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Hiking Hydration Systems vs. Water Bottles – Survey Results

How do hikers prefer to carry their water?
How do hikers prefer to carry their water?

Hydration reservoir pockets and drinking tube ports are a common feature on most daypacks and overnight backpacks. But as far as we know, no one has ever studied how prevalent their use is and whether using a hydration reservoir and hose is preferred by day hikers over carrying water bottles.

We surveyed 485 day hikers to see how they carry water on hikes and whether they prefer using a hydration reservoir and a hose or carrying water bottles.

Majority of Hikers Carry Water Bottles

63% of the day hikers we surveyed use water bottles instead of hydration reservoir+hose drinking systems citing reduced expense, ease of maintenance, and ability to see how much water they have left as primary benefits over hydration systems that include a reservoir and hose.

What kind of water bottles do hikers prefer to carry?
What kind of water bottles do hikers prefer to carry?

Recycled Water Bottles Used More than Nalgenes

Within water bottle users (n=307), over 57% use recycled water bottles compared to 27% who prefer using hard-sided Nalgene bottles, citing reduced expense and availability as the primary benefit to reusing plastic water bottles. Just 6.5% use soft-bottles, like the Platypus 1-liter SoftBottle which can be rolled up and stored when empty, while 8.8% used a variety of aluminum, insulated, or running bottles and from several different manufacturers including Sigg, Hydro Flask, Nathan, and Ultimate Direction.

Who makes the most popular hydration systems?
Who makes the most popular hydration systems?

Most Popular Hydration System Manufacturer

Among hydration reservoir+hose users (n=178), Camelbak hydration systems are used by over 41% of respondents compared to Platypus hydration systems which are used by 24%. 33% use hydration systems from a wide variety of other manufacturers ranging from Osprey Hydraulics to Geigerrig.

About the Survey

This survey was run on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 270,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.

There were 502 people who responded to the survey, but 17 responses were removed as being incomplete or irrelevant, reducing the number of recorded responses to 485.

While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general day hiking population based on the size of the survey results where n=485 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant.

There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: hikers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all hikers, hikers who read Internet content might not be representative of all hikers, hikers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all hikers, our methods for recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.

The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to hikers who are interested in learning about how their peers prefer to carry drinking water on hikes.

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  • WATER BOTTLE VS HYDRATION RESERVOIR
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46 comments

  1. What about the % of people who carried a combination of both bottles and bladders? I carry 1 bottle and 1 bladder on almost all of my trips. I was curious to see how many people carry each since both are useful for different purposes, at least in my opinion. Maybe I’m the outlier lol.

    • You and me both! But this was also a day hiker survey, not targeting overnight trip use.

      • Yeah I know, I figured some people like me who do 10-20 mile day hikes would carry both. Usually if I’m doing 5-8 miles I just carry 1 liter bottle, anything over 10 mi I like to carry bladder too so I can drink while I move and reduce refilling stops to one during a day. Personally I like more weight anyways, helps training for backpacking and I need the exercise.

    • I also carry a 2-L bladder for drinking while I hike, and a 1L recycled bottle for extra water capacity and ease of cooking at night.

      I do not understand why people still carry Nalgene bottles, though – why bother with the extra weight? I’ve never had any of my cheap recycled bottles break or develop a leak.

      • Let’s put this survey in context. This survey was about day hiker usage, not overnight backpacking. Most day hikers don’t have to worry about gear weight. You have to respect the numbers here. The results don’t lie – this was a massive statistical effect.

      • Moose Hunter wondered why a day hiker would bother with hard-sided bottles. I often hike with expensive camera equipment. Any water container inside the same pack as the camera needs to be 100% secure. I trust a good Nalgene bottle with a robust screw cap more than any soft side, flimsy screw cap bottle. So far as weight is concerned, get real, I am carrying a DSLR and one to several lenses and have a tripod lashed to the pack – that’s a kilo for the camera and smallest possible lens, and another 0.65 to 1.5 kilo of alternate lenses, and 1.3 kilo of tripod and head. What’s another 175 grams minus the weight of a lighter bottle? I am not hiking 2,000 ft elevation – at most 350 ft, and more often up-down-up-down a large number of 50 to 150 ft elevations.

      • I’ve had recycled bottles crack on two different trips, after which I stopped using them. I returned to the heavier but reliable Nalgene polyethylene bottles before eventually moving to the Platypus flexible water carriers.

        I have to admit that I was surprised that the recycled PETE bottles failed as they did. I know that these are intended to be disposable, and a lot of them feel quite flimsy. However, some – like the bottles Gatorade comes in – feel tougher, like they ought to work for a long time. I used PETE bottles in the lab for years, so it’s not that the material is brittle, frail, or anything. Neither failed bottle was dropped a long distance or crushed repeatedly.

      • Someone asked why people still use nalgene bottles? I switched over to recycled bottles for drinking water and have found them plenty durable for that purpose, but still carry a one-quart nalgene on overnight trips for two reasons. First, I often bring some kind of pre-made dinner (like leftover stew) with me and that is only practical with a wide-mouth bottle. On longer hikes I have also refilled my nalgene with Chinese take-out food while in town to re-supply.. Beats freeze-dried any day of the week! Second, on winter trips it is nice to have the option of bringing a hot water bottle into my sleeping bag as a mini heater. Try pouring boiling water into a recycled bottle… it will deform on contact and is far more likely to leak or even burst in that weakened condition. For carrying larger quantities of water on extended hikes in dry terrain, a platypus-type bottle is the ticket.

        But as Philip pointed out, this survey was directed toward day hikers. When day hiking, the nalgene and platy stay at home. So… I too would be curious to know what percentage of backpackers use more than one type of plastic container on their overnight trips.

    • That’s my deal, a Camelback 3L bladder in my pack and water bottles in the side pockets. In Arizona USA water is hard to come by on the trail so a whole lot of it must be carried.

    • I carry a spare metal water bottle. In case the bladder gets damaged or another hiker runs out of water. After once running out of water on a very hot hike I started using hydration systems. 3 liter.

  2. Very interesting. I’m surprised that more people don’t carry the soft bottles like the one liter Platypus which is one of the lightest ways to carry water although “recycled” (really “reused”) bottle water bottles are pretty darned light. I just love how soft bottles lie flat and can even be rolled up when empty although they are a pain to get fully dried out.

    HJ

    • I swear by them too. Maybe they’re just too weird.

      • 3 in my group use the platypus 1 liter bottles. We love them.

      • Personally I dislike the soft bottles. Even with regular denture tablet or bleach cleaning they always smell the worst and have the most build-up. I would much rather carry aluminum bottles or Gatorade-type bottles and dispose of those regularly. Apart from the cleaning aspect, a regular bottle to me is easier to grab and drink out of, more natural feeling, and easier to put back in a side pocket. I cut my Platypus in half and now carry it as a water scoop-makeshift funnel. It’s nice that it is flat and light, but I almost always have some liquid in my bottles, so the flat aspect doesn’t matter. I’d rather have a larger volume light plastic reservoir.

  3. I just bought a Platypus Hoser hydration system, primarily because of its compatibility with the Sawyer Mini filter. Preliminary fiddling about seems that it’ll work fine, haven’t trail tested yet though. I’m finding bottles more of a fuss as I get older and crankier.

  4. What I carry depends on the pack I use. My lumbar pack = bottles only, my day pack I use a small camelback and one or 2 bottles. When I carry bottles one is a filter bottle so I can stop and fill up at any clear stream.

  5. I’m new to backpacking, so I went with the “use what you have” money saving thing, and am using two of the CamelBak Podium bottles I use for trail runs. I might try a bladder eventually, as my Kestrel 28 is, of course, built to hold one…thanks for the informative post.

  6. It’s not really a surprise in results. Water bladders, while they can be used for any hiking or camping purpose, in my experience tend to be used more often by people who either purposefully go with a particular pack system to make use of the bladder in their activities, or stick with a bladder only for multi-day hikes. If you’re only out there for a day, a bladder is more work. It’s also true that a daypack may be too small to fit your bladder in, if you have several other large items you want to carry. And, there are the lumbar packs, which just won’t fit a bladder.

    You should do a survey on multi-day hikers, to be fair. :-)

    While on the subject of fairness, please give details on why a survey result would be rejected or set aside. While ‘incomplete’ does say something, the other statements are more vague. A survey should be as impartial as possible. Not accusing you of anything. I just like to see all variables.

    • I was being more inclusive. :-) Most hikers day hike, not all backpack.
      As for rejected responses, some people just can’t stay on topic. It’s surprisingly rare in my surveys (good question construction), but it is the Internet.

  7. I do at least one day hike every week and I always use a water bladder. My day hikes typically range from 12 to 18 miles.

    I think the reason the survey results indicate that day hikers prefer water bottles is simply that the term “day hike” includes a large percentage of folks that are simply taking short walks in the woods with children or just using nature trails that are usually lessthan 3 miles in length.

    • I’m not so sure about that. Many of my day hiking readers could hike you into the ground and do just as much mileage and elevation as any backpacker. Heck, you know them too. They hike in the Whites!

      • I am a relative but not absolute wuss. My day-hike day is at most 12 miles long, the longest possible single reasonably hilly loop trail in reasonable driving distance (I don’t find the prospect of hiking around Lake Carlyle enticing – flat country, by and large). I do know some ultramarathon trail runners who do multiple loops in a day. My day-hike mileage with photo-gear day is usually short, 2 to 5 or 6 miles, if only because I am busy photographing any interesting plants, mushrooms, insects, spiders, snakes, etc as well as photographing scenic views (not many of these in the forested Ozarks).

  8. Interesting Survey I think I see aged related issues here, that might be something to look at in your surveys. Age. For us old guys, I believe in NOT putting all my eggs in once Basket, especially Water so I still refuse to use a Bladder. In the Military we used Canteens, metal ones and routinely filled up from big 50 Gallon Bladders that Leaked all the time.. I did some 30 years of Desert Hiking in the Anza and Mojave Deserts in the Southwest and breaking a water container was one of the most feared things that could happen to you. I tested dozens of Containers, Bladders and Water Bottles by Filling them with Water and dropping them 20 feet off the edge of a Desert Wash onto the typical Desert Rocks below,, the only Bottle that consistently passed the test was Nalgene. All the rest broke or developed leaks. As far as age, if you grew up hearing all about Bladders instead of Bottles via the advertising or propaganda from the bombarding Media then your probably going to go with a Bladder.. Sadly just like the young of today have been propagandaized by the Media about certain things in our current culture which were taboo or unhealthy for you years ago are now something to be proud of being or doing…

    • Every time I’ve fallen off a wash in the desert, I’ve leaked or broken something too. Maybe I need Nalgene body parts!

      Of course, this is probably an example of an irrelevant reply…

    • Eddie – love your comments! I can see you dropping those containers one after another, “bombs away!”

      The thing I love about these surveys is that what we have been programmed to believe by advertising is not actually what is happening on the ground. I’ve been a product developer for over 25 years and have seen this countless times. If you want to develop a product that people will use, ask them about their actual needs and habits, not what you “think” they do or want. These results don’t surprise me one bit.

  9. Thanks for doing this and all the other statistical analyses that you’ve completed. As an engineer I surely enjoy seeing the breakdown of the results.

  10. As other commenters have said, very interesting, including all the followup comments.

    I agree with HJ about the properties of soft bottles and now carry my denatured alcohol in a smaller one designed for booze. I have used everything mentioned in the survey and now use the Smart Water bottle because it fits so well in side pocket of my Exed pack. Sometimes rigidity is a good thing.

  11. I carry water bottles because they are cheap and reusable. If I break one, I buy another bottle of water. No big deal. I think the last time I climbed Katahdin was the last time I used my bladder. Not knowing how much water was in it, I drank it all before reaching the summit. The sound of sucking air is terrifying 5000 feet up on a hot July day. I refilled at Caribou Spring, but it was a pain taking the bladder out of my pack to refill it. The alternative was to leave the bladder in the pack, and risk getting my gear wet trying to refill the bladder…and still not being sure exactly how much water was in the bladder. The convenience of being able to sip water was outweighed by the risks associated with not knowing how much water I actually have left.

    Since I use a sawyer squeeze to treat my water, I still have a 2 liter water bladder, of sorts, in the squeeze bag. It works for camp water supply. Fill up the water bottles and fill the squeeze bag and I have plenty of water for cooking and cleaning up.

  12. One of the great joys of being in the mountains is the wonderfully mineral-laden and incredibly perfect tasting water. High mountain water sources tumbling over rocks have just about the best taste and texture of any water on the planet.

    Using a bladder completely ruins that for me. Personally, any method of carrying water that doesn’t leave the water tasting as amazing as it does right out of the ground is immediately thrown out the window.

    I am pretty sure not many people care about this, but I’d be curious to know if anyone else thinks this way? I even prefer the heavier nalgene bottles over the soft plastic or recycled bottles because they are so much more “neutral” when it comes to changing the taste of water.

  13. Definitely be careful of almost Invisible slime growing In water containers of any kind when they are refilled too many times. Seems to take at least a few days to build up, won’t happen on short hikes.

    This Is biofilm and I’ve been sickened and nauseated by it. When heavy but still almost invisible, like on a week backpack, I get a bitter, sour taste. Bad news. It’s far gone when it can be tasted.

    Aqua mira prevents it. I now use this once a day or every other day even when not needed just to sanitize bags and hoses on overnight or longer trips. This why I don’t like filters. If I used them I’d be running Aqua Mira through them too on longer trips.

    Use dilute Chlorox on return at home and then dry bottles, bags and hoses completely for storage.

    • The concentration for chlorine dioxide in Aqua Mira is the same as chlorinated tap water (in the city). I just refill mine with water from the sink. No illness. No biofilm as far as I can tell. Just saying. Stay hydrated this way at home.

  14. Using bleachy water to clean and purify bags, bottles and filters after every few hikes takes care of biofilm.

  15. Source Hydration bladders > Camelback

  16. I’m in Alaska hiking right now , don’t get all your updates but always use smart water bottles and platipus bottles when backpacking they can’t b beat thanks for the discussion Philip!

  17. I’m also a member of the 1% club who carries both a bladder and bottle for day hiking. Despite the extra weight, I like having a back up liter. The only time I’m not happy sipping from my ‘back is when the line freezes while snowshoeing or skiing. But I can’t seem to find a pack which lets me easily grab and replace bottles while on the go.

  18. I prefer water bottles and would have answered as much in the survey. However, I would be interested to see a study to see how much people actually drink when using each system. If I am honest with myself, I drink more when using a water bladder and hose because it is just so much easier. I just don’t normally use them because I am always fearful of leakage or a catastrophic break on my down quilts. But preference and usage are two different things.

  19. Ive just always struggled with concept of taking a large volume of water and sticking it inside a pack with a lot of gear I would really like to keep dry. I don’t mind the small soft platty bottles but use them as a bottle rather than as a hydration system. This is even more likely on a day hike where I’m likely to take a bit of camera gear along. On a backpack I would have stuff in a dry bag for the rain. I did have an old camelback leak on the way to a trip which led to a cancellation, but that was user error with me not putting the hose back on tight enough after a cleaning.

  20. I no longer want to maintain a bladder or risk it leaking on my gear. But i like sipping. So I went hybrid: bite valve-tube from my old bladder connected to an rigid external water bottle. Commercial systems exist, but I already had the drink tube. All I needed was an extra cap and a valve to let air in.
    This will work for an air valve: Flushmate Duckbill valve on Amazon. I take an extra cap and it is a regular water bottle once I am in camp.

  21. I do a lot of day hiking and only use water bottles for my hikes. This is mostly because I prefer to take bottles of electrolyte water on my hikes, which may or may not offer any extra benefits but I like to think so :)

  22. I day hike once a week 10-15 miles. I use a Platapus bladder and carry a smart water bottle as backup if my bladder runs dry. I also carry a Sawer mini. I don’t like to stop to drink so I sip and keep moving. It is easy to pull a bottle from my pack holster however getting it back in the holster usually requires taking off my pack. I saw a hiker last week with two water bottles in insulated bottle holders attached to his shoulder straps. Clever idea. I might give this a try.

  23. Yet another world heard from: After decades of pump filters, then they first came out I bought and used gravity filters. I love them and use them exclusively now (tablet backup) with bottles or hydration sacks in my backpack / daypack / bike pack. Refilling without taking it out is easy with the quick disconnects and gravity filters. Yes, I don’t know how much is left but if I started with a known volume and a known plan for the terrain and weather. If I used it all up before finishing the hike that’s basically OK – I drank an appropriate amount and will survive. I know I definitely drink more often throughout the day with the hose right there. If I’m going on a short day hike I’ll just take a re-used bottle and a squeeze filter as backup. I have never had a modern hydration sack leak, the Platypus ones are my favorite now, after trying and liking the Sawyer.

  24. I use a double chamber water bladder made by Nathan. The reason for this is that I am very susceptible to heat exhaustion and by having both water and an electrolyte combination handy, hopefully it will help. That said, I drank 80 ounces (40-water and 40-electrolyte) on a hike near Mt. Rainier last week when it was close to 90 degrees and I still experienced heat exhaustion. But I do like the bladder. Anne – Seattle

  25. 270,000 unique visitors a month! That’s fantastic Phil. I hadn’t seen that stat before. Congrats and best wishes for continued success! Would certainly welcome a method, other than twitter or facebook, to easily forward articles and reviews from your site into my backcountry community here in AZ.

  26. I also use both a bladder (Playpus 3L or a 2L bottle adapted as a bladder) plus a bottle on day hikes. Both my daypacks have pockets for hydration bladders. The kind of bottle I use varies — sometimes a Platypus 1L or 2L, sometimes a rectangular translucent white Nalgene 1Q (fits in side pocket of daypack and doesn’t slip out, lighter weight than round Nalgene or Camelbak bottles, doesn’t roll if I drop it), sometimes hard-side Camelbak 3/4 or 1L. I don’t usually buy water or other things that come in reusable bottles. If I want to mix Gatorade in the bottle I usually use one of the hard-side bottles because they’re easier to pour powder into and easier to clean. Otherwise I like the Platypus bottles, and the only trouble I’ve had with them is that the lids are kind of easy to lose.

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