The Best Hydration Bladder Review

We took six top hydration reservoirs and spent six months backpacking, mountainboarding, surfing, dog-walking, hiking and biking to figure out the best one for each application. When hydration bladders first came out, they were usually used with the small hydration pack. But now just about every backpack is "hydration compatible" and therefore your best option may be to bypass a hydration pack and just get a bladder. That is where this review and our How to Buy a Hydration Bladder article come in. You may also want to check out our Hydration Pack Review to get a sense of all the options before making a purchase.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Hydration Bladders Displaying 1 - 5 of 6 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Geigerrig Hydration Engine
Geigerrig Hydration Engine
Read the Review
Video video review
CamelBak Antidote Reservoir
CamelBak Antidote Reservoir
Read the Review
Video video review
Platypus Big Zip SL
Platypus Big Zip SL
Read the Review
MSR DromLite
MSR DromLite
Read the Review
Platypus Hoser
Platypus Hoser
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award    Top Pick Award   
Street Price Varies $31 - $41
Compare at 2 sellers
Varies $22 - $33
Compare at 8 sellers
Varies $29 - $35
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Varies $21 - $27
Compare at 8 sellers
Varies $20 - $23
Compare at 7 sellers
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100% recommend it (4/4)
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100% recommend it (4/4)
Be the first to rate it
Pros Many innovative uses, easy to clean, easy to drink.Easy to fill, good value, great bite valve, easy to findGood value, easy to clean, can switch out the hoses with other brands.3 sizes, lightweight, compact, high capacity to weight ratio, tons of accessories, tremendously versatile.Light weight, good value, lifetime warranty
Cons Expensive, not the lightest, small learning curve.Not the easiest to cleanNot the easiest bit valve to drink from.Not as easy to drink of of as a rigid water bottle, hose and mouth piece accessories not as good as other companies.Difficult to clean, difficult to drink from bite valve, not the easiest to fill
Best Uses Mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, camping, dirt biking.Mountain biking, hiking, backpackingReplacement bladder for backpack or hydration pack with narrow compartment.Everything!!Moving light and fast in the backcountry
Date Reviewed Apr 26, 2013Apr 24, 2013Apr 26, 2013Apr 25, 2013Apr 16, 2013
Weighted Scores Geigerrig Hydration Engine CamelBak Antidote Reservoir Platypus Big Zip SL MSR DromLite Platypus Hoser
Ease Of Filling - 20%
10
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8
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9
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8
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6
Durability - 20%
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9
Ease Of Drinking - 20%
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6
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Weight - 20%
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Ease Of Care - 20%
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4
Product Specs Geigerrig Hydration Engine CamelBak Antidote Reservoir Platypus Big Zip SL MSR DromLite Platypus Hoser
Weight (2L size) 6.6 oz / 187 g 6.5 oz / 184 5.5 oz / 157 g 4.2 oz / 119 3.8 oz / g 108
Bladder Capacity Options (liters) 2, 3 1.5, 2, 3 1.8, 2, 3 2, 4, 6 1, 1.8, 2, 3
BPA-free? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Warranty 2 Year Lifetime - limited Lifetime - limited Lifetime - limited Lifetime - limited

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
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MSR DromLite
$30
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78
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Platypus Big Zip SL
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Platypus Hoser
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Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir
$33
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Ease of Filling
All of the contenders are relatively easy to fill in a deep sink. The challenge comes with filling in a shallow sink or low-flowing stream. The bladders with plastic handles near the openings were generally the easiest to fill. We found the zip top bladders harder to get completely full in shallow sinks and cramped drinking fountains, we could generally only get them about 80% full and if you try to fill them as much as possible there is often a little spilling. That said, in tiny dribbling streams, often the zip-top styles are the easiest to fill as you can get the openings flat agains the stream-bed. There was not a giant spread in the competition here but if we had to choose one winner it would be the CamelBak Antidote Reservoir. The cap easily loosens and tightens and folds out of the way. It is easy to fill this bladder in shallow sinks and completely top it off.

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The Geigerrig and Platypus zip style closures are hard to get completely full in a shallow sink. The CamelBak (below) is easy.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Ease of Drinking
All the bladders are relatively easy to drink from. That said, when you put them side by side you notice a difference. The Geigerrig Hydration Engine is the only pressurize system we tested and the water sprays out fast. The Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir is not actively pressurized but due to its rigid plastic backing, it feels "passively pressurized" and is also very easy to drink from. Right behind is the CamelBak Antidote. All three of these are very easy to drink from. The Platypus bite valves were noticeably harder to drink from. Luckily the Platypus Big Zip SL uses the same plastic connector as the Camelbak and Geigerrig hoses so you can swap out hoses and bite valves easily (we did).

Beyond drinking, pressurize systems give options for creative uses. The more we used the Geigerrig Hydration Engine the more innovative applications we have found. We gave water to our dog. We cleaned our dog after it had jumped in a puddle and before it got back in the car. Our favorite use of all was as a sun shower. We have long been looking for a good sun shower option after surfing. But the problem is that most solar showers out there depend on hanging the water up high from tree branch so that you can get enough water pressure. Most parking lots are tree free where we surf. The pressurized water bladder was the perfect solution.

Also, any zip top hydration bladder or bladders with large openings can double as ice packs if you don't have access to ziplock backs.

Click to enlarge
All the different uses we found for the Geigerrig pressurized hydration bladder: water the dog, clean the dog, and use as a sun shower after surfing or when camping.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Durability/Leakage
In our tests, the Camelbak's had no durability or leakage issues for the first 6 months. Then we got a leak around the filling cap. We contacted the CamelBak warranty department and had a new cap in about a week. We expect all hydration bladders to, with enough time and use, eventually leak. Having a great warranty is important if you are going to use your bladder a lot. We have not tested the warranty response of any other company yet.

One frustrating part of the CamelBak reservoir is the bite valve: we lost three over 3 months. The problem it is just not secured on very well. Each time we lost it, it was $6 to buy another Camelbak Big Bite Valve.

The two older Osprey Hydraform bladders we tested did have some problems. One failed at the seam/edge after six months and had to be replaced. Another, after heavy usage, started leaking at the lid. We have not had the new Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir long enough to asses its durability.

The Geigerrig accidentally disconnected at the hose attachment. They put the release valve facing out so that just the wrong pressure point can disconnect it. The other reservoirs put the release button on the side where it is nearly impossible to accidentally depress it. That said, this only happened once. Overall, the Geigerrig feels like one of the most hardily constructed bladders and they have a host of semi-hilarious videos on their website where they torture-test them.

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All three bladders use compatible hose attachment points. The Geigerrig release button faces out which can lead to accidental release (and leaking) in the pack.
Credit: Chris McNamara

The CamelBak has the best and most intuitive lock-off mechanism at the bite valve. The other three brands work but are less intuitive and therefor we found ourselves using them less. An intuitive lock-off mechanism is your best defense against that ever present "where did all my water go" hydration pack phenomenon brought by accidentally sitting the pack on the bite valve.

Weight
We tested all these packs and weighed them on the same scale. The packs varied wildly in weight with the CamelBaks and Platypus being the lightest. For one thing, the CamelBak and Geigerrig bladders weigh on average around 6.5 oz, about half as much as the Osprey bladders which weigh 11.2 oz. The Osprey bladders have a lot more plastic. The CamelBak packs are also much more stripped down, which increases the weight savings. The Osprey packs' heavy use of plastic seems both a little overkill and surprising since their backpacks (which win many awards in our tests) are generally much more minimalist.

Ease of Cleaning
The Geigerrig is the easiest bladder to clean: you just turn it inside out and throw it in the dishwasher. Even without access to a dishwasher, it is the easiest to get a brush inside. We found a lot of videos showing how to clean the main reservoir but there is little said about cleaning the hoses. This video just mentions running water through the hoses. We doubt that is adequate to get out bacteria, especially if you use sugary drink mixes. There is no Geigerrig cleaning kit sold with with a brush, so if you want to brush clean your hoses you will need to use one of the kits mentioned below or find your own brush.

The Platypus Big Zip SL was the second easiest to clean. It has a zip top like the Geigerrig but we can't find any mention on the Platypus website if it is okay to toss this in the dishwasher. Without the pressurization of the Geigerrig, it's not quite as easy to flush water through the tubes.

Next is the CamelBak which has a large opening, making it easy to get a brush in. The hoses have a simple quick-connect to detach. This makes cleaning the hose simple with the CamelBak Cleaning Brush Kit (sold separately). It allows you to snake the little hose brush in for cleaning (you have to do this from both ends since the hose brush is only long enough to cover about 60 percent of the hose from one end). The CamelBak's with bladders that go around the waist are more difficult to clean because there are more compartments. Both bladders are difficult to dry and you either need to improvise a system with a metal coat hanger or buy the cleaning kit.

The Osprey hose is significantly harder to detach/re-attach from its base. And, if you don't detach it, we are not sure you can clean the full hose. With the older model HydraForm, the brush did not reach all the way through and so you had to laboriously remove the tube from the bladder each time. On the upside, the bladder has a nice big opening to get a brush in. Sold separately is the Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir Cleaning Kit.

NOTE: we don't recommend adding sports drinks like Cytomax to any of these bladders. Adding those sugary sports drinks is the equivalent of throwing a bacteria fiesta. Even the easiest to clean reservoirs are actually pretty time-consuming to really remove all sugar residue from. We recommend only putting water in your bladder. If you use sports drinks, consider bringing a separate Platypus SoftBottle in the 0.5 liter size with a concentrated mixture of your favorite sugary drink powder.

Editors' Choice - Best Hydration Bladder
The Geigerrig Hydration Engine takes top honors because it's easy to clean, easy to drink from and provided us with many fun innovative uses. All this and it doesn't cost THAT much more than the competition. We expect it to have a very long lifespan and offer great longterm value.
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Geigerrig Hydration Engine (left) and CamelBak Antidote (right) with Lake Tahoe and Jake's Peak in the background.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Best Buy
The CamelBak Antidote Reservoir scored very highly, was one of the easiest to fill, and can often be found on sale. It also has a lifetime warranty and we have found it to be very durable which adds to its high value score. Even though it's not pressurized, it is very easy to drink from due do a great bite valve. We often removed the hose and added to other quick-link compatible reservoirs because we liked the bite valve so much.
Click to enlarge
The CamelBak Antidote is the easiest reservoir to fill completely from a shallow sink or drinking fountain.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Top Pick - Best For Moving Light and Backpacking
The MSR DromLite is the lightest bladder we tested and one of the more durable. It does not come with a bite valve and hose but this accessory is wide available online. Unfortunately, the bite valve is not the best and you can't swap in a replacement as you can with the Platypus Big Zip SL. But for many users, they will not want the tube and prefer to use it "naked" as many OutdoorGearLab testers do. If you want a water container with more capacity and flexibility than a water bottle but don't care for hydration hoses, this is the bladder to get.
Click to enlarge
One can fill an MSR DromLite with snow and tie it to the outside of a pack to create liquid water. CiloGear 30L W/NWD pack shown here.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab

Chris McNamara
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by Chris McNamara
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