Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
: 30.4 oz | Pack Size
Very comfortable and supportive
Well-ventilated back panel
Excellent organization of storage pockets
Great mountain biking performance
Limited storage for bulkier items
For the second year in a row, the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 takes home our Editors' Choice Award, but not without some very close competition. In the end, the Duthie prevailed over other similar packs because of its superior comfort and support, its large 3.0-liter water capacity, and its excellent storage pocket design. Platypus geared this pack toward mountain bike riders with its multiple storage pockets and built-in helmet attachment, yet its crossover appeal for other outdoor activities guaranteed it a place on the podium. Extra little details like zippered hip belt pockets, a fleece-lined sunglasses pocket, and a built-in rain cover add up to again make this our top-ranked model.
While the Duthie is a consistent top performer in every scoring metric, it's not quite perfect. Compared to the CamelBak hydration system (featuring our favorite bite valve), the Duthie's bite valve doesn't flow quite as smoothly. Luckily, it's easy to swap this out for a CamelBak bite valve if you're seeking the easiest drinking option available. And while we loved all the storage pockets to help keep us organized, we found it a little harder to stuff in bulkier items compared to some of the bags with larger storage volumes. Those drawbacks were minor compared to its plethora of features, supreme comfort, and well-designed storage spaces, helping the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 defend its title as our Editors' Choice Award winner.
Read review: Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
Best Bang for the Buck
Gregory Nano 18 H2O
: 25.5 oz | Pack Size
Amazing volume to weight ratio
Large water capacity
Simple and intuitive design
Mediocre back panel ventilation
Limited storage pockets
With its big storage volume, low weight, and surprisingly low price tag, the Gregory Nano 18 H2O comes away with our Best Buy Award. This awesome pack tied for the largest storage volume (18L) and water capacity (3.0L) in this category, all while coming in with one of the lowest weights and lowest prices. The simple, straightforward design makes it easy to carry bulkier items in the main storage compartment and keep smaller items organized in the exterior zippered pocket on the top lid, while the hydration system was easy to use and take in and out of the pack.
As one of the lowest priced packs in our review, the Nano 18 H2O does sacrifice some more luxurious features found on some of the more expensive packs. While it's certainly a comfortable bag, 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. Although it doesn't have some of these higher-end features, the Gregory Nano 18 H2O certainly out-performed many packs with higher price tags, taking home a well-earned Best Buy Award.
Read review: Gregory Nano 18 H2O
Best for Minimalists at a Great Price
: 11.2 oz | Pack Size
Strong performance despite a minimal design
Shoulder straps snug for some users
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 cash.
Read review: CamelBak Classic
Notable for Runner-up to Editors' Choice
Osprey Syncro 12
34 oz | Pack Size:
High-end quality and construction
Great comfort and support
Excellent storage and organization
Very breathable back panel
No hip belt pockets
The Osprey Syncro 12 made a great impression on our testers and just narrowly missed taking home our Editors' Choice Award. With top-quality construction, well laid out storage and organization, and a comfortable, breathable design, this pack scored well in every rating category. We especially liked the well-placed drinking hose release clip that made filling and replacing the bladder a breeze, and the layout of the storage pockets that kept smaller items organized like bike tools, keys, and phones, while leaving plenty of room for bulkier items like a jacket or sweatshirt. This pack didn't show any major weaknesses in our testing.
Our Editors' Choice Award winner Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 just narrowly edged out the Syncro 12 because of its larger water capacity (3.0L to 2.5L), a slightly easier to clean hydration system, and a couple of extra luxuries like zippered hip belt pockets and a fleece-lined valuables pocket. However, our testers appreciated the slightly larger storage volume (12L to 10L) of the Syncro 12, especially for bulkier items, as well as the layout of the storage pockets. These two packs were very evenly matched, with just slight nuances separating them.
Read review: Osprey Syncro 12
Taking the packs out for some head-to-head testing.
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. Both 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 can see both the Pacific Ocean and 4,000 ft mountain peaks from his window, and immerses himself in both locations as often as possible.
Over several months, we used these backpacks all over the mountains, trails, and roads of the 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. 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.
Related: How We Tested Hydration Packs
Analysis and Test Results
The focus of this review is on backpacks that provide the user with an included hydration system. All of the models in our lineup include built-in hydration bladders and drinking hoses, with customized bladder storage pockets, hose routing systems, and drinking mouthpiece attachments. Each contender has a slightly different backpack and hydration system design, with nuances that impact the pack's comfort, breathability, and storage organization, as well as the ease of filling, drinking from, and cleaning the hydration system. We're confident that our lineup has the best offerings available from the market's top brands that will provide you with the comfort, performance, and value for whatever adventures are in your future.
Related: Buying Advice for Hydration Packs
After a thorough examination of today's current offerings, we settled on these 11 different models from some of the market's most trusted equipment brands. During the selection process, our experts combined their industry knowledge with consumer feedback on both the newest available models as well as the consistently top-ranked performers. Each model we tested is already a high ranking product within the industry, and their scores in this review are in relation to one another. Our tests ranged from general field use in a variety of conditions to specific "time trial" flow tests at home.
Related: Best Mountain Bike Hip Pack
Who doesn't love a good value? The Gregory Nano 18 is one of the best values we've tested.
We recommend the best possible products here at OutdoorGearLab, but also recognize that not everyone can pay top dollar for every product. Since you are probably looking for a great value model (something that strikes a good balance between price and performance), we compared prices and overall performance for all hydration packs we tested in order to illuminate the best values, such as the CamelBak Classic and Gregory Nano 18 H2O. 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.
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. Surprisingly, we found 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, so we investigated further.
After using each pack a few initial times, we subjectively noted how easily we felt each model delivered the liquid goods. As our testing continued, the differences became more obvious, and we started 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 easiest to drink from. While we could only manage small sips without feeling like we were suffocating with some other packs, the CamelBak packs allowed us to gulp our water as we pleased.
Not all bite valves are created equally. The valve of the Rogue is easy to use and includes a shut off valve.
After weeks of subjective information gathering, we decided to confirm our observations a little more objectively with an in-home flow test. For our test, we filled each hydration bladder up to one liter and hung them at the same height above our sink, primed the drinking tube, and started the stopwatch. While not a perfect test, we did find significant variations between the time it took the fastest and slowest systems to empty the liter of water into the sink.
Getting ready for our in-home flow test!
The highly effective Crux hydration systems and Big Bite valves found on the four CamelBak packs we tested came away with the fastest drain times in our test, reinforcing our field-formed opinions of their top-notch performance. The CamelBak packs have hands-down the easiest drinking hydration system we tested, and this confirmed it. Following closely behind were the Platypus Big Zip Evo hydration system found on our Editors' Choice Duthie A.M. 10, and the HydraPak system found on the Osprey models.
The 3D Hydro bladder in the Nano 18 was simple to fill in the kitchen sink, but the circular opening may be challenging under more difficult circumstances.
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 of 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. The Gregory Nano 18 H2O also has a traditional circular opening of about 3 inches.
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. 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).
Our Editors' Choice Award winner from Platypus has a convenient large 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.
The Classic and Rogue share the same wide mouth and convenient handle to make filling up quick and easy.
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.
All of the Osprey models had convenient large openings.
Perhaps more important than the design of the hydration bladder itself, the location of the bladder inside the pack can have a huge impact on how easy it is to fill. 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 and the insulated Hydro Flask Journey Series 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 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 insulated bladder and insulated housing sleeve on the Hydro Flask made removing and replacing the bladder challenging.
Some packs in our lineup also include a convenient quick release button where the tube connects to the bladder. Our two top-ranked models, the Osprey Syncro 12 and the Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 both included quick release buttons in addition to easily accessible bladder pockets and wide mouth bladder openings, making removing, refilling, and replacing a breeze!
The easily accessible bladder sleeve and quick release tubing on the Syncro 12 make it one of the easiest bladders to remove and refill.
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, CamelBak Cloud Walker 18, or our Best Buy Award Winner Gregory Nano 18 H2O? Simply deciding 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.
The padded mesh back panel on the Journey Series pack is well-ventilated and very comfortable.
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, and multi-tool, and increased the water to two liters.
Beyond these basics, we had several wild card scenarios, like spring backcountry skiing, or using as a gym bag. Some of our smaller models, especially the lumbar-style packs obviously wouldn't be suitable for this, but the larger 18L models we tested certainly proved versatile, and could be compared while under a heavier load.
The larger capacity of the Skarab 18 came in handy for doubling as a gym bag.
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 Best Buy Award Winner Gregory Nano 18 H2O, light wire frame like our Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10, and metal frame stays like the Deuter Compact EXP 12.
The Nano 18 handled heavier loads with ease.
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 provide the most exceptional ventilation are the wire framed Syncro 12 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.
The Syncro 12 has excellent ventilation and a sturdy frame, but could benefit from a thicker waist belt and some hip pockets.
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.
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 Gregory Nano 18 H2O, our Notable Pick Osprey Syncro 12, or the 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.
If you're on the fence about waist belts, look for a model that offers it as a removable feature.
Our Best Buy Award winner on the move.
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? 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 size, you can begin 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, see the Gregory Nano 18 H2O or maybe the Osprey Skarab 18 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 like the Osprey Syncro 12, the CamelBak M.U.L.E., and the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10. Many packs also have external loops or daisy chains to give you a bit of extra storage for things like trekking poles.
The Duthie has several interior storage compartments to keep all your specialized gear organized.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we measure items' weights ourselves, as sometimes claimed weights aren't always accurate, and our lineup of hydration packs is no exception. We weighed each pack with its included hydration system.
In our lineup, there was 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 insulated Hydro Flask Journey Series rings in at 3 pounds, 1 ounce. Our three lumbar packs all came in right around 1 pound, and the Osprey Skarab 18 and our Best Buy Gregory H2O both came in at a respectable 1 pound, 9.5 ounces.
The TETON Sports Trailrunner scores high 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 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.
Lightweight packs provide supreme comfort as long as they're not loaded down with too much weight. Pictured here is the TETON Sports model, which earned a high score for its low weight, but not much else.
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 Skarab provides a big 18-liter volume in a reasonably light package.
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 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 larger the bladder opening, 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.
One of the widest openings in our test, the Compact EXP was easy to fill and clean.
The packs with the broadest opening bladders like the Editors' Choice Duthie A.M. 10, Compact EXP 12, Skarab 18, Syncro 12, and Journey Series 10 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.
Typically, when it's tougher to fill, it's also tougher to clean. The TETON Sports model earned low scores for ease of drinking, filling, and cleaning.
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 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.
Easy access for cleaning and drying is found on the bladder of the Duthie.
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.
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 was a solid all-around performer, nearly nabbing our Editors' Choice Award.