It takes more than you and nature to have a great hike. The equipment and supplies you take can make or break your hiking experience. Water is fundamental to making your time in the outdoors the best it can be. Regardless of the type of terrain, the kind of hike you are going on, or the distance you plan to cover, you will need to take water along. Nowadays, even in remote areas, water is not safe to drink due to pollution by humans or animals. Even if you know there’s a safe water source, you need to bring emergency water along.
Weight is an issue in carrying water. When you are swimming, you may feel weightless; water itself, however, is actually very heavy. One gallon (4 quarts) of water weighs almost 8 ½ pounds. Depending upon your fitness level, the weather, terrain, and length of your hike, a general rule is to carry 3 quarts of water per person per day.
To minimize the amount of weight you carry, it is important to give careful thought to how you will carry the water. This is where a hydration bag, also called a hydration pack or hydration backpack, can literally be a life saver.
Hydration bags, originally developed as a hands-free technology to allow cyclists to drink while riding, are now a very familiar feature with hikers. Hikers have adopted them because they are convenient, lightweight, and allow you to drink without having to stop and take off your backpack. Hydration bags work well for hiking because you can drink continuously, a little, and often. This helps maintain effective hydration better while hiking than infrequently drinking large quantities of water. Bags also offer an improvement in pack weight distribution over carrying several water bottles.
The two most common types of hydration bags used in hiking are back and waist packs. A hydration bag consists of a bladder or reservoir, usually made of flexible plastic or rubber, and tubing. The reservoir has a capped mouth so it can be easily filled. A hose, fitted with a bite valve, runs from the reservoir to the hiker’s shoulder. When a hiker bites down, the valve opens allowing water to be sucked up the tube and drunk. Hydration bags come in a variety of weights, capacities, colors and styles.
Points to Consider When Buying a Hydration Bag
First, you need to select the hydration bag best suited for the type of hike you normally do. This is the most important consideration. Do you primarily do day hikes or go on longer backpacking hikes? For a day hike, you need to bring all the water you will need. If hiking for 2 days or more, you may need to bring a purification or filtration system along with a hydration bag.
Cost is the second consideration. Hydration bags range in price from the relatively inexpensive to the expensive. Choose according to your budget and how much you will use it.
Comfort is important on a hike. Hydration bags designed to carry on your back need a breathable lining to improve airflow and padded shoulder straps. Those worn around the waist should neither be too tight nor stop you from bending easily.
Since you will be using the bite valve every time you drink, look closely at it. It should be made of soft materials that are comfortable to bite. A good flow rate is important. Does the water trickle out or flood? Does the mounting place the bite valve close to your mouth so you can drink with ease? An ergonomic valve, set at a right angle, will put the mouthpiece at a more hiker-friendly angle.
Ease of cleaning is important since the bladder, tubes and valves can promote bacterial growth. A useful feature is a type of anti-microbial treatment that delays mold growth.
Think of convenience. Buy one that can carry enough water but also has extra pockets for food and other equipment.
The major downside to a hydration bag is being harder to keep clean than a simple bottle. Sometimes, depending on its design, the tubes can be bothersome to route correctly. Finally, in very cold conditions, bladders and bite valves may freeze.