Buying a Hydration Backpack? Read This First

Buying a hydration backpack? Review advice and tips from Kelly Tweeddale before you place your order.

Backpack Hydration

Proper hydration is one of the most important components of athletic performance, but water fountains are not always available. If you're looking for a convenient and effective way to hydrate, a hydration backpack might be right for you.

Depending on your sport, you will want different things in a hydration backpack. Let's take a brief look at each of them.

Fit and Size

Getting a good fit depends on your sport or activity. For more active and vigorous sports, you need to reduce backpack movement and focus on aerodynamics. Choose a backpack with just a reservoir and supporting frame. Other features to keep in mind are the fit of the shoulder straps, the ability to get a snug fit against your back, and whether the design distributes the weight equally on your frame. The size of the backpack should be determined by how much extra gear storage and cargo space you require and the size of the reservoir.

How Much Water Do You Need?

The capacity of the reservoir (or bladder) is the most important decision you will make when selecting a hydration backpack. Typical rules of thumb for reservoir volume are:

  • 1L to 1.5L for minimalist sports, kids, commuters, and day hikers
  • 2L is the most popular size, with reduced bulk and a manageable weight
  • 3L is a good choice for long distance cyclists or large-framed hikers

Tubes and Valves

Look closely at the construction of the backpack. You want tubing that is tangle-free and can easily be removed for cleaning. The bite valve is usually made of silicone and a gentle pressure between your teeth is usually enough to turn the fluid flow on.


If you use a backpack for hydration, it's essential to keep the reservoir, tube, and bite valve clean and bacteria-free. Clean them after each use and dry them completely before refilling. A mild soap and hot water is usually sufficient, but if you fill them with sports drinks that have electrolytes and flavored additives, you may want to mix 2T to 1/3 cup of baking soda (depending on reservoir size) with hot water and soak overnight. Rinse thoroughly and allow the tubes and bladder to dry completely before reuse.


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