Buying Guide For Hydration Packs
By Steve Kopitz
In a world where activity and exercise is a part of many of our lives it is essential to stay hydrated during all the several activities that people choose to partake in. When a simple water-bottle will no longer cut it, many of us look for alternatives to keeping an ample amount of water handy, hydration packs often pick up where a water-bottle leaves off. This article will explore all the different aspect of hydration packs including; different sizes and designs, who/why individuals use hydration packs, how to pick the proper size and fit, how to maintain and clean a hydration pack, and some very useful accessories for your hydration pack. So, lets get to it!
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What is a Hydration Pack?
A hydration pack is essentially a large plastic bag or bladder that can be filled with water. A long hose with a valve is attached to the bag so the user can drink from the bag. The bag is then placed into a backpack and carried on the users back. The hose is run from the bladder, out of the backpack and to the users’ mouth. Hydration packs have become a much preferred alternative to the traditional water bottle. This is because hydration packs carry more water, fit comfortably on your back and can be used while on the go.
Who uses a Hydration Pack?
Hydration packs are most popular for athletes who want to drink on the go, and don’t like the hassle of a water bottle. Because hydration packs are carried on your back, they are comfortable and can be taken anywhere. But the most important feature is the fact that the user can take a drink without stopping. All they have to do is bite on the hose and take a drink. Therefore, hydration packs have become very popular among hikers, skier, snowboarders, snowshoers, bikers, rollerbladers, and many others. With the exception of sports played on a field or court, water bottles have been replaced by hydration packs.
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Uses for a Hydration Pack
The obvious reason to use a hydration pack is to get water into your system to stay hydrated when taking part in any activity. One of the best perks of owning a hydration pack is the fact that it is quintesentially a backpack so you can easily pack ample equipment for a days activity. The hydration pack becomes a keep all for anything you may need and relieves stress of trying to find a place to put things that will not interfere with your activity.
Structure and Design
Hydration packs similar to many items in sporting goods have many variations to how they are made and to what specifications. Here we will get into what different parts go into a pack, how they vary and what that means to you. Getting to know what goes into the structure and design of a hydration pack will ultimately ensure you are an educated shopper who gets what they need when making that purchase.
The higher the volume of the bladder, the larger the pack which carries it needs to be. This is an important thing to consider. The larger and bulkier the pack, the more cumbersome it will be. However, in certain situations, it may be an advantage to have a larger pack. For example, if you are a road biker, you most likely do not want a very big or bulky pack. It will feel awkward and weigh you down. However, of you are a backcountry skier, a large pack will give you a place to put extra gear, a lunch, spare clothes, ect. So think about the sport you will be doing and how much room you would like you pack to have.
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Different hydration packs come with different closure systems. The two most popular are the zip-lock closure system, and the screw cap closure system. The zip lock closure system works basically like a heavy duty zip lack back, requiring the user to seal it together after it is filled. The screw cap system is our favorite, and it requires the user to simply screw a cap back on after filling. We like this system better because it tends to have fewer problems with leaks.
Almost all hydration packs come with padded shoulder straps. However, you may want to investigate if a given hydration pack has a sternum strap and hip straps. A sternum strap connects the shoulder straps across the chest. This is a very nice feature if you plan on using your hydration pack while on the go, as it prevents the shoulder straps from slipping off. Hip straps are very convenient if you plan on carrying a significant amount of weight in you pack, as the take much of the weight off your shoulders and displaces it to the hips. The more types of straps a hydration pack has, the more is can be custom fitted to your body and needs.
A hydration pack should fit similar to a hiking backpack. It should fit snug against your back, with the shoulder straps adjusted so the pack sits comfortably on your shoulders. If you leave the straps to low, the hydration pack will give you a shoulder ache, to high and it will feel uncomfortable and awkward.
At the end of every hose is a valve to keep the water from leaking out when the user isn’t drinking. There are a few different valve designs that hydration pack hoses use. The most common valve is a bite valve. These valves are made of soft rubber with a small slit in it, and are placed on the end of the hose. When the user wants a drink, they simply bite on the valve and suck. When the user stop biting down, the valve automatically closes. However, because these bite valves are prone to leaking, some hydration packs will also have a switch to open and close the water flow. This is a very nice feature, especially if you plan to use your hydration pack in the winter, as the leaking water will freeze to your clothes. Make sure to look for these details when looking at hydration packs for your outdoor exploration.
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There are a few accessories which make excellent additions to you hydration pack. The first is a hose insulator. This is a neoprene sleeve which fits over the hose and prevents it from freezing. This is a must have add on if you plan on using your hydration pack in the winter, because as soon as the water in your hose freezes, the hydration pack is useless. The second is a bite valve cover. This is a large rubber cover which easily fits over the drinking end of the hose. This will keep any dirt or dust from getting into your drinking water. It also can act as in insulator, keeping the valve from freezing in colder temperatures. The last handy accessory is a cleaning kit. This will provide you with everything you need to keep your hydration pack clean and sanitary.
With a hydration pack it can be easy to look past storage or cleaning as it is so often looked at as a backpack with no special needs. A hydration pack is very easy to care for and with just a few tips you can have your hydration pack for many years and many memories.
Basic Clean and Care for your Hydration Pack
For the most part hydration packs are a very low maintenance item. However, there are a few things you can do to ensure the longevity of your hydration pack. The first tip is to only put water in your hydration pack. Drinks with sugar make the inside sticky and can cause it to mold, mildew, and clog. Only using water or specially designed flavor tabs will ensure this does not happen. Second, always allow your hydration pack to dry out after use. Draining it completely and opening the closure system will allow the pack to dry and keep from mildewing. If you use your hydration pack frequently, investing in a drying device may be worth your while. This is a device which inserts into the bladder of the hydration pack and keeps it stretched open so air can more easily circulate and the bladder can dry faster.
Be sure to clean your hydration pack every few uses. NEVER run it through the dishwasher, hydration pack bladders are fragile and need to be washed by hand. The first step is to remove the hose from the tube. Once these are separate, use a very small amount of mild dish soap and warm water to fill both the hose and the bladder. If you purchased a cleaning kit, they will provide you with the proper brushed. Otherwise, use a soft brush, like a baby bottle brush to clean the bladder and a long pipe cleaner to clean the hose. Be sure to rinse it thoroughly and let it dry. If you find that your hydration pack has developed an odor, fill the bladder with water and add 2 teaspoons of baking soda. Then let it sit overnight and finish cleaning it in the morning.
There are only a few things to look for when storing a hydration pack between uses or for the season. If storing between uses you can simply drain any excess water out and rinse the pack before hanging it above the ground. It is recommended hydration packs be hung to keep the hose clean of debris and or household pets, this will also keep the structure of the pack in good order. When storing for an extended amount of time a washing of the bladder of the pack is recemonded to clear any possible dirt or debris out. After washing ensure the pack is dry and hang off the ground until the next time you are looking for some refreshment for an exhilarating activity.
Now that you have all the education needed to pick out a hydration pack for use in your activities we guarantee you will make a good choice and be enjoying water on the go in no time. Remember the basics, refer back to this guide with any questions and remember to stay hydrated!
Hydration packs come in a number of different volumes. Most hydration packs range from one liter to three liters in capacity. Depending on the sport you are doing, how hot it will be, and how long you plan on going without a refill, different size hydration packs are appropriate. For example, skiers tend to drink less water than long distance bikers. When you are picking out your new hydration pack, you will want to think about how much water you typically drink while out. You also want to remember that you will be carrying this on your back. The larger the hydrations pack, the more it will weigh and the bulkier it will be.
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