The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Hydration Bladders

By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Friday November 15, 2019

The testing over the last few years has been whimsical with many different adventures. We took the time to test each bladder hands-on through a variety of activities. We've traveled from the high mountains of the Andes to the high seas of Iceland. On our adventures, we've taken each running, hiking, biking, climbing, and more. In addition to our in-field tests, we objectively evaluate the craftsmanship and performance of each bladder, taking notes, and looking at each side-by-side. To evaluate each product, we focus on five key criteria which include ease of use (25%), ease of care (25%), ease of filling (20%), quality and durability (15%), and weight & packability (15%). Below, we outline how each of these metrics is tested hands-on.

Running the Santa Cruz trail in the high Andes proved to be a great testing ground for our hydration bladders.
Running the Santa Cruz trail in the high Andes proved to be a great testing ground for our hydration bladders.

Ease of Use


To test this, we evaluate the types of hoses, valves, and mouthpieces used in the construction of the drinking apparatus. To do this, we note which offers more water readily, without having to suck too hard.

Here we compare two different mouthpieces and hoses in two different bladders. The one on the left delivers a faster flow of water after our water flow tests.
Here we compare two different mouthpieces and hoses in two different bladders. The one on the left delivers a faster flow of water after our water flow tests.

We also note the relative diameter of the hose, and whether the pieces are interchangeable — in case you don't like one of the parts. We compare and contrast which offers the best water flow on the trail, and note which ones are prone to leaking or don't have a locking mechanism. Those with a better flow and use on the trail, do better overall.

Demonstrating one of the many tests we use to test water flow. Without additional pressure applied to the bag  we see how far the water shoots from the nozzle when pressed from the sides. This provides a great look at water flow.
Demonstrating one of the many tests we use to test water flow. Without additional pressure applied to the bag, we see how far the water shoots from the nozzle when pressed from the sides. This provides a great look at water flow.

Ease of Care


To test this we used each bladder with straight-up water and sugary mixes. We filled them up, sucked them dry, rinsed them out, and left them to dry. We take note of which bladders can flip inside out or are dishwasher safe. Those that are the easiest to maintain, with both their construction and materials, do best in this category.

Here we compare two different hydration bladders that can be flipped inside out and washed if the bags get really dirty  smelly  or full of bacteria when you forget to clean them out on a regular basis.
Here we compare two different hydration bladders that can be flipped inside out and washed if the bags get really dirty, smelly, or full of bacteria when you forget to clean them out on a regular basis.

Ease of Filling


We filled these bladders from all sorts of sources! Streams, rivers, lakes, boats, taps, and even shallow ponds. Those that were easiest to fill up (to a full ~3L) did the best. Those that are the easiest to close on the go also do very well.

Nolan tests if this hydration bladder is easier to fill at a water spout than the others with just one hand. The big handle makes pushing the tap and filling up quite easy with this contender.
Nolan tests if this hydration bladder is easier to fill at a water spout than the others with just one hand. The big handle makes pushing the tap and filling up quite easy with this contender.

Quality and Durability


This is a hard metric to test with our limited testing time. However, we continue testing our award winners for months and months after our preliminary tests. During our testing period, we put them into backpacks loaded down with gear, throw them around at the crag, and simply use them for at least 40+ hours.

Here we load up a hydration bladder into our backpacking backpack that we use for a big climbing day. While we did take out all our gear  this burly bladder holds up to pressure and abrasion while on the trail. These tests also help us learn which bags leak from seals or the bite valve over time.
Here we load up a hydration bladder into our backpacking backpack that we use for a big climbing day. While we did take out all our gear, this burly bladder holds up to pressure and abrasion while on the trail. These tests also help us learn which bags leak from seals or the bite valve over time.

After this testing period, we look at any potential issues with quality and durability and make a note. In addition, we look at online reviews of verified reviewers to see what their thoughts are, especially if they've been testing longer than us. If there's a red flag, we test it out, simply to see if we note any problems. Those that are more puncture-proof and prove to have seamless construction do best.

In this case  we just throw the bladder in with all of our stuff  when there is no designated hydration sleeve. As you can see  we have all the climbing essentials -- especially gummy bears!
In this case, we just throw the bladder in with all of our stuff, when there is no designated hydration sleeve. As you can see, we have all the climbing essentials -- especially gummy bears!

Weight and Packability


We weigh both the hydration bladder and the hose to see how many ounces each will add to your outdoor kit.

We weigh all of the products that we test so you know how much you're going to be carrying.
We weigh all of the products that we test so you know how much you're going to be carrying.

For the ultralight minded, we roll each up, simply to see how it'll stash away when it's not filled. We then compare each product side-by-side to determine which is the best.

We also note how small each can pack down to for your traveling needs.
We also note how small each can pack down to for your traveling needs.