This article was updated 3/23/2020
Because packs allow us to be prepared out on the trail, we’ve continued to seek out updates to this list. We’ve added some great new packs with unique design characteristics to improve your carrying capacity out on rides. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve found a great pack that works well for your needs, what is it and what do you carry in it?
What to look for in a mountain bike hydration pack
Let’s be honest. Not all mountain bikers love (or are even willing to use) hydration packs. Too hot, too heavy, too clumsy, too bulky are among the most frequently leveled complaints. And we hear ya. For rides less than 2 hours, there’s simply no need to schlep around a pack — especially in this age of high functioning bum bags, SWAT-type on-bike storage (thanks, Specialized), and water bottles inside the main triangle (finally, Yeti). But for bikepacking, big backcountry adventures, all-day epics, and/or guiding, the humble hydration pack remains an essential must-have piece of gear. That’s why Mtbr has rounded up this list of the best hydration packs.
But before we delve into our favorites, it’s important to know what makes the best hydration packs… the best. And what you need to consider when making your personal purchasing decision. In no particular order, you should be thinking about capacity, fit, and features. Of course you also need to make sure that the pack you pick is actually intended for shredding the gnar, and not running a marathon or hiking in the Himalayas. Assuming you won’t make that mistake, here’s a rundown on the remaining key considerations.
When it comes to capacity of the best hydration packs, we’re talking about both water (or whatever your liquid of choice is) and gear. It’s also worth noting that some hydration packs are not sold with water-carrying bladders, so make sure you check. As for how much water you need, first-off remember that water equals weight (about 2 pounds per liter), so just because your chosen bladder will hold a gallon of go-go juice doesn’t mean you should fill it to the brim every time you ride.
Think about how long you plan to ride, how hot is it, and if you can refill along the way, and then plan accordingly. As a very general rule of thumb, figure you’ll need to consume the equivalent of one water bottle per hour of ride time, and that a standard water bottle holds around 22 ounces (or .65 liters). And then unless your bladder has fill lines, use one of your water bottles as a measuring cup when you fill up. That way you’re less likely to haul around unnecessary extra weight that’ll just get dumped in your garden when you get back from your ride.
Most hydration packs (including some of our choices for the best hydration packs) come with 2- or 3-liter reservoirs. That’s plenty for most riding adventures, remembering that 3 liters equals the capacity of 4.6 standard-size water bottles. That said, we prefer 3-liter bladders, which add minimal weight while availing a wider range of fill options.
Read more about the importance of proper hydration here.
As for gear carrying capacity, expect to encounter a wide of range of options, with most packs usually in the 5- to 15-liter range. Next consider how much gear you need to carry. This is obviously in part a personal decision. Some of us can sustain all day on energy gels. Others settle for nothing less than a turkey sandwich, chips, and a cookie.
Same goes for tools and spare parts. Are you a member of the quick-fill-and-tire-plug-only crowd, or do you regularly ride with a spare rear derailleur, full suite of tools, and a space blanket? We figure that most riders on most rides will be fine with around 7 liters of cargo carrying space, while frequent visitors to the deep backcountry, bikepackers, and guide types may need at least double that. Just remember that more space means more fabric, which means more weight for you to lug around.
Also consider how that space is organized. Simple packs may have just one big carry-all pocket, while more refined hydration pack offerings will include lots of compartmentalized storage so you can keep your chain lube separate from your lunch. That means bonus points for packs with easy-to-access pockets, fleece lined storage for valuables, a removable tool roll, and hooks and straps to carry your helmet, a removable chinbar, or body armor.
Though most of the best hydration packs are one-size-fits-all, that doesn’t mean you can forget about fit. Indeed, you’ll want to consider your torso length and waist size, and ideally try on packs until you find one that matches up with your body type. And even if you can’t try before you buy, look for packs that are highly adjustable, which will increase the likelihood that your pack won’t be bonking you in the head when you’re dropping into sketchy steep rock garden.
We’ve already mentioned some of the key features to look for when searching the best hydration packs. But beyond cargo carrying space, compartmentalized storage, and ample fit adjustability, we look for the following: rugged bite valves, secure bite valve storage, easy bladder insertion and removal, quick disconnect hoses, and wide mouth bladder openings, which make them easy to fill and clean.
Other desirable features include built-in back protection, good ventilation, security clips for keys, quick-access waist pockets, and built-in rain covers.
Okay, now that we’ve run through the main things you should be looking for when shopping, let’s get to the goods. Here in alphabetical order are our picks for the best hydration packs for mountain bikers.
CamelBak Skyline LR 10
Aimed at addressing the issue of hydration packs’ tendency for unwanted shifting when bombing downhill, the CamelBak Skyline LR 10 is designed to shift the bulk of its weight near the lower back while at the same time giving more support to the wearer’s lumbar region. By lowering the pack’s center of gravity, the rider maintains more stability on rough trails while also letting the upper body move more freely. Other features include ample pockets to keep gear organized, attachment for a full-face helmet and armor, and a magnetic tube trap to keep your hydration hose from flopping around. It also comes with a 3-liter reservoir, and the rear of the pack has a ventilated back panel to help you stay cool.
Dakine Seeker 15L
The Dakine Seeker 15L rolltop hydration pack with included 3-liter reservoir and removable spine protector is built for all manner of mountain bike adventures. Ample cargo space, durable polyurethane-coated 200D Nylon Ripstop fabric, and a near-waterproof construction and closures make it a viable companion for true backcountry adventurers — especially those who want to carry valuables such as a camera and not worry about it ever getting wet. The removable protective back pad and easy-to-use helmet and armor carrying system give it true enduro racing potential, and a host of interior and exterior pockets (including one that’s fleece-lined) allow the rider to carry all the gear they need and keep it organized. It also has a ventilated air suspension back panel, breathable ergonomic shoulder straps, and it comes with a 3-liter Hydrapak lumbar reservoir that helps keep water weight low on your back to maintain an overall lower center of gravity.
Patagonia Nine Trails 14l Pack
As Patagonia’s first MTB specific pack, the Nine Trails pack offers some solid gear carrying features in a comfortable and well-designed pack system. With 14l of carrying capacity, the Nine Trails pack is a great day-to-day MTB pack for shorter rides when carrying a bunch of gear isn’t a concern. A large internal gear pocket stores a 100l hydration blatter in addition to bulkier and heavier items. Designed with the roomier part of the pocket near the bottom, this area carries heavy items like tools, tubes, and bulky food with ease. Upfront, a smaller pocket allows for easy organization of tools, bars, and items you’ll want to access often during your outing. Mesh pockets complement the internal storage in easy access locations on the outside back, side panels and two zippered easily access waistbelt pockets for a multitool, bars, or your phone.
EVOC Explorer Pro 30L
Mountain bike guides or the chronically over-prepared will love the EVOC Explorer Pro 30L, which is the largest pack in this round-up and goes well beyond the average cargo hauler, boasting the space to carry up to 30 liters of just-in-case gear securely and comfortably. It’s also a good choice for riders who need more hauling capacity for Euro-style town-to-town bike touring or even lightweight camping gear for bikepacking. Nylon 210/D Ripstop fabric is durable, wide hip wings have large zipper compartments, and there’s a roll-bottom for internal separation or volume adjustment. It also has a separate wash pouch, an attachment system for helmet, a separate tool compartment, compression belt, rain cover, and accommodation for hydration systems up to 3 liters.
Henty Enduro 2.0
Aimed to meld the benefits of hip pack (low weight) and a backpack (better stability), the Henty Enduro 2.0 keeps weight low and stabilized, while also minimizing back sweat. Ample pockets and webbing provide plenty of easy-to-access storage, and it comes with 3-liter bladder so you can venture further afield without running out of water. There’s also a hidden 10cm rear extension that gives this pack more flexibility to fit a variety of body shapes, including tall and stocky frames. Other features include lumbar (including hips and kidney) impact protection, mesh back panel for stability and improved air ventilation, 48″ hose and blaster valve, adjustable shoulder straps, adjustable chest strap, and tough Cordura 500D nylon to ensure it is lightweight, yet strong enough to withstand the occasional get-off.
Leatt Hydration Pack DBX Enduro Lite 2.0
Protection experts Leatt deliver the goods with this lightweight pack that of course includes a back protector. Winner of a Design & Innovation Award, the DBX Enduro Lite 2.0 includes a convenient and efficient hydration system and ample gear storage. Features include a height adjustable harness that works without a constraining hip strap. Instead the cargo straps secure the backpack. It also has fully-welded seams, a waterproof outer shell, and heat reflective inner back panel that helps keep your belongings dry and liquid hot or cold. There’s even a smartphone pouch with touch screen functionality, and it’s equipped with a lightweight helmet carrier system and a dual hydration tube for two-way routing – over the shoulder or under the arm.
HydroFlask Journey 10
Designed around shorter rides in warmer temps, the Journey 10L blends a clean, compact pack design with a unique tech approach to keeping your water cold. Centered around Hydro Flask’s multi-part Cold Flow system; externally, an articulated back panel separates the pack from your body, letting airflow to both your body and your beverages. Internally, a reflective-insulated sleeve houses a 3l bladder (included) further reducing unwanted water warming. The final piece to keeping your water cold is the reservoir itself – HydraPak Isobound insulation works in unison with the other features to ensure that whatever is inside the reservoir will stay cold for more than four hours. What we like about the Journey 10 is it’s sleek, clean design mated with some unique technologies.
Osprey Raptor 14
Arguably the gold standard in outdoor sports packs, Cortez, Colorado-based Osprey makes superb gear haulers for all manner of activities. The Raptor 14 is their go-to for mountain biking, and its 14-liters are packed with functional features. Osprey’s BioStretch harness and hipbelt help to comfortably connect the pack to your body, and the 3-liter Hydraulics reservoir reduces liquid movement for increased pack stability when the trail turns techy. The hydration sleeve is zippered for convenient refilling and the hose routes over the right shoulder strap to the sternum strap where it anchors with a magnetic disk for on-the-fly access to the bite valve. The main compartment is accessible via a front zipper panel, and there’s a stretch mesh front pocket for stashing a layer at the bottom of big climbs, zippered hipbelt pockets to keep a phone or other valuables secure, and a special scratch-free sunglass pocket to protect your shades. Finally, the clever LidLock helmet carry system gives you a place to secure your helmet, and the rollout tool pouch provides organized access for trailside repairs.
Platypus Duthie AM 10.0
There’s lots to like with the utilitarian Platypus Duthie AM 10.0, which hits the sweet spot for size and storage for most mountain bike rides. Construction is durable and water resistant 160D/210D nylon. Storage is ample and organized, and the pack is incredibly stable even when tackling rowdy terrain. We also love its easy-to-access zippered waist pockets, which are perfect for storing snacks. It also ticks the expect enduro’centric boxes with its well-designed pad and helmet carry system, rain fly cover, fleece lined eyewear pocket, and self-securing drink hose, and padded mesh waist belt.
Thule Vital 3L
Heretofore best known for its myriad rack solutions, Thule jumped into the hydration pack arena with its new Vital collection about 18 months ago. Available in three sizes, 3, 6, and 8 liter, the Thule Vital features include a hands-free magnetic hose return system and convenient jersey-style pockets for quick access to nutrition, clothing, or tools without having to remove the pack. All Thule Vital packs come with Hydrapak reservoirs ranging from 1.75L to 2.5L sizes, and 3 to 8 liters of cargo storage while maintaining a low center of gravity. Additional features include a tail light attachment, a sternum strap for stability and comfort, and designated interior loops to carry a tire pump and shock pump. We highlighted the 3-liter model here as a great option for riders who prefer a backpack over a waist pack, and/or have a bike that doesn’t accommodate a water bottle inside the main triangle.
USWE Airborne 9
Known for their unique NDM “non-bounce” a 4-point harness system designed to comfortably mange the packs load. With other features like ventilated shoulder straps and a unique anti-slip back panel, USWE approaches mountain bike packs a bit differently than traditional designs. We’ve been happy with how well the USWE Airborne 9 carries a day rides worth of gear. Well laid out pockets provide adequate organizational opportunities no matter how much random stuff you’re carrying. The total storage capacity of the pack is 9L, distributed by the total of 8 storage pockets including a smart organizer pocket that allows you keep everything organized and in position for quick access. The packs exterior also integrates smart attachment points for a full face helmet along with knee and elbow pads.
Feedback from our forums
str8edgMTBMXer said: “Osprey Raptor 14…mine is 5 years old now, and it has been awesome! Replaced an old Camelback. I bought it because it is much easier to fill, it has much more storage options as far as pockets go. I wear it at work too in the summer, so it gets a lot of use. It has a 3 liter bladder. Osprey is reeeaalll good about replacing parts. When the clear rubber nozzle thing wore out, I e mailed Osprey asking for a new plastic cover. They sent 3 for free…I have heard that they send other parts the same way.”
Arebee said: “I have the Raptor 14 as well. I chose it over the Mule NV a few years back. The two were very similar, but the Raptor just felt more comfortable. I closed the clip on the chest strap in my car door and they sent me two for free to replace it. I really like the detachable tool wrap as well.”
Outrider66 said: “I just finished my first ride with the Camelback Rogue I bought recently. I was extremely pleased with it. Along with the good hydration hardware, ample capacity and good fit/function, it has 2 zipper pockets which perfectly fit the stuff I always carry – wallet, phone, car keys, bandana, about 2′ of toilet paper (for me, the most essential item – lol), and 3-way hex wrench. It has an open “pocket” where you can stuff a shirt, etc., plus a tire pump.
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