Gear Guy

What’s the Best Hydration Pack for My Sport?

There are dozens of hydration packs out there. Which ones are best for specific activities, such as mountain biking, running marathons, or a weekend hike?

Doug Gantenbein

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You know you need to stay hydrated when exercising. In warm weather, most experts suggest fluid intake of eight ounces of water or sport drink every 20 minutes. If you don’t keep up with fluid intake, your performance will drop. Worst case, you go into severe dehydration and even risk your life.

Hydration packs allow you to carry several liters of fluid comfortably and provide easy access. These are my favorites for mountain biking, marathoning, and hiking.

The Best Hydration Pack: Mountain Biking

One of my favorite rides near where I live is up in the Olympic National Forest, near the trailhead for the tremendous Royal Basin trail in the national park. We call it the “Gold Creek look,” but it actually follows a circuitous route down a series of switchbacks, up a Forest Service road, along a fast, steep sidehill, then down another series of really steep switchbacks. It’s about 20 miles, and takes four hours or so.

I always carry a pack on this trip. First, to pack a sandwich, some Snickers bars, and other things to eat. Second, to carry a spare light jacket and first aid kit (we had to rescue one of our guys once after he went off the sidehill and broke a collarbone). And third, to carry water.

The pack I carry is an Ultimate Direction Grind 12 ($110). It’s a great pack for a hard trail workout. Plenty of water capacity (96 ounces); a comfortable mesh backpanel that help keeps me cool; and just enough room to carry some extra safety items. The Grind 12 carries well, too—I hardly notice I have it on.

The Best Hydration Pack: Distance Running

I’m a reformed marathoner, but I still like to road and trail run. The right pack makes it even more enjoyable.

For a long day of running, you want something light and comfortable, with just enough capacity to keep you hydrated and fed. Something like the CamelBak Marathoner Hydration Vest ($100). It’s a light, sleek pack that stays close to your body. It can carry 70 fluid ounces of water, and the CamelBak Big Bite valve makes it easy to get a drink. Cargo pockets hold a cell phone or gel packs, and a mesh pocked can carry a light jacket or vest.

The Best Hydration Pack: Hiking

On a day hike, you want a hydration pack that carries plenty of liquid, but also has room for all the gear you need—extra clothes and food, first aid kit, headlamp, sunglasses, and so on.

Osprey’s Manta 30 ($149) is just the ticket. First, it’s an excellent hydration pack, with a 100-fluid-ounce bladder that fits against an anatomically contoured plastic sheet so that it rides comfortably. The bladder has a large mouth for easy cleaning and refill, and the drink valve pivots so you can sip from either side.

The Manta also is an excellent daypack. It has a light alloy frame and contoured shoulder straps so it carries well even when jammed full of stuff. And with 1,600 cubic inches of capacity in the small/medium size, there’s plenty of room for gear.

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