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Best Hydration Bladder of 2021

We tested hydration bladders from Platypus, CamelBak, Gregory, and others to find the best options on the market
The Gregory 3D Hydro is a well-constructed bladder ready to carry wate...
Photo: Amber King
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Thursday September 30, 2021
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Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Our outdoor experts have tested 21 of the best hydration bladders over the last 8 years. This 2021 review features 12 top options built for adventures lasting a few hours to multiple days. We tested each product hands-on while hiking, camping, trail running, and backpacking. We've traveled across the globe visiting far-off lands with each bladder in tow. After our initial testing, we keep using each option, updating our findings and comparisons over the years. Armed with this experience with these products, we offer our unbiased recommendations built to help you find the perfect bladder for your hydration needs.

Related: Best Hydration Pack of 2021

Top 12 Product Ratings

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Awards Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award 
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Thick and durable bladder, handle for easy filling, drying accessory, excellent flow rate, narrow and rounded profile for easy fit in narrow packsDurable, reliable, fast flow rate, easy to fill, excellent valve locking mechanismLightweight, slim profile, simple to use, easy to cleanDurable, great water flow, easy to fill and clean, versatile use, good priceLightweight, super packable, durable material, inexpensive, incredibly versatile
Cons Bulkier components don't pack downWider profile, closure is hard to close in cold weather and requires maintenanceNot as durable as other options, connections get gummed up without lubricationCan't flip inside outPoor taste, does not come with hose or bite valve, doesn't pack easily into backpack sleeves
Bottom Line This top performer stands out for its quality construction and easy filling profile that is reliable for hydration on backcountry adventures and day tripsThis is a burly and reliable option has an awesome flow rate and convenient features, but long-term testing isn't favoring the zip closureA lightweight and slim bladder that's especially suited for ounce-counting athletes pushing deep into the backcountryThis is a high value bladder with stellar performance for a decent priceThis reservoir is lightweight and durable with many functions and uses in the outdoors
Rating Categories Gregory 3D Hydro Platypus Big Zip EVO Hydrapak Shape-Shif... CamelBak Crux Reser... MSR DromLite Bags
Ease Of Use (25%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
Ease Of Care (25%)
7.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
Ease Of Filling (20%)
9.0
7.0
6.0
8.0
5.0
Quality And Durability (15%)
8.0
8.0
5.0
6.0
7.0
Weight And Packability (15%)
6.0
7.0
9.0
5.0
9.0
Specs Gregory 3D Hydro Platypus Big Zip EVO Hydrapak Shape-Shif... CamelBak Crux Reser... MSR DromLite Bags
Weight of Bladder & Tube (oz) 7.1 oz (3L) 6.90 oz (3L) 5.40 oz (3L) 8.40 oz (3L) 5.20 oz (4L)
Bladder Capacity Options (liters) 3 L 1.5L, 2L, 3L 2L, 3L 1.5L, 2L, 3L 2L, 4L, 6L
Dishwasher Friendly? No No Yes No No
Plastic Taste No No Yes No Yes
Bite Valve Push-button on/off valve HyFLO Self-sealing Bite Valve Bite valve with shutoff twist valve Bite valve with updated shutoff valve None (Bite valve with lock arm shutoff valve in separate attachment kit)
Can bite valve be removed? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hose Connection Mid-tube quick release, but can be changed to the base. Mid-tube, but can be changed to the base. Quick Release Quick release (no swivel) Quick release hose (no swivel) At the mouth of the screw top
Closure Type Screw top Zip top Slide top Screw top Screw top (3 in 1 spouts)


Best Overall Hydration Bladder


Gregory 3D Hydro


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 9
  • Ease of Care 7
  • Ease of Filling 9
  • Quality and Durability 8
  • Weight and Packability 6
Weight (3 L): 7.1 oz | Type of Closure: Screw top
Durable design and materials
Handle for easy filling
Built-in dryer hanger
Narrow profile
Can't be rolled up
Hard to get to the inside of the bladder with a scrubber

The Gregory Hydro 3D caught our attention for its durable and easy-to-use design. It is made from a thick, soft polymer that is pliable but strong and resistant to punctures and delamination. It utilizes a unique body-length handle that makes filling super easy in sinks and doesn't lose its position and rigidity, even when full. The screw-top lid is well built and easy to open and close, without the worry of threading it incorrectly. All components come completely apart, so it's easy to rinse out and dry, and there's also a drying hanger that we found especially useful in our kitchen. The flow rate is great, and it has a magnet to quickly adhere to a pack's chest strap (if also magnetic), preventing the hose from flopping around while you're in motion. Without a zip-top, there are no rigid corners to poke into your back through a thin pack.

This is not our favorite for ultralight excursions, as it's a touch heavy at 7 ounces. Also, when empty, the rigid handle doesn't allow the user to roll it up into a small package. It's also difficult to fit a scrub brush into the body of the bladder because of the smaller lid opening. However, these minor drawbacks are us being hyper-critical. After testing many bladders over multiple years, this is the one that has impressed us the most. For those seeking a reliable bladder that can be used for most purposes, this user-friendly model is our top choice.

Read review: Gregory 3D Hydro

Best Bang for the Buck


Platypus Hoser


64
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 5
  • Ease of Care 5
  • Ease of Filling 6
  • Quality and Durability 8
  • Weight and Packability 10
Weight (3 L): 4.2 oz | Type of Closure: Screw-In Bottom
Great flow
Excellent durability
Affordable price
Lightweight
Harder to clean
No lock on the bite valve
No quick-connect hose

The Platypus Hoser is an affordable and simple option, with a lightweight and durable profile that will fit into nearly any type of hydration sleeve. The flow rate is ample, delivering water with minimal effort. The price is also right. If you're seeking a simple bladder that'll keep you hydrated on the go, this is a great option.

The lack of a locking mechanism on the bite valve is a bit of a letdown and proves to be a touch leaky as it bounces around on our adventures. We found ourselves getting drip-drizzled on during missions where our bags were packed full, pushing water from the bladder out of the mouthpiece. Sadly, the bite value can't be changed out easily, so if you buy it, you're stuck with it. If you can deal with that caveat, this is by far the most durable, packable, and high-value bladder that we've tested.

Read review: Platypus Hoser

Best for Lightweight Adventures


Hydrapak Shape-Shift Reservoir


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 8
  • Ease of Care 9
  • Ease of Filling 6
  • Quality and Durability 5
  • Weight and Packability 9
Weight (3 L): 5.40 oz | Type of Closure: Flip-top
Lightweight & slim profile
Internal zipper reduces sloshing
Dishwasher-safe
Compatible quick-release hose
Need to maintain O-ring or durability issues will be present
The closure is not well-attached & can come off

The HydraPak Shape-Shift is a lightweight bladder with a slim profile. 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. We flip it inside out for easy care after rinsing and throw it into the dishwasher. The price is right, too. This is our top recommendation for on-the-go athletes who need a lightweight bladder that fits into most slim backpacks. We take it on trail runs and hiking missions regularly. You can also clip the interior plastic pieces together to make it less "sloshy," though you lose a little volume when you do this.

After testing it for over six years, we find the durability of this bladder to be somewhat lacking. We've never seen the thinner plastic puncture or rip, but on two previous models, we experienced the annoying issue where tube clip-in points (even when lubricated regularity) became gummed up, and the release mechanism stopped working. Also, when the interior plastic pieces are used, you lose about a half-liter or volume, making it a 2.5-L bag instead of 3-L. If you are seeking a lightweight bladder that reduces the "slosh" factor when moving over terrain, this is the one that we'd recommend.

Read review: Hydrapak Shape-Shift

Best for Backpacking


MSR DromLite Bags


69
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 8
  • Ease of Care 6
  • Ease of Filling 5
  • Quality and Durability 7
  • Weight and Packability 9
Weight (4 L): 5.30 oz | Type of Closure: 3-in-1 lid
Light and packable
Compact when not in use
Durable exterior is hard to puncture
Incredible versatility
Multiple accessories
Leaky lid possible after heavy use
Not compatible with all backpack sleeves
Hose not included

The MSR DromLite is the most versatile, lightweight, and packable hydration reservoir that we've tested. It has been continuously updated over the years, but it still proves to have impeccable performance. The outer material is made of a surprisingly tough polymer that can truly take a beating. 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 compatible attachments (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. While this bladder is pretty stellar in function, it doesn't fit into the smallest hydration pack sleeves with its wide profile. We've also experienced the lid leaking after about two years of testing and heavy use, which was a problem in their previous models, too. If you seek a super packable reservoir to hold large volumes of water, this durable and packable bag is our recommendation.

Read review: MSR DromLite

Best Insulated Hydration System


HydraPak HydraSleeve


68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 7
  • Ease of Care 8
  • Ease of Filling 6
  • Quality and Durability 9
  • Weight and Packability 3
Weight (3 L): 12 oz (w/ sleeve) | Type of Closure: Slide top on bladder, roll-top on sleeve
Best-in-class insulation
Helpful in every season
High flow bite valve
Super durable and versatile carry options
Ability to modularize for needed use
Expensive
Heavy

If you love cold sips of water on the trail, the Hydrapak HydraSleeve has you covered. This insulating sleeve fits most 3L hydration bladders and comes with an insulative tube. It offers modularized use, so you can simply use the bladder without the insulation sleeve or the system as a whole. We tested it while ski touring in the winter and backpacking through hot desert conditions. It kept the water in our tube from freezing twice as long as uninsulated tubes. It also kept our ice water cold in the reservoir 3x longer than a normal bladder. If you are seeking a system that'll do just that, this insulative option is our top choice. Enjoy it all year long, through both hot and cold weather.

Unfortunately, this bladder comes with a few flaws. The quick-connect at the bottom needs some maintenance and lubrication; otherwise, it gets gummed up and becomes unusable over time and frequent use. Plus, the bladder's tube end has popped off several times in our testing period when trying to remove the bladder from the sleeve, spilling a little bit of water. This only happened to us when pulling the bladder out of the sleeve, never on its own inside a pack. Aside from these minor caveats, it still offers the best insulative properties of any bladder tested thus far and is our recommendation for those that are in super cold places or like to keep their water cold in the heat.

Read Review: HydraPak HydraSleeve

Compare Products

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Score Product Price Our Take
79
$40
Editors' Choice Award
Featuring a large handle and quality construction, this bladder is designed to take a beating on any backcountry excursion
77
$40
This stands out for its high flow rate and durable design, but the closure could use a little work
76
$38
Top Pick Award
Ready for any on-the-go athlete looking for a lightweight hydration system
75
$35
A long-time top model among our testers, we find this versatile bladder useful in all kinds of recreational applications
69
$30
Top Pick Award
Take this lightweight and packable reservoir on your next backpacking adventure
68
$60
Top Pick Award
An insulated hydration system that'll keep your water temps where you want them
67
$40
A bladder that features an insulated tube for liquid hydration in both cold and warm weather
65
$34
A simple system fitting for on-the-go travel
64
$42
Ideal for the backpacker or hiker, this hydration bladder integrates a stable back plate for easier use
64
$27
Best Buy Award
Simple and high value, this bladder covers your basic hydration needs in a lightweight package
64
$34
Lots of unique features in a lightweight hydration reservoir
60
$45
Full of features and great durability, its a great option for everything from hunting to hiking

Taking a sip of water on the go, we enjoy serious hydration on this...
Taking a sip of water on the go, we enjoy serious hydration on this 16-mile run in the high altitudes of the San Juan mountains.
Photo: Amber King

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 her 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 worldwide.

Our testing process involves stuffing bladders into running packs, backpacking backpacks, and throwing them into coolers and the freezer. 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. Also, we take the time to see how long each keeps your water cold in the summer and which tubes freeze up in the winter. We carefully analyze each feature and evaluate the durability of each product. With over 300 hours of filling bladders and sucking on bite valves, we have thoroughly vetted and tested every model in this review.

Related: How We Tested Hydration Bladders

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Analysis and Test Results


We selected a wide range of hydration bladders ranging from reservoirs to insulative models to traditional models. They are all rated across six important criteria to assess overall performance. We take the time to provide in-depth comparisons to help you find the best hydration bladder for your needs.

Related: Buying Advice for Hydration Bladders

Running across remote islands just North of Sweden is one of the...
Running across remote islands just North of Sweden is one of the many ways we put our bladders to the test.
Photo: Amber King

Value


Compared to some of our other categories here at the GearLab, 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 small range. However, there is still a value factor to consider. If you buy one model for a few bucks more and it 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 product.

The MSR DromLite can take a beating and return for more, making for a high-value product. We love the durability and adaptability of the Platypus Hoser, which is a simple bag that can easily be rolled and packed away. It has a higher durability rating than other bladders because of the heavier plastic construction that is more resilient in the face of squeezing and punctures. It costs less than most other bladders out there while functioning well enough for most needs.


Ease of Use


If your hydration bladder is a pain to drink from, it's failing its main purpose. The bladder that fits easily into a bag and provides sufficient water flow on the go (without leaking) does the best here. To evaluate performance, we consider the bite valve design, the valve locking mechanism, and the versatility of the bladder. We note the limitations of each bladder and how compatible it is with different types of hydration backpacks. In this section, we also discuss differences in the performance between insulated vs. non-insulated competitors.


Water flow is the main validator of ease of use. After all, you shouldn't have to work to get water while you're putting miles down on the trail. A good bladder that'll provide great flow typically uses a large tube diameter in addition to a high flow value that'll create a pressurized system. The Platypus Big Zip Evo does just this. The valve is huge, and one bite down releases ample water into your mouth. The Gregory 3D Hydro has a smaller valve with a similar level of water flow that's easy to sip while in motion. Both have the highest flow of water tested in this review.

Our 9 month old tester, Mila, testing comfort and ease of hitting...
Our 9 month old tester, Mila, testing comfort and ease of hitting her parents in the head with the bite valve.
Photo: Chris McNamara

The CamelBak Crux Reservoir uses a slightly smaller valve that's simple to use and provides plenty of water flow, too. The valves used in all HydraPak products, like the HydraPak Shape-Shift and HydraPak HydraSleeve, also feature a fast rate of water flow. With any of these options, you can squeeze the valve, and water will shoot out. You can give water to a pup or even fill up a small water bowl with any of these options.

Here are a few of the different bite valves. We found some locking...
Here are a few of the different bite valves. We found some locking mechanisms to work easier than others. We prefer the larger bite valve (bottom) which is faster to flow than others.
Photo: Amber King

Of the locking mechanisms, there are two different designs that we prefer; the switch and the twist. The Platypus Big Zip, CamelBak Crux Reservoir, and Deuter Streamer all use the switch. We prefer these as they are easy to open and close with the flick of a thumb. Of them, our favorite is the Big Zip and Crux, as they both feature large levers that don't gum up or clog over time. The Gregory 3D Hydro has a push and pull mechanism, a new design we haven't seen before, that is a little harder to use than the traditional locking mechanisms on the go, as it can get gummed up. With regular rinsing before use, though, we don't anticipate it being an issue for most folks.

The twist lock on the HydraPak HydraSleeve needs to be used with two...
The twist lock on the HydraPak HydraSleeve needs to be used with two hands but keeps from leaking even when in the unlocked position.
Photo: Amber King

The twist mechanisms found on the Osprey, Source Tactical, HydraPak, and Badlands brands are more difficult to use because you have to use two hands to unlock or lock them, a little tricky on a mountain bike or on the move. The HydraPak and Osprey brands are quite similar and the easiest to use. The Badlands is especially difficult to use due to its small mouthpiece. However, these differences are minor, and most valves can be purchased separately and swapped if the need arises.

The only bladder that doesn't have a locking mechanism in the valve is the Platypus Hoser, which unfortunately resulted in our testers getting dripped on occasionally. The flow rate on the Hoser, though, is great, and its simple design makes it easy to use otherwise.

A look at the great and versatile cap of the MSR Dromlite that...
A look at the great and versatile cap of the MSR Dromlite that offers an array of functionality.
Photo: Amber King

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 for taking 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.

Insulative Bladders

These bladders come with some form of insulation around either the tube, the body, or both. We tested two of these, the HydraPak HydraSleeve and the Badlands Hydration Reservoir. Both are good options, with the HydraSleeve outperforming the other. Our tests involved putting these and non-insulative bladders into the freezer, as well as backpacks, to see how good a job they do at maintaining temperatures.

Testing out the insulative properties of these bladders in a...
Testing out the insulative properties of these bladders in a side-by-side freezer test.
Photo: Amber King

In our freezer tests, the HydraPak HydraSleeve kept the main body of the bladder from freezing, even after leaving it in there for 24 hours. While there was a lot of ice inside, it wasn't completely frozen.

When testing how well the insulative tubes resist the tube from freezing, we used the non-insulated HydraPak Shape-Shift bladder without any insulation as a control. Then, we placed both the Badlands and Hydrapak HydraPak into the freezer. We left them inside, checking every 10 minutes to see if the tubes had frozen up. After 20 minutes, the regular bladder hose had frozen up, while both the Badlands and HydraSleeve remained liquid. The HydraSleeve tube staved off freezing for a total of 40 minutes, while the Badlands was able to remain unfrozen for a total of 30 minutes. Unfortunately, neither of these bladders could stave off. So, if you go ski touring, know that this sleeve and insulative tubing will help, but can't completely prevent freezing in extremely cold conditions. If you drink relatively frequently from the tube, though, the water from the bladder will replace the water in the tube, continuously preventing the liquid from freezing. With an uninsulated tube in freezing temperatures, it's hard to drink frequently enough to avoid this.

During this test, we put all bladders into a backpack that sits in...
During this test, we put all bladders into a backpack that sits in the sun. In this test, the HydraPak HydraSleeve offers the best insulation, keeping our water colder longer.
Photo: Amber King

We also put them into backpacks (filled with cold water) and put them into the sun to see how long it took for the water to heat up. We also stuffed the backpack with a jacket and other items you'd normally take on a backpacking trip. In this test, the control (the normal bladder) and the Badlands kept water cold for about 2 hours. The insulated tube of the Badlands model didn't contribute to keeping the bladder itself cool. The HydraSleeve (after our 7-hour test) managed to keep water cold for 6 hours. This is 3x longer than a normal hydration system without an insulating sleeve. This validated our hypothesis that this hydration sleeve provides insulation that'll keep your beverages cool on the trail.

Enjoy a snowy ski, without the worry of tubes freezing up with an...
Enjoy a snowy ski, without the worry of tubes freezing up with an insulating hydration bladder.
Photo: Amber King

Additionally, while hiking with the HydraPak HydraSleeve in the desert, we loaded it up with ice-cold water. Throughout the day (our hike was six hours), the water stayed icy cold, and ice cubes were still inside after the hike. Temperatures were between 80 - 90F that day. Overall, the HydraPak HydraSleeve offers excellent insulation that'll keep your drinks cool in the summer. Some people strongly prefer drinking cold water, and if that's you, this model does it best.

Ease of Care


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 disassembled? Can all nooks and crannies be cleaned? 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? Knowing the answers to these questions sets some bladders apart from others.


With careful and diligent care, any bladder is easy to care for. Be sure to rinse and dry it after every use. For days where you might fill it with a sugary substance, be sure to use a rinse tablet to help prevent bacterial build-up. Or, simply toss it into the freezer to kill most bacteria.

A flip-top bladder with a wider mouth and thinner plastics proves to be the easiest to flip inside out and manually clean. Options that did best in this area include the Hydrapak Shape-Shift 3L and Badlands Hydration Reservoir. 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 quite porous, so if not cleaned consistently, bacterial growth will ensue.

The HydraPak ShapeShift and Badlands bladder both easily flip inside...
The HydraPak ShapeShift and Badlands bladder both easily flip inside out and can be put into the dishwasher for easy cleaning.
Photo: amber king

Even though the flip tops prevails over screw-top options for cleaning, each performs a little differently. Some have smaller openings than others, making it a little harder (but not impossible) to get inside. Let's discuss flip-top options. The Deuter Stream and Source Tactical both have a slim profile that makes it harder to flip inside-out (but not impossible). The Platypus Big Evo Zip also has a more narrow opening and connected baffle that makes manual cleaning a bit more difficult. The CamelBak Crux proves to be easier to clean than the MSR 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.

The CamelBak Crux is easy to dry out with its super-wide opening. It...
The CamelBak Crux is easy to dry out with its super-wide opening. It just can't be flipped inside out or put into a dishwasher.
Photo: Amber King

It's important to note that scrubbing at the body of the reservoir is an important consideration. If you leave the bladder filled with a little sugary substance, you might be graced by a colony of bacteria after a few days or weeks. Bladders with a full opening at the top are easier to get into than those that don't. So those with a screw-top are at a loss unless the opening is huge, like in the Camelbak Crux. Others with smaller openings include the Gregory 3D Hydro, Source Tactical, and Platypus Hoser. All have openings that make scrubbing the body of the reservoir difficult to nearly impossible. The Platypus Hoser can't be scrubbed at all because the attachment is at the corner and very small. A scrubber can't get inside. The Source Tactical and Gregory 3D Hydro have a similar-sized screw top, with the ability to get a scrubber inside. However, it's harder to get into the corners than others that can be flipped inside out.

The durable outer material of the Source Tactical bladder makes this...
The durable outer material of the Source Tactical bladder makes this a great option to tote around as an additional water reservoir on canoe trips. It's also less porous therefore requires less maintenance for cleaning in the long run.
Photo: Amber King

Many bladders are designed to allow the user to easily disassemble the hose and bite valve for thorough cleaning. For example, the Gregory 3D Hydro, Platypus Big Zip, Source Tactical, HydraPak HydraSleeve, and Hydrapak Shape-Shift allow you to completely take the bite valve and the hose apart to get into every nook and cranny. 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 Osprey Hydraulics, you can't disconnect the lower tube from the bladder, making cleaning the lower tube inaccessible and a poor design, in our opinion.

The release clips on the Source Tactical hydration bladder makes it...
The release clips on the Source Tactical hydration bladder makes it easy to use...clean it and refill in a cinch.
Photo: Amber King

Drying is another factor to consider here. Most of the flip-top bladders can easily be opened up with a pair of tongs to ensure they dry after a rinse. This is important to ensure that water doesn't build up or pool. Screw top options like the Gregory 3D Hydro and Camelback Crux both have openings large enough to fit some kitchen utensils inside to help facilitate drying. The Gregory 3D Hydro also comes with a unique drying hanger to hang it upside down after use, which is preferable for ease of care. It also maintains an open shape when hung upside down, so you don't need to stick kitchen utensils inside it to keep it open.

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 ability to turn the bladder either vertically or horizontally while filling. We also like a bladder 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.

While filling, the Gregory 3D Hydro holds its shape without the bag...
While filling, the Gregory 3D Hydro holds its shape without the bag falling vertically, making it exceptionally easy to fill in all types of water sources.
Photo: Amber King

Screw-top options, like favorites, the Gregory 3D Hydro and CamelBak Crux Reservoir, can easily be filled in a sink or natural water source because the opening is oriented upwards. The Gregory 3D Hydro uses a handle that spans the length of the body, adding rigidity to the bladder and making it easy to hold under a water source, even once it starts to fill up with water. It works extremely well and is a feature we love on this product. The Camelback Crux Reservoir has a much larger handle and opening but is harder to hold once the reservoir is filled up because the body of the bladder falls vertically and doesn't stay horizontal.

Nolan is psyched on hydration. With just one hand, you can fill the...
Nolan is psyched on hydration. With just one hand, you can fill the Hoser up -- all 3 liters.
Photo: Amber King

In a dribbling stream, the flip-top options with a long tongue work very well. 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 makes it a little easier to fill than other zip-top models. We also love how the Hydraulics features a rigid backplate, providing the bladder with a structure that the Osprey Hydraulics LT or other flip-top bladders don't host.

A look at how the handle makes it easy to fill under a sink.
A look at how the handle makes it easy to fill under a sink.
Photo: Amber KIng

Overall, each bladder is easy to fill. The best option for a flip-top bladder is the Osprey Hydraulics, with the Gregory 3D Hydro 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.

Sometimes you need to share water on the trail. The elongated collar...
Sometimes you need to share water on the trail. The elongated collar of the Osprey Hydraulics creates a small spout - a perfect feature for thirsty friends.
Photo: Ray Sena

Quality & Durability


Over the last few years, we've beaten the snot 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.


All contenders do a good job in this category. After all, we do select the best to test. Though, none beat out the HydraPak HydraSleeve. This Nylon sleeve is completely abrasion-resistant and keeps the bladder inside from coming into contact with the natural world. As a result, this hydration system earns top marks. Kind of a no-brainer here due to its extra protective layer, but worth noting.

The new MSR DromLite is not as durable as the past model but still...
The new MSR DromLite is not as durable as the past model but still proves to be among the most durable in this review.
Photo: Amber King

However, with the exception of putting the HydraSleeve into its protective sleeve, the hydration bladders that prove to be the highest in quality and durability are the Gregory 3D Hydro, Platypus Hoser, and Platypus Big Zip Evo. All use a thicker polymer construction burlier than other options tested. All are puncture-resistant, and after months (to years) of testing, they haven't leaked through the bag itself. These are reliable bladders and hose systems, with the Platypus Hoser being the simplest in its constructions. The Platypus Big Zip and Hoser both use a similar polymer and have some issues, which doesn't earn them high marks. The Big Zip has an opening that can be tough to close, especially in cold weather. The Gregory 3D Hydro has a solid and high-quality construction, with a bag material that isn't as puncture resistant as the Platypus options. As a result, they all have the same score for different reasons. All have been reliable for us during our testing period and can be stuffed into a heavy pack.

While the Hoser isn&#039;t the highest performer all around, its simple...
While the Hoser isn't the highest performer all around, its simple design contributes to its high durability score.
Photo: Amber King

We also appreciate 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.

The backplate on the Osprey Hydraulics makes this bladder durable...
The backplate on the Osprey Hydraulics makes this bladder durable and easy to slip into a backpack.
Photo: Amber King

For a bladder made of a thinner textile, the Osprey Hydraulics performs the best. This bladder uses a super hefty backplate that retains its shape and protects it from exposure to abrasive environments. The Osprey Hydraulics LT doesn't have this backpack making it less durable overall.

The Source Tactical hydration bladder features a heavy and durable...
The Source Tactical hydration bladder features a heavy and durable reservoir that is perfect for taking out as an additional reservoir on its own. Here we canoe the Gunnison River in Southwest Colorado.
Photo: Amber King

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 with the tubing and mouthpiece attached. We also rolled up each to see which packs to the smallest volume. The lightest and most packable hydration bladders score the highest in this metric.

How packable is your bladder? What kind of weight will it add to...
How packable is your bladder? What kind of weight will it add to your load?
Photo: amber king

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.

A look at the super packable nature of the Platypus Hoser which...
A look at the super packable nature of the Platypus Hoser which makes it a good option for lightweight adventures.
Photo: Amber King

Of all the models tested, the Platypus Hoser is the lightest and most packable design we've come across, although the marginally heavier HydraPack Shape-Shift is actually our favorite lightweight model. The Platypus Hoser is a lighter bladder that can roll up into the palm of your hand. It's a great option for small packs, where you might need to store an extra bladder as a backup, for example, on a long trip. That said, we prefer the HydraPack Shape-Shift for longer ultralight adventures because it's a better design overall. The bite valve locks and doesn't drip, like the Platypus Hoser, and the HydraPack ShapeShift doesn't swish and move as much because it has a stability element integrated to compartmentalize the water. The HydraPak ShapeShift also fits better into smaller packs because it has a more narrow width and profile. Overall, while the Platypus Hoser is the lightest and most packable, the HydrapPack ShapeShift is our preferred choice for longer adventures.

Some bladders are more packable and lightweight than others. Here we...
Some bladders are more packable and lightweight than others. Here we see a handful of bladders we tested and how packable each is relative to another.
Photo: Amber King

The MSR Dromlite is another lightweight option that (without the hydration attachment) packs up to the size of its lid. Keep in mind that this is just a reservoir, and the MSR Hydration Kit needs to be purchased separately if you want to attach and drink from a hose with this model. If you want a light bladder with a little insulation, look to the Badlands Hydration Reservoir.

On the go and while exploring amazing locations, like the Faroe...
On the go and while exploring amazing locations, like the Faroe Islands, a hydration bladder that is reliable can be one of the most important pieces of equipment. Here, Amber, our main tester tries out some lightweight options while running on the other side of the world.
Photo: Amber King

Conclusion


Hydration bladders are simple but important in the world of gear. They are designed as a lightweight option that avoids using bottles to help you stay hydrated on the trail. 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