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Best Hydration Pack of 2020

Hydration packs, like the Gregory Endo 15 seen here, are a great acces...
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer
Wednesday November 18, 2020
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Our team of adventurers has tested 40+ of the market's best hydration packs in the last 8 years, recently purchasing 14 of 2020's top models for a fresh round of side-by-side comparisons. From Sierra mountaintops to California's coastal foothills and beaches, and everything in between, these packs have accompanied our testers on hundreds of miles of hikes, bike rides, and even backcountry ski excursions. Each model was rated across several key performance metrics, including hydration system quality, storage volume, and carrying comfort. No matter where your next adventure takes you, we'll help you find the best hydration pack to meet your needs.

Related: Best Mountain Bike Hip Pack of 2020
Related: Best Running Hydration Pack of 2020

Top 14 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 14
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award  
Price $129.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$129.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$118.09 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$69.95 at REI$89.95 at REI
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Pros Breathability, excellent storage, comfort and supportExcellent storage and organization, breathable back panel, adjustable hip beltExcellent organization, supportive, comfortableBig volume, lightweight, great priceComfortable, inexpensive, large storage volume
Cons Expensive, thin hip beltHeavy, expensiveHeavyFewer pockets, average hydration performanceHeavy, small water capacity
Bottom Line This model scores well in every rating metric and is our favorite overall hydration packThis pack has all the bells and whistles to carry all your gear comfortablyA sturdy pack with bike-specific features, though it comes at a heavier weightTons of storage, modest weight, and simple, functional designA large, comfortable hydration pack with a reasonable price
Rating Categories Osprey Syncro 12 Gregory Endo 15L Deuter Compact EXP 12 Gregory Nano 18 H2O REI Co-op Trail Hydro 20L
Ease Of Drinking (20%)
8
7
7
7
5
Ease Of Filling (20%)
9
7
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8
Comfort (20%)
7
8
9
7
7
Storage (20%)
8
10
8
8
9
Weight (10%)
4
4
2
7
4
Ease Of Cleaning (10%)
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5
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8
Specs Osprey Syncro 12 Gregory Endo 15L Deuter Compact EXP... Gregory Nano 18 H2O REI Co-op Trail...
Pack Size 12L 15L 12L 18L 20L
Bladder Capacity 2.5L 3L 3L 3L 2L
Weight (measured) 34.0 oz 37.9 oz 44.8 oz 25.5 oz 34.6 oz
Weight (claimed) 27.5 oz 32 oz 37 oz 18.4 oz 28 oz
Waist Belt 3/4" webbing Padded with two zippered pockets Padded with two zippered pockets Removable 3/4" webbing Removable 3/4" webbing

Best Overall Hydration Pack


Osprey Syncro 12


Osprey Syncro 12
Editors' Choice Award

$129.95
at Backcountry
See It

75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Drinking - 20% 8
  • Ease of Filling - 20% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Storage - 20% 8
  • Weight - 10% 4
  • Ease of Cleaning - 10% 7
Weight: 34 oz | Pack Size: 12L
High-end quality and construction
Great comfort and support
Excellent storage and organization
Very breathable back panel
Expensive
No hip belt pockets

After making an immediate positive impression on our testers, the Osprey Syncro 12 earns our top overall ranking with its versatile design and high-quality construction. Its well laid out storage and organization options, comfortable and breathable back panel, and top-notch hydration system earn it solid scores in nearly every performance metric. We especially like the well-placed drinking hose release clip that makes filling and replacing the bladder a breeze and the storage layout that includes both well-placed pockets and plenty of overall volume for bulkier items like a jacket or sweatshirt. This pack doesn't show any significant weaknesses and exhibits the quality we've come to expect from Osprey products. One tester has been using this pack consistently for over a year without any noticeable wear or tear.

While the Syncro is an all-around capable option, the quality construction and multitude of features land it among our lineup's heaviest packs. A comfortable carrying system compensates for this, but there are probably better options for fast and light pursuits that are lower-profile. We also appreciate designs with zippered hip belt pockets, one of the only high-end features notably absent from this model. Overall, the Syncro earns our highest honor and a strong recommendation for its impressive job balancing storage volume, organization, carrying comfort, and hydration performance.

Read review: Osprey Syncro 12

Best Bang for Your Buck


Gregory Nano 18 H2O


Gregory Nano 18 H2O
Best Buy Award

$69.95
at REI
See It

72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Drinking - 20% 7
  • Ease of Filling - 20% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Storage - 20% 8
  • Weight - 10% 7
  • Ease of Cleaning - 10% 5
Weight: 25.5 oz | Pack Size: 18L
Amazing volume to weight ratio
Large water capacity
Simple and intuitive design
Great price
Mediocre back panel ventilation
Limited storage pockets

The Gregory Nano 18 H2O earns recognition for its excellent value, offering ample storage volume and low weight at a surprisingly low price tag. This awesome pack has one of the larger storage volumes (18 liters) and water capacities (3 liters) in this category, all while coming in with one of the lowest weights and prices. The simple, straightforward design makes it easy to carry bulkier items in the primary storage compartment and keep smaller items organized in the exterior zippered pocket on the top lid. The hydration system is painless to use and take in and out of the pack.

However, the Nano 18 H2O does sacrifice some more luxurious features found on some of the more expensive packs. As one of the lowest-priced packs in our review, it's certainly a comfortable bag, though the padded back panel is not as breathable as other models with open mesh panels, potentially leading to a hot, sweaty back. And while the large main storage compartment is great for stashing bulkier items, it doesn't have the detailed organization and storage capabilities found on other packs with multiple interior pockets or fancier fleece-lined pockets. The Gregory Nano 18 H2O certainly out-performs many packs with higher price tags, though it lacks some higher-end features. Nonetheless, we find it's an impressive bang for the buck.

Read review: Gregory Nano 18 H2O

Best for Tight-Budget Minimalists


CamelBak Classic


CamelBak Classic
Best Buy Award

$26.55
(56% off)
at Backcountry
See It

61
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Drinking - 20% 9
  • Ease of Filling - 20% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 4
  • Storage - 20% 2
  • Weight - 10% 9
  • Ease of Cleaning - 10% 6
Weight: 11.2 oz | Pack Size: 0.5L
Lightweight
Affordable price
Strong performance despite a minimal design
Limited storage
Shoulder straps snug for some users

For those who want an affordable, top-of-the-line hydration system without the need for extra storage or fancy features, the CamelBak Classic continues to be an optimal choice. With its 2.5-liter Crux hydration system, it scores well for ease of drinking and filling and is consistently one of the lightest bags in our lineup and on the market. This pack is essentially just a bladder and some shoulder straps with a pocket for your keys and phone, but sometimes that's all you want or need.

The reservoir is a bit more difficult to clean than other folding wide-mouth models, so think twice before dumping a bunch of drink mix in there unless you want 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 don't need a pack with extra storage or are continually 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 cash.

Read review: CamelBak Classic

Best Storage and Organization


Gregory Endo 15L


Gregory Endo 15L
Top Pick Award

$129.95
at Backcountry
See It

73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Drinking - 20% 7
  • Ease of Filling - 20% 7
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Storage - 20% 10
  • Weight - 10% 4
  • Ease of Cleaning - 10% 5
Weight: 37.9 oz | Pack Size: 15L
Several pockets and storage features
Comfortable suspension
Adjustable hip belt height
Ventilated mesh back panel
Heavy
Reservoir not easily removable

The Gregory Endo 15 is recognized for its outstanding storage and organization, boasting a large 3-liter 3D-Hydro water reservoir, a comfortable and adjustable suspension system, and a pocket or sleeve for every piece of gear. In addition to a large main storage compartment that houses the water reservoir and a removable tool pouch, this pack includes a front zippered compartment with a padded and lined sunglasses pocket, an external zippered valuables pocket, and zippered hip belt pockets. A ventilated back panel supports the cleverly designed storage features with moisture-wicking mesh and an adjustable Shift RS hip belt to help dial in a comfortable custom fit.

While the high-end features on this pack are undoubtedly impressive, they do come with a weight penalty, making the Endo 15 one of the heaviest packs in our lineup. And although the 3-liter reservoir provides plenty of capacity, it's a little bit trickier to access and remove than models with a separate reservoir sleeve, and its smaller circular opening makes refilling and cleaning more complicated than with some of the other top-rated hydration systems. However, the Endo 15 makes a great choice for a heavy-duty hauler to help organize hiking gear, bike tools, camping equipment, or tools for fieldwork.

Read review: Gregory Endo 15

Best Drinking Hose Design


Thule Vital 6L


Thule Vital 6L
Top Pick Award

$119.95
at Amazon
See It

65
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Drinking - 20% 10
  • Ease of Filling - 20% 5
  • Comfort - 20% 6
  • Storage - 20% 5
  • Weight - 10% 8
  • Ease of Cleaning - 10% 5
Weight: 20.2 oz | Pack Size: 6L
Innovative drinking hose attachment
Lightweight
Comfortable
Excellent storage for size and weight
Limited overall storage volume
Tedious water reservoir hanger

With its revolutionary ReTrakt drinking hose return system, the Thule Vital 6L made a significant impression on our testers. While every other top model has a hose clip or magnetic bite valve attachment, nothing else comes close to this design's simplicity and performance. The drinking bite valve is conveniently housed along the right shoulder strap with a long, flexible magnetic strip, making it easy to grasp and reliably and securely returns when you release it. The Vital also provides a secure, comfortable fit without bouncing or flopping around with its lightweight pack design, low center of gravity, and wide hip belt and shoulder straps.

While we were uniquely impressed by the drinking hose return system outside the pack, we were a little underwhelmed with the reservoir housing inside the bag. The hanger loop and T-shaped reservoir hook are more tedious to work with than most other designs, making removing and replacing the reservoir for refilling or cleaning a bit more challenging. The 6-liter storage volume is on the smaller side but is an ideal design for a day out on the bike and has enough room to pack a jacket and all of your essential gear. Overall, this model is excellent for anyone who loves the convenience of a hydration bladder but is tired of the drinking hose always flopping around.

Read review: Thule Vital 6


Why You Should Trust Us


To test hydration packs, we enlisted the expertise of gear testers Nick Bruckbauer, Jason Cronk, and Jeremy Benson. As experienced hikers, bikers, and all-around outdoorsmen, this trio understands the importance of quality gear and efficient hydration. As residents of the beautiful Lake Tahoe area, Jason and Jeremy can be found shredding the trails all year via foot, bike, or skis. When he's not trekking in Nepal, skiing in Alaska, or scaling 14ers in Colorado, Nick makes his home along California's Central Coast, where he regularly immerses himself in the Pacific Ocean and among the local 4,000 ft mountain peaks.

For several months, we used these backpacks all over the mountains, trails, and roads of California's Coastal Ranges, the Sierra Nevada, and even a quick trip to Colorado's Rocky Mountains. 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. We then rated them based on their ease of drinking, filling, cleaning, comfort and storage capabilities, and overall weight.

Related: How We Tested Hydration Packs

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Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Analysis and Test Results


After a thorough examination of the best hydration packs on today's market, we carefully selected these models from some of the industry's most trusted manufacturers. Each model in our lineup comes with a built-in hydration bladder and drinking hose, with a unique bladder housing design, hose routing system, and drinking bite valve attachment. The small nuances between each backpack and hydration system design can significantly impact the ease of drinking from, filling, and cleaning the water reservoir, as well as the overall comfort and utility of the backpack. To help you identify which models excel in which areas, we analyzed each backpack and hydration system design across six different rating metrics.

Related: Buying Advice for Hydration Packs

Value


Here at OutdoorGearLab, we recommend the best possible products but also recognize that not everyone is looking to pay top dollar every time. Since most of us are looking for a good balance between price and performance, we compared prices and overall performance ratings for each hydration pack we tested to illuminate higher and lower value products.


As you get both a water bladder and a backpack, most hydration packs are usually already a pretty good value, generally speaking. Similar sized daypacks cost just as much as the options in this review but don't include a hydration reservoir. The Gregory Nano 18 H20 provides a 3-liter reservoir with a large storage volume and outstanding comfort at almost half the price of some high-end models, while the CamelBak Classic provides a top-notch hydration system in a minimalist pack design at an even lower price.

Who doesn&#039;t love a good value? The Gregory Nano 18 is one of the...
Who doesn't love a good value? The Gregory Nano 18 is one of the best values we've tested.

Ease of Drinking


Since the primary purpose of using a hydration pack is, well, hydration, our testing focused on each model's overall drinking performance. In addition to each hydration system's flow rate performance, we analyzed how well each hydration system interacts with the pack itself. The security of the bite valve attachment system, the routing of the drinking hose through the bag, and the overall reservoir volume were all equally considered, in addition to the ease of gulping down the liquid goods.


The differences between how easily each model delivers the flow of water became more apparent throughout our testing, and we started narrowing down each brand's performance. While huffing, puffing, and panting our way up and down hills, we found that the CamelBak products are the easiest from which to drink with their Crux hydration systems and Big Bite valves. While we could only manage small sips without feeling like we were suffocating with some other packs, the CamelBak products allowed us to gulp our water as we pleased. Following closely behind are the HydraPak hydration systems found on a wide array of products, including the Osprey models.

Related: Best Hydration Bladder of 2020

Not all bite valves are created equally. CamelBak&#039;s Big Bite valve...
Not all bite valves are created equally. CamelBak's Big Bite valve is easy to use and includes a shutoff valve.
Photo: Jason Cronk

The design of the hydration system within the pack can also have a significant impact on drinking performance. Fumbling around with a floppy drinking hose or bite valve, or getting a hose kinked, or running out of water too soon can be detrimental to your optimum hydration. In this category, packs with larger water reservoir volumes and better drinking hose attachment systems score well. Standing out is the Thule Vital 6 with its innovative ReTrakt drinking hose return system that keeps the bite valve very secure and easily accessible.

The ReTrakt drinking hose return system features a flexible magnetic...
The ReTrakt drinking hose return system features a flexible magnetic strip that keeps the drinking hose secure to the shoulder strap, easily accessible for drinking, and easily returnable to its secure position.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

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 have an older style of opening of only 2 inches, such as the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0. With a reservoir opening that small, the logistics of filling up can be more complicated depending on your water source. The Gregory Nano 18 H2O and Endo 15 also have a traditional circular opening of about 3 inches.

The 3D Hydro bladder in the Nano 18 is simple to fill in the kitchen...
The 3D Hydro bladder in the Nano 18 is simple to fill in the kitchen sink, but the circular opening may be challenging under more difficult circumstances.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

At the other end of the spectrum, most of the packs we tested are equipped with bladders that fold completely open on their upper end. These larger openings make 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 add a chemical treatment in the bladder or filter inline with the hose).

Related: Best Backpacking Water Filter of 2021

The hydration bladder handle is a convenient addition.
The hydration bladder handle is a convenient addition.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Somewhere in the middle is where the CamelBak products' Crux hydration bladders fall. These bladders all have a 4-inch circular opening near the top of the bladder, which proved adequate, even for dropping in ice cubes. The CamelBak options are easy filling, but not quite the easiest.

The Classic and Rogue share the same wide mouth and convenient...
The Classic and Rogue share the same wide mouth and convenient handle to make filling up quick and easy.
Photo: Jason Cronk

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 critical the reservoir opening is. The size of the bladder opening can make a significant difference in the time and effort it takes to fill. A wider opening generally makes filling up easier and vice versa for narrower openings.

All of the Osprey models have convenient wide-mouth openings.
All of the Osprey models have convenient wide-mouth openings.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Perhaps more important than the design of the hydration bladder itself, the bladder's location inside the pack can have a considerable impact on how easy it is to fill. Some models place the opening front and center with easy access for filling from a sink, such as the like the CamelBak Rogue and CamelBak Classic. 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, making the bladders easily accessible, even when the bag is filled with 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 so that you can refill.

Some packs in our lineup also include a convenient quick-release button where the drinking hose connects to the bladder. The top-ranked Osprey Syncro 12 includes quick-release buttons, an easily accessible separate bladder pocket, and a wide mouth bladder opening, making removing, refilling, and replacing a breeze.

The easily accessible bladder sleeve and quick release tubing on the...
The easily accessible bladder sleeve and quick release tubing on the Syncro 12 make it one of the easiest bladders to remove and refill.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Comfort


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 designed to carry 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 Gregory Endo 15 or the Deuter Compact EXP 12? Or are you looking for a larger daypack like the Osprey Skarab 18 or the Gregory Nano 18 H2O? Simply deciding how you'll be using your new pack is an essential early step in your hunt.


The comfort level will quickly diminish if you load down an ultralight pack with too much weight. Conversely, a larger, more extensive pack may be overkill if you tend to carry a minimum of items and only partially fill your hydration bladder. Having too large of a model isn't necessarily uncomfortable but may create an excess of material that allows the bag's contents to move around. These factors can decrease your overall comfort.

We kept our comparison loads similarly weighted during testing. We typically carried a light jacket, two liters of water, a couple of nutrition bars, lip balm, a cell phone, and sunscreen for hiking. We brought the same items for biking, plus some biking essentials like a spare tube, frame pump, and multi-tool. Beyond these basics, we had several wild card scenarios, like spring backcountry skiing or using the pack as a gym bag. Some of our smaller models, especially the minimalist style packs, obviously wouldn't be suitable for this, but the larger 18L and 20L models we tested certainly proved versatile and could be compared while under a more massive load.

The larger capacity of the Skarab 18 comes in handy for doubling as...
The larger capacity of the Skarab 18 comes in handy for doubling as a gym bag.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Once the overall pack size is determined, it's time to look at the hydration pack's overall construction and test how it supports and carries a load. The test models had four fundamental foundations: No frame, like the minimalist design CamelBak Classic, a stiffened foam frame sheet, like our value-oriented Gregory Nano 18 H2O, light wireframe like the high-end Osprey Syncro 12, and metal frame stays like the Deuter Compact EXP 12.

The stiffened foam back panel on the Nano 18 handles heavier loads...
The stiffened foam back panel on the Nano 18 handles heavier loads with ease.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

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 bag 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 isn't explicitly designed for that. Heavy by design, the Deuter Compact EXP 12 and the REI Trail Hydro 20 unsurprisingly deal with the heavier pack loads with ease.

The Trail Hydro 20 is an affordable, comfortable pack with a huge...
The Trail Hydro 20 is an affordable, comfortable pack with a huge 20-liter storage capacity.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

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). The wireframed Syncro 12 proved to be one of our contenders with the best ventilation design. This high level of breathability is accomplished by keeping the pack body away from your back, providing superior airflow using a suspension wireframe and a highly breathable mesh back panel. The Gregory Endo 15 also provides proper ventilation with comfortable back panels separated from the backpack's body.

The Syncro 12 has excellent ventilation and a sturdy frame, but...
The Syncro 12 has excellent ventilation and a sturdy frame, but could benefit from a thicker hip belt and some hip belt pockets.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Shoulder strap construction is another important consideration when it comes to comfort. A good portion of the pack's weight rides on your shoulders, especially for models with no hip 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. The Patagonia Nine Trails 14 and the REI Trail Hydro 20 both have thick padded shoulder straps.

The Patagonia Nine Trails has some very comfortable foam padding on...
The Patagonia Nine Trails has some very comfortable foam padding on the shoulder straps and hip belt.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Some hydration pack users prefer a more substantial hip belt like the Thule Vital 6, while others prefer no hip belt like the CamelBak Cloud Walker 18 or the CamelBak Rogue and Classic. Then there's the middle option; a narrower, less padded belt, which we found on many of our packs, including the Gregory Nano 18 H2O and the Osprey Syncro 12. The belt decision is subjective, and only you can decide which style you like. Still, generally speaking, the more substantial the hip belt, the better the pack will carry heavier loads.

If you're on the fence about hip belts, look for a model that offers it as a removable feature.

The extra-wide hip belt on the Vital 6 hugs your body and helps keep...
The extra-wide hip belt on the Vital 6 hugs your body and helps keep loads snugly supported.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Storage


A pack's comfort is a cocktail of individual ingredients, while 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? 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.


Once you've decided on a size, you can begin narrowing down how you want your storage space organized. Do you prefer one or two simple compartments? If so, the Gregory Nano 18 H2O or the Osprey Skarab 18 may be the ticket with their basic daypack style. Alternatively, do you like lots of individual compartments where your equipment and food can be more organized? If you need specialized gear storage, things like bike pump keeper loops might be a consideration, like in some of our mid-sized packs, such as the Gregory Endo 15 or Osprey Syncro 12. Many options like the REI Trail Hydro 20 also have external loops or daisy chains to give you a bit of extra storage for things like trekking poles.

The Trail Hydro 20 has external daisy chain attachments for securing...
The Trail Hydro 20 has external daisy chain attachments for securing additional gear to the outside of the pack.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

We were especially impressed with the storage features on the Gregory Endo 15. In addition to a solid 15-liters of overall volume, the Endo has a multitude of storage compartments, zippered pockets, padded sleeves, and hip belt pockets.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Weight


Here at OutdoorGearLab, we measure an item's weight ourselves, as sometimes claimed weights aren't always accurate. Our lineup of hydration packs is no exception. We weighed each pack with its included hydration system.


There was a surprising weight variance between the low and high ends of the spectrum in our lineup. The CamelBak Classic weighs in at 11.2 ounces, while the more fully-featured packs like the Osprey Syncro 12 and the Gregory Endo 15 both tipped the scales at over 2 pounds. The Osprey Skarab 18 and the Gregory H2O both came in at a respectable 1 pound, 9.5 ounces.

While the Endo has almost every feature imaginable, it also tips the...
While the Endo has almost every feature imaginable, it also tips the scales at almost 2.5 pounds, which is on the heavier end of our lineup.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

With its simple, lightweight design, the CamelBak Classic scores well in this metric. If you only need the bare necessities, this is an excellent option for those on a budget who are also concerned with weight. It's also an excellent choice for kids, keeping the pup hydrated, or occasional hydration pack users.

The low weight and simple design of the pack make it comfortable for...
The low weight and simple design of the pack make it comfortable for light and fast movers. This pack was the lightest in the fleet, weighing in at a low 11.2 ounces.
Photo: Jason Cronk

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.

The Vital 6 provides surprisingly useful storage space in a...
The Vital 6 provides surprisingly useful storage space in a lightweight package.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Ease of Cleaning


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 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 the petri-dish effect to a minimum.


Overall, the quicker the access to the bladder itself, the easier the cleaning process is. Beyond that, the larger the bladder opening, the easier it is to clean. We also found that the quicker and easier it is to clean our hydration system, the more likely we are to do it. The bladders with the widest opening mouths, like the Compact EXP 12, the Osprey Skarab 18, and the Syncro 12, 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 stiffener on the Syncro helps with filling and cleaning. This...
The stiffener on the Syncro helps with filling and cleaning. This model scored the among the highest in our fleet.
Photo: Jason Cronk

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 3D-Hydro system on the Gregory Nano 18 H20 and the Endo 15 also require a little more effort with their circular openings but have a convenient hanging hook to help the reservoir dry.

The Quick Dry Hanger on the Gregory 3D-Hydro systems is a nice touch...
The Quick Dry Hanger on the Gregory 3D-Hydro systems is a nice touch to help empty and dry out the bladder.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

After cleaning, allow the reservoir to dry completely. Placing it in a windowsill and propping it open with a kitchen utensil (think a large whisk) speeds up the drying process. Toss the empty bladder in your freezer to limit bacteria growth during storage.

Conclusion


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 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 California and beyond to help you select the best hydration pack for your needs.

The Syncro is a solid all-around performer, earning it our highest...
The Syncro is a solid all-around performer, earning it our highest honor.
Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Nick Bruckbauer, Jason Cronk, & Jeremy Benson