Accessories

Hydration packs buying guide

Category: Accessories

Sunglasses buying guide

Hydration packs enable more water to be carried than with old-style bottles and also provide space for trail essentials including spare tubes, extra clothing layers, tools, food and first aid equipment.

When choosing a hydration pack the most important things to consider are size, features, how long you’re going to be riding for.

Clever design features make hydration packs more suitable for a cyclists’ needs than ordinary backpacks. These may include:

Water reservoirs (bladders) with hands-free drinking hoses (bite valves prevent water leakage)

Internal storage pockets to keep essentials away from the elements, with external mesh or strap pockets to ensure some items remain on hand at all times

Adjustable waist and chest straps for extra stability, with breathable mesh and padded contact points for load-bearing comfort

Channelled rear padding to ensure a flow of cool air to the back and prevent buildup of sweat

Tough technical fabrics – such as Cordura and Ripstop – to withstand the rigours of the trail and ensure long pack life, as well as features such as reinforced stitching and weatherproof zips


How big?

Pack size/capacity will depend on the type of riding and duration of rides:

• Minimalist packs with around 1-1.5l liquid capacity and enough storage space for the bare essentials (keys, mobile, energy bar, multi-tool) are ideal for races and short (1-2 hour) blasts.

• For longer days in the saddle (3+ hours) the typical ‘trail pack’ will allow riders carry up to 3l of water – about the maximum advisable – and around 10l of extra gear. Some such packs also boast extra features – light clips, helmet nets, waterproof covers, reflective graphics or trim – to enable them double up as perfect commuter packs.

• Enduro riders, gravity addicts and those on Alpine excursions will appreciate the extra storage capacity (10-15l) of tough, roomy ‘back-country packs’ which often include freeride-friendly features such as straps and pockets where armour, helmets etc can be attached when they are not needed (e.g. for uplifts, climbing etc.).

Features:
Clever design features make hydration packs more suitable for a cyclists’ needs than ordinary backpacks. These may include:

• Water reservoirs of up to 3l capacity with hands-free drinking hoses (bite valves prevent water leakage);

• Internal, compartmentalised storage pockets to keep essentials away from the elements, with external mesh or strap pockets to ensure some items remain on hand at all times;

• Adjustable waist and chest straps for extra stability, with breathable mesh and padded contact points for load-bearing comfort;

• Channelled rear padding to ensure a flow of cool air to the back and prevent buildup of sweat;

• Tough technical fabrics – such as Cordura and Ripstop – to withstand the rigours of the trail and ensure long pack life, as well as features such as reinforced stitching and weatherproof zips.

Hydration packs: in-depth

Once you know what size/capacity of hydration pack will best suit your riding, there are some key things to watch out for when you are browsing the available selection.

Bladder – Some packs don’t actually come with one included – check before you buy!

Ideally the bladder should be removable for ease of washing, but it should not be necessary to have to take it out to fill it up again. A large opening cap or roll-top bladder is also a plus point when it comes to cleaning and refilling.

Bladders can become unpleasant when not cleaned after every ride, especially when used to store sugary drinks. Some manufacturers have anti-microbial reservoirs to prevent gunk building up, but the best advice is to wash your bladder thoroughly and regularly. Storing in the fridge or freezer also prevents bacterial growth.

Hose – Look for a lockable bite valve in order to prevent unwanted leakage.

Back – It’s crucial that the pack area intended to come into contact with your back strikes the right balance between cooling (via channels that enable cool air to flow between pack and back and prevent the buildup of sweat) and load carrying (the pack must have a large enough ‘footprint’ to spread the weight of its contents evenly and comfortably).

Packs with a longer, narrower footprint that sit unobtrusively in the middle of the back also tend to snag less on singletrack-skimming branches than bulky, boxy packs. However a new generation of ‘winged’ packs that sit on the hips rather than the back for increased load-bearing comfort is also growing in popularity – in the end, personal preference will play a large part in which style of pack you choose.

Harness – Shoulder, waist and chest straps must be secure and comfortable, and easy to adjust or remove under real riding conditions.

Pockets – At least one full-length internal storage space is useful for items of clothing, while external mesh or strap pockets are handy for energy bars, gel packs, tools, pump and other bits that you wish to have easily accessible. Many packs also have interior pockets specifically designed for cameras, MP3 players or other gadgets, featuring cord ports to connect headphones, batteries or hard drives to media devices and soft internal lining/padding for protection against knocks or scratches.

Many packs also feature external bungee cords that are perfect places to stuff a jacket or gilet when overheating after a long climb; helmet nets to store lids when not needed, or straps for body armour.

Ladies’ packs
As with many other areas of bike equipment and apparel, manufacturers have cottoned on that the differences in female anatomy warrant a different design approach when in comes to hydration packs and backpacks.

‘Womens-specific’ hydration packs therefore typically feature a shorter, narrower ‘footprint’ to fit smaller backs; shoulder straps that are closer together to fit narrower shoulders, with a more pronounced ‘s’ shape to fit female curves; sternum straps designed to sit higher on the chest and waist straps adjustable to fit the wider female pelvis.

Shop now for hydration packs


Hydration pack bladders can be prone to buildup of dirt and bacteria, especially when used with energy drinks or tablets and not thoroughly cleaned afterwards, or when not used in a long time (pro tip: storing your clean hydration pack bladder in the freezer when not in use will help keep it in tip-top condition).

If this happens you will need specific tools and brushes to make the job of cleaning easier, as well as cleaning tablets which dissolve in water in your reservoir to help keep it clean and get rid of odours.

A full range of replacement hydration pack bladders and spare parts – drinking tubes, bite valves, rain covers etc. – is also available.
Shop now for hydration packs

Shop at
Chain Reaction Cycles

CRC Logo

Got a question?
Contact our editor