How to Choose a Mountain Biking Hydration Pack

Mountain biking is not a sport for the faint of heart. Trails often take you miles into the wilderness, away from civilization and exposed to the elements for hours on end. But whether you’re heading out for an all day excursion or a short jaunt on your local trails, the need to stay hydrated, comfortable, and prepared is the same. Unlike a basic water bottle, hydration packs are easy to drink while moving, even if you’re careening down a steep off-road trail. Since they are easier to access and drink from, hydration packs also allow you to stay more hydrated by encouraging you to drink more consistently. In addition to water, hydration packs offer extra storage space for any tools, clothing, or personal items you may wish to carry on your ride.

What to Look For in a Hydration Pack

There are several factors to consider when choosing your mountain bike hydration pack. They include:

Water capacity — Most hydration packs have a capacity between 1 and 3 liters. The amount you’ll need will depend on the length and remoteness of your average outing, the weather, and the amount of extra tools and supplies you like to carry. Though larger packs have more volume and tend to offer more options for storage, they also allow you to store smaller quantities of water when a full bladder is unneeded to allow more room for your other gear. In any case, hydration packs allow you to carry more water than a plastic bottle alone.

Storage space — In addition to the water it carries, a quality mountain biking hydration pack should offer plenty of extra storage space for your tools, snacks, rain gear, camera, and other handy trail gear. Typically, a pack with a larger water capacity will offer more storage options than smaller models.

Bladder placement — The placement and accessibility of a pack’s water bladder depends on the brand, model, and style of each individual pack. Some packs have their bladders built directly into the pack, while others have separate compartments or pouches that allow for removal of the bladder. Most mountain biking hydration packs are backpack-style designs that put most of the weight on your shoulders and back. For those that prefer an alternate weight placement, some packs have their bladders built into the waist belt to keep the weight low.

Mouthpiece type — Though they all share the same basic principle — delivering water from the bladder, through the tube, and into your mouth — there are different styles of mouthpiece bite valves on hydration packs. You want your mouthpiece to be made of a strong yet soft material, provide a consistent water flow, and limit spillage. Some models are outfitted with valve locks to prevent water from leaking when not in use. There are also pressurized hydration packs that employ the use of an air pump to maximize the flow of your water delivery.

Size and fit — For the most part, hydration packs are more streamlined and compressible than regular backpacks. However, mountain biking hydration packs come in different sizes for different riders and intended purposes. You want yours to fit your body snugly and securely without impeding your range of motion. Keep in mind that bigger isn’t always better, especially for mountain biking, as you don’t want to be overburdened by an overly large pack or excessive amounts of gear. Granted, a larger pack will offer some added spine protection in case you endo over the handlebars.

Ease of cleaning — Like the dishes you use on a routine basis, your hydration pack will eventually need cleaning. The need to keep your system clean is increased if you fill it with sugary sports drinks or powder mixes. Bags that zip open from the top are the easiest to clean and are typically dishwater safe. Single compartment bladders with large screw-top openings are also relatively easy to get a brush or sponge inside, granted they take a while to dry. The hose is the most difficult part to clean, but most hydration pack companies sell cleaning kits specifically designed for the job.

Winter use — For dedicated riders, mountain biking is a four-season sport. On most packs, the reservoirs prevent their water contents from freezing since they are located between insulating pack material and warmed by your body heat. However, if you plan to ride in below-freezing temperatures, the hose and bite valve of your system may freeze. Most manufacturers sell neoprene sleeves designed to insulate the hose, and some have protective caps to insulate the bite valves.

Once you’ve hit the trails with a quality hydration pack strapped to your shoulders, its many benefits quickly become self-evident. They are compact, convenient, and efficient and help you enjoy a safer, cooler, and more thirst-quenching ride.