Riding a bike is one of the most thrilling feelings – the wind in your hair, adrenaline pumping as you pedal through stunning scenery, and a sense of freedom as the miles unroll beneath your wheels. But all of that fun can quickly turn miserable if you don’t pay attention to proper hydration on your rides. Getting dehydrated while biking sucks – you feel weak, dizzy and fatigued which negatively impacts your performance. No one wants their epic adventure ruined because they neglected their water intake.
Luckily, keeping yourself hydrated on rides is easy with a hydration pack. These clever systems allow you to carry water hands-free and drink on the go. No more fumbling with water bottles while navigating rough terrain!
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about bike hydration packs including:
- How to select the best pack for your individual needs
- Reviews of the top hydration packs on the market
- Key features to look for when shopping
- Pro tips for fitting, filling and using your new hydration pack
- Guidelines for staying hydrated on every ride
- Answers to frequently asked questions
Let’s get started!
Assessing Your Hydration Needs
Not all bikers need the same level of hydration. The amount of water you should carry depends on several factors:
- Ride length: Longer rides require more water. A 2 hour ride needs less than an 8 hour backcountry epic.
- Intensity level: The more you sweat, the more you need to drink. Intense training rides need more hydration than casual cruises.
- Climate and altitude: Biking in hot, humid weather or at high altitude leads to increased water loss. Rides in these conditions call for more hydration.
- Personal physiology: Your individual sweat rate and metabolism affects your hydration needs. Get to know your body’s specific needs.
Take into account your typical riding style, environments and exertion level when deciding how much water carrying capacity you need in a pack. A recreational rider doing short city rides may get by with a 1-2 liter hydration pack. But hardcore endurance mountain bikers require 3 liters or more for ultra-distance events.
Top 5 Hydration Packs for Cycling
After considering over 25 different hydration pack models from top brands, we chose the following as our top 5 picks:
Osprey Raptor 14
- 2.5L reservoir
- AirScape back panel with ventilation
- LidLock helmet attachment
- Integrated raincover
- 7 exterior pockets
The Good: Osprey is renowned for making high-quality and comfortable packs. The Raptor 14 has excellent ventilation from the molded foam back panel. The exterior pockets and LidLock system provide ample storage options for longer rides.
The Bad: 2.5L capacity may not be enough for ultra-endurance events. The harness straps can begin to chafe on all-day rides.
Best For: Mountain bikers seeking a well-ventilated and featured-packed short to mid-range duration hydration pack.
CamelBak Zephyr Women’s 12
- 1.5L reservoir
- Mesh harness panels for ventilation
- Quick link system for easy refilling
- External fill line allows adding water without removing reservoir
- Reflective detailing for visibility
The Good: Designed specifically for female anatomy with an S-shaped harness. The lightweight mesh keeps this pack breathable on hot rides. The external access makes refilling a breeze.
The Bad: Limited capacity and lesser-known brand. Not ideal for hardcore endurance riding.
Best For: Casual to intermediate level female riders who prefer short duration outings.
EVOC Race 3L
- 3L reservoir
- Helmet carry system
- Roll-top closure with splash guard zipper
- Mesh back panel and shoulder straps
- Hip fins help stabilize load
The Good: Generous 3L capacity with versatile roll-top accessing. Excellent stability from the hip fins and chest strap. Great ventilation from open mesh design.
The Bad: Less padding may cause discomfort when pack is fully loaded. Higher price point.
Best For: Serious riders who need significant hydration for long training rides and races.
Dakine Unisex Drafter 16L
- 3L reservoir
- Airflow foam back panel and shoulder straps
- Quick-access overflow storage
- Wide opening reservoir for easy cleaning
- Reflective webbing and removable safety light
The Good: Tons of smart storage for longer rides. Cushioned and ventilated harness system increases comfort. Safety features like the light and reflectivity boost visibility.
The Bad: Bulky and heavy when fully loaded. reservoir can be awkward to fill and clean.
Best For: Endurance cyclists who want abundant water capacity and storage for ultra distances and multiday tours.
CamelBak Cloud Walker 18
- 3L reservoir capacity
- Air Director back panel with air mesh
- Spacious 18L cargo capacity
- Quick link system for easy refilling
- Magnetic tube trap keeps hose in place
The Good: Extremely comfortable and breathable back panel design. The large cargo space holds extra clothing, snacks and gear. Convenient magnetic hose system for hydrating on the go.
The Bad: Heavier empty weight before filling reservoir. Can bounce slightly if not properly tightened.
Best For: Long haul cyclists who need to carry more than just water. Ideal for bikepacking trips.
Key Features to Evaluate
Use this checklist of key features when comparing hydration packs to choose the best option for your individual needs:
- Reservoir capacity: How much fluid volume do you need to stay hydrated throughout your usual ride duration?
- Harness comfort: Breathable and adjustable straps prevent chafing and hot spots, even on all-day rides.
- Ventilation: Look for mesh material and vent channels to maximize airflow on sweaty rides.
- Drinking hose setup: A quality bite valve and convenient hose routing lets you sip easily while pedaling.
- Storage capacity: The pack’s cargo volume and pocket design impacts how much extra gear you can carry.
- Safety features: Reflective elements, attachment lights and bright colors help keep you visible.
- Durability: Abrasion-resistant material withstands being tossed on trails. Leak-proof sealing prevents messes.
- Ease of cleaning: Choose a wide mouth reservoir you can easily scrub and dry after each use.
- Fit: Make sure the pack fits your torso length and doesn’t bounce while riding.
Prioritize the features that matter most for your riding style before choosing a pack. For example, hardcore endurance athletes need excellent ventilation and substantial capacity. But casual riders may care more about comfort and convenience.
Getting the Perfect Fit
Once you’ve selected the ideal hydration pack, it’s crucial to fit it properly so it feels secure and comfortable riding with a load of water on your back. Follow these pro tips:
- Read the sizing chart: Torso length, not your overall height, determines your pack size. Measure and choose accordingly.
- Tighten the straps: Pull all the adjustment straps snug so the pack fits flush against your back without bouncing.
- Position the pack correctly: It should rest above your hips with the reservoir weight concentrated on your shoulders, not pulled down onto your lower back.
- Test the harness: Go on short test rides with the pack loaded up to ensure the straps don’t rub or pinch anywhere.
- Use the sternum strap: This helps stabilize the shoulder straps and prevent chafing on longer rides.
Don’t forget to periodically re-check your pack’s fit throughout your ride and readjust straps as needed. Allowing a loose pack to bounce around leads to discomfort and wastes energy.
Filling, Cleaning and Maintaining Your Reservoir
Caring for your hydration reservoir properly is key to getting the most out of your pack. Be sure to:
- Rinse thoroughly before first use: Wash out factory chemical residue with mild soap and water before filling up.
- Fill carefully: Pour slowly and avoid overfilling which can cause leaks. Leave space for expansion as fluid freezes or heats up.
- Clean regularly: Grime, bacteria and mold accumulate over time. Stick to the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning frequency and technique.
- Let it air dry: Prop open the reservoir after cleaning so no moisture gets trapped inside. Speed up drying with a fan.
- Check for wear: Inspect for cracks, loose sealing and damaged hoses before each ride. Replace components as needed.
Storing your pack properly between rides helps prevent mold, deterioration and leaks:
- Empty the reservoir completely and leave the cap loose so air circulates.
- Hang it upside down on a hook to allow excess moisture to escape.
- Avoid extreme temps like freezing cold or direct sunlight for prolonged periods when storing.
Staying Hydrated on Every Ride
Hydrating properly isn’t just about having water with you – you need to actually drink it! Follow these tips to stay on top of your fluid intake every time you ride:
- Pre-hydrate to start off adequately hydrated – drink 16-24 oz in the hours before your ride.
- Drink 6-10 oz every 15-20 minutes while riding, sipping frequently instead of guzzling sporadically.
- Set reminders like timed alerts on your bike computer to prompt you to drink.
- Eat electrolytes through supplements, energy chews and sports drinks to replenish lost salts and minerals.
- Learn the signs of dehydration like dark urine, headache, cramping and fatigue and drink more if they occur.
- Continue hydrating after rides until your pee runs clear to fully rehydrate.
Remember that thirst isn’t the most reliable indicator – start drinking before you get thirsty! Monitoring your weight before and after rides lets you quantify your exact fluid losses too.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much fluid do hydration packs hold?
Reservoir volumes typically range from 1-3 liters. Ultralight packs may hold a single liter for short rides, while larger packs can carry up to 3 liters or 100 oz for intense all-day rides.
How do you effectively clean a hydration reservoir and prevent mold?
Use a reservoir cleaning kit with a long brush to scrub the interior. Allow to fully air dry after each use. Periodically use bleach or other antimold treatments. Change your reservoir every 3-6 months.
Where is the best place to store essentials like phone, keys and wallet?
Most packs have dedicated zippered pockets designed to hold valuables securely. Avoid simply putting items loose into the main compartment where they can bounce out.
When should you replace a hydration pack?
Around 2 years is ideal for replacing most reservoirs and hoses as the materials degrade over time. But immediately replace any component with cracks, leaks or other damage that could cause failure.
Can’t I just use water bottles instead of a hydration pack?
Bottles are tough to access and manage while riding bumpy terrain. Backpacks provide hands-free drinking and room to carry all your other riding essentials too.
Staying hydrated with a quality bike hydration pack keeps your rides safer, easier and more enjoyable. Use this guide to select the ideal hydration backpack for your individual needs based on capacity, features, comfort and performance. Properly fill, clean and maintain your pack’s reservoir. And be diligent about drinking sufficiently before, during and after every ride.
With the right hydration gear, you’ll feel energized tackling any type of terrain in any riding conditions. The last thing you want is dehydration to cut your adventure short. Drink up and enjoy the ride!