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Pros and Cons of Hiking Hydration Systems

Hydration Systems- Pros and Cons

Many people like to carry a hydration system (reservoir and hose) on day hikes and backpacking trips, but others prefer carrying water bottles. While you can chalk up the difference to personal preference, there are definite pros and cons to hiking with a hydration system in different circumstances, depending on the expected duration of your hikes and whether you’ll need to refill your hydration bladder.

Pros:

  1. Convenience: The key benefit is easy access to water without taking off your pack or stopping your activity. The hose allows you to take sips on the go, keeping you hydrated throughout your hike.’
  2. Insulation (Hot or Cold):  Hydration bladders, hydration packs, and hoses can be insulated, helping to keep your water cool or warm depending on the weather.
  3. Capacity: Hydration bladders typically hold more water than water bottles than you can carry in a backpack’s water bottle pockets, allowing you to carry a larger volume of water for longer adventures.
  4. Weight Distribution: The weight of the water sits closer to your center of gravity in your pack and hips, which can improve comfort and balance.
  5. Hands-free Hydration: This is especially helpful for activities that require your hands to be free like scrambling or using trekking poles.

Cons:

  1. Monitoring Water Intake:  Since you can’t see the water level readily inside the hydration system, it can be harder to gauge how much water you’ve consumed compared to a clear water bottle. This can be a concern in hot weather or during strenuous activity when staying hydrated is crucial.
  2. Cleaning and Drying: Hydration bladders require more maintenance than water bottles. They need to be cleaned regularly (baking soda works well) to prevent mold and mildew growth, especially if you’re using sugary drinks or sports drinks. Drying them thoroughly after use helps prevent unpleasant odors.
  3. Less Convenient Refilling: Refilling a hydration bladder on the trail can be messier and more time-consuming than refilling a water bottle, especially if you don’t have easy access to clean water sources. It’s even more inconvenient if you need to filter or purify your water first when it’s best to unpack your pack, refill the bladder, and then repack it again.
  4. Potential Leaks: Although uncommon, leaks can develop in the bladder or hose, soaking your gear and potentially wasting your water supply. Regular inspection and proper care can help minimize this risk. Having experienced this, we recommend lining your pack with a waterproof pack liner to keep your gear dry in case of a leak and positioning the hydration bladder outside of it.
  5. Not Suitable for Freezing Temperatures: Water in a bladder can freeze in freezing weather. Wide-mouth Nalgene bottles are better because you can fill them with hot water and insulate them warm inside your backpack, surrounded by extra clothing, or inside a wool sock.

Overall, hydration systems are a great option for many outdoor activities, especially those requiring consistent hands-free hydration. However, consider your needs and preferences when making a decision. If you prioritize ease of monitoring water intake or simplicity when refilling, water bottles (see best water bottles for hiking) might be a better choice.

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7 comments

  1. After a couple bad experiences, which could have been prevented by using both of the the neurons enclosed within my hat rack, I quit using a hydration bladder. Now, I hang a water bottle on my shoulder strap because it won’t soak my gear if it leaks and I always know how much is there. However, if I’m going to day hike in extremely hot weather, I’ll freeze a bladder of water in advance. Hiking in the heat melts it gradually and I can have ice water for the duration of the hike.

  2. I find cleaning and drying a hydration system to be a hassle, especially after a hike, so I just use bottles. They’re just easier.

  3. bladders are a pain once you get to camp (food prep, general drinking etc.). I like sipping so I have a drink tube to a canteen. Gives me the advantages of both but you do have to install an air inlet valve in the cap ( Amazon: 10 Pack 1/8 inch Plastic Check Valve) with a bit of JB Weld

  4. Great article! In my experience, it depends on what activity I am doing as to what system I will use. I have seen the hydration bladder fail, but the bit valve is the most common failure. If I am using a bladder, I will always carry an empty Nalgene in my pack.

    I like Source Hydration Systems. They have both a cap and an open top to fill the bladder. I think the open top lets you dry out the bladder more easily. I open the top and hang it over the shower head. You can also put an inline filter.

    Source, also makes a cap/hose for drinking from different types of bottles. This is something that I am looking at. I just think it gives you more options.

    I am old school and stick with the Nalgene bottle. If you need to give someone an ORS. The Nalgene is easy to drop a pack or two in to start pushing fuilds. I also like the Nalgene canteen. For some side pouches the canteen works better than the bottle.

  5. I use an old asthma albuterol air pump from when my son was little to blow out the hose when I get home. One thing that I have really enjoyed about my hydration is that when backpacking, my Katadyn BeFree gravity filter plugs directly into my hydration bladder so that I never have to open it until I get home.

  6. Jean Marc Lapierre

    I have been storing my hydration packs (bladder, hose and bite valve) in the freezer. This avoids mold from developing. Typically, just a good rinse and emptying is required before putting in the freezer. After many years, I never had issues, mold or bad taste / odor.

  7. As a regular hydration bladder user I’d suggest renaming your first bullet to – Hydration. What is great about these systems is that I find that no matter how much I focus on it, I end up much more hydrated than I do with bottles.

    One more vote for the benefits of using the freezer to help keep them clean.

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