Field Tested: The Best Summer Hydration Packs

Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.

A few weeks ago, my friend Aileen and I made a rookie mistake, despite being inveterate outdoorsy types. We hiked 12 miles through Santa Fe National Forest equipped with only an 18-oz water bottle between the both of us. Not the smartest move, especially in high desert. Luckily, just when our mouths felt like drywall and the conversation had turned to Will Ferrell's latest hydration technique, we reached the safety of my car. But not before I'd learned a critical lesson: Don't ever leave home without enough water.

Dehydration, simply put, is having too little water in the body, and when untreated can lead to headaches, dry mouth, lethargy, sunken eyes–and brain damage! With summer heating up, it's more important than ever for athletes to stay hydrated. But achieving the right balance of keeping quenched and staying mobile is trickier than it sounds. Fortunately, there are all kinds of hydration systems out there to choose from, some better than others. Depending on the sport, there is an art to wearing water. Here are my top pack picks:


The Nathan Intensity: One of the main drawbacks to running with a hydration system is sounding like a high-powered washing machine. But this past weekend I ran a half marathon wearing the Intensity, and I barely noticed any water sloshing at all. The straps, made from a breathable, incredibly soft wall mesh were ultra comfortable, leading to a snug, secure fit that didn't restrict movement. Plus, with a two-liter bladder, I had no need to slow down for aid stations. A smart addition to any runner's arsenal. ($85;


Osprey Raptor 6: The Osprey Raptor 6 just looks badass, and let's admit it, that's half the fun. Streamlined, and more durable than the rest of the systems I tested, the Raptor 6 boasts a clever magnetic clip to keep the 180-degree bite valve in place, as well as sleeves for bike tools and room for a shell. While I found the Raptor 6 a bit sturdy for trail running, it was perfect for hiking and tearing up the singletrack on a mountain bike. Brownie Points: I left the Raptor 6 in a hot car for 24 hours and was surprised to find the two-liter reservoir had kept my water as ice cold as when I had filled it. ($79;


CamelBak 2010 Octane 18x: The Octane 18x feels like a favorite blanket–with a two-liter water system and straps. Made from ultra-light materials, I was surprised by how comfortable the Octane 18x was. Boasting the most intuitive design of all the systems I tested (it felt like a regular backpack), it was also the most roomy. I fit a jacket, a phone, a digital camera, a map, and a sandwich inside and that was without unzipping the expandable pocket. With large mesh zippered pockets on the waist belt to keep keys, cameras, and cell phones safe, I was quickly using this pack off the trail, too. A perfect pack for hiking and daytripping. ($90;

–Shauna Sweeney

promo logo