In this article we want to take a look at the top hydration bladders for hiking in 2020, aka hydration reservoirs, for hiking. In our opinion, bladders are the best way to carry your drinking water. As with any piece of hiking kit there are a whole host of reasons why we think this, but mainly it’s just because it is super convenient.
Again, as with any piece of hiking kit, there are a bunch of things to consider when buying a bladder, we cover those in detail in our buying guide, linked to below, but suffice it say, it is worth having a good think about what you need and prefer before you buy anything.
Fundamentally, there aren’t a whole lot of difference in terms of working principles between the varying models of bladders / reservoirs that are available on the market i.e. they all basically work in the same way, with water being supplied to your via a drinking tube that is connected to a water reservoir in your day pack.
We start below with our #1 recommendation, followed by our favorite budget option, before finally listing out a bunch more bladders which are also excellent options. You can jump to specific bladders by clicking on the links in the navigation table directly below, or just peruse your way down through each one, whatever works best for you!
If you can't wait and want to know how to get our top bladder recommendation, then check out the Big ZIP LP over on Amazon, it's our number one recommendation!
#1 The Best Hydration Reservoir - The Big ZIP LP
Platypus Big Zip LP Features Summary:
Best Uses: All types of hiking, backpacking, biking, ski touring
This is our number one option, mainly as I (the person writing this) have been using one of them for the last three years, and it is still going strong. It comes in several different size options, 1.5 liters, 2 liters and 3 liters. Being a very thirsty hiker 🙂 I went with the 3 liter option and it has been a great addition to my hiking kit.
the Platypus features a stop valve at the drinking end of the tube, which you can use to block of water flow should you wish to, in truth though, I rarely need to use it. The bladder is made thick Polyetyhlene plastic, but leaves no plastic taste when in use.
The drinking tube is easily detachable, and fits very securely to the water reservoir. It is attached with no leakage, and it’s very easy to use. My favorite thing about this bladder, is the access to the reservoir itself. It's a zip loc, so it opens fully wide, and so is very easy to fill and very easy to access the full bladder to clean it, no fiddling into awkward nooks and crannies required!
There is a clear water fill mark on the Biz Zip LP, and when you fill it up to that line, you just zip close the two top ends using the click rivets (If that’s what I can call them), and then slide the attached sealing guard to ensure your water is safe and snug in the reservoir and won’t leak out.
There is also a nice carry handle at the top of the Platypus Big Zip LP which means it is easy to mobilize, but could also be used for hanging, if you wanted to hang it as an external reservoir, say at your tent when backpacking. Overall it’s a winner of a bladder, and it’s stood up well over time after a lot of use and abuse, and it is still going strong. Enough said!
#2 Best Budget Bladder - Aquatic Way
Aquatic Way Features Summary:
Best Uses: All types of hiking, backpacking, hunting, biking
Next up we have our best bargain bladder. For this, we looked for a bladder that was primarily very wallet friendly, while also having a lot of good user experience and scoring in the field.
The Aquatic Way reservoir, comes with three size options, 1.5 Liters (50 oz), 2 Liters (70 oz) and 3 liters (100 oz). The first thing we liked about the package is that for a couple of bucks extra, you get a bonus pack containing a cleaning kit and two bite valves, as well as your bladder! So, nice to have those extra bits as opposed to having to buy them separately.
The next thing that caught our eye, was that Acquatic offer this guarantee in their sales material ‘YOU’LL ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS OR IT IS ON US: If there is a leak, or bad taste, or ANY other reason why you’re not 100% happy with this hydration bladder, simply let us know & we’ll do a full refund.’ Now, it’s hard to argue with that and with the excellent price point thrown in, it’s certainly worth a second look.
The bladder is made from food-grade BPA-Free material, which is extremely resistant to mold and microbes. The premium quality TPU material and leak-proof sealing technology also offer a secure reservoir, so you can expect it to be leak free. The bite valves are made from silicone, so you will get a lot of good use from them.
The drinking tube is insulated and comes in at a healthy 37 inches, so plenty of length to work with. The reservoir has a self seal valve, so you can fill the bladder with the tube disconnected, definitely our preference.
Water is easily accessed using the bite valve, which sits at a 90 degree turn so it is easy to access.There is also an easily accessible on/off valve to stop the flow of water, if you need to completely shut it off.
The reservoir is accessed using a screw top seal, which is easy to remove to fill with water, or to clean.It also prevents water from leaking from the main reservoir. It also has slits at the top which could be utilized to hang from something as a water bag at camp.
Overall, we really liked the functionality that the Aquatic Way Hydration provides, at a very good price point, topped with a nice call out of their 'return within 60 days if not happy, no questions asked' policy.
#3 Camelbak Omega Water Beast 3L
Camelbak Big Beast Features Summary:
Best Uses: All types of hiking, backpacking
Next in line we have the Camelbak Water Beast Reservoir. With a name like Water Beast, you get an idea what you are getting! At 3 liter capacity, it is at the beast end of the scale in terms of volume, for sure.
The bladder features the Camelbak patented Hydrolink Big Bite Valve which is made of chemical grade silicone. It works exceptionally well and it is easy to get a good water flow on the move with it. The bladder also features a stop valve at the drinking end of the tube, which is easy to use, should you need extra pressure to block the flow of water.
The drinking tube is insulated and easily detachable via the quick disconnect Hydrolink Port Plug. The tube fits very securely to the water reservoir, and prevents leakage. One downside is that the drinking tube needs to be in place when refilling the reservoir i.e. it doesn’t self seal when the tube is not connected. While not a deal breaker, it is not ideal in terms of functional use for refilling.
Access to the bladder itself, is done via the wide OMEGA® fillport opening. This is again easy to use, and makes the bladder easy to clean and fill. It is screwed open and closed and so provides a very secure bladder to house your drinking water and prevent it from leaking.
The Camelbak Big Beast also features Camelbaks HydroGuard™ Technology. While this inhibits the growth of bacteria on the reservoir and tube surfaces, it should be noted that it does not fully protect the user from bacteria or other disease-causing organisms. You would need some kind of filtering system in the bladder for that capability, which is not applicable in most bladders.
The Taste-free multi-layered Pure Flow™ drink tube and bladder, is 100% Free of BPA and BPS taste, always a must for a bladder, nothing worse than tasting plastic when you drink!
The bladder features a hook at the top, so it can be hung up, say as a water bag if you’re camping on a backpacking trip. Overall, it’s a very functional water bladder, that is easy to use and work with on the trail.
#4 Geigerrig Pressurized Hydration Engine and Reservoir
The Geigerrig 3 Pressurized Hydration Engine and Reservoir Features Summary:
Best Uses: Backpacking, camping, hiking, hunting, biking
Next up, we are moving away from the standard bladder construction into something a little more dynamic. With the Geiggerig bladder, there is a pressurized hydration engine which is operated using a power bulb. The advantage of this, is that the water will spray out, without you having to suck.
This is useful in the context of drinking, say if you are gasping for breath after a good push uphill, you don't need to gather breath to suck in. It also useful in several other ways. First, the spray generated can be used if you wanted to spray your face to cool down, as well as drink water. It also makes sharing water from it more hygienic, as you don’t need to put your mouth around the drinking valve. Finally, the spraying capability also comes in handy if you need to clean something e.g. while you are out hiking or backpacking.
Another interesting dynamic with this bladder is that it can also work with a Geigerrig water filter. This could be very handy should you need to drink river water or from another source of outdoor water on the move. Be sure to be careful and take the appropriate precautions if you plan to do this though.
The Geigerrig comes with three size options, 1.5 Liters (50 oz), 2 Liters (70 oz) and 3 liters (100 oz). The bladder is made from heavy duty material that is strong and tough, so the bladder won’t leak.
The bladder is reversible and has a nice cleaning feature in that it is dishwasher safe which should make cleaning it much more straightforward! The Geigerrig bladder comes with a lifetime warranty against leaks, so you should have this for years and years of use.
Water is easily accessed via the mouthpiece and the bladder itself is accessed using a slide top, so you can easily open to fill it up full. This also means you have plenty of room to get your hand in, should you need to get at a nook or cranny for cleaning purposes.
The Geigerrig hydration bladder is definitely a more technical affair, providing a wider range of capabilities which may be of use. This is reflected in the price, although we think it is good value for money. Keep in mind though, that you have to buy filters separately if you want to utilize them. Overall, a very nice piece of kit!
#5 Wacool 3 Liter
The Wacool 3 Liter Features Summary:
Best Uses: All types of hiking, backpacking, hunting, biking
Next up we have the Wacool 3 Liter Reservoir. Again, we are in the wallet friendly area, with the Wacool bladder offering a lot of performance and functionality for a very accessible price point, while also scoring well in the field.
The Wacool comes in one size option, 3 liters (100 oz). The bladder also comes with a cleaning pack for a few extra bucks, but that is of course optional i.e. you can just buy the bladder on its own.
The bladder is made using BPA-Free EVA material, with an aim to eliminate any plastic taste. The material is also anti microbial, to help prevent mold and bacteria. The bladder itself is double soldered at the edges, to help ensure a secure seal, so you can expect it to be leak free.
The bladder utilizes a self seal valve at the tube connector port, so you can disconnect the tube, without water leaking from it. Again, this is definitely our preference, as it enables you to fill the bladder without the tube being attached to it. The drinking tube also features an insulated cover, which is military grade, which locks at both ends using rubber binds.
Water is easily accessed via the mouthpiece, which is accessed by sliding it open, and it is protected by a dust cover and has a self lock to prevent leaking. The Wacool bladder is accessed using a screw cap which is attached via an attachment handle. It is easy to remove to fill with water or clean.The bladder also has slits at the top which could be utilized to hang from something e.g. as a water bag at camp.
Note, the Wacool bladder is not suitable for juice, milk, soft drink, liquor, etc., just water. It also comes in two color options, green and blue. Overall, we really liked the functionality that the Wacool Hydration Bladder gives, again at a very wallet friendly and accessible price.
Some Tips Before you Buy
If you are new to buying a bladder, we wanted to have a quick look at buying advice. Again, as with any piece of hiking kit, there are a bunch of things to consider when buying one. We cover those in detail in our buying guide, but suffice it say, it is worth having a good think about what you need and prefer before you buy anything.
Fundamentally, there isn’t a whole lot of difference in terms of working principles between the varying models of bladders / reservoirs that are available on the market i.e. they all basically work in the same way, with water being supplied to your via a drinking tube that is connected to a water reservoir in your day pack.
Remember, you need to have a suitable pack to comfortably utilize a hydration bladder. You can learn more about that in our day pack buying guide, but in brief summary you need your pack to have an internal pouch for it, with a port for the tube to run through to be secured out front, so you can easily access it to drink from as you hike.
Although you can hang a bladder in a pack without a purpose built pouch, we strongly recommend getting a pack that has a purpose built pouch for your bladder. You can also utilize a bladder for backpacking as well as hiking. They are handy while on the move and can also be hung up as a water bag at your campsite. So if you're looking for the best water bladder for backpacking, the same one you use for day hiking should do the job perfectly!
There are also plenty of little nuances and differences in how you access the bladder for filling with water, cleaning and so on. We prefer a self seal valve on the bladder when the tube is disconnected, this makes it easier for filling the bladder, without having to have the tube connected.
Having a drinking tube cover on the bite valve can be good, but it is not a necessity. The bite valve does a good job of keeping dirt out of your drinking tube, you just need to be careful where the tube lies when you set your pack down on the ground. Similarly, a stop valve to your water at the drinking end can also be useful to prevent leakage.
So, to summarize, as always, start with what you need your bladder for, and then consider the points listed below before buying your preferred option.
- Check it will fit into the pouch into your day pack or backpack
- Look for a self seal when the drinking tube is detached
- Look for a functional and easy to use bite valve
- Watch out for any bladder that is built with plastic that leaves a plastic taste in the water, not a runner!
OK, so that’s the initial introduction with some things to be thinking about, but let’s get into what this article is really about, let’s look at the best hydration bladders for hiking in 2020.
In this section, we wanted to list out some of the typical questions folks have when they are new to buying a bladder. We will be adding to this as we need to. We hope you find it useful and if your question isn’t covered, please leave a comment and we will get back to you.
Q1. What should I look for when choosing a hydration bladder?
We touched on the main items to consider in the buying advice section at the top of this page. However, we also did an article giving buying advice, which will walk you through everything you should consider before making a purchase decision.
Q2. What is the difference between a hydration pack and a hydration bladder?
A hydration pack is both a pack and a bladder. It is usually one purpose built unit, whereas a hydration bladder is only the bladder itself. A purpose built hydration pack is a viable option, especially for certain activities like trail running. As the whole pack is designed to work together, you should not experience any size or capacity issues, or the like.
When you buy only a bladder, you are buying that to utilize in conjunction with a separate day pack i.e. not an all in one unit from one manufacturer.
For the purposes of hiking, we recommend buying the bladder separate to your day pack, but be sure to get a good day pack that is compatible with a hydration reservoir i.e. it has a hydration pouch for the bladder, a H2O port, etc.
Our main reason for this, is that we prefer the wider choice of options this provides, you have a whole world of bladders to choose from. Also, hiking day packs generally need to be a bit larger, to enable you carry extra gear like your rain gear. Most purpose built hydration packs are not, in our opinion, large enough in capacity to accommodate this.
Q3. How do I clean the reservoir?
We did a whole article on this which you can read here, but we recommend washing your reservoir in a 5-7% salt water solution for an hour when you first get it, just to give it a good initial clean following it’s trip from a factory some place to your house. Rinse it out with water thoroughly several times after the soaking is finished.
For regular cleaning, we recommend rinse washing with water after every use, you can also add a bit of cleaning soap. Somewhere between 10 and 20 uses (We just can’t remember to be honest 🙂 we like to do a more intense cleaning and soak the bladder and tube using water and denture tablets, you can read more about that here.
However, we recommend setting your own marker on this. We only ever put water in a bladder, but you may add other fluids. If that is the case, more stringent washing with very specific cleaning products may be required after every use.
Also, there are cleaning kits which you can get which are also a very viable cleaning option.
We provide the above as a guideline for what we do, but as always, use your common sense to decide how often you feel you need to clean your hydration bladder 🙂 If it’s looking nasty after a use, for whatever reason, give it a good clean.
Q4. Is a bladder with a pressurized engine better than a standard one?
The answer to this question, all depends on what you need it for. For the average day hiker, the standard bladder is perfectly fine. If however you are backpacking, having a pressurized spray option, or the option to attach a filter, may be a really good idea.
Be clear on what you plan to use your hydration bladder for, and that will answer this question for you.
Q5. My hydration bladder has a nasty plastic taste, what can I do to remove it?
As per question 2 above, go through the soaking in salt process a couple of times, and then try a final soak with denture tablets. That may help. Check out this article too for more tips on how to remove a plastic taste from a bladder. Sometimes though, the plastic taste is just part of the material.
If that is the case, and you can’t get rid of it, maybe take it back to the manufacturer for guidance, they may replace it if under warranty. If that still doesn’t work, you may just have bought a bad quality bladder, and so you need to look elsewhere. Some people notice this more than others too, possibly because they have more sensitive taste buds, but we don’t know that for sure 🙂
Q6. I see that there are usually 1.5 liter, 2 liter and 3 liter options available, which should I choose?
It’s really up to you. If you tend to get very thirsty and drink lots of water on the trail, 3 liter capacity is the way to go. If not, why carry the extra weight? It isn’t a bad idea to buy the bigger 3 liter option, and only fill it half full it you usually only need 1.5L of water. That way, you have the option to carry more should you need to.
If this never arises, just go for a smaller capacity option. Whatever you choose, make sure it is compatible, i.e. it will fit, in the hydration pouch in your day pack or backpack.
Q7. Should I go with a slide top or a screw top on my bladder?
Again, this is very much down to personal preference. We prefer slide top options as they usually allow greater access into the reservoir, which is handy for cleaning purposes. Whatever you prefer though, is all good.
Q8. I’m worried about a bladder leaking, does that happen often?
This is a genuine concern, and one than can and does happen. However, in my many years of hiking experience, it has been pretty rare. The key thing is ensuring you have one that is of a good enough quality, so it shouldn’t leak.
If a bladder does leak, it can be a real pain, as it can leak out into your gear making it wet. This is another reason carrying gear in dry bags in your pack is a good idea, but that’s another topic 🙂
A more worrying concern with leaking could be running out of water. However, broadly speaking, if a bladder leaks, you should feel it or it will be noticed before the entire reservoir leaks into the pack proper, which will hopefully give you time to try and save some of the water.
As long as you pack sensibly e.g. without having pointy objects sticking into the bladder, and check the health of the bladder each time you fill it by turning it on it’s head and move it around to look for leaks, this is more or less just bad luck if it happens.
It’s always good to be prepared so you can carry a spare water bottle as an emergency supply, if required. I only do this when backpacking, or if I am heading out on a very long hike. On normal day hikes, I am usually always fine to survive without water till I get back to civilization, I’ll just be rather thirsty when I do 🙂 I always leave a bottle of water in my car too, just in case!
Q9. Do I need bladder that can work with bladder compatible filters?
This really depends on what you need your bladder for. For most day hikers, they pack their water before they head out on the trail, so drinking from an external source is not a requirement. However, on very long hikes, or if you're backpacking this would be something you might need.
That being the case, getting a bladder that is compatible with filters is potentially a good idea. If you need to drink water from rivers, external sources, etc. be sure to purify the water first before drinking or using. Be sure to educate yourself well in advance to know what specific process you need to follow, in the area you are hiking or backpacking in.
Q10. Is it OK to put something other than water in my hydration bladder?
For hiking, we don't recommend it. We think that water is the only liquid you should be using in your bladder. This will not only help the life of the bladder, but it will also help with hygiene. We totally understand that some folks may want to add other things to their water e.g. electrolytes, Gatorade, or even drink something other than water.
If you want to do that, just be sure you have a tough bladder than can with stand the fluid you are putting into it e.g. fizzy drinks are never a good idea anyway, but in a bladder it will be tough on the materials.Keep in mind that if you are using additives with water or some combination of water and squash or whatever, your cleaning routine becomes much more important. You will need to give it a full and proper wash after every use, not just a good rinse, as the additional components will likely encourage bacterial growth.
Further Reading and References
In this section we list out more resources that we think have some excellent information on this that you may find useful. It's a mix of links to some of the manufacturers, other information articles, etc.
Platypus - This is the home of our favorite bladder, lots of great information available at this site.
Camelbak - Another excellent provider of great bladders and other hydration solutions.
Geigerrig - Some interesting information on pressurized hydration packs here.
Good article on REI - This is a good article from the folks at REI covering many aspects on hydration packs for other sports and activities, not just hiking. A good read with some useful information.
Forum Discussion - a few folks talking about hoe they choose and use their hydration bladder for hiking.
Ok, so there you have it. We hope you enjoyed this spin through the best hydration bladders for hiking available in 2020! As you can see, there is a wide range to choose from, with all budgets catered for.
We’ll be keeping this up to date as new bladders come on the market, so remember to bookmark and check back. Please also share around your networks if you found this useful.