Ready to upgrade your old, salt-stained hydration system with a new pack? We can help! We researched 55+ of the most popular models and chose the 13 best hydration packs to test head to head. We used and abused them over months, involving long day hikes, mountain bike rides, and even backcountry ski touring missions, to help you decide which pack is right for your adventures. We compared each pack across multiple criteria, from how easily the water flows to on-trail, all-day comfort. See how they fared below where we highlight the top overall performers, lightweight considerations, budget options, and even a fanny pack design, because yes, they're coming back! If you just need a reservoir, head over to our Best-in-Class Hydration Bladder Review.
The Best Hydration Packs for Hiking and Biking
We added two larger hydration packs that cross over into the world of typical daypacks, the Top Pick Osprey Skarab 18 and the CamelBak Cloud Walker 18. As for the Editors' Choice winner, we still recommend the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10. We have now used this pack for over a year and updated its review with longterm use information. Good news — it's still an amazing pack and is championing the test of time. Note that the models in this review are geared towards mountain biking and hiking, so if you are looking for a vest-style option for running, we have a separate review for that as well.
Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
After months of riding, hiking, running, and even skiing, we chose the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 as the winner of our Editors' Choice award. While it was a close battle with some of the other packs, the Duthie prevailed in the end, and beyond! After consistently scoring highly in every metric we tested, its superior comfort and support, combined with excellent organization, made the Platypus model our favorite overall. Platypus geared this pack toward mountain bike riders, yet its crossover appeal for other activities guaranteed it a place on the podium. Our lead tester still uses this model as his go-to hydration pack, and reports it has been performing top-notch for over a year now.
While the Duthie is close to achieving perfection in a pack, we found one drawback during testing. Compared to the CamelBak hydration system (featuring our favorite bite valve), the Duthie's bite valve doesn't perform as smoothly. You need to bite down on a specific location on the valve and suck pretty hard to get good water flow. Luckily, it's easy to swap it out for a CamelBak bite valve if you're seeking the easiest drinking option available. Although the Editor's Choice comes at somewhat of a premium price, you get a super comfortable pack with lots of well-designed storage space and features, like a rain cover and hipbelt pockets. If you're looking for an "all-mountain" option for a variety of uses, the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 is our number one choice.
Read review: Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
Best Bang for the Buck
Osprey Syncro 10
Even though there are cheaper options in our test group, we chose the Osprey Syncro 10 as our Best Buy Award winner. The contenders with a substantially lower cost also have fewer features and are less versatile, making the Syncro 10 a better value overall. For $110 you get a lightweight pack that is highly breathable and comfortable, along with the easiest-to-clean bladder. It's also made with quality and backed by Osprey's lifetime guarantee.
Like the Platypus model, the Osprey bite-valves didn't compare with the flow rate and ease of drinking that CamelBak has mastered. We also didn't get as much storage out of this 10L pack as we did from some of the other bags of similar size, although we did appreciate the LidLock helmet keeper for long climbs on warm days. The Osprey Syncro 10 is a versatile option with a lot going at a fair price point.
Read review: Osprey Syncro 10
Best on a Tight Budget
With a list price of $60, the CamelBak Classic continues to be an optimal choice for those who want a great hydration system without the need for extra storage or features. It was a high scorer for ease of drinking and filling and scored a perfect 10 for weight. It's so light because it's essentially a bladder and some shoulder straps, but sometimes that's all you want or need.
It's a bit more difficult to clean this reservoir, so think twice before you dump a bunch of Cytomax in there unless you're stoked to start a microbiology experiment. There's one small pocket to hold your keys and an energy bar, and that's about it. But if you're only out for an hour or two, or switching from biking to running and want something that'll work for both, the CamelBak Classic is an excellent choice that won't set you back a ton of money.
Read review: CamelBak Classic
Top Pick For Large Capacity Hiking Hydration Pack
Osprey Skarab 18
At 18 liters of total storage space, the Osprey Skarab 18 is substantially larger than most of the packs in our test lineup. Its size lends itself to long days outdoors with the capacity to hold and carry gear for multiple activities throughout the day. It's awesome for hikes over 10 miles, but also great on mountain bike rides or while traveling. For its size, it's also lightweight. And at $80, Osprey Skarab 18 costs less than several of the other choices in our lineup, especially when considering the pack includes Osprey's Hydraulics reservoir, drinking tube, and bite valve (a $30+ value on its own). This fact guarantees the pack is a top value in our lineup.
Overall, this is a hydration pack with a beefed-up basic daypack construction. It's simple and effective, appealing to a broad audience of users, especially hikers who want just one pack but occasionally need a product that can cross over to other sports. It doesn't have the multitude of special features that some of our other award winners have, but sometimes simplicity and plenty of storage is all you need. The Skarab may be your one and done pack, even if you're on a tighter budget!
Read review: Osprey Skarab 18
Top Pick for Lightweight Adventures
If you're looking at lightweight options for long road rides or situations where you don't want or need much extra gear, the CamelBak Rogue is the way to go. Our Top Pick for Lightweight Adventures weighs in at 12.8 ounces and is less than half the weight of the packs with 10L cargo capacities. It still carries well when the 2.5L reservoir is full and comes with our favorite bite valve system.
While CamelBak has mastered the bite valve, their bladders are not as easy to clean as the fully opening, slide-top models. Consider this if you like to ride with an electrolyte solution because if you can't clean it out thoroughly afterward, it's going to get funky fast (we recommend filling bladders with water only, but we can't stop you). Keep in mind that with the Rogue's fast and light nature, if you want to carry more than a couple of GU packs and a spare tube, you'll need a bigger pack option than this one. If your use is consistent with the intended use, and you're looking for a lightweight pack for biking or trail runs, the CamelBak Rogue is hard to beat.
Read review: CamelBak Rogue
Top Pick for Minimalist Mountain Bikers
Dakine Low Rider 5L
These days, it's hard to ignore the fact that lumbar-style, or fanny packs, are making a comeback in the mountain bike world. The inexpensive and lightweight Dakine Low Rider 5L is a great option for mountain biking, assuming storage capacity is somewhat low on your list of needs. With an included 2L Hydrapak reservoir, drinking water on the fly was incredibly easy, and we could carry everything we needed for shorter length trips into the mountains, whether by bike or on foot. Less pack contact and coverage on your back helps keep you cool when the temps rise, while the low price keeps money in your bank account where you need it.
It got a little uncomfortable when we filled the 2L reservoir full, and it also took up about half of the 5 liters of storage space. We preferred to carry it with 1.5L of water or less, which left enough room for a wind layer, snacks, phone, and keys. If you hate wearing a backpack while you hike or ride but still want to stay hydrated, the Dakine Low Rider is an excellent option and a heck of an upgrade from the fanny packs of old. Keep in mind an even lighter and better-ventilated option is to just use a water bottle and cycling jersey with pockets on the lower back. While the Dakine is light at 13.8 ounces, a water bottle weighs 2-3 ounces. Water bottles are much easier to clean, cheaper and arguably just as easy to use as a hydration hose. They also keep the weight lower.
Read review: Dakine Low Rider 5L
Analysis and Test Results
Over the course of several months, we used our test models all over the mountains, trails, and roads of the northern Sierra Nevada and beyond, even venturing into the sun-baked and thirst-generating sandstone Mojave desert area of Southern California. We filled, drank, rode, hiked, ran, and skied while keeping notes on each pack's performance. We recruited other hikers and riders to use the packs and give us feedback on what they did or didn't like and why. Then we rated them based on their ease of drinking and filling, their comfort and storage ability, how heavy they were and how challenging it was to clean them at the end of the day.
After noticing significant differences in how easy or difficult it was to sip each system, we even performed a "time trial" of sorts. We measured the flow rates of each model by using consistent water volumes drained from identical heights to determine the fastest systems. From field experiences to in-house tests, we got to know these products very well. Below, we go into detail about which models excelled in each metric, and also what to look for when searching for the best overall value.
We recommend the best possible products here at OutdoorGearLab but recognize that not everyone can pay top dollar for every product. If you are looking for a great value model (something that strikes a good balance between price and performance), then check out the chart below. The models that fall to the bottom right of the chart have a higher score and a lower price. Generally speaking, most hydration packs are usually a good value to begin with because you get a water bladder and a pack. There are 10-15L daypacks out there that cost just as much as the options in this review but don't have a hydration reservoir included, which is typically a $30+ value.
Ease of Drinking
Since the primary purpose of choosing to use a hydration pack is, well, hydration, we decided to focus on how easy each model was to drink from. At the beginning of our testing, we assumed all the packs would be pretty similar when it came to delivering water to our thirsty reviewers. After comparing, we found this wasn't the case. There was significant variation between the flow rates of each manufacturer's hydration systems. We were unsure whether this was due to the tubing, bite valves, or a combination of factors and the testing continued.
Initially, we merely used each pack several times, subjectively noting how we felt each model delivered the liquid goods. While using the test packs during mountain bike rides and various other activities, the differences became more obvious, and we were able to start narrowing down the variety between brands. After several days out, we were able to determine that when we were huffing, puffing, and panting our way up climbs that the CamelBak products seemed more natural to drink from. In comparison to some of the other packs, where we could only manage small sips without feeling like we were suffocating, the CamelBak packs allowed us to gulp our water down thirstily. Depending on your use, this may be a big consideration in your decision making.
After weeks of subjective information gathering, it came time to actually measure and obtain flow rates of each manufacturer's hydration system objectively. We decided an individual time trial of each pack's hydration system was the way to go. For our test, we filled each hydration bladder up to one liter and hung them at the same height above our sink. The drinking tube was then primed, and the stopwatch started. We timed how long it took to empty the liter of water into the sink, and there is a significant difference between the fastest and slowest systems.
The highly effective Crux systems of the CamelBak Cloud Walker 18, CamelBak Rogue, CamelBak Classic, and CamelBak M.U.L.E. clocked almost identical times with an average of 37 seconds to thoroughly drain the liter of water. This thoroughly reinforced our subjective opinions of how easy it was to drink while using the CamelBak products. They are hands-down the easiest drinking, allowing almost effortless sipping, and this proved it.
Not too surprisingly, the inexpensive TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0 had a substantially slower flow rate. We already suspected this after struggling to drink from the pack while biking and hiking. Our stopwatch time trial confirmed the low flow rate of the model. Compared to the speediest CamelBak Crux/Big Bite-equipped packs at 37 seconds, the Trailrunner took 2:04 to drain. With a difference that dramatic, the contenders that are easiest to drink from have a flow rate 3.35 times faster than the slowest. When you're ready to drink up, that lower flow rate becomes apparent. No wonder we felt like we were suffocating as we tried to drink from the Trailrunner 2.0! After actual measurement, it was obvious.
As we'd found while out field testing our packs, the Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 wasn't the easiest to gulp from but wasn't significantly different from the CamelBak packs. We clocked the Duthie's one-liter drain rate at 48 seconds, only 9 seconds slower. If the 9-second variance is enough to make you say "Hmmm…", swapping the bite valve out for a CamelBak Crux valve is inexpensive and only takes a few seconds to accomplish. After using the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 for the better part of a year, our lead tester went that route and loves it!
The Osprey Skarab, Raptor, Syncro, and Dakine Low Rider 5L all use Hydrapak water bladders, tubes, and bite valves, and each came in just a few seconds slower than the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 at 54 seconds. If you're looking to increase that speed, just make the cheap and easy bite valve swap we mentioned above.
The surprise of our time trial test was the inexpensive Wacool 2L. While the pack costs the same as the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0, the ease of drinking is significantly better. Our testers found the Wacool model was noticeably easier to drink from than the Trailrunner and our kitchen…er…um…lab testing proved it. Although not the fastest, the Wacool was able to empty its one liter of water in 1:05, almost a full minute faster than the Trailrunner 2.0. That's a pretty respectable flow rate for a budget pack!
The lumbar style Osprey Talon 6 was the outlier in our test selection, using water bottles for water storage as opposed to the water bladders employed in all of the other packs. It wasn't easy to quantify the flow rate of the bottles, as the water comes out as you squeeze them. Each 20 oz bottle took six full squeezes to empty, discharging just over 3 oz per full squeeze.
- 0:37 - CamelBak Crux Packs (an average of the CamelBak Cloud Walker 18, CamelBak Classic, CamelBak Rogue, and CamelBak M.U.L.E.)
- 0:48 - Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
- 0:54 - Osprey Skarab 18, Osprey Syncro 10, Osprey Raptor 10, Dakine Low Rider 5L
- 1:05 - Wacool 2L
- 1:28 - Deuter Compact EXP 12
- 2:04 - TETON Trailsports 2.0
Now it's up to you to consider the flow rates we calculated and decide how significant these numbers are for your activities. Are you a gulper? More of a sipper? Our stable of test packs ran the gamut for ease of drinking. With the time trial chart above, you can make a more informed decision in your hunt.
Ease of Filling
How easy is your reservoir to fill up? Compared to the "old days" when you had to dismantle your entire pack to fill up a likely-to-puncture hydration bladder with a narrow one-inch opening, today's models are more user-friendly than ever.
One crucial aspect of this metric is the size of the opening of the hydration bladder you're filling. Some packs like the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0 have an older-style opening of only 2 inches. With a reservoir opening that small, the logistics of filling up can be more complicated depending on your water source.
At the other end of the spectrum, several of our packs are equipped with bladders that completely open on their upper end. This creates a significant opening of around six inches, making filling the bladder with water and even large ice cubes that much easier. This design is by far the best for filling up at trickling streams (be sure to filter it either in the bladder or inline with the tube).
The Compact EXP 12, Skarab 18, Raptor 10, Syncro 10, Low Rider 5L, and our Editors' Choice Duthie A.M. 10 all have this type of opening. Somewhere in the middle is where the CamelBak Crux hydration bladders fall. These bladders all have a circular opening near the top of the bladder that has a 4-inch diameter which proved adequate, even for dropping ice cubes in. The CamelBak options are easy filling, but not quite the easiest.
How important this metric is may depend on where you usually fill your hydration bladder. Do you always fill from your convenient and deep kitchen sink? Do you ever find yourself traveling and filling up your pack from a shallow hotel sink? How about filling on the go from natural sources like lakes and streams? As the water sources become less convenient, the more important the reservoir opening is.
The size of the bladder opening can make a significant difference in the time it takes to fill as well as the effort needed. A wider opening generally makes filling up easier and vice versa for narrower openings.
The location of the hydration bladder inside the pack also dictates how easy it is to fill as well. Some models, like the CamelBak Rogue and CamelBak Classic, place the opening front and center with easy access for filling from a sink. Other packs like the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0 are designed with the hydration bladder in a harder to reach location. The majority of our contenders have relatively easy access to a dedicated hydration bladder sleeve. This makes the packs' bladders easily accessible, even when the bag is filled with your gear. The easier it is to refill your pack, especially in the middle of a hike or ride, the easier it is to ensure you're consuming enough water to stay hydrated. With today's packs, there's no more dumping the entire contents of your pack in frustration just so you can refill!
The exception to this style is the Osprey Talon 6 with its water bottles. The bottles rest in padded sleeves on the outside of the pack and are as easy to fill as taking off the lid, filling the container, and putting the lid back on.
A pack's level of comfort includes several factors. One of the first things we looked at was the intended use of all our test packs. Is the pack intended for carrying water and not much else like the CamelBak Classic or TETON Trailsports 2.0? Is your intended use to carry more gear, along with more water like the Deuter Compact EXP 12 or our Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10? Or are you looking for a larger daypack like the Osprey Skarab 18 or CamelBak Cloud Walker 18?
Simply deciding on how you'll be using your new pack is an important early step in your hunt.
If you load down an ultralight pack with too much weight, the comfort level will quickly diminish. Conversely, if you tend to carry a minimum of items and only partially fill your hydration bladder, a larger, more extensive pack may be overkill. Having too large of a model isn't necessarily uncomfortable, but may create an excess of material that allows the contents of the bag to move around. These factors can decrease your overall comfort.
When testing, we kept our comparison loads similarly weighted. For hiking, we typically carried a light jacket, 1.5 liters of water, a couple of nutrition bars, lip balm, a cell phone, and sunscreen. For biking, we brought the same items, plus some biking essentials like a spare tube, frame pump, multi-tool, and increased the water to two liters.
Beyond these basics, we had several wild card scenarios, like spring backcountry skiing. Some of our packs like the smaller CamelBak models, the lumbar-style packs, and the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0 can't be used on ski touring days due to a lack of storage options. On ski days, with our larger capacity packs like the Osprey Skarab 18, we were able to successfully carry an extra layer, 2.0 liters of water, a day's worth of food, gloves, goggles, helmet, and a few other small items. This activity put these packs to the test and allowed us to compare the overall comfort based on these extra large loads.
Once the general pack size is determined, it's time to look at the overall construction of the hydration pack and test how it supports and carries a load. The test models had four basic foundations: No frame like our Top Pick for a Lightweight Hydration Pack CamelBak Rogue, a stiffened foam frame sheet like our Top Pick Osprey Skarab 18, light wire frame like our Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10, and metal frame stays like the Deuter Compact EXP 12.
For lower weights, a pack without any real frame construction provides excellent comfort but suffers as you add weight. The more substantial the frame, the better the pack handles increased gear weight. We were pleasantly surprised at the support we felt when we loaded the Skarab 18 up with a full day's backcountry gear and started hiking. It doesn't provide the degree of support that a specialized ski pack would, but then again, it isn't designed to. Not surprisingly, the Deuter Compact EXP 12 and the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 deal with the heaviest pack loads with the greatest of ease.
We also tested the packs for breathability as this affects your comfort quite a bit (think sweat-saturated back on a chilly and windy day…brrr!). Our two test contenders that provided the most exceptional ventilation were the wire framed Syncro 10 and the Duthie A.M. 10. This high level of breathability is accomplished by keeping the pack body away from your back, providing superior airflow using a suspension wire frame and a highly breathable mesh back panel.
Another consideration when it comes to comfort is the shoulder strap construction. A good portion of the pack's weight rides on your shoulders, especially for models with no waist belt or a skinny webbing belt. Shoulder straps with a more anatomic cut are more comfortable. Not surprisingly, the higher-priced packs in our lineup tend to have this feature and are more comfortable.
What may be even more comfortable than super supportive shoulder straps? No straps! The Osprey Talon 6, one of two fanny packs in the review, excelled when we took it on short day hikes, while the Dakine 5L won our Top Pick for Minimalist Mountain Bikers.
Some hydration pack users prefer a more substantial waist belt like the Deuter Compact EXP 12 or the Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 while others prefer no waist belt like the CamelBak Cloud Walker 18, CamelBak Rogue or CamelBak Classic. Then there's the middle option, a narrower, less padded belt which we found on the Best Buy Osprey Syncro 10, the Top Pick Osprey Skarab 18, and CamelBak M.U.L.E.. The belt decision is definitely subjective, and only you can decide which style you like, but generally speaking, the more substantial the waist belt, the better the pack will carry heavier loads.
Where a pack's comfort is a cocktail of individual ingredients, storage space is a bit more straightforward. Are you only carrying water? Do you regularly carry extras in your pack, like snacks and an extra layer? How about carrying the kitchen sink? Like ordering a coffee, do you want small, medium, or large? Depending on your typical day out and what you tend to bring with you, it's relatively easy to figure out how much space you need.
We tested packs on both ends of the spectrum, from the smallest carrying size with the CamelBak Classic to the largest capacities like the Deuter Compact EXP 12, Osprey Skarab 18, and the CamelBak Cloud Walker 18.
Once you've decided small, medium, or large, you can fine tune that generalized decision with narrowing down how you want your storage space organized. Do you prefer one or two simple compartments to stuff your gear into? If that's your style, check out the Osprey Skarab 18 or maybe the CamelBak Cloud Walker 18 with their basic daypack style. Alternatively, are you someone who likes a lot of individual compartments where your equipment and food can be super organized? Beyond the number of pockets and compartments, you may also want to consider things like how specialized the pack is for your use. Things like bike pump keeper loops like in the majority of our mid-sized capacity packs like the Osprey Raptor 10, Osprey Syncro 10, the CamelBak M.U.L.E., and the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 may be a crucial consideration for you. Another pack in our lineup, the CamelBak Cloud Walker 18 even provides small trekking pole keeper loops that look much like miniature ice axe loops. How much storage and which features do you anticipate needing?
To make it easier for you to decide, we measured pockets and overall gear carrying capacity and include photos of each pack's storage in the individual reviews. We also recommend checking out the packs in person and also taking a look at the manufacturer's website for specifics on storage and pack layout.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we verify everything as much as we're able to and one of the easy things we can check for you is an item's weight. We've found that sometimes claimed weights aren't always accurate and our lineup of hydration packs is no exception. We weighed each pack with its hydration bladder, drinking tube, and bite valve and the actual numbers are listed on the chart below.
With gear like hydration packs, there is a surprising weight variance between the low and high ends of the spectrum. The CamelBak Classic weighs in at 11.2 ounces, while the upper end of the range, the Deuter Compact EXP 12, rings in at 2 pounds 12.8 ounces. Winning our Top Pick for Lightweight Adventures Award, the Camelbak Rogue brought great value to the table and was a top scorer among all of the metrics, along with the similar CamelBak Classic. Both lumbar style packs, the Dakine Low Rider 5L and the Osprey Talon 6 also tipped the scales on the lightweight side of the spectrum.
The TETON Sports Trailrunner's highest score was in the weight metric. Weighing 12.8 ounces, it finished towards the top of the fleet as far as lightweight packs go. If you only need the bare necessities, this contender rings in at $25 and is a decent option for those on a mega-budget that are also concerned with weight. It's also an excellent choice for kids, keeping the pup hydrated, or occasional hydration pack users.
How much emphasis this metric has on your hydration pack decision making is up to you. Some riders and runners want things as light as possible where others don't mind an extra few ounces or even a pound if it means their pack is more organized and comfortable. Only you can weigh (literally!) this decision.
Ease of Cleaning
Okay, we know that most users may not clean their bladders as often as they probably should. We're not pointing fingers or making judgments, because well, we're guilty too. With today's hydration packs, though, it's easier than ever to do a quick and thorough cleaning of your hydration system to keep that growing crop of intestinal cooties to a minimum.
Overall, the ease of cleaning coincides with the effort required to fill up the reservoir. The quicker the access to the bladder itself, the easier the cleaning process is. Beyond that, the more extensive the bladder opened, the easier it was to clean. Our testers also found that the quicker and easier it is to clean their system out, the more likely they are to do it. Except for the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0 with its older design and construction, our collection of test packs was easier to clean than ever.
The packs with the broadest opening bladders like the Editors' Choice Duthie A.M. 10, Compact EXP 12, Skarab 18, Raptor 10, Syncro 10, and Low Rider 5L are the easiest to clean. The logic here is simple. If you're able to remove the bladder from the pack and open the entire end of it, insert your hand and scrub, then follow it up with a towel, it's pretty darn easy to keep things clean. These complete openings at the top of the bladder also allow you to flip them inside out. For those that are dishwasher safe, toss them inside out in the top rack and let the machine do the work.
The narrower the opening, the more arduous cleaning becomes. The CamelBak Crux equipped packs filled easily but were more burdensome to thoroughly clean and dry than the models mentioned above. That's not to say they were that difficult to clean; they just required a bit more effort than the other wider opening models. The Wacool 2L was similar in its ease of cleaning, other than there was no keeper device attached to the cap.
The Duthie earned one of the highest scores in our test fleet; thanks to its wide mouth, it was easy to fill and thus, easy to clean.
The Osprey Talon 6 was again the outlier in this rating metric, with water bottles that proved to be quite easy to clean. Simply unscrew the lids and clean as you would any other bottle that you might use for drinking. Not necessarily any easier than the new crop of wide-mouthed hydration bladders, but certainly not any more difficult either.
With a greater variety of hydration packs available today than ever before, we've narrowed down your search by researching and testing the best options that are easily available. We've made this review as comprehensive and detailed as possible to help aid in your decision making. Our gear testers rode, ran, skied, climbed, and hiked all over the northern Sierra and southern California deserts to help you select the best hydration pack for your needs. For even more detailed information, take a look at our Buying Advice article.
— Jason Cronk & Jeremy Benson
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.