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How We Tested Hydration Bladders

By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Monday May 11, 2020

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. 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.

For insulated models, we put each into the freezer and backpacks on sunny days to see how the insulative properties actually worked. We compared these against normal bladders to see if there was a significant difference.

We enjoy a nice  socially distanced jaunt around the Perimeter Trail close to home with the HydraPak HydraSleeve hydration system. Water is kept nice and cool!
We enjoy a nice, socially distanced jaunt around the Perimeter Trail close to home with the HydraPak HydraSleeve hydration system. Water is kept nice and cool!

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.


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. 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. 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.