It’s actually a myth that Camels carry water in their humps. Yet they can go a jolly long time without needing to drink because they’re efficient at staying hydrated.

Sad to say we humans aren’t so well equipped. Which is why we need to carry some with us to top up the supplies. Never more so than when exercising. In hot weather this becomes more difficult as we lose much more through sweating.

In the last post we looked at how to stay hydrated when exercising. Here though I’m going to take a look at the various options available to outdoors sports enthusiasts for carrying and storing water. Much of the advice will vary according to whether you are hiking, cycling, running or taking part in any other outdoor activity.

The main choice you have is between a water bottle and a hydration pack but which do you choose.

Water bottles vs hydration packs: The great debate

Well, okay, the subject won’t set the politicians alight but it does attract opposing views in the outdoor sports enthusiast. So, let’s take a look at some of the factors which might affect your decision.

Weight – Bottles tend be lighter. A great advantage for anyone looking for speed! More serious cyclists often prefer them for this reason. Hydration packs are almost always heavier.

Cost – Basic water bottles are cheap enough. Or you could re-use plastic bottles! Even the better-quality bottles tend to cost no more than £15-£20. Hydration packs can be expensive – with some top branded products in excess of £100.

Capacity – Bottles have limited capacity – 750ml is typical. This can present a problem if you’re out on a bigger adventure or can’t find anywhere to top up. Hydration packs tend to hold anywhere between 1 and 3 litres so can keep you hydrated for much longer.

Ease of Cleaning – Compared with hydration packs, water bottles are easier to clean and dry. Hydrations packs are a fiddle to care for and are prone to mould accumulating if not dried out properly.

Practicality – This depends very much on your activity. Hydration packs are good for longer durations and where you need to drink while on the move. This is why long distance runners often favour them over bottles which are less practical for them. Both can be used when cycling although hydration packs do have the added advantage of extra storage capacity.

Keeping it contained – what are the options?

Water Bottles

Man holding life is good water bottle whilst exercisingThe humble plastic water bottle is perhaps the most common sight but is far from being the only option. These days there are different types of water bottles which can overcome some of the issues highlighted above.

First off there are insulated water bottles some of which are vacuum insulated.

Many are now BPA free (a chemical found in plastic and associated with certain negative health effects when it seeps into water). Their main advantage is that they keep their temperature better – that’s obvious enough. There’s nothing worse than drinking luke warm water from a plastic bottle on a hot day!

Also, in my experience, cheaper bottles are prone to leaking so you might want to pay a bit more for a leak proof one.

Here’s a comparison of some of the latest options and another review from the Independent. 

There is also the latest trend of fruit infusers, where you have a central compartment in the bottle in which to place fresh fruit which then flavours the water. An alternative to plain water.  Available in lots of places, here’s a few examples from Fruit Infused Waters

Hydration Packs

Backpack for keeping hydrated when exercisingIn simple terms, a hydration packs include a water reservoir which allows you to carry water on your back or around your waist while you’re on the move. A drinking tube from the reservoir (or water bladder) makes it easy to take a drink without having to stop. Hydration packs are adapted backpacks with holes and clips for the tubing and often a separate compartment for the water bladder.

They were first designed for athletes on long distance endurance events. But they now come in a variety of shapes and sizes for different sports. The main distinction in style is between those intended to be water carriers and nothing more as opposed to those that are used for carrying cargo as well.

How do I choose a hydration pack?

Here are a few things to consider when making your decision

Gear Capacity – This varies from about 5 litres to over 20 litres. Much will depend on the type of activity you do. If you want something more multi-purpose you might opt for one with mid-range storage capacity.

Water Bladder Capacity – This can vary from about 1 to 3 litres. The longer the activity you take part in the more capacity you may want. Similarly, if you’re out in particularly warm environments.

Fit – As with regular backpacks, hydration packs can vary in fit and size. Some have waist belts and chest straps, padded shoulder straps and backs. Women specific packs are also available.

Hydration Pack Features – Again these can vary a lot. Bite valves/mouthpieces control your intake of water and there can be differences in how these operate, so always check them out. Most packs will feature slits in the top of the pack for the tube to pass through. Clips on the shoulder straps to hold the tubing can be important to stop the tube flapping around. Some packs have an insulating foil layer which helps to keep the liquid in the bladder cool. Some also have cold weather features to insulate against freezing. The size of opening on the water bladder can also vary which may affect how easy it is to clean.

Different packs for different activities?

Going for a hike?

Hydration packs are well suited for hiking, particularly in warmer conditions. There are now lots of packs around that combine water bladders with ample storage space for clothes, food etc. We often forget to keep well hydrated while out walking, maybe because it feels like we aren’t exerting ourselves so much. Yet it’s just as important.

Cycling

While it’s common to carry water bottles on bikes, a hydration pack offers an easier and more convenient way of drinking while you’re pushing those pedals.

If you’re serious about your cycling either on or off road then bottles tend to be a lighter option. Hydration packs are a popular choice amongst mountain bikers in particular, and other cyclists less worried about shaving those extra seconds off their time. Again, added storage capacity for tools, food or clothing can be important so you might wish to go for a pack that’s a bit bigger.

Running

There are specific running hydration packs which are smaller and lighter. In the more basic form these are running vests with a smaller, lower profile with the main purpose of storing liquid. There’s little other storage capacity. They often have extra water storage pockets (for small bottles on the shoulder straps) as well as the ability to carry water bladders too.

A running backpack will be similar but with more storage capacity, but a lower profile still and with pockets on the shoulder straps.

And finally..

There are a couple of good guides out there on hydration packs from rei.com and hydration pack guide which are worth a look through.

And of course at Wild Goose Gear we have our own hydration pack which is multi-purpose and can be used for running, cycling or hiking. If you are a need of a flexible pack for your next adventure then do check it out.

Why don’t you let us know what your favourite water containers are and why? Find us on Twitter at @wildgoosegear.  And check out our website.

That’s it for this time. Enjoy getting outdoors.

Yours,

Tim