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Staying hydrated is one of the most important things when you’re outside. Whether you’re hiking in the desert or trekking high up in the mountains, a hydration bladder is a must-have piece of gear for outdoor adventures.

There are quite a few different hydration systems on the market today, though, so it’s understandable if you’re having trouble deciding on just one. So, here are our reviews of the top hydration bladders for your next camping trip.

Advantages and Disadvantages Of Hydration Bladders

When you’re hiking, you have two ways to quench your thirst: water bottles or hydration systems. While water bottles are the more traditional option, hydration bladders are quickly becoming a mainstay in many hikers’ gear set-ups. 

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of hydration systems when compared to water bottles:

Advantages Of Hydration Bladders

  • Easier Hydration. When you use a hydration system, you don’t need to stop and pull out your water bottle every time you want to take a drink. This makes staying on top of your overall hydration much easier, especially on longer hikes in warm weather.
  • Better Water Rationing. If you have to stop and take a break every 30 minutes to drink out of your water bottle, you’re more likely to drink too much too quickly. When this happens, you can overhydrate and throw your body’s electrolytes out of balance. You can also more easily run out of water, which is problematic in particularly dry and hot environments.
  • Back Support. A full hydration system actually provides extra support along your spine when it’s packed properly. Plus, water is quite heavy (1 liter of water is 2.2lbs/1kg), and using a bladder better distributes the weight across your back as you hike. 
  • Won’t Fall Off Your Pack. When you pack a hiking pack, you should strive to put as much of your gear as possible inside the bag. Gear that dangles off the side of the pack can easily fall off or get damaged in difficult terrain or when bushwhacking. You won’t believe how many times I’ve seen someone lose a water bottle out of the side pocket of their pack while hiking. Needless to say, it’s not a pretty situation. With a hydration system tucked into your pack, on the other hand, losing it on the trail is nearly impossible.

Disadvantages of Hydration Bladders

  • More Difficult To Clean. One of the major drawbacks of hydration systems is that they can be quite difficult to clean, even when you’re in the comfort of your own home. Unlike water bottles, you can’t just put them on the top rack of your dishwasher. In fact, you often have to buy a special cleaning kit to get any gunk out of the bladder and drinking tube at the end of a trip.
  • Tricky To Refill. If you’re trying to fill up your water system in a lake or river, a water bottle is going to be the much easier option. However, with practice, filling a hydration bladder in a natural body of water doesn’t have to be an insurmountable challenge. It’s generally easier to fill a bladder in a moving body of water, like a river. But, if you’re at a lake, try holding the bladder open and swishing it around in the water until it fills up on its own. 

The Platypus Big Zip EVO is the latest model in the company’s line of hydration systems. This water reservoir is lightweight, yet surprisingly durable, thanks to its clear polyurethane composition. 

It’s made with all BPA, BPS, and phthalate-free materials that don’t leave any taste behind in your water. Additionally, the EVO edition of the Platypus Big Zip has a higher flow rate than the older model, which means you can hydrate more efficiently during rest breaks.

I’ve personally used the Big Zip EVO and its predecessors for years. I found that the reservoir’s quick-disconnect hose is very useful when you want to quickly refill it from a stream or river in the wilderness.

Plus, the reservoir’s characteristic Ziploc-style opening makes refilling it super easy, even with just one hand. The leak-proof shut-off system also allows for easy storage of the bite valve without having to worry that water will drip down your shirt as you hike.

pros
  • Large top opening makes refilling very easy with one hand
  • High flow valve for more efficient hydration
  • Quick disconnect hose provides faster access to the reservoir in your pack
cons
  • Can be tricky to get into packs with narrow hydration compartments

The Crux is Camelbak’s signature hydration bladder. It’s made with BPA, BPS, and BPF-free polyurethane, which is durable enough to withstand years of frequent use.

The newest version of the Crux can provide upwards of 20% more water per sip, thanks to its new tube design. Moreover, the tube on this hydration system has a simple on/off lever that can be operated with one hand to stop water from leaking on you throughout the day.

This bladder is made with Hydroguard technology, which is specifically designed to help stop bacteria from growing inside. Ultimately, this means a cleaner, more sanitary drinking system, even if you’re on a longer trip outside.

This Camelbak model comes with the company’s proprietary leak-proof cap. While it is effective at stopping leaks, some people find that it’s tricky to open and close or to refill the bladder with one hand. However, it’s a solid-all around bladder that’s both versatile and durable.

pros
  • Very durable materials
  • Good flow of water for more efficient drinking
  • Leak-proof cap design
  • Anti-bacterial internal coating
cons
  • Can be tricky to open and close
  • Difficult to fill with just one hand

The Osprey Hydraulics reservoir is specifically designed to fit well inside larger-volume packs, like what you’d take on a backpacking trip. It features a unique HydroStatic backplate that makes it rigid enough to load into your fully-loaded pack.

This bladder is made with BPA, lead, and phthalate-free polyurethane that’s certified food safe. The interior is also easy to clean because of its wide top opening.

It has a newly-upgraded Hydrapak Blaster bite valve that can be twisted on and off to prevent leaks. The bite valve on this hydration bladder also provides a fast flow of water for quicker hydration during rest stops.

Finally, the Hydraulics has a magnetic clip attachment system, which allows it to seamlessly latch onto the included magnetic sternum strap.

With this system, you can easily connect the bite valve of this bladder to any backpack, which is very convenient, particularly with smaller packs.

pros
  • Large top opening makes it simple to clean and fill
  • Rigid backplate means it’s easy to slide into a full backpack
  • Magnetic attachment system for bite valve is very convenient
cons
  • Can taste like plastic in the beginning

The Hydrapak Shape Shift is a good choice for use with smaller backpacks. Thanks to its slim size and low profile, this bladder can more easily slide into a daypack’s hydration pouch, even if the pack is full of gear.

It is made from BPA and PVC-free polyurethane, which is durable and abrasion-resistant.

It has a single large zip-style opening at the top and dual FlexGrip handles which makes it simple to fill up in a river or stream.

Additionally, the Shape Shift has a High-flow Blaster bite valve that seals on its own to prevent drips and leaks. This means that you don’t have to actively turn the valve into the off position every time you take a drink.

The hydration bladder is also completely reversible, so you can quickly turn it inside out. Thanks to this feature, it is easy to clean and dry, even after long trips into the mountains.

pros
  • Fully reversible for easy cleaning and drying
  • Bite valve automatically shuts off after drinking to prevent leaks
  • Slim profile can fit inside smaller daypacks
cons
  • Zip slider can be a bit finicky

The Platypus Hoser is an affordable hydration system for hikers on a budget. It has a simple design with just one opening that connects to the drinking tube and can be opened to fill the bladder with water.

It is made from the same BPA, BPS, and phthalate-free polyurethane that’s used in all of Platypus’ bladders. Moreover, the reservoir has embedded silver-ion technology which prevents mold growth and prevents any weird tastes in your water.

This system features a self-sealing HyFlo bite valve so you don’t have to manually shut off the water flow when you stop drinking. The threaded opening port is also compatible with different accessory caps if you wanted to use the bladder as a collapsible water bottle.

The Hoser is a minimalist-style hydration system that weighs just 3.6oz (0.1 kg). Additionally, it is built with an integrated carry loop that can be used to secure it into your backpack or hang it from a tree for use as a makeshift solar shower in the backcountry.

pros
  • Affordable and minimalistic
  • Taste-free and antimicrobial
  • Auto-shut off drinking valve
cons
  • Can be tricky to fill the reservoir through a small opening
  • Difficult to clean

Hydration Is Key

Hydration bladders are a sure-fire way to quickly and easily get enough water while on the trail. There are some great options to choose from, so it’s certainly possible to find the hydration system that’s perfect for your needs.