Our expert adventurers have tested over 20 of the best hydration bladders throughout the last seven years. We recently purchased 10 of today's top models to bring in for a fresh round of side-by-side testing. We've put these bladders through the wringer, taking them on everything from fast and light trail runs to fully-outfitted hikes and climbs. They've been stuffed into our packs, tossed into car trunks, and even left in the freezer to test their durability. After filling, drinking, cleaning, refilling, and drinking some more, we've discovered which bladders offer the best performance, durability, and ease of use, and are excited to share our recommendations.
The Best Hydration Bladders
Platypus Big Zip EVO
The redesigned Platypus Big Zip EVO has seen a complete facelift and caught our attention once again. This super durable hydration bladder is well-constructed with a versatile tube set-up that can either be plugged into the bottom of the bladder or a connection point halfway up the tube. It's easy to fill at all water sources is one of the most reliable options out there. The plastic polymer in the reservoir doesn't leave any taste in the water and features a silver-ion technology meant to prevent bacterial growth. The system offers a faster flow than other options and is one of the best options for backpacking or day hiking. It offers some of the best tasting water of the bladders we've tested.
Unfortunately, because of its super durable design, it's not the lightest and not built for ultralight missions. While it's pretty easy to care for, it's hard to get a brush inside because of its zip-top enclosure that is a little narrow. It can't be flipped inside out for easy cleaning either. For most outdoor enthusiasts, though, this one covers all the bases best as a very reliable bladder for everyday adventure.
Read review: Platypus Big Zip EVO
Best Bang for the Buck
The affordable Platypus Hoser is simple. It is the lightest of the bladders we've tested with a profile that'll fit into nearly any type of hydration sleeve in any backpack. The flow rate is ample, delivering water with little to no suckage required! We also love its affordable price. If you're seeking a simple bladder that'll keep your hydration on the go, or for use in a backpack that isn't jam-packed, this is a great option. Oh - and it's incredibly durable too!
Unfortunately, our biggest caveat with this bladder is the lack of locking mechanism. There are lots of bladders that we've tested in bags loaded down with camping and climbing gear that doesn't leak on the go. However, since this mouthpiece can't be locked, add a little squeeze and water flows out. We found ourselves getting drip-drizzled on during missions where our bags were rammed full. The mouthpiece can't be changed out easily, so if you buy it, you're stuck with it. It's also harder to clean than other bladders given its construction. While both issues are not fatal flaws by any means, be sure you know what you're getting into. For general use, this lightweight bladder works fine and saves cash.
Read review: Platypus Hoser
Best for Lightweight Adventures
Hydrapak Shape-Shift Reservoir
The HydraPak Shape-Shift is a reliable lightweight bladder with a slim profile and most of our favorite features, making it a top choice for lightweight adventures. The bite valve offers a super-fast flow of water, and it sports a fancy hand holder that makes filling easy. It is one of the easiest bladders to maintain, flipping inside out for easy care, and it can be thrown into the dishwasher. The hoses on it are interchangeable, and the new clip seems to require less maintenance, adding value to its design. The price is right too! This is our top recommendation for on-the-go athletes that need a bladder that is lightweight and will fit into slim backpacks. You can also take it day hiking or backpacking if you wish too!
It's hard to find much wrong with this bladder. The latest update to this model has added almost a half-ounce of weight, but we think the enhancements are worth the change. If anything, while the plastic polymer is quite durable, it's not as durable as thicker options and could be prone to punctures if you're not careful. In the past, this reservoir has served us well for hundreds of adventures on the trail, but it does have a history of leaking after extensive use (we are talking several years!). Also, we've experienced the clip-in points gumming up to the point of non-use if not maintained properly. However, keep the high-end features of a great bladder with minimal weight penalties with the Shape-Shift.
Read review: Hydrapak Shape-Shift
Best for Backpacking
MSR DromLite Bags
The MSR DromLite is the most versatile, lightweight, and packable hydration reservoir out there. It has been continuously updated over the years, but it still performs amazingly! The outer material consists of a surprisingly tough plastic that can truly take the beat-down. Don't be afraid to strap it to the back of your pack or throw it around the climbing crag…even though it's not as thick and durable as its predecessor. The 3-in-1 top makes accessing and sharing water easy, and there are a plethora of attachments that articulate to it (for example; the MSR Hydration Kit). Not only that, but this reservoir easily turns into a handwashing station, shower, hot water bottle, and more.
Keep in mind that this is only the water reservoir. MSR sells the Hydration Kit separately that turns this bag into a hydration system. The hose and bite valve on the kit is pretty basic and not a quick-release system, and most of our testers preferred to use the Dromlite as a bladder only. While this bladder is pretty stellar in function, it doesn't fit into the smallest hydration pack sleeves with its wide profile. Other than that, it's a perfect option for anybody looking for a reservoir to hold extra water while hiking mile upon mile, day after day, in the wilderness. It's also a great option to keep around camp.
Read review: MSR DromLite
Notable for a Pressurized Hydration System
Geigerrig Hydration Engine
The Geigerrig Hydration Engine is incredibly versatile and used to be our Editors' Choice winner over the last few years. It comes with a bulb that can be used to pressurize the hydration bladder, turning it into a solar shower or a way to give a thirsty dog water. When pressurized, it offers the best rate of water flow tested. The bladder is easy to roll-up and is compatible with other hoses and bite valves offered by HydraPak. We also love the durable insert on the back of the bladder that makes it more durable than other soft systems.
While we appreciate this versatility, we'll be honest to say we hardly used the pressurizing system. While just running or hiking, we found that the pressurized system wasn't completely functional as the water would slosh around. In addition, carrying the bulb around meant for extra weight, which we weren't willing to carry. We also think the price is a little too high if you're simply just looking for a bladder that doesn't need the pressurized element. This is a fantastic, innovative bladder, but is a bit more than what the average person might need.
Read review: Geigerrig Hydration Engine
Why You Should Trust Us
Amber King brings you this review. She is an endurance runner that logs between 20 - 50 miles each week on the local trails in hometown Ridgway, Colorado. Each year presents a new opportunity to embark on fastpacking goals from home in the US to Peru to Iceland. She has used these products for years and tested over 20 individual models first-hand. Amber brings a wealth of expertise and know-how that has been pivotal in developing this hydration bladder review. She takes them running, hiking, climbing, backpacking, skiing, and canyoneering all over the world.
Our testing process involves stuffing bladders into running packs, backpacking backpacks, and throwing them into coolers. We freeze them, wash them, dry them out, and use them for all sorts of adventures. We test in environments that range from cold to hot, loading them with electrolytes to quench a thirst on the trail. We analyze each feature and evaluate the durability of each product. With over 300 hours of sucking on bite valves, we can say these babies are thoroughly tested.
Related: How We Tested Hydration Bladders
Analysis and Test Results
A hydration bladder is a small reservoir designed to store and deliver water to your mouth. We tested nine of the top competitors on the market side-by-side over the last few years. We took notes and compared each along the way to determine strengths and weaknesses. We rated all models across the same performance criteria, including their ease of use, care and filling, weight, and the quality of their construction. Below we break down each rating and highlight which stands out in each category. Use these criteria to guide you to the best bladder for your specific needs.
Related: Buying Advice for Hydration Bladders
Compared to some of our other categories here at OutdoorGearLab, there's not a big price discrepancy between the different products in our hydration bladder review. The various models that we tested fall into a range separated only by a few bucks. However, there is still a value factor to consider. If you buy one model for a little more and lasts four times longer than a cheaper option, you're getting a better deal in the long run. When purchasing a hydration bladder, be sure to consider the value of each to get the best product out there.
The MSR DromLite, will take a beating and come back for more, making for a high-value product. The Platypus Hoser wins our Best Buy Award for its simplicity and relatively low cost. Unfortunately, it does have some issues with a drippy bite valve, but it's manageable. If you want a higher value product that costs just a little more, be sure to check out the CamelBak Crux. This newer model didn't win our Best Buy Award this year as its price has increased just a little bit, but it still stands out as a super high-value contender. Other options like the Source Tactical WXP and Deuter Stream are both more expensive, but the durability of its construction is bomber offering performance that'll last for years. Options designed by HydraPak have proven to be less durable in its connections and materials, making them of lower value.
Ease of Use
If your hydration bladder is a pain to drink from, it's failing its main purpose. So, the bladder that fits easily into a bag and provides sufficient water flow on the go (without leaking) do the best here. To evaluate this performance metric, we consider the bite valve design, the valve locking mechanism, and the versatility of the bladder. We also note the limitations of each bladder and how compatible it is with different types of hydration backpacks. We also let you know the relative profile of each hydration bladder.
All the bladders tested are relatively easy to drink from, but when you put them side by side, there is a noticeable difference. The Geigerrig Hydration Engine is the only pressurized system we tested. As soon as you bite down on the valve (when pressurized), there is a sufficient flow of water - no sucking required. On its own, this is already an excellent advantage for drinking convenience. We also found many unique and creative uses for the pressurized system. We squirted water in a dog bowl. We cleaned our dog after it laid in the mud and before it got into the car. We cleaned the sand off our legs and hosed down a bike. Our favorite use of all was like a sun shower! We have long been looking for a good sun shower option after surfing and SUPing. In addition to these additional applications, it fits nicely into an assortment of hydration packs due to its slim profile.
Other bladders didn't have pressurized systems but still provide ideal water flow. The Platypus Big Zip Evo features a tube with a wider diameter that facilitates a flow rate faster, similar to the CamelBak Crux Reservoir. The latest bite valve featured in the HydraPak Shape-Shift is another option with a fast rate for flow. Both require minimal sucking force and optimal hydration while you're on the go. The Big Zip and Crux both utilize a larger bite valve that offers a high volume capacity and outlet that delivers water efficiently. If you love easy water flow on the go, these are both great options.
The HydraPak uses bite valves that are similar to the Osprey Hydraulics LT and Osprey Hydraulics. The outside of the valve is a squishy plastic that fits into the mouth for a comfortable bite experience. With a little bit of suck, you get a whole lot of water. These valves are a little smaller than the Crux Reservoir and MSR Dromlite, but still provide ample water flow with minimal effort. Of all the bite valves, we prefer the Camelbak and the Platypus (on the Big Zip Evo) because of their larger design that offers more water flow. The ones we prefer having a locking mechanism.
For locking mechanisms, there are two main designs. The Big Zip, MSR Dromlite, and Crux Reservoir have a simple (and easy to use) switch, while the other bladders feature a twist lock. The Crux's hydration hose attachment is the easiest to use (with the biggest switch), followed by the Dromlite and Big Zip. These switch locks are easier to use than the twist locks because it requires just one hand, and there isn't as much resistance when rotating the valve. The twist-lock mechanisms tend to get gummed up and stuck if not cleaned consistently. We avoid this issue by keeping the twist locks in 'open position.' The valves don't leak when opened, so long as you don't accidentally sit on it for a prolonged period of time. As a result, we prefer valves that have a switch as opposed to a locking mechanism as it's easier to use on the trail. The Platypus Hoser doesn't have a locking mechanism, which unfortunately resulted in testers getting dripped on occasionally. The flow rate on the Hoser, though, is great, and its simple design makes it easy to use otherwise.
Another interesting bladder that provides a level of ease of use is the 3-in-1 cap offered by MSR Dromlite. The three different caps offer different levels of water flow. The smallest is perfect to take a sip of water. The medium-sized (where some attachments screw in) is great for sharing the water, and the large size is for filling. If you are looking for a simple hydration bladder (without a hose setup), this is a wonderful option.
Ease of Care
Turns out, reservoirs don't clean and take care of themselves. To avoid creating a petri dish for bacterial colonies, you'll need to assume some constant care. To evaluate how easy it is to care for your bladder, we consider a few things. Can the bladder be easily flipped inside out? Is it dishwasher safe? How easy are the tube and mouthpiece is to disassemble? What is the porosity of the polymer used in the design of the hydration bladder? How easy is it to physically scrub the bladder without the use of a specialized cleaning system? Is the bladder built with a silver-ion construction to prevent bacterial growth? Answering these questions for each, we can evaluate how easy it is to care for.
Flip-top bladder with a wider mouth and thinner plastics proved to be the easiest to flip inside out and manually clean. Options that did best in this area include the Geigerrig Hydration Engine and Hydrapak Shape-Shift 3L. The HydraPak now has a small handle, but it can still be flipped inside-out easily. These options (in addition to the Osprey Hydraulic contenders) can be put in the top rack of the dishwater to ensure a thorough clean. To top it off, the openings on these bladders are wide enough to get your hand inside if you need to give it a good scrub. Unfortunately, these bladders are also quite porous, so if not cleaned consistently, bacterial growth can easily ensue.
Even though the flip tops prevails over screw-top options like the MSR Dromlite, each performs a little differently. Some have smaller openings than others, making it a little harder (but not impossible) to get inside and some have more durable, less porous materials. The Deuter Stream and Source Tactical have a similar design. They have a slim profile that tapers at the mouth of the bladder, making it harder to flip inside-out and clean with a brush than the bladders made by HydraPak. The Platypus Big Evo Zip also has a more narrow opening and connected baffle that makes manual cleaning difficult. The CamelBak Crux proves to be easier to clean than the Dromlite because of the huge opening that makes it easy to get a brush inside…however, it's hard to reach the smallest corners of the bladder.
While the Source and Platypus constructed bladders don't have a super large opening to easier cleaning, they are made of high quality and durable materials that are less porous, making it allegedly harder for bacterial colonies to grow (as claimed by both companies). Platypus advertises the use of a silver-ion construction that is supposed to prevent bacterial growth. While we can't verify this, we didn't notice any bacterial build-up during our testing period, even after leaving the bladder full of water for a couple of days with a sugary substance inside. Conversely, bladders made by HydraPak had bacterial build-up in the tubes and mouthpieces far more often than those with a less porous construction. So be on the look-out for these options if this is an important factor for you.
Most bladders tested to allow you to easily disassemble the hose and bite valve for thorough cleaning. For example; the Platypus Big Zip, Source Tactical, Geigerrig Hydration Engine, and Hydrapak ShapeShift bladders allow you to completely take the bite valve and the hose to clean all parts. However, some options are not as easy, such as the Deuter Streamer, Platypus Hoser, and Osprey Hydraulics products. These take more work to disassemble, and in the case of the Hydraulics, you can't disconnect the lower tube from the bladder, making cleaning almost impossible.
For all bladders tested (except the MSR Dromlite), the hoses have a simple quick-connect to detach the hose from the reservoir. This makes cleaning simple with kits like the CamelBak Cleaning Kit (sold separately). It allows you to snake the little hose brush 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).
Ease of Filling
How easy is your bladder to fill? Bladders that score high in this metric host a sturdy handle and non-floppy construct with the affinity to turn the bladder either vertically or horizontally while filling. We also like bladders with a longer 'tongue-like' flip-top, allowing easy fill up in small or trickling streams. To test this, we filled each in sinks, streams, lakes, and rivers. To find the easiest bladder to fill in a different setting, take a gander at the section below.
For all bladders tested, each fills up without serious issues. What really sets each apart is the challenge of filling in a shallow sink or low-flowing stream. In a shallow sink, bladders with a plastic handle near the openings are the easiest to fill. Flip and zip tops are hard to get into shallow sinks and cramp drinking fountains as the bladder gets in the way, and we could only fill them about 80% full. However, screw-top options, like our favorite, the CamelBak Crux Reservoir can easily be filled with the use of its huge handle.
In a dribbling stream, the flip-top options with a long tongue work the best. The Osprey Hydraulics options did an especially good job with this, as the flip top is much longer than any other bladder tested, almost creating a spout to collect or pour water from. It also features a convenient handle to aid in the process. The Platypus Big Zip Evo hosts a unique design that requires you to simply pinch the bag, which offers easy filling in all water sources. We also love how the Hydraulics features a rigid backplate, providing the bladder with a structure that the Hydraulics LT or other flip-top bladders don't host.
Overall, each bladder is easy to fill. The best option for a flip-top bladder is the Osprey Hydraulics with the CamelBak Crux being the best for a screw-top design with a handle. The Source Tactical offers a unique combination of both flip-top and screw-top options to make filling at any water source a breeze.
Quality & Durability
Over the last few years, we've beaten the crap out of each bladder, trying to get it to leak or break. We put each in the freezer, poured in warm drinks, laid each in the sun, tugged at the seams, put them in backpacks, let the dog play with them, and even tried to crush them under pressure. We also assessed the quality of the construction to see if each is more conducive to punctures than others. In the end, we determined the bladder's level of quality based on our tests, the thickness of the bladder material, hose connections, and whether or not we observed leakage through our years of testing. We also consulted the internet to see if any leering issues needed to be proven correct or incorrect. Using this information, we determine the bladder that offers the best value and level of durability.
In our testing period, all the contenders did a decent job providing its function. However, after extended use, we learned that some models are more durable than others, based on the type of textiles and construction used for each. For example, thicker textiles that offer seamless construction are considered higher quality than welded seams that could be pulled apart. Also, those with higher quality switch-based attachment points proved to leak less overall and seem to be more durable than those with "plug and play" attachment points.
We love the durability offered by the Platypus Big Zip Evo. This new bladder offers thicker construction that is a bit burlier than the hydration bladders designed by Source. It is puncture resistant, and after trying to destroy it totally, we haven't seen any issues. It's one of the most reliable bladders and hose systems tested. The Platypus Hoser features the same construction, but the connections aren't as well-crafted as the Big Zip Evo. Its simplicity, though, scores it some points in longevity — in our experience, the simpler the product, the longer it generally lasts.
We love the durability of the MSR Dromlite. It can be frozen, strapped to the back of the pack, and can endure quite a bit without succumbing to punctures. Its construction is seamless, and we couldn't get the seams to pull apart, no matter how hard we tried. Over the last year of testing, we haven't observed this, but time will tell as we continue to use it throughout the years! Overall, this is the most versatile and durable bag tested. A great option for somebody seeking a hydration reservoir that can easily be packed away and is quite durable.
For a bladder made of a thinner textile the Geigerrig Hydration Engine and Osprey Hydraulics both perform well. On the Geigerrig, there is an added nylon sleeve that helps to prevent abrasion when placed in a backpack or on a rock. The Hydraulics is similar but uses a super-hefty backplate that performs the same function. Both are great options for stuffing into a backpack for ample amounts of time or taking out to use as an individual bladder. The Hydraulics LT doesn't have this additional material and offers less overall durability, similar to other simple HydraPak products.
Weight and Packability
Keeping your load light on the trail is important. Since water weighs approximately two lbs per liter, the additional weight on the bladder itself can add up. Also, a bladder that packs up small when empty can be important for storing away when not in use. Products that score highest in this metric are simple and lightweight without too many bells and whistles. They have omitted plastic handles or extraneous features and can roll up into a tiny little ball. We tested all reservoirs by weighing them on the same scale as the tubing and mouthpiece attached. We also rolled up each to see which packs to the smallest volume. The lightest and most packable hydration bladder scores the highest in this metric.
On the trail, each model is suited for hiking and backpacking. The smallest and most packable models are better for lightweight missions or extended adventures. All bladders varied in weight but stayed within a 5-ounce range.
Of all the models tested, the Platypus Hoser is the lightest and most packable design we've come across. It rolls right up into your palm with a super lightweight construction. While it's a little lighter than the HydraPak ShapeShift, this bladder takes a Top Pick for lightweight adventures. Not solely because of its lightweight nature, but because we prefer it for different adventures. The Hoser, unfortunately, tends to have a drippy bite valve, while the ShapeShift does not. That said, the Hoser is more durable than the ShapeShift. With these factors considered, we prefer a bite valve that doesn't leak, even though the weight and packability are lower. Both fit well into running vests. The Hoser has a wider profile than the Shapeshift, but the Hoser is more packable.
The MSR Dromlite is also is super lightweight (without the hydration attachment) and packs up to the size of its lid, making it a Top Pick for all types of backpacking adventures. Keep in mind; this is just a reservoir and the MSR Hydration Kit needs to be purchased separately.
Hydration bladders are pretty simple in the world of gear. They are designed as a lightweight option to keep you hydrated on the trail. Even though the race was close, the Platypus Big Evo Zip stands out as the most versatile and well-constructed bladder. It's a perfect option for those looking for a hydration bladder that can perform its basic function with a high degree of reliability. Remember to consider your individual needs first and use them to guide you through our analyses of these products. They are all impressive products for one reason or more, and the best one is the model that serves your unique needs better than the rest.
— Amber King