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Best hydration packs | 12 packs tried and tested

The top performing backpacks with hydration bladders for cycling

Best hydration packs

The best hydration packs are extremely useful. Even with the advent of bib shorts with cargo pockets, nothing compares to a pack with a hydration bladder when it comes to water and gear-hauling capacity.

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The best packs can help you be prepared out on the trails and organise your riding essentials. Plus, carrying up to three litres of water (that’s the equivalent of four large bottles) comfortably allows for big, all-day rides.

Hydration packs, just like everything else in the bike world, have evolved brilliantly. There’s a huge range of shapes, sizes and features.

Our list of the best hydration packs will help keep you hydrated, comfortable and ready to take on the trails. Keep reading until the end for our buyer’s guide on what to consider when buying a hydration pack.

The best hydration packs in 2021, as rated by our testers

  • CamelBak Mule LR: £129.99 / $150 / AU$219.95
  • CamelBak Repack LR: £69.99 / $75 / AU$109.95
  • CamelBak Skyline LR 10: £115 / $135
  • CamelBak Women’s Chase Vest: £90 / $100 / AU$150 / €103
  • EVOC Stage 12l: £114.99 / $140 / €129
  • Osprey Raptor 14: £90 / $140 / AU$175
  • Source Hipster: £69 / $99 / AU$130
  • Source Summit 15L: £110 / €140
  • CamelBak TORO Protector 8: £130
  • Decathlon Rockrider 12L: £40
  • Osprey Raptor 10: £110 / $140
  • Thule Vital 8: £131 / $140 / AU$219 / €140

CamelBak Mule LR

5.0 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
CamelBak’s Mule LR combines a useful size with excellent organisation and a top performing reservoir.
  • £129.99 / $150 / AU$219.95 as tested
  • 3l reservoir
  • 12l bag capacity

From epic all-day rides to short after-work spins, CamelBak’s Mule LR can handle it. It’s a relatively lightweight pack with 12l of storage and a 3l reservoir.

For improved stability and carrying the bladder features CamelBak’s low rider tech, which allows the weight to ride closer to the hips instead of vertically up the back.

Perforations abound on the shoulder straps and the back panel for a bit of airflow.

And in typical CamelBak fashion, there’s a multitude of well-placed pockets.

CamelBak Repack LR

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
Hip packs are excellent options when you don’t need a full-size backpack. CamelBak’s Repack LR is one of the best.
  • £69.99 / $75 / AU$109.95 as tested
  • 1.5l reservoir
  • 4l bag capacity

While not a traditional backpack, CamelBak’s Repack LR is a solid hydration option for shorter rides and those who don’t want to wear a pack.

As expected, the reservoir holds less liquid but is still flush with CamelBak’s venerable technology, such as the high-flow hose, shut-off switch and class-leading bite valve.

Organisation is also well thought out with plenty of pockets, six in total. And to make sure everything rides well, CamelBak took the effort to make sure the waist belt’s adjustments stay tight on the Repack LR.

CamelBak Skyline LR 10

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
The Skyline LR (Low Rider) is a rather unusual looking pack.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
  • £115 / $135 as tested
  • 3l reservoir
  • 10l bag capacity

The CamelBak Skyline LR 10 looks like a crossover between a bum bag and a backpack. This might seem strange but the positioning on your back paired with a wide waist belt make this an absolutely steadfast pack.

Water is carried in Camelbak’s 3l CRUX lumbar reservoir, which keeps the centre of gravity of the pack low. A quick-release clip decouples the bladder from the drinking tube and a wide opening makes for easy filling.

When the reservoir is full there is 7l of storage room for tools and gear. If you’re looking to carry lots of kit this bag isn’t it, but otherwise, it does a superb job.

CamelBak Women’s Chase Vest

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
CamelBak’s Women’s Chase vest has a female-specific cut that does a great job.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
  • £90 / $100 / AU$150 / €103 as tested
  • 1.5l reservoir
  • 2.5l bag capacity

Designed as a vest, even though it appears more like a pack, the Chase has a women’s-specific fit that does a great job and keeps the pack in place.

Eight smartly arranged pockets allow you to quickly access snacks and your phone, for instance, without having to take the vest off.

There is room for 1.5l of water and the Chase has a total capacity of 2.5l. This means there isn’t a great deal of room if the bladder is full, but there is still enough for a light jacket, pump and other essentials.

This pack would be ideal for enduros and shorter rides.

EVOC Stage 12l

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
The EVOC Stage 12l looks good and is impressively functional.
Simon Bromley
  • £114.99 / $140 / €129 as tested
  • 3l reservoir
  • 12l bag capacity

The EVOC Stage 12l bag is arguably a rucksack before it is a hydration pack, but it does have a sleeve that will happily fit a 3l bladder and shoulder straps that have hose guides built-in.

The Stage is comfortable to wear thanks to large, rigid foam sections and mesh panelling that sits against the back. The shoulder straps are comfortable over the shoulders, and the pack is stable even over rough terrain.

Inside there is 12l of storage with a multitude of pockets and dividers. A dedicated tool pocket is easy to open and access quickly.

The bag has an inbuilt rain cover but water beads off the material too.

The one downside is that the EVOC Stage doesn’t include a bladder and, arguably for the price, it should.

Osprey Raptor 14

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
Osprey puts its high-end backpacking knowledge to good use in its hydration pack line.
  • £90 / $140 / AU$175 as tested
  • 3l reservoir
  • 14l bag capacity

Backpacking and hiking pack makers Osprey know a thing or two about designing comfortable, well-thought-out bags.

The Raptor 14 comes with the standard hydration pack fare of excellent storage, an external helmet carrier, and lightweight, durable materials.

Where it stands out though is with its removable tool roll and work mat, and innovative reservoir. The bladder hose mouthpiece features a magnet so it attaches securely to the bag in all conditions.

Source Hipster

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
Source lets the rider choose to use the optional shoulder harness or not.
  • £69 / $99 / AU$130 as tested
  • 1.5l reservoir
  • Six pockets
  • Removable shoulder harness

Source includes a removable shoulder harness with its Hipster pack. The harness is ideal for slim riders or those looking for more stability when on the trail.

Its 1.5l bladder features ‘glass-like’ technology which is supposed to keep any funky tastes from occurring. The hose is kept from flopping about via a magnetic clasp.

This pack is on the smaller side, especially when the reservoir is full, so it’s best for days you don’t need a jacket or tons of gear out on the trails.

Source Summit 15L

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
The 15-litre sized Summit is the biggest bike hydration pack that Source does.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
  • £110 / €140 as tested
  • 3l reservoir
  • 15l bag capacity

With 15l of capacity, the Summit is the biggest hydration pack from Source. This might feel excessive for shorter rides, but come long days in the saddle this extra space will be appreciated – especially because inside there are mesh dividers making organisation easy.

Source includes its 3l Widepac hydration bladder, which is held in its own insulated compartment, keeping water at an even temperature. The hose is insulated too and unclips from the reservoir for easy filling.

The large capacity of the pack means it covers a lot of the back, which helps distribute weight but does mean the Summit can be warm to wear.

CamelBak TORO Protector 8

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
A comfy pack with added back protection.
  • £130 as tested
  • 3l reservoir
  • 8l bag capacity

Part of CamelBak’s ‘impact protection’ series, the TORO is built around a CE-certified back protector. Despite this, it is still a respectable 800g while being comfortable to wear.

Perforated shoulder straps, twin chest straps and waist strap make the TORO stable. These have plenty of adjustment to get the right fit.

CamelBak provides a compartment for a hydration bladder, but there isn’t one included.

With a full reservoir, the capacity of the pack goes from 8l to 5l, still providing a good amount of room for all-day adventures.

The front panel of the pack flaps down to reveal high-vis internals and there are mesh compartments as well as straps to hold things in place.

Decathlon Rockrider 12L

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
Rockrider is a brand that a lot of serious MTBers probably overlook, but its 12-litre hydration pack is bang-on for the money.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
  • £40 as tested
  • 2l reservoir
  • 12l bag capacity

The Decathlon Rockrider 12L is a great entry-level hydration pack and competes well with the other packs we tested. The inclusion of a bladder is also a plus over some of the pricier packs in this list.

The 12l of storage is well organised with internal dividers and there is a front pocket, but strangely it isn’t sewn up the whole way at the bottom.

The bladder doesn’t match the quality of a brand like CamelBak and the hose is thin, but it is hard to fault for the money.

The pack is well ventilated and has a bright cover built-in, which is ideal for commuting or the colder, dimmer months of the year.

Osprey Raptor 10

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
In Osprey’s extensive line of backpacks, the Raptor is pitched as a ‘premium hydration pack’ that’ll help you ride faster and further.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
  • £110 / $140 as tested
  • 2.5l reservoir
  • 10l bag capacity

The Raptor is pitched as Osprey’s ‘premium’ hydration pack. It is designed to carry essentials rather than lots of kit and has excellent construction. It also includes a  hydration reservoir, which many we tested did not.

The Raptor’s main compartment unzips fully, making for easy access. Long organiser pouches are suitable for essentials, and particularly a pump.

On the outside, there are two small pockets for eyewear and valuables plus an expandable pouch and Osprey’s LidLock device for carrying a helmet.

The pack fits well and is comfortable. The Airspace back panel has two foam pads for ventilation and the waist strap keeps the pack secure.

The 2.5l reservoir is stored in a separate compartment that zips open, making it easy to remove and fill.

Thule Vital 8

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best hydration packs
There’s a women’s-fit model also available.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
  • £131 / $140 / AU$219 / €140 as tested
  • 2.5l reservoir
  • 8l bag capacity

Thanks to its pliability and low centre of gravity, the Vital 8 is one of the comfiest and best-fitting packs here – the only downside of the figure-hugging shape being that it does get warm. There’s a women’s-fit version, too.

The bag is organised logically, with one main, compartmentalised pocket and a fleece-lined valuables pocket, plus deep (non-zipped) stash pouches on the hip ‘wings’.

While the expandable external panel isn’t big enough for a helmet, you can fit a jacket in, and a lid can still be attached by clipping it through the straps.

The supplied 2.5l HydraPak bladder works well, although the loop holding the bladder upright inside the pack is small and fiddly to loosen.

Thule have come up with an ingenious and highly effective way of securing the drinking hose, using a magnetic strip that snaps to the bag’s shoulder straps.


Also consider…

The following hydration packs scored fewer than 4 out of 5 stars but are still worth considering.


Buyer’s guide to hydration packs

What is a hydration pack?

Hydration packs are either backpacks or hip packs that contain a reservoir for water, with a length of tube and a bite valve to get the water to your mouth. They come in a variety of sizes and styles to suit any type of riding.

Hydration packs have benefits over water bottles because they enable riders to carry more water – typically 2 to 3 litres rather than the 1.5 litres of two large bottles.

A pack allows you to bring along more food, tools, clothing and other riding essentials. In some instances they can provide back and spine protection.

Best hydration packs
A hydration pack can make long days in the saddle easier, especially when water sources are few and far between.
Simon Bromley

You might think of CamelBak when you hear “hydration pack”. That’s common, CamelBak created the original hydration pack back in 1989.

To say the first iteration was simple is an understatement. CamelBak founder Michael Eidson slid an IV bag into a tube sock when he was competing in a bike race in Texas called the Hotter ‘n Hell 100. The packs have come a long way since then.

Over the years, the number of manufacturers making hydration packs has exploded with hydration packs now tailored to the demands of hiking, running, snow sports, and even the military exist alongside cycling-specific bags.

Within cycling, there are now low-profile packs for road use, hip packs for shorter rides, all-day packs with enough room for food, clothes and gear and even pint-size packs for kids.

What to consider when buying a hydration pack

Camelbak Rogue light hydration pack
Lightweight hydration packs are a good choice if you don’t need to carry loads of extra gear.
Max Wilman / Immediate Media

Water capacity

Hydration pack fluid capacity varies from about 1 to 3 litres. How much do you need? That depends on you. It also depends on the temperature, how long you plan to be out, and the availability of refills.

How much should you drink? Drinking water is essential for maintaining performance and a very general baseline recommendation is roughly half a litre for every hour. This, of course, is highly dependent on heat, humidity, and your personal chemistry.

Capacity for gear

One of the best reasons to use a hydration pack as opposed to using bottles is the ability to haul gear. Mountain bikes have gotten drastically more reliable but flat tyres, bent wheels, and broken chains can still happen, and when they do in the middle of nowhere, it’s essential to have the parts and ability to fix them.

Carrying food and extra clothes is also relatively easy with a pack. Plus, most hydration packs also have fleece-lined pockets for sunglasses, goggles and cameras.

Straps and harnesses

Almost all rucksack-style hydration packs are built with the features you can expect from the best cycling backpacks. These include padded, ventilated shoulder straps, hip belts for stability, and sternum straps to pull the shoulder straps together.

On the back panel, where the pack sits on your back, look out for channels to get a bit of airflow in there and help you stay cool. Some packs even have a suspended mesh back.

Hips packs

Best hydration packs
Hip packs have the same functionality as backpack-style hydration packs, just with less capacity.
Steve Behr

The best hip packs help you stay hydrated and carry tools on a ride.

Compared to rucksack-style hydration packs, they tend to offer less storage capacity and have smaller bladder sizes. This makes them ideal for when you don’t need to carry so much kit and don’t need to drink as much water. They are also good if you simply prefer to not have a rucksack against your back whilst riding, which can be a nuisance, particularly in hot weather.

Hip packs tend to provide capacity for about 1.5 litres of water, so they still provide enough hydration for a decent ride. Storage capacity is lower than rucksacks and is often around 2 litres, but some hip packs do provide up to 5 litres.

Bite valve and hose

The bite valve is crucial because it’s where the water meets your mouth.

Bite valves are typically comprised of soft rubber. Some require a simple squeeze to unleash the flow of water, others require pressing a button with your tongue. Almost all bite valves have a lock or shut off feature which is invaluable when tossing a hydration pack in a car or another larger gear bag.

The hose on most packs can be trimmed to length. On the pack itself, there will be hose guides and mounting clips to keep the hose from swinging about when riding.

Optional hose accessories include sleeves to keep the water warm or cold (depending on the season) and even semi-rigid setups for angling the bite valve closer to your mouth.

Built-in body armour

A few pack manufacturers incorporate body armour-style padding and impact-absorbing plates into their packs to enhance protection. Reservoirs are built tough so they’re able to withstand the force of a hit.

Access and filling the reservoir

Hydration packs vary in how you get at the bladder itself. Some reservoirs reside inside the main pack, which saves weight, while others have their own dedicated compartment for protection from pokey tyre pumps, tube valves and multi-tools.

Most reservoirs feature a detachable hose to make filling easier. To fill bladders with a permanent hose requires either slipping the hose out of the bag or carrying the whole bag over to the tap.

Looking after your hydration pack

Cleanliness is essential to hydration pack bladders. Ideally, they should be emptied immediately after use and hung out to dry. Several companies make drying inserts to keep the internal surfaces apart, and many riders modify a coat-hanger for the job.

Another solution is keeping it in the fridge, where the cold keeps nasty stuff from growing.

It’s recommended to only put water in the reservoir, simply because cleaning out sports drinks thoroughly is almost impossible. This inevitably leads to bacteria growth and then buying a new hose, bite valve or entire reservoir.

Other features

Hydration pack makers have really nailed the organisation part of the bags.

All sorts of features are found in packs: special pockets for pumps and tools; hooks for keys; whistles; elastic cords for lashing on a jacket; helmet carry straps for when you’re off the bike; expandable compartments; headphone ports; and many others.

It’s worth reading the detailed specs to find out what’s on offer and thinking about what extra benefits would be useful for your riding style.

Jargon

Harness: The arrangement of shoulder straps, sternum (chest) strap and waist belt that secures the pack to your back. Some designs do away with the waist belt and rely on an extra sternum strap to pull the shoulder straps in tight.

Compression straps: On bigger packs especially, additional external straps are useful for cinching down your cargo to stop it shifting around when the bag isn’t stuffed to full capacity.

Certified back protector: Level 1 or level 2 certification indicates the amount of impact energy transmitted through/absorbed by a CE-approved back protector. Level 2 designs offer more protection but are likely to be bulkier.

Bite valve: The rubber mouthpiece at the drinking end of the hose. This is usually replaceable and most have a twist-lock or lever closure to prevent leakage. Some come with a protective cap too, which is a plus for muddy rides.

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HydraPak: A third-party supplier of hydration systems. A lot of brands use HydraPak reservoirs, hoses and bite valves in their packs, and we’ve rarely had a problem with them. Spares of nearly every component are available too.