The Best Hydration Pack Review

We took 11 top hydration packs and spent six months hiking, biking, and running to find which is the ultimate system. Ever since the first CamelBak arrived over a decade ago, options have changed a lot and there is now an overwhelming number of innovations and options. Which of these innovations is necessary and do you even need a dedicated hydration pack at all? Read on and be sure to check out the article How to Choose a Hydration Pack where we go more into the pros and cons of packs and reservoirs.

See also our related Hydration Bladder review.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Adam Pilger

Top Ranked Hydration Packs Displaying 1 - 5 of 11 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
CamelBak M.U.L.E.
CamelBak M.U.L.E.
Read the Review
Video video review
Osprey Talon 22 with Platypus Big Zip SL
Osprey Talon 22 with Platypus Big Zip SL
Read the Review
Osprey Raptor 14
Osprey Raptor 14
Read the Review
CamelBak Classic
CamelBak Classic
Read the Review
CamelBak Octane LR
CamelBak Octane LR
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award   
Street Price Varies $99 - $135
Compare at 6 sellers
$100
Compare at 10 sellers
$130
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $58 - $59
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $70 - $119
Compare at 6 sellers
Overall Score 
100
0
75
100
0
73
100
0
72
100
0
72
100
0
71
Editors' Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
User Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
1 rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
1 rating
Be the first to rate it
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
67% recommend it (2/3)
Be the first to rate it
Pros Great storage, light, 3-liter reservoir, durable.Well ventilated, stretchy front pocket, many features such as helmet clip, very adjustable, versatile, separate compartment for hydration bladder.Comfortable, stylish, lots of storageLight, good value, easy to use.
Cons Bite valve flops around.Hard to lash bigger items to the outside, water bottle pockets are small.Heavy, expensiveNot much storage.
Best Uses Full day bike rides and hikes.Day hiking, mountain biking, adventure racing, bike commuting.Mountain biking, long day hikesDay hikes, climbing.
Date Reviewed Dec 21, 2012Dec 19, 2012Dec 13, 2012Nov 29, 2012Dec 13, 2012
Weighted Scores CamelBak M.U.L.E. Osprey Talon 22 with Platypus Big Zip SL Osprey Raptor 14 CamelBak Classic CamelBak Octane LR
Ease Of Use - 15%
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
6
Durability - 10%
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
9
Comfort - 30%
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
9
Weight - 20%
10
0
7
10
0
5
10
0
4
10
0
10
10
0
8
Storage - 15%
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
2
10
0
2
Ease Of Care - 10%
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
Product Specs CamelBak M.U.L.E. Osprey Talon 22 with Platypus Big Zip SL Osprey Raptor 14 CamelBak Classic CamelBak Octane LR
Weight 28.8 oz 32 oz 41.0 oz 14 oz 22.8 oz
Pack Size 580 cu in / 9.5L 22 L 732 cu in/12 liter (small) 2 L 335 cu in/ 5.5L
Bladder Capacity 100 oz / 3 L 70 oz / 2 L 70 oz / 2 L 70 oz / 2 L
Waist Belt Yes Yes Yes No Yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
CamelBak Classic
$55
100
0
72
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
CamelBak Marathoner Vest
$100
100
0
71
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Osprey Raptor 14
$109
100
0
72
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
CamelBak Ultra LR
$130
100
0
69
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Geigerrig 1600
$145
100
0
71
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Osprey Syncro 15
$109
100
0
66
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Osprey Viper 7
$80
100
0
70
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
CamelBak Racebak
$100
100
0
61
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
CamelBak Octane LR
$100
100
0
71

Criteria for Evaluation
Comfort/Stability
The comfort and stability scores combine how comfortable a hydration pack is when hiking and when bouncing around while either mountain biking or running. The high scorers where the Camelbak Ultra LR, Octane, and Baja. All have generous waist belts, shoulder padding and are lightweight. The cushiest packs were the Osprey Raptor, Osprey Talon 22 and Geigerrig 1600, which have the most padding. However, these packs did not score as high as the three CamelBaks because they are not as stable when moving around.

Ease of Use
Our ease of use score factors is how easy it is drink from the hose and how easy it is to fill the hydration pack bladders and get them in and out of the packs. The Osprey Packs scored highly because they have a magnet that keeps the bite valve right in front of you and sometimes offers hands free access (however, read the durability problem below that deals with this). Because the Osprey reservoirs have so much plastic structure, they are easy to slide in and out of the packs, even when the packs are loaded (but this also makes them heavy).

The Geigerrig was easy to use in some respects and hard in others. There is a learning curve to figuring out how to thread which hose where, how to pressurize and depressurize the bag and how to get the bag full without spilling. It is especially hard to get the Geigerrig reservoir full at drinking fountains and other water sources with low height difference between the water source and the ground. That said, since the bag is pressurized, water flows effortlessly by biting down. You "don't suck," as they remind you countless times on their web site. If not sucking is the highest priority to you, then this pack is the runaway winner. But we felt all the other packs delivered water just fine… drinking out of a large straw is not THAT much effort.

The CamelBaks were all pretty easy to fill, but the ones with waist bladders are a little annoying to get in and out. The CamelBak bite valve always dangles in a way that requires at least one hand to grab and then put away. Not a big deal, but not as convenient as the Osprey system.

When filling from a hose or deep sink, all are easy to fill. When filling from a shallow sink or drinking fountain, it is much harder to get zip top bladders more that 80-90 percent full, as you can see in the comparison photo below.

Click to enlarge
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

In addition, the CamelBak handle makes it easy to keep your bladder out of the grimy or wet shared sink that you usually find at a campground.

Durability/Leakage
The Camelbak's had no durability or leakage issues (except the CamelBak RaceBak that leaked a lot right away) until about 6 months in. We then started getting leakage where the plastic cap meets the seal. We went onto the CamelBak web site, clicked on the Warranty tab and 10 days later we had a new plastic cap. CamelBak makes a big deal of the their Got Your Bak warranty program and in our experience it does work amazingly well and efficiently.

One frustrating part of the CamelBak bladder is the bite valve: it's constantly falling off. In the last year, we have lost three and had to re-order, for $6, the Camelbak Big Bite Valve. Other people are also clearly having this issue because we actually found someone elses bite valve on a trail.

Both the Osprey Viper and Synchro had leakage issues. The Synchro bladder failed after six months and had to be replaced. The Viper, after heavy usage, started leaking at the lid. We did not have any issues with the Raptor but have not tested it as long. In addition, the Osprey magnets became less effective over time and required cleaning away tiny parts of "magnetic dirt."

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.

Click to enlarge
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. The other three 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" phenomenon brought by accidentally sitting the pack on the bite valve.

Weight
Don't blindly trust the manufacturer's weights when choosing a pack. Often the manufacturer leaves out the weight of the reservoir/bladder and hoses (and often doesn't note this in the specs). This seems absurd to us. It would be like measuring the weight of a parachute rig… without the actual parachute canopy. Or measuring the weight of a tent… without the poles system. If you are selling a hydration pack that comes with a reservoir, then include the weight of the whole system!

Okay, the rant is over.

We tested all these packs and weighed them on the same scale. The packs varied wildly in weight with the CamelBaks 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. In fact, we were so surprised by the how heavy the Osprey models were that we created our own contender: The Osprey Talon 22 with Platypus Big Zip SL. The Osprey Talon 22 is our Editors' Choice daypack and the Platypus Big Zip SL is one of our favorite and lightest reservoirs. This option is not only much lighter than the Raptor 14, it also has much more storage and is more versatile.

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 CamelBaks with standard bladders were second easiest to clean. They have large openings, 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/Nalgene hose is significantly harder to detach/re-attach from its base. And, if you don't detach it, you can't clean the full hose. While in the Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir Cleaning Kit (sold separately) they include a longer snaking hose brush than the CamelBak kit, it is strangely a few inches too short to clean the entire hose from one end. The bladder has a nice big opening to get a brush in.

TIP: If you want to save yourself a lot of time cleaning your hydration bladder and hose, do not put sports drinks like Cyctomax in the bladder. If you enjoy these drinks, we would recommend bringing a separate 0.5 liter Platypus SoftBottle and putting a high concentration energy drink mixture in it.

Storage
The top scorers here are the Geigerrig and the Talon 22 w/ Platypus Big Zip. Both have a lot of space and pockets in which to slide stuff. The Raptor was the next highest scorer, followed by the M.U.L.E. Most other packs scored fairly low as they are intended just for storing a light jacket and a few bars.

The CamelBak running packs are unique in that about 25 percent of the storage is in front on the vest. Not only is this convenient for accessing your phone or energy bars, it also distributes more of the weight forward, something we enjoyed whether running or just hiking. It is a whole different feeling than having all the weight on your back.

Key Accessories
One of the major drawbacks to a hydration bladder is that it is hard to tell how much water you have left in the bladder. This can be a big problem when you are in an area where rationing your water is of the utmost importance. Antidote Insulated Tube with Flow Meter can help solve this problem. The flow meter helps you keep track of how much you have drank and how much is left in the bladder.
you can also use it to set hydration goals for yourself. The insulated tube has the added bonus of keeping your water cool.

For other alternative hydration options check out The Best Water Bottle Review and The Best Hydration Bladder Review.

Editors' Choice Award: CamelBak M.U.L.E.
The CamelBak M.U.L.E. gets our top honors because it is the best all-around model. It did not dominate any categories, but rather scored solidly in all of them. It holds a lot of water, a reasonable amount of stuff, and yet weighs surprising little.

Top Pick Award for Versatility: Osprey Talon 22 with Platypus Big Zip SL
Narrowly missing Editors' Choice is our own creation: the Osprey Talon 22 with Platypus Big Zip SL. It is the most versatile system we tested and scores very high for storage and comfort. Best of all, when you don't want a bladder/hose you just remove it and you are left with the Editors' Choice from our Daypack Review. Carefully read our How to Choose a Hydration Pack article… you may find you want a setup like this and not a hydration pack after all.

An even lighter option (but not great for running) is the Deuter Speed Lite 20 matched with Platypus Hoser, which gives you tons of storage in an even lighter package.

Best Buy Award: CamelBak Classic
We find the CamelBak Classic, a variation on the original popular hydration system, is still the best value out there. It retails for $55 but can usually be found for $40 on sale because it is carried everyone. Considering the reservoir itself retails for $30, this a good way to get a reservoir to use with your other backpacks and still have the option of a light and fast CamelBak.

Honorable Mention for Innovation: Geigerrig 1600
While our philosophy it to keep things as simple as possible, we can't ignore that a lot lot of people have been taken by the Geigerrig 1600 with its pressurized system. It is also the only systems we tested with the option to add an in-line water filter.

Chris McNamara and Adam Pilger
Buying Advice
How we Test
Helpful Buying Tips
How to Choose a Hydration Pack - Click for details
 How to Choose a Hydration Pack

by Chris McNamara
Get More OutdoorGearLab
Follow us on Twitter, be a fan on Facebook!
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Recent Editor's Award Winners