The best hydration packs allow you to pack that bit more on your ride and offer a simple and convenient way to carry lots of water, perfect for those that enjoy going for big days out on the bike.
While we'd prefer to ride bag free, the reality is that jersey pockets or even the best saddlebags for mountain biking don't always cut it - especially for longer rides where you need to carry extras to ensure you don't go cold or hungry.
Fortunately, there is a solution: the best hydration packs can offer plenty of space to carry the food, water, layers, spares and all the tools you're likely to need on a ride.
Hydration packs come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the best MTB hip packs to low-profile runner style vests to large backpacks with room to bring a Sunday roast and full toolbox.
Read on for our pick of the best hydration packs available today, or if you're unsure on what separates the best from the rest, head to the bottom for our guide on how to choose.
Best hydration packs for mountain biking
Hailing from Cortez, Colorado, the Raptor 14 features the brand’s BioStrech harness and hip belt for maximum comfort and comes with Osprey’s 2.5-liter hydraulics reservoir which is said to reduce sloshing as you ride.
The hydration sleeve has its own zippered pocket, and the hose is routed over the right shoulder with a magnet anchor on the sternum strap to prevent the bite valve from swinging around. With a second zippered pocket for tools and food, there is also a stretch mesh front pocket perfect for ditching layers.
The bag gets Osprey’s LidLock helmet carry system and small zippered pockets on the hip belt are perfect to carry snacks or your phone. The Raptor also comes with a removable tool roll to keep everything organized.
With a massive 20 liters of storage space, the Blackline is a stealthy-looking hydration pack that comes with a spine protector for those who sometimes get a bit too rowdy. The included Lite Shield back protector is made from PV foam and segmented EPS, meeting both the TUB and CE certification standards.
The bag is bring your own bladder and will accept up to a 3 liter reservoir. To take advantage of the back protector, the pack fits close to the body but does feature channeling to allow a bit of airflow over your back.
Inside the main pocket, there are smaller mesh dividers to separate your gear, and on the rear of the bag there are provisions to carry your best mountain bike helmet, whether its a half-shell or full-face lid.
Cut slightly shorter than the men’s version, the Attack 18 SL is based around a women's fit and features the brand’s Shield system, which is a CE-certified back protector made from viscoelastic foam. The back protector comes in a range of sizes to suit riders from 145cm to 205cm tall.
The bag has room for a 3.0 liter bladder (though you'll have to bring your own) and features pockets galore; including a special pocket at the top to store your best mountain bike goggles, plenty of mesh and divided elastic pouches for keeping your snacks arranged and a hidden phone pocket near the right kidney.
There's a stowable mesh-helmet carrier, and compression straps on the side are ideal for schlepping armor up long, fire road climbs. If the trail gets very steep and you need to carry your bike, the upper part of the bag has a non-slip material to help stabilize the bike when carrying it on your shoulders. The bag also has a built-in rain cover for when the weather takes a turn for the worst.
The MULE was originally launched in 1996 when it was basically just a backpack with a few zippered pockets and a bungee on the rear. The latest version has three zippered pockets including an insulated section just for the Crux 3.0 liter reservoir. The gear pocket features a zippered pouch near the top and mesh dividers and elastic loops to wrangle your tools.
The rear of the bag employs what Camelbak calls the Air Director back panel which uses foam and mesh to ensure your jersey stays dry and sweat-free.
On the outside, there are nifty helmet carry clips, and the front flap is big enough to hold a rain jacket or extra layer.
Beyond just being available in some unconventional colors, the Drafter is a solid all-around women's specific hydration packs. It comes with a 3.0-liter Hydra-pack hydration pack complete with the brand's easy flow Phaser bite valve.
The back panel comprises suspended mesh allowing for loads of airflow and gives the DK Impact CE-certified spine protector a place to slot in (sold separately). The gear pocket can be opened and laid flat and has quite a few zippered and elastic mesh organizer pouches.
The exterior features an open pocket, perfect for carrying bulky layers or helmets both full face and half shell. Hiding on the bottom of the pack are two pieces of webbing designed to securely tether unwanted armor.
The Solstice pack is a low-rider-style bag that uses a short and wide bladder to situate the bulk of the weight low on your hips for added stability. This also takes some strain off your shoulders and back by keeping the weight as close to your body as possible; the bladder is accessed by a zippered opening in the back panel.
The main compartment has a few small organizer pockets including a zippered mesh pocket complete with a key keeper and a fleece 'media' pocket ideal for sunnies or your phone. With pockets on the waist belt, snacks can be kept at hand and there are also attachment points for a full-face helmet and armor.
This is a women's specific bag although there is also a men's version called the Skyline LR for the guys who want a low-loading Camelbak.
Thule has been making bags for a while and the Vital is a unique take on the low-rider hydration pack. With only 8.0 liters of storage, you can stuff a surprising amount of gear in the bag, especially with the stretch-mesh pocket at the rear. The waist belt has two jersey-style pockets that can accommodate both snacks and tools so you can easily reach back to grab what you need while riding.
Inside, there is a fleece-lined pocket for valuables and the main compartment sees a sleeve for the bladder as well as various mesh pockets and loops to keep everything neat and tidy.
The hose is routed over the right shoulder with the last few centimeters shod in an elastic sleeve with magnetic panels sewn in — it's by far the best magnetic hose keeper we've come across.
Straight out of the eighties, the bum bag is back and is ideal for a short ride where you don't need to carry too much water or gear along with you. The Osprey Seral has room for a 1.5-liter reservoir and has a magnet attached to prevent tangles, although this can be bested by grabby trail-side fauna.
With compression straps to keep the weight close to your back, the zippered compartment has organizer pockets with enough room for a tube, tire levers, pack kit, mini-pump and your best bike multi-tool while zippered pockets on the hip belt are big enough for a phone and sunscreen.
If you decide that a bum bag is your thing rather than a backpack with shoulder straps, take a look at our guide to the best MTB hip packs.
How to pick the best hydration pack
How much water do you need on a MTB ride?
The main reason you'll be looking to purchase a hydration pack is to carry enough water to prevent you from dehydrating out on the trail. The capacity will vary from about a liter for hip packs and bum bags to three liters for a large trail pack. How much you'll need to bring will vary depending on the length of your ride, the temperature and if there is somewhere to top up — the usual recommendation is about half a liter of fluid per hour.
What should you pack in a hydration pack?
On any given ride you at the very least carry a tube, a pump, tire levers, a multi-tool, a quick link and a snack, but you may also have layers, rain gear, pads or a full-face helmet in tow. We also recommend chucking in a space blanket and a couple of band-aids just in case. Depending on your load, something between 7 and 20 liters should do the trick.
There is nothing worse than having to unpack your entire bag on the trail in search of your CO2 inflator so make sure you look for bags that have internal pockets to keep your snacks separate from your tools.
Do hydration packs get hot when riding?
Even the best hydration packs will leave you warmer than riding without one at all, so look for a bag with channels to allow some airflow or, even better, a suspended mesh back panel. Suspended mesh backs use a frame to elevate the pack off the back to create an air gap and greatly improving cooling. Suspended mesh backs generally don't affect stability, some actually improve load-bearing, but they do add extra weight, complexity and additional cost. This is why you will generally only see suspended backs on larger bags where the benefits are more noticeable.
How do you wear a hydration pack?
A poorly fitting hydration pack can leave you with sore shoulders, hips and even whack you in the back of the head every time you hit a drop or steep section. Look for bags that fit your torso length and have plenty of adjustability in the straps.
A good hydration pack will have a sternum strap and hip belt to help move the weight off your shoulders and stabilize the load. Highly padded straps aren't really necessary and look for bags with some form of venting.
Many brands also make women-specific bags, which will see the pack cut to fit the female torso. The harness will usually be a bit narrower and shorter to offer a better fit.
To meet the demands of enduro racing, we are seeing some of the best hydration packs also featuring removable spine protectors. They add bulk and usually reduce capacity but can make a valuable difference in the event of a crash. Being removable means if you are on a more gentle ride you can remove it to improve ventilation and increase storage.
What are the best hydration bladders?
Hydration bladders come in many different sizes and shapes. For the most part, bladders are available in 1.5-, 2.0- and 3.0-liter sizes and will either have a circular screw opening or a dry bag-style fold-over closure at the top. There are pros and cons to both but look for a bladder that has a big opening — this will make refills, cleaning and drying easier. A top tip when filling the bladder is to suck all the air out once you have sealed it, this reduces volume and the sloshing effect of the water when riding.
Like bladders, not all bite valves are created equal. Most are made of soft rubber, just requiring a squeeze to start the stream of water, though some allow fluid to flow more freely than others. The tubing that comes with most hydration packs can be cut to length and should feature some sort of a lock-off valve that prevents leaks.
Lastly, look at how the hose is routed and stored. The last thing you want is a loose hose flailing around while you are trying to ride. Almost all bags route the hose over the shoulder and then attach to one of the straps with either a loop or magnet. Many brands offer flexibility to choose which shoulder and where it attaches so you choose your preferred position.