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How We Tested Hydration Bladders

By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Thursday September 29, 2022

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.

hydration bladder - running the santa cruz trail in the high andes proved to be a great...
Running the Santa Cruz trail in the high Andes proved to be a great testing ground for our hydration bladders.
Credit: Amber King

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.

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.

hydration bladder - demonstrating one of the many tests we use to test 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.
Credit: Amber King

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.

hydration bladder
Credit: Amber King

Ease of Filling

We filled these bladders from various water 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.

hydration bladder - nolan tests if this hydration bladder is easier to fill at a water...
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.
Credit: Amber King

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.

hydration bladder - in this case, we just throw the bladder in with all of our stuff...
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!
Credit: Amber King

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.

hydration bladder - 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.
Credit: Amber King

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