Waterbearers: The 8 Best Hydration Packs

When it comes to diet, medical science can’t seem able to reach an agreement. Protein might be good, but it might also be killing you. Carbohydrates are both the key to weight loss and to finding yourself in an early grave. In this realm of conflict and misinformation, everyone can agree on one fact: Water is good. It’s the thing that keeps you alive and comprises the majority of your body. It’s also probably the thing you aren’t getting enough of to stay healthy. To confirm that you always have enough, you need a hydration pack.

There are packs made for every kind of activity. Lightweight packs with even weight distribution are made for runners. Insulated packs are designed for hikers and backpackers in the wilderness. Slim, trim packs are made for bikers. Whatever you are doing there’s a pack that can work with you and keep your body from drying out, your muscles from cramping, and the inside of your mouth from tasting like a worn driving glove. Get ready to get wet with the 8 best hydration packs.

Camelbak Bootlegger

Camelbak Bootlegger

Pro: Fits under external shell
Con: Limited pack space

Snow Dog: There aren’t many options when you’re out on the slopes for carrying water. Skiing and snowboarding both require balance, which is thrown off if you were to pack around several extra pounds of fluid. On top of which, water freezes in cold weather and that can damage the pack. The Bootlegger is made to fit under, rather than over your ski jacket so your own core temperature keeps it from freezing. Mesh straps allow it to breathe so you don’t sweat out the water you just ingested, and the low-profile 1.5L design is streamlined for comfort when riding a lift. Since it also isn’t very big, it works for backcountry boarding as well as resort trips. [Purchase: $54]

TETON Sports Oasis 1200

TETON Sports Oasis 1200

Pro: Plenty of pockets and straps
Con: Fits small

Day Planner: Even without the 3L bladder, this is a very nice travel backpack for heading out on a long hike or overnight trip. 1,200 cubic inches allow you to pack a few layers while still allowing the reservoir to sit in an insulated place close to your body so it won’t freeze. A high-capacity wing pocket offers enough size for a full bicycle helmet while snowshoes can be placed in the main area when you’re traversing variable terrain. Mesh pads make it comfortable even when carting around a heavy load and T-channel ventilation help move air away from your body for a more comfortable ride. A built-in rain fly keeps your stuff dry when the gods decide to punish you for your outdoorsy ways. [Purchase: $57+]

Ultimate Direction Access 20 Plus

Ultimate Direction Access 20 Plus

Pro: Won’t chafe
Con: Minimal water capacity

Waistline: Waist packs are a hit or miss affair. The biggest issue for walkers or runners is that the friction caused by most of these is a recipe for chafing and blisters right on your pelvis. Using Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) at key points for a friction fit, it sticks fast against your clothes and body without rubbing your alabaster skin raw. The holster is adjustable so that you can get to your 20oz. water bottle with ease and the pocket can hold your smartphone and a 4oz. gel flask comfortably; along with a protein bar when you need a last-mile boost. Comes equipped with a jacket bungee in case you’re not willing to brave all the elements unguarded. [Purchase: $60]

Camelbak Cortez

Camelbak Cortez

Pro: Bite valve cover keeps tube clean
Con: Works poorly as a carrying pack

Waterlogger: Hydration packs usually fall into the backpack category, but we’re not all hikers or runners. Some of us require a pack that we can lash to our favorite fishing kayak or whitewater raft for a little adventure on the waterways. The Cortez fills this void as a deck-mounted reservoir with four attachment points that can be used for paddleboarders or even rigged up as a backpack should you need it. Its entire body is insulated, including the tube, keeping the 3L tank cool in hot weather. A safety whistle is mounted right on the quick-connect tube should you run into a Deliverance-style crisis. Top bungees and zippers on both ends offer a little extra storage and easy bladder access. [Purchase: $60+]

Nathan Zelos

Nathan Zelos

Pro: Easily variable storage capacity
Con: Takes practice to get the adjustments correct

Race Day: Ordinarily, race-based hydration packs are smaller than the Zelos, but we preferred it to its too-tiny brethren because it offers more storage when you need it. It also has a light, tight, low-profile fit for when ounces count. A 2L reservoir gives plenty of water to marathoners or distance runners while an additional 7L of storage is possible. Bottle pockets and an 18oz. SpeedDraw flask lock down all the options you could want. Zelos’ harness straps down like a second skin with a bandolier belt and snug shoulder straps specifically designed for a man’s torso shape. Tons of mesh and perforations give you a windtunnel worth of airflow. [Purchase: $86]

Geigerrig Bando

Geigerrig Bando

Pro: Increased mobility
Con: Poor design for running

Share the Love: Hydration packs are built with a solitary user in mind. One man, one tube. But if you take your pet out on the trail or are going for a short jaunt with your kids, you might want the convenience of a waterbottle coupled with the easy-carry of a pack. The Bando slings over your shoulder like a messenger bag, offering a wider range of motion than a pack can give you should you feel like doing a little bouldering or some light hand-to-hand combat along with your jog. It easily slings off and onto your body, allowing you to spread a little H2O wherever it’s needed. The 2L capacity is good without being daunting. Tons of mesh and construction with 840 Ballistic Nylon makes it comfortable and tough. Storage is limited and the price is a little steep. [Purchase: $104]

Shimano Unzen

Shimano Unzen U6

Pro: Secures with single clip
Con: Quick access pockets don’t work well

Bike Buddy: Take note that the Unzen comes in three sizes with the largest giving you a 3L bladder and 15L of additional storage space and the smallest offering up a 2L bladder and 6L of storage. They each secure uniquely with an X shaped set of straps that buckle right over your sternum for a tighter fit, whether hopping on your road bike or fighting the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Made from rubberized materials for stretch and ripstop nylon, it’s durable in most weather conditions. It hugs you tight so even if you prefer an aggressive, off-road fat bike ride, it will stay in place. Fitting high on your back it distributes weight perfectly for both upright and hunched bike riding. [Purchase: $118+]

CamelBak Fourteener 24

CamelBak Fourteener 24

Pro: Enormous
Con: Side pockets can wear out quickly

Mountain Climber: This is not an ordinary day pack. Beneath the surface lies a rigid plastic framesheet and tons of lumbar support built like a multi-day pack for wilderness treks. Padded pods keep the pack’s suspension up and away from your body for less fatigue, even when you’ve got 30 pounds of gear weighing you down. At 3L the reservoir doesn’t take up much space, nor give you an inordinately large amount of water, but you can easily supplement with more if needed. Pull the reservoir out and you have a well-padded laptop sleeve designed for travel. Total storage space comes to 21L if you so choose. Our primary gripe was the tiny hip pocket that didn’t handle any but the smallest smartphone. [Purchase: $130+]

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