Hydration packs are hard-working bits of kit. Not only do they carry fluids so you can stay hydrated on your mountain bike, they also serve as mobile tool kits storing tubes, a pump, a multitool and more.
Is rain forecast? Stuff a waterproof jacket in your hydration pack. Heading into the wilderness for a full day of riding? Find space in the pack for food and provisions.
1. Fluid Capacity
How long are your rides? The further you go, the more fluid you need to take with you, especially if you are riding somewhere remote where it won’t necessarily be easy to find a source of water. Expect bladders to range in capacity from around 1.5 litres to 3.0 litres. The smaller size will be fine if you never head out for more than a couple of hours or so, but go for a 3.0-litre pack if you are planning longer rides, especially in hot weather.
2. Space for Tools and Clothes
The next thing to consider is the cargo capacity. For short rides you’ll only want space for a few basic spares, but the longer you plan to spend on the trail, the more room you need.
Big packs will have room for a waterproof top, some food and more. Your style of riding can also impact on the capacity you need.
For serious downhill riding, body armour and a full-face helmet are sensible protection, but you may not want to wear them on the ride back up the hill. So go for a pack that has enough capacity to store these, too. On the other hand, there’s no point in having a bulky pack if you’re never going to fill it.
A smaller pack will be lighter, cheaper and more comfortable. Whichever size is right for you, it helps to have a pack which lets you organise what you carry rather than leave everything to rattle around in one big space. Look for a pack with a variety of pockets and compartments.
If there’s a specific place for everything, it makes it much easier to find what you need while out on the trail.
3. Compression Straps
Of course, just because you sometimes ride all day or all weekend it doesn’t mean you don’t also hit the trails for a quick hour or so after work.
You don’t necessarily need two packs, one for long rides and one for short ones, so long as the hydration pack has compression straps.
These let you tighten down the pack, effectively reducing its size when lightly loaded. That helps stop whatever is stashed in a half-empty pack from coming loose and moving around, which can be distracting and uncomfortable out on the trail.
4. Ventilation and Fit
One of the drawbacks of a hydration pack is that it can make your back hot and sweaty. Look for a pack that’s well ventilated, with channels in the padded back to help air circulate. A good fit is crucial, too. A pack which suits a rider with a long torso won’t necessarily be as comfortable for someone with a short torso.
The design and width of the chest and waist straps and the level of padding will also vary from one pack to another. Female riders may be better off with a female-specific pack, as the design of the straps should be more comfortable than a unisex pack.
Choose carefully, and the right mountain bike hydration pack will give you years of use out on the trail.