Hands-on Gear Review

MSR DromLite Bags Review

Top Pick Award
Price:  $30 List | $19.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight (without hose), easy to store, durable, 3-in-1 mouthpiece, incredibly versatile, lots of accessories
Cons:  Heavy (with hose), wider profile, not compatible with all backpack sleeves
Bottom line:  A lightweight versatile option on your next backpacking trip.
Editors' Rating:   
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Weight (*= 3L size):  6.90 oz (w/ hose), 4.75 oz (w/o hose) (2L system)
Bladder Capacity Options (liters):  2L, 4L, 6L
Plasticy Taste w/ Opening?:  Yes
Manufacturer:   MSR

Our Verdict

The MSR DromLite is a highly adaptable, exceptionally durable, lightweight water bladder. After ten years of field testing across a multitude of outdoor sports, in a host of different countries, we can confidently say that the DromLite is the single best solution to backcountry water storage we know of. Feel free to strap it to the outside of a pack or hang it from the trees to serve as a handwash or dishwashing station in the backcountry.

The DromLite is available in three different sizes and has a slew of optional accessories including: a hose and mouth-piece, a spigot cap for around camp, and a shower kit. This is much more than the average hydration bladder. Many of us like to take this with us in cold conditions because you can put hot drinks inside. Just make sure it doesn't freeze up (and it will!). We have even used this as a hot water bottle when temperatures dropped way below freezing. Alternatively, you can slip a few ice cubes into the reservoir to keep your water cool when it's hot outside.

Even though this is a versatile and awesome product, we do have our caveats. First, the MSR Hydration Kit (sold seperately) that turns the bag into a hydration system (with hose and bite valve) is rudimentary and not quick release. That said, many of our testers preferred to use it without the system and only found the system advantageous while trail running or racing. Second, we found the opening is hard to fill in small streams as the outside fabric gets wet and holds water. A wet bladder that needs to go back into a backpack is a recipe for wet clothing. That said, it is still one of the most durable products tested and we weren't afraid to just strap it on the outside of the backpack. It is also one of our most verstaile bladders. This is why it earned a perfect ten for quality, and why it is our Top Pick for Backpacking.

To accurately compare its cost with the others in the hydration bladder review, you need to add in $20 for the MSR Hydration Kit.

Updated Version Available — January 2017
The beloved DromLite Bags have been updated for 2017! Keep reading for all the details.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Hydration Bladders of 2018


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Amber King

Last Updated:
Saturday
August 13, 2016

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Updated Version — January 2017


With updates to their weight, packability, and materials, we're excited to get our hands on the new DromLite Bags to see how they hold up. Here's a summary of the latest updates according to the manufacturer website:
  • Weight and Packability — MSR is advertising a weight of 4.6 ounces for the updated version of the RL bag, down a bit from the 4.75 ounces that we tested in the older version. For this new version, the manufacturer is advertising its supreme packability, supposedly able to collapse to the size of its cap. We haven't tested this ourselves yet, though, so cannot speak to its validity.
  • Durability — The news bags have been reconstructed with a "rugged film and RF-welded seams," though we already felt that the old DromLites were practically indestructible.
  • Inner Lining — Now made with an improved BPA-free food-grade lining, we're hoping this has added some life to the bag in terms of water taste.
  • Cap — MSR has released a new 3-in-1 cap for this bag that we're excited to test out.

We're still waiting on confirmation from MSR on some of these details, and while we wait to test it out ourselves, the rest of this review will continue to reflect the older model.

Hands-On Review


Our Top Pick for Backpacking is pretty much bombproof. Take it anywhere you need to go.

The lightweight  but tough Cordura fabric holds up to punctures and general wear and tear. Throw it around or strap it to the outside of your pack.
The lightweight, but tough Cordura fabric holds up to punctures and general wear and tear. Throw it around or strap it to the outside of your pack.

The DromLite is available in 2, 4, and 6 liter versions. After using all of them, our testers prefer the four liter version best because it provides enough space to store enough water for the time between sources to refill, such as when rock climbing or hiking in the desert.

Ease of Use


The DromLite has a unique 3-in-1 cap that can be used in three ways. (1) The cap comes off to reveal a large, wide-mouth Nalgene sized opening that makes the reservoir easy to fill, empty, and dry out. (2) A small, flip open trickle spout releases a small amount of water and can be used for rinsing dishes, washing hands, or to spray your fiends with. Unscrewing the trickle spout gives access to a medium sized (1/4 inch ish) opening that we used frequently. Your mouth can grasp around the edges of this opening well and when you tip the bag up, water gushes into your mouth at a wonderfully fast rate. Despite fear of dropping the cap, we've never done so even after hundreds of multi-pitch rock climbs, where dropping the cap could have serious consequences.

The 3 in 1 lid. The giant screw cap is undone for refilling water. The secondary cap can be released to share water. The flip top can be opened to drink water.
The 3 in 1 lid. The giant screw cap is undone for refilling water. The secondary cap can be released to share water. The flip top can be opened to drink water.

The hydration system that you can buy separately is decent, but fairly rudimentary. Similar to the CamelBak Crux Bladder, the valve is medium sized, easy to drink from, and easy to turn on and off. We just didn't like that the hose wasn't quick release or compatible with any other bladder. That said, it worked just fine and water flowed easily and efficiently.

Chugging water from a 4 liter MSR DromLite is made easy.
Chugging water from a 4 liter MSR DromLite is made easy.

Many of our users felt the DromLite was great to use as is and the additional hydration kit (with hose and mouthpiece attachment) was only truly useful for face paced missions where you didn't want to put your pack down.

All droms come with a 3-in-1 cap. Here  that cap's "trickle spout" is used to fill a water bottle on a 6 week bike tour down Mexico's Baja Peninsula  a trip that required our testers to carry a significant amount of water through remote desert regions.
All droms come with a 3-in-1 cap. Here, that cap's "trickle spout" is used to fill a water bottle on a 6 week bike tour down Mexico's Baja Peninsula, a trip that required our testers to carry a significant amount of water through remote desert regions.

Ease of Filling


The DromLite bag is equipped with a burly plastic handle that allows you to turn the reservoir horizontally while filling in shallow basins or water fountains. We liked that we could easily top it off in a variety of conditions. Like all screw tops tested, we weren't surprised to learn that it did have a hard time filling in trickling creeks or rivers. Not only was water difficult to gather, but the nylon fabric would get soaked (and not wick away well). As a result we were left with a dirty bladder. That said, we just strapped it to the back of our pack instead of putting it inside with our clothes and all the rest.

Filling is made easy with the easy to hold handle. Fill it anywhere with ease!
Filling is made easy with the easy to hold handle. Fill it anywhere with ease!

Ease of Care


Try to avoid placing sugary drinks in this bladder. It is truly meant only for water and is much harder to clean than the rest.

Of all the bladders, this was the most difficult to care for. Because of its small opening, only small infants and very small handed people would be able to get their hands inside. As a result some dirty spots could be missed. Because of this, we recommend cleaning with both a brush and cleaning tablets. Consider a tablet like Hydrapak Bottle Bright; this formula is biodegradable, non-toxic, and non-chlorinated. This helps to ensure all potential bacterial is removed from the bladder. The screw caps are very easy to clean.

Pictured at the top is the CamelBak Antidote. See how easily the scrub brush fits into that giant mouth? Now compare it to the MSR Dromlite. The scrub (same size) doesn't fit. This makes the MSR one of the hardest to clean bladders tested. Make sure you have a cleaning tablet or baking soda on hand for a hardcore clean with this one.
Pictured at the top is the CamelBak Antidote. See how easily the scrub brush fits into that giant mouth? Now compare it to the MSR Dromlite. The scrub (same size) doesn't fit. This makes the MSR one of the hardest to clean bladders tested. Make sure you have a cleaning tablet or baking soda on hand for a hardcore clean with this one.

Weight


Based on the size of the bag, weights varies. We tested a 2L bag that was our lightest (without the hydration kit) at just 4.75 oz. It is also easy to roll up and store when not in use. With the hydration kit it weighs a little bit more - 6.90 oz, our heaviest with a hose. If you're looking for a lightweight bladder (hose included), check out the HydraPak Shape-Shift.

Quality


The DromLite is made from a 200-denier Cordura nylon that's shockingly durable for its weight.

We've used the same model for four years of hard use and believe that it's much more durable than other hydration systems. Through using four other Droms, the only thing that has broken was a small part of a cap, which Cascade Designs replaced free of charge. Like all other hydration bladders, the Drom will eventually wear out, causing water to taste bad. When this happens, we suggest that you replace the worn model with a new one. Overall, we suspect that the Drom is the one of the highest quality bladders out there and earns a perfect ten in this category! If you dont need something quite as durable, consider the HydraPak Shape-Shift Reservoir.

A look at the seams and construction of the four main bladder types. Top left: HydraPak varieties (hosted in Osprey  Geigerigg  and HydraPak) feature seamless technology with minimal welded seams. Top right: The CamelBak features smaller  more durable seams. Bottom left: Platypus features large seams that we could literally pull apart. Bottom Right: MSR features super strong welds in the fabric outer.
A look at the seams and construction of the four main bladder types. Top left: HydraPak varieties (hosted in Osprey, Geigerigg, and HydraPak) feature seamless technology with minimal welded seams. Top right: The CamelBak features smaller, more durable seams. Bottom left: Platypus features large seams that we could literally pull apart. Bottom Right: MSR features super strong welds in the fabric outer.

Best Applications


The DromLite is tremendously versatile!! We loved that it could function as a handwash station, hot water bottle, camp pillow, water bottle, and more. We aren't afraid to keep it on the outside of our pack. This, in combination with its excellent durability, makes it our Top Pick for Backpacking. We believe it's great to use also while climbing, hiking, or biking. If you're looking for a more versatile hydration system, check out our Editor's Choice - the Geigerrig Hydration Engine.

A vast array of optional accessories (see below) make this much more versatile than most bladders.

Tressa Gibbard hydrates with the 4L MSR DromLite-- which requires two hands-- after climbing Royal Arches to Crest Jewel Direct in Yosemite.
Tressa Gibbard hydrates with the 4L MSR DromLite-- which requires two hands-- after climbing Royal Arches to Crest Jewel Direct in Yosemite.

Value


Tremendous performance for only $30!!

Conclusion


The MSR DromLite bag is unique. It is durable and versatile. If you're in the market the best backpacking option - this is it!

One can fill an MSR DromLite with snow and tie it to the outside of a pack to create liquid water. Feel free to also turn it into a hot water bottle when the nights get cold. CiloGear 30L W/NWD pack shown here.
One can fill an MSR DromLite with snow and tie it to the outside of a pack to create liquid water. Feel free to also turn it into a hot water bottle when the nights get cold. CiloGear 30L W/NWD pack shown here.
Amber King

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Most recent review: August 13, 2016
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