you shouldn’t need more than two liters. But, if you plan to backpack in places with scarce water sources, bump up to three liters, at least.

Q. Can you freeze water in a hydration bladder?

A: Yes, just don’t fill it all the way, because ice expands and it could split open the plastic material. If you are looking to prevent your water from freezing, look towards insulated options, like the HydraPak HydraSleeve.

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Hanna Merzbach is a journalist living in Bend, Oregon. She writes everything from breaking news and magazine features to outdoor gear reviews. Her writing on housing and homelessness and the uneven impacts of climate change has appeared in The Atlantic, High Country News, and Mother Jones. She has also done reporting stints with Lookout Santa Cruz and Portland’s NBC affiliate, KGW. In her free time, you can find her scaling rock walls or backpacking in the mountains.

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