How To Choose a Hydration Pack For Your Outdoor Needs (Running, Hiking, Camping etc…)

Getting your workout fix outdoors has a lot of benefits. For one, making use of track ovals and hiking trails is usually a lot more affordable than maintaining a gym membership. Being one with nature and getting attuned to fresh air also does wonders to the body. However, one major drawback of exercising outside and off-grid is that you have to carry your own water since you’re not sure if you’ll even have the chance to refill along the way.

This is where hydration packs come in handy. 

Hydration packs allow you to bring and transport water conveniently through reservoirs that often let you take sips of water without having to pause what you’re doing. Given how big of a problem dehydration is in terms of your efficiency and overall health, hydration packs are a must for your outdoor needs.

Considerations when choosing a hydration pack

With so many options available in the market, you first have to narrow down your options according to the following considerations:

What activities will you be doing?

Choosing a hydration pack

It is very important to choose a hydration pack that suits the kind of activity you will use it for. 

Case in point: some hydration packs are thicker and heavier than others since they are made for trekking, mountain climbing, and other such activities. If you try to use one of these packs for a running race, it will slow you down. 

Manufacturers would almost always recommend the best use for their products, and it pays to take note of these suggestions.

How much water do you usually need?

It’s the capacity that makes or breaks hydration packs. Your tendency might be to go for the biggest one available, but that will not be practical all the time, especially if you’re just planning to run a few laps every now and then.

What’s your budget?

Whether we like it or not, affordability is a paramount consideration when buying practically anything. Generally, you have to be willing to shell out more if you need more value-adding features to your hydration pack. 

What type of water carrier do you want?

Finally, you have to pick the type of water carrier you want, and this choice will require its own considerations, too. We will now discuss the four most common types of hydration packs, the pros and cons of each, and some of the best products available in the market for each classification.

1- Hydration Backpacks

hydration backpack

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Use for: hiking, mountain climbing, trekking, long bike rides

Most hydration backpacks offer ample space not just for water, but for snacks and other essentials (like camping lanterns, GPS devices, and possibly even laptops) as well. So, they are perfect for whole-day or overnight and countryside activities. 

With backpacks, water is stashed on reservoirs with drinking hoses that let you take sips without having to stop and take off the whole bag just to drink. This makes it the top choice for activities like mountain climbing and cycling, where your hands are never empty. Of course, the large capacity will also make sure your hydration needs are covered if you’re not sure where you can stop for a refill.

It’s also the best type of water pack to bring when you’re about to battle extreme weather conditions, since most backpacks offer insulated water tanks that will keep your water in the exact temperature you want it. 

Don’t use for: sprints, timed races

If you need to be on top speed, the sheer weight of most backpacks might affect your performance. Hydration backpacks are also impractical if you are not to bring anything else besides water. There are far smaller packs that can serve this purpose better.

Frankly, other types of water carriers will be more affordable than the average price of backpacks, so unless you’re sure that you will utilize every pocket and every layer of a hydration backpack, consider another type of hydration pack first.

Top Picks For Hydration Backpacks

2- Hydration Belts

Hydration belt

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Use for: short distance running, recreational cycling

Most hydration belts will let you carry two bottles, your phone, keys, and not much else. For half-day activities like running and mid-distance cycling, that is more than enough.

Unlike hydration backpacks, most waist packs will literally just hold your water bottles for you, which means you will most likely have to stop moving to take a bottle out for your water break. Belts are therefore recommended for workouts that are more recreational.

Don’t use if: you need to carry a lot of gear, you are uncomfortable with ‘fanny packs’

Although hydration belts are mostly customizable and adjustable to fit any body type, it might take a while before you find one that perfectly fits around your body snugly. If you are already used to bringing fanny packs, this should not be an issue for you. Otherwise, it will take a lot of getting used to.  

Hydration belts can only carry enough essentials for a day, so it might not be the best option for overnight activities.

Top Picks For Hydration Belts
For recreational workouts (affordable pick)

3- Hydration Vests

Girl wearing hydration vest for running

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Use for: long distance running, short hikes

The two main differences between a typical hydration belt and a vest is capacity and ease of use. Vests can carry a lot more water, and the best ones will come with sipping hoses that can come in handy for short hikes that keep your hands occupied.

Other than that, think of vests as slightly smaller backpacks that will let you carry less, therefore keeping your load lighter.

Don’t use if:  you are prone to chafing

Out of all the different hydration packs, vests come in most contact to the skin, so it has the highest tendency to cause chafing. If you do decide on getting a vest, make sure you always wear it snugly around the torso. Carrying it too tightly or too loosely will surely stress out your skin.

Top Picks For Hydration Vests
For women (specifically designed to fit ladies)

4- Handheld Bottles

Water carrier when running

Use for: Neighborhood jogging, walking for fitness

Handheld bottles are the simplest kind of water carriers out there. These are basically your regular water bottles, only tethered to your hand using fabric and velcro. Understandably, it is also the most affordable kind of water pack on average.

If you like jogging around your own neighborhood or a nearby track oval where water fountains or stalls are accessible, you might not need to carry a lot of water. In such cases, a handheld bottle would be enough. 

Don’t use for: Any workout that would keep your hands full

As the name would suggest, a handheld bottle would keep one of your hands occupied the whole time. For this exact reason, it cannot be used for cycling, mountain climbing, or any other such workout. 

Needless to say, handheld water bottles also offer zero extra space for any other essentials, so it is not the best kind of water carrier for hiking or camping either. 

It’s a very good pick when you have to run under time pressure, though, since water bottles do not pack unnecessary weight. You just have to make sure it doesn’t throw off your balance or running form.

Top Picks For Handheld Bottles
For quick runs in summertime

The Bottom Line

Having said all that, the best hydration pack for you is actually anything that keeps you hydrated and comfortable. As long as you’re getting enough water and not having a hard time lugging it around on your chosen water pack, then you have made an awesome choice. 

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