Hydration Bladders 101: Tips for Buying and Maintaining 

The “personal hydration system” was created in 1988 by Texas paramedic Michael Edison to help him beat the heat in the “Hotter’n Hell 100” bike race he was participating in. Edison would later create CamelBak, which makes some of the best hydration bladders on the market.   

Hydration bladders are the perfect way to ensure that you are never caught on a hike or run without enough water. Built to be slipped into backpacks, they are lightweight and easy to use but finding the right one can be difficult. There are so many different brands on the market and styles, so this article will help you narrow down just the right hydration bladder for you. 

Also, if you have a special hiker in your life, they make great gifts too. 

young woman runner resting while hiking through a pine forest

Best Brands of Hydration Bladders 

Here are some of the top sellers of hydration bladders. All have their pros and cons, but they all work well and are equipped with the essential features of every good hydration bladder. 

Gregory 3D Hydro 

The Gregory 3D Hydro is the perfect basic hydration bladder for any occasion. It’s durable enough to handle long treks or day trips. Plus, its easy-to-use design makes it so you can fill up your bladder without spilling water everywhere. Cleaning your hydration bladder can be a pain, but the Gregory comes with a built-in drying hanger, so you do not have to look around for a coat hanger or stick. 

Platypus Big Zip

Coming in a lot cheaper than other hydration bladders, the Platypus Big Zip is a great option. It is lightweight enough to fit into almost any type of hydration sleeve. Plus, the flow rate is even better than last year’s model. It is a very affordable, simple hydration bladder. Unfortunately, it lacks a locking mechanism on the bite valve, so some leaking will eventually occur. 

CamelBak Crux

Camelbak created the very first hydration bladder back in 1988, and they have been trying to perfect it ever since. They have been close to the gold standard for years and always release reliable products. Their CamelBak Crux comes with an easy-to-use snap cap that is big enough to be filled by any river, lake, or faucet. The inside of the bladder is treated with an antimicrobial agent to prevent mold growth, meaning you do not have to clean it as much. It is a bit heavier than some of the other bladders listed, but it is durable enough to last you for years to come.  

HydraPak Shape-Shift

If you are looking for a hydration pack for your next ultra-light hiking expedition, then look at the Hydrapak Shape-Shift Reservoir. It can be flipped inside out for easy cleaning, and its fast-flowing water will make sure you are in perfect shape during your trail run. Many people complain that the tube clip-in points will often gum up, but regular lubrication should fix this problem.  

Osprey Hydraulics 

Osprey makes some of the best hiking backpacks on the market, so it is no surprise that their hydration bladders are great as well. What is unique about the Osprey Hydraulics is that it comes with a backplate to fit more comfortably on your back instead of sloshing around. This backplate makes it significantly heavier than many other bladders, but people rave about how much more comfortable it is. Also, it comes equipped with a useful carrying handle for easy transportation when it is not strapped to your back. 

Different Types of Hydration Bladders 

Almost all hydration bladders are made of durable polyurethane, so they are all strong and flexible. Where the differences lie is in the additions to the bladder—the openings, the bite valves, capacities, etc. Figuring out the perfect setup for you is essential in finding the right hydration bladder. 


Openings are important when filing your bladder and making sure that it does not leak. 

Fold-Top Opening 

Fold-top openings are just what they sound like. They fold and unfold to allow water in and are the most reliable when it comes to leaking resistance. Plus, their open-top makes them super easy to fill and clean.   

Screw Cap Opening 

Screw caps can be prone to leaking if not screwed on correctly and are hard to refill in natural sources like rivers and lakes. The reduced opening also makes it more difficult to clean. That said, if you are only using it for day trips, then it should not really be a problem as long as you make sure the cap is on securely. 

Zip-Top Opening

The fastest and simplest way to open a hydration bladder is the zip-top. Just zip it up, and you are ready to roll. Unfortunately, they are nearly impossible to turn inside out, so cleaning them will take longer than usual. 

Bite Valve Size

Bite valve sizes come in small, medium, and large and depend entirely on personal opinion. So when you get your bladder, be sure to buy some extra valves that fit your product and see which one you prefer. 

Pressurized vs. Non-Pressurized 

Pressurized hydration bladders come with a little hand pump attached so that you do not have to suck water into your mouth. They are nice in that your tube stays clear and thus does not need to be clean as often. Runners like them a lot because they do not have to waste extra energy getting water into their system. 

Non-pressurized hydration bladders are the most common and rely on you getting the water from the bladder to your mouth. Most people should be fine with non-pressurized hydration bladders.  


Most hydration bladders range from 1 to 3 liters. Anything above that is considered a water bag. The smaller capacity bladders are used chiefly for runners because they are lightweight. However, 3-liter bladders are more common among hikers because you will need all that water throughout your hike. 

Locking Mechanism 

There are three main locking mechanisms when it comes to hydration bladders, and again this will be a personal preference. There are switch valves, turn/twist valves, and push/pull valves. They all work well and can be used with just one hand. The difference will be in what you find most natural to use. 

Regular vs. Insulated Hoses  

The only time you should ever really need an insulated hose is if you are hiking in colder weather so that your tube does not freeze on you. Almost all hydration bladder companies provide an insulation sleeve as an extra accessory, so they are easy to get if you need one. Keep in mind that for regular hoses, opt for clear tubes because you can more easily tell if it is time to clean your bladder.  

What to look for when buying a hydration bladder


If you plan on using your bladder for running, you should only really need a liter or two, but if you are thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, you will need a full 3 liters hydration bladder. Also, keep in mind what your backpack can handle. 

Closure Type

Open-ended bladders are necessary if your primary water source is from natural places like rivers and lakes. However, if you only get your water from the faucet, you will be fine with a screw top.  


If you plan on hiking or running in the winter, then an insulation sleeve for your hose will be essential. Being unable to get water because your tube is rock solid is a nightmare and should always be avoided.  

Personal Preferences

You will have to shop around to find that perfect hydration bladder. Finding the right-sized bite valve, locking mechanism, and flow rate are all up to you, so be sure to try and figure that out before going to the store. 

Cleaning and Storing Hydration Bladder 

Ideally, you should be rinsing out your hydration bladder and letting it dry after every use. When your bladder starts to get a funky taste to it, then it’s time for a deep clean. 

  1. Disconnect the tube and bite valve. 
  2. Turn the bladder inside out (if possible) and wash thoroughly with soapy water, being sure to focus on the openings where a lot of debris can build up.  
  3. Thoroughly clean the tube with a soaped-up pipe brush.
  4. Wash the bite valve as best you can. It can be a little awkward but just make sure all the nooks and crannies are as clean as possible.  
  5. Rinse everything with warm water and hang up to dry. 
  6. Make sure the bladder is not closed when you air dry and store it.
  7. This will make sure all the water is properly dried out. 


Hydration bladders are great for hikers and runners alike, but finding the right one may look like an uphill battle. Be sure to consider your needs and the top brands on the market before you buy, and make sure you keep it clean once you do. 

Once you have your hydration bladder and are ready to hit the trails check out some extraordinary hikes

Emily Winters

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