The REI Co-op Trail Hydro 20L is an intriguing option for an affordable hydration pack, but ultimately falls short of our top picks because of its heavier weight and its smaller water capacity. The Trail Hydro is equipped with comfortable shoulder straps, a supportive back panel, and enough storage space to last all day, but is also one of the heaviest options in our lineup and only includes a 2-liter water capacity - which is pretty small for a large 20-liter pack size. While its affordable price makes it a solid option for budget-conscious buyers, we think most folks will find better options in our lineup with similar or lower prices.
REI Co-op Trail Hydro 20L Review
Cons: Heavy, small water capacity
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Trail Hydro 20L scores pretty well across the board with its comfortable build, huge 20-liter volume, and innovative bladder sleeve, but ultimately suffers from its weight and small water capacity. Users looking for a well-padded back panel and shoulder straps and plenty of storage space in an affordable package will appreciate this design.
Ease of Drinking
The Trail Hydro 20 comes with a 2-liter HydraPak Elite drinking reservoir connected to the HydraPak Blaster bite valve. This or a similar combination of HydraPak hardware is found on a number of packs in our lineup. The solid performance and easy use of the HydraPak system are what you would expect from a top manufacturer.
Where this model suffers a bit is with its scant 2-liter water capacity. This is one of the smallest water capacities in our entire lineup and is surprising to see on what is one of the largest backpacks that we've reviewed. The smaller capacity means that you'll need to stop and refill more frequently, which is an obvious inconvenience.
One other minor demerit for this model is that there is no secure attachment point on the pack for the Blaster bite valve. There are keeper loops on each shoulder strap and a plastic clip at the sternum strap for the drinking hose, but this still leaves about 10 inches of the end of the hose unsecured. While this likely won't be a huge concern for most casual users, it is worth noting that most other competitors have a better way of securing the bite valve while you're on the go to minimize tube flop.
Ease of Filling
The Trail Hydro earns high scores in this metric because of its innovative hydration pocket design. The Quickload pocket protects the hydration bladder on all four sides with hard-sided panels that fold away when not needed. This design, along with a velcro hanging loop makes accessing and removing the bladder really easy. Although the drinking hose doesn't have a quick-release button found on some other high-end models, we've found that refilling the bladder is easy enough without having to entirely remove the hose from the pack, especially with its folding wide-mouth opening.
The Trail Hydro is one of the most comfortable models that we tested with its thick, luxurious padding on the back panel and shoulder straps. This padding is soft enough to be comfortable, yet firm enough to be able to support heavy loads with ease.
The only drawback to this design is that it doesn't provide much ventilation for the back or shoulders. While the back panel has some airflow channels between the four different panels of padding, this wasn't sufficient for keeping our back from getting sweaty, especially when the pack was fully loaded.
With one of the largest storage volumes in our lineup that pushes the boundaries of what we would consider a hydration pack, the Trail Hydro has a huge 20-liter capacity. With one cavernous main storage compartment, this pack doesn't have the multitude of pockets and organization features found on other models, but an internal zippered mesh pocket below the lid and an external zippered storage pocket provide enough space to keep smaller items like your wallet, phone, and keys separate from the main storage space.
While the hard-sided Quickload hydration pocket seems to take up a lot of space within the main storage compartment, we've found that there's still a ton of room to stash jackets, a hat and gloves, an extra pair of shoes, or other cargo you need for your adventure. The outside of the pack also has several daisy chain attachment points as well as a mesh water bottle sleeve on each side, adding additional capacity and utility.
At a measured 2 pounds 2.6 ounces, the Trail Hydro finds itself among some of the heaviest models in our lineup. This is somewhat surprising given that it forgoes a lot of the extra storage features found on many of the other heavy competitors, but the thick padding on the back panel and in the shoulder straps is heavier and denser than what is found on most other models.
Ease of Cleaning
The Trail Hydro receives respectable scores in this metric thanks to the easy access to the hydration bladder through the Quickload hydration pocket, and the wide-mouth opening of the bladder itself. The 2-liter HydraPak Elite reservoir can be turned completely inside out and is conveniently dishwasher safe, making it easy to keep the system clean and fresh.
This is a comfortable, supportive, high-volume pack with a bunch of clever design features and quite a reasonable price. While there are other options that have a similar size and features for a similar or lower price, we still think that this provides a great value, especially given the after-purchase support provided by REI.
The REI Co-op Trail Hydro 20L is one of the largest hydration packs in our lineup, and provides a comfortable design to make hauling heavy loads a breeze. Although the pack is on the heavier side, and the hydration bladder capacity is on the lower side, this is still a capable model at a great price that is well-suited for casual hiking and general all-around use.
— Nick Bruckbauer