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Best hydration bladders: easy-to-carry water reservoirs for hiking, biking and trail running

The best hydration bladders
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Whatever your outdoor exercise of choice, the best hydration bladders play an essential role. Having water where you can get to it one-handed or hands-free without opening a pack or unscrewing a bottle means you drink more when you’re on the trail, whether you’re running, biking or backpacking. You could invest in a dedicated hydration pack, but for many people, water bladders are the best way to carry that heavy H2O. However, while many backpacks and running vests feature a dedicated pocket for a water bladder, and a port for the hose, they often don’t come with a reservoir included. This means you need to buy the best hydration bladder for your adventures.

Hydration reservoirs come in all shapes and sizes; some are insulated and some are not. The best ones don’t have a plasticky taste, but they are durable, have high flow and are easy to fill, clean and keep maintained, in order to keep mold from growing.

Many are also compatible with filtration systems that let you fill the reservoir with clean water directly, or which allow you to filter dirty water from the reservoir and still drink from a hydration hose.

With all that in mind, here are our recommendations for some of the best water bladders you can currently buy.

The best hydration bladders

Best hydration bladders: Platypus Big Zip EVO

(Image credit: Platypus)

Platypus Big Zip EVO

A brilliant bladder, with in-built bacteria-destroying capability and guaranteed no-nasty taste

Price: $40 / £35 | Sizes: 1.5L / 2L / 3L / Lumbar 2L | Weight (empty): 184g / 6.5 oz | Insulated: No | Detachable Hose: Yes

Comes with shoulder strap clip
Guaranteed no taste
Bacteria-killing silver ions embedded
Hose guide, handle and easy-grip slider are more things to get caught on a pack

Platypus’s premium reservoir has loads of features that make filling it, drinking out of it and also cleaning and drying it user-friendly. The newest Big Zip EVO has twice the flow rate of past hydration reservoirs. The plastic slide that seals the reservoir goes on from either side and doesn’t leak, and a handle on the front of the reservoir provides a dry place to grip when filling. Silver ions embedded in the polyurethane reservoir kill mold and bacteria before they can grow, keeping the reservoir taste-free. 

On test we loved how the drink tube disconnects from near the top instead of at the base, so that when our pack was full but our water bladder was empty, we didn’t have to fumble around to get the reservoir out. It doesn’t leak and it is easy to see if the valve is on or off. The center baffle prevents the reservoir from sagging as it empties, and helps prop it open when you are drying it out. Our favorite feature of this hydration system, however, was the new high-flow bite valve that’s paired with a new larger drink tube. 

Best hydration bladders: Osprey Hydraulics 3L Reservoir Blue

(Image credit: Osprey)

Osprey Hydraulics 3L Reservoir Blue

A well-designed hydration bladder with intelligent features

Price: $42 (US) / £42 (UK) | Size: 2L / 3L | Weight (empty): 221g / 7.8oz | Insulated: No | Detachable Hose: Yes

Easy to slide into a packed backpack
Bite valve locks
Magnetic clip
Hose detachment lets reservoir be extracted without removing the hose from the pack
Disassembles for deep cleaning
Not as good flow as some other reservoirs
Harder to use a large reservoir in a small pack because of the stiffener 

Built for backpackers, what makes Osprey’s Hydraulics bladder special is the backer plate on the reservoir that keeps it from sagging as you drink, and which also keeps the set-up low-profile, so it doesn’t sag and feel lumpy against your back. A handle on the reservoir allows filling without getting wet hands. And the sections of hose and bite valves come off for deep cleaning. The reservoir comes with a magnetic clip to attach to a backpack’s sternum strap that gives the magnetic bite valve a place to attach when it’s not in use.

On test we really liked the stiffened back design, which let us slide the reservoir against the back of our packs. The locking valve is also excellent, preventing unexpected spills. The hose detachment point near the top of the reservoir let us remove the reservoir to refill it without pulling the hose from its routing through the pack back and shoulder strap. 

Best hydration bladders: Nathan 1.6L Insulated Hydration Bladder

(Image credit: Nathan)

Nathan 1.6 Liter Insulated Hydration Bladder

Cool water on tap throughout hiking, biking and running adventures

Price: $45 (US) / £45 (UK) | Size: 1.6 liters | Weight (empty): 170g / 6oz | Insulated: Yes | Detachable Hose: Yes

Trimmable hose
Keeps drinks cold in hot weather
Doesn’t prevent freezing
 Bite valve doesn’t lock

Nathan’s 1.6 Liter Insulated Hydration Bladder keeps fluids 38% cooler than an uninsulated bladder, according to Nathan. The Hydrapack bladder has an hourglass shape that prevents sloshing when you’re moving and after you’ve been drinking. The reservoir comes with a 36 inch / 91cm non-kinking drink tube that can be trimmed to fit. 

On test the top slider was easy to open on this reservoir, making it quick to fill it and not too hard to clean. On sweaty summer hikes and bike rides, this bladder helped me drink more because the water was cool and delicious, not lukewarm, and hard to choke down. And, when used for cycling on longer rides, the 1.6 L size perfectly complemented a water bottle mounted on the bike. The bite valve has decent flow, but it doesn’t lock, so spillage has occur if something presses against the valve. 

The best hydration bladder and water filtration system

Best hiking gear for day hikers

(Image credit: Amazon)

CamelBak Crux Reservoir filtered by LifeStraw

A hydration and water filtration system all in one

Price: $69 (US) / £69 (UK) | Size: 2L | Weight (empty): 278g / 9.8oz | Insulated: No | Detachable Hose: Yes

Wide mouth and good handle for easy filling
Excellent bite valve
Inline filter
Reservoir can be used with or without the filter when you know your water is clean
Filter attachment is awkward

Important note: the CamelBak Crux Reservoir filtered by LifeStraw is currently only available in the United States. The CamelBak Crux Reservoir system is available elsewhere, and can be attached to the LifeStraw Flex. (The LifeStraw Flex is sold separately, and only available in the US). The standard CamelBak Crux Reservoir system is not safe for use with dirty water.

You can fill the CamelBak Crux Reservoir filtered by LifeStraw combination system with dirty water, because before you get to drink it, the water passes through two stages of filtration, thanks to the LifeStraw attachment. A hollow fiber filter removes bacteria, parasites and microplastics, while an activated carbon filter reduces taste, odor and chlorine. An anti-microbial technology inside inhibits bacteria growth in the reservoir and tube, and all components are BPA, BPS and BPF-free. Plus, for every unit purchased, CamelBak gives one child one year of safe drinking water.

The wide-mouth reservoir and sturdy handle makes it easy to fill this bladder from streams. The lid screws on tight, and it is tethered, so you won’t lose it. CamelBak’s self-sealing Big Bite Valve has the best flow of any bite valve sold, and it locks. The filter, which clips directly into the reservoir, can also be removed when your reservoir is clean, and you know your water is too, which makes the system extra flexible. The filter and reservoir pair with CamelBak’s reservoir Gravity Kit to turn this system into one you can hang and use in camp for cooking, washing food and drinking. 

Best water bottle bladder

Best hydration bladders: Platypus Platy Bottle

(Image credit: Platypus)

Platypus Platy Bottle

A bottle-come-bladder hybrid reservoir

Price: $15 / £12 | Size: 2L | Weight (empty): 30g / 1.6oz | Insulated: No | Detachable Hose: N/A

Versatile
Compatible with other caps and Platypus’s GravityWorks Filter System
Taste-free
Hose and Push-Pull cap are both add-ons

One of the simplest and smallest large-capacity hydration reservoirs available, the soft and flexible Platy Bottle holds two liters, and as you drink, it can be rolled or folded to take up less space in your pack. The bottle comes with a simple screw cap, but it’s compatible with Platypus’s Drink Tube Kit, GravityWorks Filter System and Push-Pull Cap too. 

If you’re a hiker who sometimes likes to drink out of a tube, and sometimes out of a bottle, the Platy Bottle 2L is for you. The large capacity bottle comes with a cap that seals it securely, which makes this one of the best ways to carry extra water on long days on the trail, without always having a heavy and space-consuming bottle in your pack. But you can also pair it with Platypus’s Drink Tube Kit, which is sold separately, when you want to drink from a hose. In cold weather, used with the cap, the Platy Bottle won’t freeze, unlike other hose-based hydration systems. It’s also easy to carry on bikepacking trips, strapped to a seat bag. 

Best big hydration bladder

Best hydration bladders: Sea to Summit Pack Tap

(Image credit: Sea to Summit)

Sea To Summit Pack Tap

A reservoir for everyone in base camp

Price: $35 / £30 | Available sizes: 4L / 6L / 10L | Weight (empty): 192g / 6.7oz | Insulated: No | Detachable Hose: N/A

Extremely light and compact
Not hydration hose compatible
Hard to clean

While it’s not a bladder for staying hydrated while you’re hiking, this is a great reservoir to hang up in camp to dispense clean water for all present. The Pack Tap is ultra-packable and foldable for storage, with Hypalon anchor points for easy hanging. Filled, the single-hand-operable self-shutting valve is convenient and doesn’t waste water.

It’s hard to find a vessel big enough to supply water for drinking, cooking and refilling reservoirs for a hiking party that’s not too heavy and bulky to pack along. The wine-box-technology Pack Tap takes up almost no room in a backpack, it’s foldable and comes in a variety of sizes. The cloth-covered mylar bag has one opening, and that’s the fill port, which is also the pour port. The cap makes it easy to dispense a controlled stream of water, and when your thirst is quenched, a cover clips over the cap to keep the dirt out. On the downside, it is quite difficult to clean. 

What to look for in the best hydration bladders

For an ostensibly simple piece of kit, the best hydration bladder can be a very good friend when you’re out on the trails – keeping you in good shape as you enjoy whatever adventure you’re experiencing. There are several factors you should consider when buying a water bladder.

1. Size

Get one with the capacity to match your adventures. A 1L reservoir won’t cut it for a full-day desert adventure. Within reason, it’s always better to carry too much water than not enough. So, if you’re not sure if you should buy a 2L or 3L reservoir, go big (as long as it fits in your pack) – you don’t have to fill it right to the top for every adventure.

Check out our guide to water for hiking: how much you need to carry.

Nathan 1.6L Insulated Hydration Bladder

The Nathan 1.6L Insulated Hydration Bladder has a high flow bite valve (Image credit: Nathan)

2. Flow

If you’re panting at the top of a gruelling hill hike or singletrack climb, you want a bite valve with high flow that doesn’t take a lot sucking to get water into your mouth. 

3. Mouth

A bladder with a wide mouth (or slider system) is much easier and quicker to fill when you’re on the move. This can be particularly important in cold conditions (and you don’t want to be fiddling around with water) and/or you’re racing. They are also easier to clean.

Best hydration bladders: Platypus Big Zip EVO

The wide mouth of the Platypus Big Zip EVO (Image credit: Platypus)

4. Hang hook

You don’t need to be Newton to know that, in order to work properly, a bladder needs to be kept relatively upright, with the hose at the bottom – they are powered by gravity as much as by sucking power. The best hydration bladders will have a hang hook at the top, and the best hiking backpacks and race vests will have a hoop for you to hang them from.

5. Taste

If you’re sensitive to taste, opt for a reservoir that is taste free. Some reservoirs come with directions of how to get rid of reservoir taste, but you might want to invest in one with guaranteed no taste from the get go.

6. Lock

Although bite valves shouldn’t release water unless you have them clenched in your teeth those without a locking system can seep somewhat. 

7. Care

It’s important to empty and dry your reservoir when it’s not in use. Some have handy hang loops that make drying easier. To dry out your reservoir, blow air into the mouthpiece to empty the tube of water, then hang the bladder upside down with the tube inside to prop the reservoir open. 

Always keep a box or bag of hydration reservoir cleaning tablets on hand. Use one a month or as needed to keep your reservoir fresh testing. (See also: how to clean a hydration bladder and how to choose a water purifier.)

8. Top tip

Regularly freezing your hydration reservoir will kill most germs and bacteria that can build up inside the bladder and hose. 

Berne Broudy

Vermont-based writer, photographer and adventurer, Berne reports on hiking, biking, skiing, overlanding, travel, climbing and kayaking for category-leading publications in the U.S., Europe and beyond. In the field, she’s been asked to deliver a herd of llamas to a Bolivian mountaintop corral, had first fat-biking descents in Alaska, helped establish East Greenland’s first sport climbing and biked the length of Jordan. She’s worked to help brands clean up their materials and manufacturing, and has had guns pulled on her in at least three continents.