If you’ve only ever hiked with a water bottle, then you’ll understand how frustrating it can be to stop every time you need to drink. And on top of that, taking off a heavy backpack to get your water bottle can be quite annoying and tiring. Especially when you’re in the zone, your legs have found a rhythm, and you’re powering through the backcountry.
Bladders solve this problem and allow you to rehydrate while on the move. They have greatly improved over the years, and the technology is continuously evolving.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about water bladders and what to look out for when choosing one. We’ve also taken the time to find and review the best hydration bladders for different hiking scenarios and budgets.
- Best Overall: Platypus Big Zip Evo
- Best Budget: Cherainti Hydration Bladder
- Best for Lightweight Hiking: Platypus Hoser
- Best for Backpacking: MSR DromLite
- Most Innovative: Geigerrig Hydration Engine
- Hydration Bladder Buyer’s Guide
Weight (3L): 6.5 oz | Closure Type: Zip-top
The Platypus Big Zip EVO tops my pick as the best overall. It can be considered a perfect all-round hydration bladder. The zip-top with a slide-lock closure is a feature I like and a system that I find better to use than screw-caps. It allows for easy filling; however, It can’t be turned inside out, which would have been ideal for cleaning.
The bladder is made from durable materials and can withstand the test of time. And if you are a little hard on your gear, then that’s one less thing to worry about breaking. The bladder is BPA-free and embedded with silver-ion, which protects the reservoir from the likes of mold and bacteria growth. It also ensures water stays taste-free.
The tube can be disconnected easily with a quick-release button, which makes refilling the reservoir a simple task. The adaptable tube can either come from the bottom of the bladder or be held in place by a clip nearer the top. The fast flow bite valve on the EVO works well and is self-sealing to prevent any leaks.
Although it’s not as innovative as the likes of the Geigerrig Hydration Engine, it is simple and effective. One drawback is that it’s not the lightest reservoir, but this is due to its durable build. All in all, it is a well-balanced design and a dependable water bladder.
Weight (2L): 6.9 oz | Closure Type: Screw-cap
If you’re looking for a cheap, but capable hydration bladder, then I believe the Cherainti is an excellent choice. Due to its price point and competent design, it’s one of the most popular water bladders available.
The Cherainti comes with a screw top that is very wide and makes for easy cleaning. It’s also BPA and taste-free. It has a quick-release tube, which is surprising on a bladder so inexpensive. The tube isn’t as versatile, like on the Platypus Big Zip EVO. It can only come from the bottom, and it doesn’t have any built-in clip to hold it in place higher up.
The bite valve has an on/off, which is easily accessible and helps prevent leaks. It even comes with a bite valve cover! The more expensive Platypus Big Zip EVO doesn’t include a cover, you have to buy one separately.
Unlike other bladders on this list, it unfortunately only comes in one size, which is 2-liters. That is enough for most; but, I would like to see more variation and choice. A 1.5 and 3-liter option would be great and is what the more expensive, higher quality brands on the market tend to offer.
Best for Lightweight Hiking
Weight (3L): 3.8 oz | Closure Type: Screw-cap
The Platypus Hoser is my choice for lightweight hiking. It’s the only bladder on this list that offers a 1-liter size. And the 1-liter only weighs 3.2 ounces. If you aim to hike as light as possible, or you’ve mapped out water sources you can refill at beforehand, I believe the bladder to go for is the Platypus Hoser.
It comes in four sizes, which all have ultra-lightweight designs. So you’re sure to find one that fits inside the hydration sleeve in your backpack.
Like the Platypus Big Zip EVO, it is very durable and comes with a fast flow valve. The material is also BPA free with embedded silver-ion. Which prevents mold and bacteria growth, and leaves the hydration bladder taste-free.
It is minimalist and comes with a very affordable price tag. However, it does have its drawbacks. It is difficult to clean due to its tiny screw-cap. You can fit a cleaning brush inside, but it is trickier to maneuver compared to other bladders. Also, if you like to have iced water in your hydration bladder, then this isn’t the reservoir for you. There’s no way to get ice cubes inside.
Best for Backpacking
Weight (4L): 5.1 oz | Closure Type: 3-in-1 cap
When going on long backpacking trips, you’ll likely want to carry more water around with you and need water for a variety of tasks. That’s why I have chosen the MSR DromLite as the best backpacking hydration bladder. It is available in three sizes, 2-liters, 4-liters, and a whopping 6-liters. And due to that, it can also be classed as a storage reservoir.
It has a 3-in-1 cap, which allows you to access and share the water in a variety of ways and makes filling the bladder simple. There are several attachments you can buy for the MSR DromLite. The likes of a hydration kit, water filter, and a shower kit, making it ideal for backpacking. But, bear in mind these do need to be bought separately. The standalone DromLite is just a water reservoir and doesn’t come with a tube or mouthpiece. That’s what the hydration kit provides.
The bladder is BPA and taste-free. It is constructed from incredibly durable material and made to last, perfect for rugged environments. It can also pack down into a small size when empty – an excellent feature for a hydration bladder with such a large capacity.
It does have a couple of issues. Due to the hydration bladder’s high capacities, it has a wide profile. So it won’t fit into some backpacks. Also, the tube and bite valve that comes with the hydration kit isn’t the best. It isn’t quick-release and doesn’t offer fast flow.
Weight (3L): 8.8 oz | Closure Type: Fold-top
The Geigerrig Hydration Engine is the most expensive bladder on this list, but that is for a reason. It is the most innovative and has a feature that none of the others offer – a pressurized hydration system. This is a separate hose connected to the bladder with a bulb pump. Pumping the bulb adds pressure to the bladder and helps maintain fast flow water. It also allows you to use the bladder as a water spray, which is excellent if you want to clean your gear.
The material is durable and BPA free. One benefit of this bladder that is a stand out to me is that it can be turned inside out and is safe to go in the dishwasher. So it’s the easiest hydration bladder on the list to clean.
The opening is a fold-top with a slide-lock closure, a system that I prefer and makes filling the bladder easy. It has a slim profile and is available in three sizes, allowing it to fit most backpacks.
The Geigerrig Hydration Engine hydration bladder may be a bit overkill for most people. But if you are after an extra feature in a water bladder, specifically a water spray, then it might be the right choice for you.
Hydration Bladder Buyer’s Guide
As you can see from my top picks, hydration bladders have a variety of features. Each of which makes them better suited for particular outdoor activities. But what else is there to consider when you know how you’re going to be using it? Here’s a complete buyer’s guide on things to look for when choosing a water bladder:
- Quality & Durability
- Size & Capacity
- Bite Valve
- Closure Types
- Ease of Use
- Ease of Cleaning
- Component Compatibility
- Quick Release Hose
- Pressurized or Unpressurized
Quality & Durability
Of course, you will want your hydration bladder to last. It needs to have the durability to withstand the wear and tear that outdoor activities bring with them. Water reservoirs are mostly well built and rarely break or pierce. However, the points that connect the bladder to the tube and the tube to the mouthpiece are areas that can sometimes be of poor quality.
Poorly built connectors will lead to leaks, and nobody wants a soggy backpack because they chose a lousy water bladder. All the bladders on this list are constructed with quality and durability in mind. Unlike some other bladders on the market, they also all allow for the tube to be detached. So if you do ever have any issues with the hose, it can be replaced without having to buy a completely new bladder.
Size & Capacity
Water bladders come in a variety of sizes, and most models offer options for different capacities. When preparing for your hike and deciding what bladder is right for you, you’ll want to take into consideration your water requirements. Although you should take more water than you think you will need, bear in mind water is one of the heaviest things you’ll be carrying.
Bladders do not need to be at full capacity when you take them on an adventure. So if you only want to buy one, the best way to work out which one is best for you is by calculating how much water you will need on your longest hike or backpacking trip.
- 1 – 1.5-liter bladders are for those who want their carry to be as light as possible. They are usually an ideal choice for the likes of trail running and ultra-lightweight thru-hiking.
- 2-liter hydration bladders are a good middle-ground for most. It’s enough water for general hikes and can be refilled without adding too much weight to your bag.
- 3-liters is a capacity that is good for long-distance hikers who do not know if it will be possible to refill along the way.
- 4+ liter water bladders (storage reservoirs) are ideal for backpackers who will need water for a variety of tasks – drinking, cooking, washing.
One more thing to consider is the size and profile of the hydration bladder. Some are wide, and some are tall. To ensure you choose one that will fit, check the measurements of the bladder sleeve in your backpack and compare them to the bladder.
Ideally, you will want a hydration bladder to be as light as possible. Keep in mind that lightweight doesn’t necessarily mean the best. It could potentially mean that it’s not as durable or lacking features that other bladders have. You’ll want to find the right balance between all these factors.
All the bladders on my list have excellent durability. But, they also have different features and vary a bit in weight. For example, the Geigerrig Hydration Engine is the only bladder on the list with a pressurized system; however, it weighs the most out of the five.
When choosing a water bladder, you’ll want to make sure that they are made from high-quality materials that won’t alter the water you are drinking. All the bladders I have picked out are FDA approved, BPA free and taste-free.
Some even have additional technology, like the Platypus Big Zip Evo & Hoser. They are embedded with silver-ion, which protects the reservoir from the likes of mold and bacteria growth. It’s an excellent feature for long-distance hikers who may go a long time without being able to clean their bladder.
There are two varieties of bite valves, pressurized opening, and bite and pull. Pressure bite valves are the easiest to use as they only need one action. A slight bite, the valve opens, and the water is ready to drink.
Bite and pull can be a little trickier and requires one extra movement. While biting down on the valve, you have to give it a slight pull, and then the water will start flowing out. There is only one bladder on the list that has a bite and pull valve, that is the Cherainti.
Hydration bladders come with a variety of closures. Each of which has its pros and cons, primarily how easy it is to fill and clean them. My personal preference is fold-tops and zip-tops. I find them much easier to use.
Fold-top bladders are folded at the top and then sealed with a slide across closure. In my opinion, they are the most practical and efficient closure type. Unlike screw tops, they allow you to fill to near-maximum capacity, without any spilling.
The large opening means the bladder is easy to refill at water sources while out on hikes, such as streams. You can often turn them inside out, allowing for easy cleaning. They can even be dishwasher safe, like the Geigerrig Hydration Engine.
Zip-tops have a zip going from one end to the other, and you then seal them with a slide across closure. Like fold-tops, zip-tops have a large wide opening that allows for easy filling. The zip closure tends to make opening and closing the reservoir take a little longer. However, it’s not a difference that should impact your buying decision.
One stand out difference is that you cannot turn the majority of zip-tops inside out and they aren’t as easy to clean as fold-tops. However, this is usually because the bag has more structure, so they don’t have much wobble when filled.
Screw-caps have a round opening, which you seal via a screw cap. Although they are the most basic out of the three types, and simple to use, they do come with some issues. It is near impossible to fill bladders with a screw-cap to full capacity.
Like on a bathtub overflow drain, as the water fills closer to the top, it starts spilling out of the hole. They also tend to be the hardest to clean, especially on small screw-top openings.
Ease of Use
One of the most important factors when choosing a hydration bladder is how easy it is to use. The best bladders are easy to drink from on the go and are hands-free. So you’ll never need to stop for drinks again.
Look for one that has a good bite valve that isn’t hard to get water out of and has decent water flow. The best way to do this is by checking what other people say about the bladder in product reviews. Although all the bladders on my list are easy to use, some are slightly better than others. So be sure to check this before purchasing.
Ease of Cleaning
Keeping a hydration bladder clean can be challenging, and the difficulty differs from each bladder design. Without the appropriate cleaning, bladders could become infested with mold and bacteria.
The most straightforward design to clean are fold-tops that can be turned inside out. Some can be put inside a dishwasher, like the Geigerrig Hydration Engine. In contrast, most others need a long cleaning brush to get the job done.
The bigger the opening, the easier it is to clean. Some bladders have very small screw-tops, like the Platypus Hoser. This makes cleaning the inside tricky and time-consuming.
Most hydration bladder brands offer accessories to complement their design and features. Things like bite valve covers, magnetic clips, different tubes, cleaning kits. Or if you choose a bladder like the MSR DromLite, there’s an array of accessories that will supplement the reservoir. Such as water filters or shower kits.
Keep in mind that not all brands offer accessories for hydration bladder models. But, the bladder may be compatible with accessories from a different brand or model. So check with manufacturers to see if certain accessories you want will work with the bladder. Also, often in product reviews, people will state what accessory has worked with the bladder they are using.
Most hydration bladders have components that can be switched out and are compatible with different models and brands. It’s best to have a bladder that is adaptable and works with an array of components. That way, you can optimize the bladder to your requirements and what suits you the best.
Perhaps you have a bladder that comes with a bite and pull valve, but you want to switch it for a more straightforward pressure valve. That might be possible. It also means that if a component was ever to break, you would have more options to choose from and a variation of prices.
The best way to check if a hydration bladder is compatible with different components is by checking the product descriptions and asking the manufacturer.
Quick Release Hose
It can be fiddly taking some bladders out from your backpack once you have all the hosing threaded and set up for drinking. Ideally, you’ll want a hose that is a quick release. So, whenever you need to refill the bladder, you only need to take the reservoir out of the backpack, and you won’t have to mess around with the hose.
All the bladders on this list come with a quick-release tube, apart from MSR DromLite’s Hydration Kit. However, as this bladder is intended more for backpacking and used as a water reservoir, it shouldn’t matter too much. Some purchasers of the MSR DromLite’s Hydration Kit have switched the tube to a quick-release hose from other brands. So the compatibility and options are there if needed.
Pressurized or Unpressurized
Most hydration bladders don’t have this feature, and the only one on the list that does is the Geigerrig Hydration Engine. Applying pressure to the reservoir via a hand bulb pump allows you to use the bladder as a water spray, which can be used for things like cleaning gear.
It’s a system that most people won’t need, but if you find yourself wanting a spray, then the Geigerrig Hydration Engine would be a good choice. One additional benefit, apart from the water spray, is that the tube will stay cleaner due to the increased flow of water.
Staying hydrated while hiking is vital. And being able to drink while on the go is extremely handy. That’s why you can’t beat a hydration bladder. There are a vast number of bladders on the market, and it can be hard to choose one.
The Platypus Big Zip Evo is my best overall pick. I believe it is an excellent option for those looking for a reliable and very capable bladder. But, remember to take into consideration your individual needs and what type of hiking or backpacking you are going to be doing. The best choice is one that will suit your requirements. I believe my list covers every hiking scenario.