Are you searching for the best hydration pack? With so many models, styles, and sizes to choose from finding the right one can be a challenge. We researched over 60 of the top models and bought 11 to test over the course of several months. We took each model out for bike rides, day hikes, even some casual spring backcountry ski missions to determine which were the best overall. Our testers used each pack as if it were their own and scrutinized every last detail of their design and functionality to determine what packs work best for various activities. What pack best suits your adventures, hydration, and storage needs? Read on to find out…
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated October 2017
Our expert testers disembarked on a journey to the land of hydration packs, finding that our Editors' Choice winner, the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10, remains the best overall. The Osprey Syncro 10 prevails as our Best Buy winner, as does our Top Pick for Lightweight Adventures. Our reviewers also discovered the joys of mountain biking with a fanny pack, choosing the Dakine Low Rider 5L as our Top Pick for Minimalist Mountain Bikers.
Best Overall Hydration Pack
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 other packs like the Osprey Raptor 10, the Deuter Compact EXP 12, and the CamelBak M.U.L.E., the Duthie prevailed. After consistently scoring highly in every metric we tested, its superior comfort and support, combined with excellent organizational design, made the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 our favorite overall. Even though Platypus geared this pack toward mountain bike riders, the pack's crossover appeal for other activities guaranteed a place on the podium.
The best storage in our test
Best all around performance for mountain biking
Good crossover ability into other activities
Lower volume delivered when drinking
Read review: Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
Best Bang for the Buck
Osprey Syncro 10
Even though there were cheaper options in our test, the Osprey Syncro 10 was chosen as our pack with the Best Bang for the Buck. We did test a few contenders with a substantially lower cost, but with that, their lesser features and a narrower appeal ruled them out for this award in comparison to the Osprey Syncro 10. Keeping in mind that often you get what you pay for, this pack has several of the features of the higher priced options but at a lower price.
Lightest weight for a more substantial capacity pack
Even with light weight, this contender has a lot of cool bike-oriented features
Better price than the other bigger models in our test
Storage wasn't as user-friendly as different packs
Doesn't deliver as high of a water flow rate as others
Read review: Osprey Syncro 10
Top Pick for Lightweight Adventures
We somewhat split the packs up based on overall size and carrying capacity. For those of you who are more interested in packs on the lighter side of the spectrum, we chose the CamelBak Rogue as our favorite lightweight pack. Though small, the Rogue still has enough space to carry at least a few small items needed for biking. That in conjunction with CamelBak's award-winning hydration system technology made this the obvious pick for the Top Pick for a Lightweight Hydration Pack.
Even as our second lightest pack, we were able to carry enough items for riding
Top scoring hydration system
Not much storage capacity
Not the easiest to clean
Read review: CamelBak Rogue
Best on a Tight Budget
With a list price of $60, the CamelBak Classic is so much less expensive than the competition that we had to try it out. While storage is limited, it's a minimalist pack that's a great value for anyone on a tight budget. It scored the only perfect 10 for weight and was a high scorer for its ease of drinking and filling. The Classic is, well, classic and is ready to accompany you on your next adventure - as long as you don't need much storage space. Minimalists rejoice!
Solid performance in a range of metrics
Shoulder straps can be snug for some users
Read review: CamelBak Classic
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. We found the inexpensive and lightweight Dakine Low Rider 5L to be a great option for mountain biking, assuming storage capacity is somewhat low on your list of needs. With an included 2-liter Hydrapack hydration bladder, drinking water on the fly was incredibly easy, and we found 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. If you hate wearing a backpack while you ride but still want to stay hydrated, the Low Rider may be for you.
Light is right
Pockets allow for organization
Confined storage capacity
Water bladder takes up storage space
Could have more structure
Read review: Dakine Low Rider 5L
Analysis and Test Results
Over the course of several months, we used and abused all of our test models all over the mountains, trails, and roads of the northern Sierra Nevada. We filled, drank, rode, hiked, ran, and skied while keeping notes on each pack's performance. We recruited other users to try the packs and give us feedback on what they did or didn't like and why. The table above shows the overall combined scores that we arrived at for each pack. Below, you'll find more details on the methods we used to evaluate the packs for each metric that we rated.
Types of Packs
Most of the packs we tested fall into the backpack style category. These packs are essentially small daypacks with integrated hydration in the form of a water bladder with a drinking tube and bite valve. There are numerous brands, sizes, storage and water capacities, and features to suit people's needs and wants out on the trail. Generally speaking, this style of pack is quite versatile and can be used for a variety of activities. To read more about pack size and what might work best for you, head to our Buying Advice article.
Also known as Fanny Packs or Waist Bags, we tested two lumbar style packs in this review. Lumbar packs are different than backpack style packs because they have no shoulder straps. Instead, they attach and support the load only around your waist. Lumbar models typically have a smaller footprint than a backpack, making less contact with and sitting much lower on your back. In recent years, fanny packs have grown in popularity particularly among the mountain bike crowd due to the influence of Enduro racing and improvements in designs.
Ease of Drinking
Since the primary purpose of choosing to use a hydration pack is hydrating, we decided to focus on how easy each model was to drink from. At the beginning of our testing, we assumed they'd 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, we started to notice significant differences. We found that when we were huffing, puffing, and panting our way up climbs that the CamelBak products, the CamelBak Rogue, CamelBak Classic, and CamelBak M.U.L.E. seemed more natural to drink from. In comparison to some of the other packs like the Wacool 2L, where we only able to take small sips without feeling like we were suffocating, the CamelBak packs allowed us to gulp our water down thirstily.
After weeks of subjective information gathering, it came time to 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 we found there was a significant span between the fastest and slowest systems.
The effective Crux systems of the 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. We felt they were hands-down the easiest and this proved it.
Not 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 out using it for biking and hiking. Our stopwatch time trial confirmed the low flow rate of the model. Compared to our speedy CamelBak Crux/Big Bite equipped packs at 37 seconds, the Trailrunner 2.0 took 2:04 to thoroughly 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.
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.
The Osprey Raptor 10, Osprey Syncro 10, and Dakine Low Rider 5L all use Hydrapack 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.
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 was significantly better. Our testers had found the Wacool 2L was noticeably easier to drink from than the Trailrunner and our kitchen…er…um…lab testing proved it. The Wacool was able to empty its one liter of water in 1:05, almost a full minute faster than the Trailrunner.
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. We found each 20 oz bottle to take six full squeezes to empty, discharging just over 3 oz per full squeeze.
The times below reflect a summary of our one-liter time trial testing
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.
Ease of Filling
How easy is your bladder 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 merely the size of the opening of the hydration bladder you're filling. Some packs like the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0 has an older-style opening of only 2 inches.
Conversely, 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 that much easier.
The Deuter Compact EXP 12, Osprey Raptor 10, Osprey Syncro 10, Dakine Low Rider 5L, and our Editors' Choice Platypus 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.
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?
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 more extensive 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 accessible; even the bag is filled with your gear. No more dumping your pack in frustration so you can refill.
The one exception to this 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 simply carrying water and not much else like the CamelBak Classic or TETON Trailsports 2.0? Or is the 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?
If you load down an ultralight pack with too much weight, the comfort level will quickly diminish and conversely, if you tend to carry a minimum of items and only partially fill your hydration bladder, a more extensive pack may be overkill. Having too large of a model isn't necessarily uncomfortable, but may create an excess of material or allow the contents of the bag to move around. These factors can decrease your overall comfort.
When we tested, we tried to keep 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, and sunscreen. For biking, we brought the same items, plus some biking essentials like a spare tube, pump, multi-tool, and increased the water to 2.0 liters.
Beyond these basics, we had several wild card scenarios, like spring backcountry skiing. Some of our packs like the smaller CamelBak models, the lumber style packs, and the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0 couldn't be used on ski touring days due to a lack of storage options. On ski days, with our larger capacity packs, we were able to successfully carry an extra layer, 2.0 liters of water, gloves, goggles, helmet, and a few other small items and were able 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. We found our test models had three basic foundations: No frame like our Top Pick for a Lightweight Hydration Pack CamelBak Rogue, light wire frame like our Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10, and metal frame stays like the Deuter Compact EXP 12.
For lighter 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 competitor will handle increased gear weight. Not surprisingly, the Deuter Compact EXP 12 and the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 dealt with the heaviest pack loads with the greatest of ease.
We also tested our 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 Osprey Syncro 10 and the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10. This high level of breathability is accomplished by keeping the pack body away from your back 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. We found that shoulder straps with a more anatomic cut were more comfortable; not surprisingly, the higher-priced packs in our lineup tended to have this feature and were more comfortable. 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 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 and CamelBak M.U.L.E.. The belt decision is moderately 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 capacity, the Deuter Compact EXP 12.
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 or 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 we found in the majority of our more significant capacity packs like the Osprey Raptor 10, Osprey Syncro 10, the CamelBak M.U.L.E., and our Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 may be a crucial consideration for you.
To make it easier for you to decide, we measured pockets and overall gear carrying capacity and tried to include as many photos of each pack's storage as we could.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we like to 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.
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 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 only 12.8 ounces, it finished towards the top of the fleet as far as lightweight packs go. If you just 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 specific 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 this decision…
Ease of Cleaning
Okay, we know that most hydration pack 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 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.
The ease of cleaning coincides with the effort required to fill up the pack. We found that the quicker the access to the bladder itself, the easier the cleaning process was. Beyond that, the more extensive the bladder opened, the easier it was to clean. Our testers also found that the quicker and easier it was to clean their system out, the more likely they were to do it. Except for the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0, our collection of test packs was easier to clean than ever.
We found the packs with the broadest opening bladders like the Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10, Deuter Compact EXP 12, Osprey Raptor 10, Osprey Syncro 10, and Dakine Low Rider 5L were 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.
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 difficult to clean; they just required a bit more effort. 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 in order 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 more info.