A hydration pack is a specially designed backpack or waist bag that can carry a bladder full of fluid. This bladder has a hose connected to it that is fed over your shoulder and held in place, usually on the chest strap of the bag. This makes it really easy to take sips of water at regular intervals as you ride. This means no opening your backpack up to take out a bottle, it also leaves your hands free to concentrate on the task at hand when on the bike.
Why use a hydration pack?
Hydration packs are especially handy for mountain bikers who are less likely to be able to fit kit to the bike like most roadies. With your water reservoir on your back, you can say goodbye to reaching down to grab your bottle from the cage, and even more frustrating…the task of trying to pop it back in!
You have the ability to carry more fluid than you usually would in a bottle or two and because it's conveniently stashed on your back with a hose on your shoulder, you're more inclined to take more small sips over the course of your ride, avoiding dehydration.
More often than not hydration packs have the capacity to carry other pieces of kit. You can store easy to access snacks in the waist strap pockets, while extra layers and bike tools can be stashed in the main part of the pack.
You need to consider how much fluid you need for your chosen activity. If you only do short rides on the trail, then a smaller capacity pack (approx. 1.5 litres) will suffice. But if you are keen on day long expeditions you need to look at a larger option (approx. 3 litres).
Remember you can always half fill a larger capacity bag for shorter rides but if you buy a smaller one that is your limit! The weight difference is often relatively insignificant when empty.
If you do a lot of winter riding or are partial to longer rides then it’s essential to opt for a bag with a little more room for your kit.
The smaller bags for the weight conscious among us will cater for little more than a light waterproof jacket and a small snack but hydration packs come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Some packs will even be big enough to carry your helmet and body armour or cater for multi-day expeditions.
There is nothing worse than an uncomfortable pack. At worst they can cause serious shoulder and back pain and chaffing around the straps which will take some of the fun out of your ride, and let’s face it, we want to avoid that scenario at all costs!
Thankfully, choosing a pack that fits your frame will prevent these pesky issues. Do not settle for the first pack the sales assistant in the shop throws your way. Instead, take the time to try on a number of options. Most packs will offer adjustable straps which will help in achieving a comfortable fit but smaller riders should avoid bigger packs. You should also see if the store offers female-specific packs as often these can offer a more suitable fit for ladies, especially ladies who are quite petite.
The fabric used varies from bag to bag, from polyester to plastic. As with any bag, you want to choose a bag that will withstand a bit of rough and tumble and be good and durable. So look out for ripstop fabrics, and reinforced areas as these will help your pack to stand the test of time.
If you’re making the transition into downhill or have already made it, then it might be worth considering a pack that offers protection. As well as carrying your kit, these packs have a special back panel that contours to the shape of your spine and will offer shock absorption in the event of a fall.
Does the bladder come with the bag?
Most of the time hydration packs will come with a bladder included but there is the rare occasion that some do not. So look out for this when you are buying the pack. There would be nothing worse than buying a pack at the upper end of your budget, to find out you have to shell out more cash for the bladder.
What to look for in the bladder
Make sure that the hydration system is easy to use and fits smoothly on your pack. Choosing a hydration system that is easy to clean will also save you a lot of heartache in the long run. The larger the opening to fill the bladder, the easier it will be to clean. One of the only drawbacks of the bladder is the fact that scum can build inside the hose. Thankfully this is easily prevented with a specific cleaning kit. Occasionally this kit is supplied with the bag but this is quite rare.
The price of hydration packs can vary pretty radically, starting at about £25 and going all the way up to £150+. Like any product, there is always an element of ‘you get what you pay for’. But this by no means that you need to buy the most expensive one.
Of course the price will depend on the size and features you are looking for. Set your budget in advance and identify the features you are looking for.
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