Updated October 2017
Our expert testers disembarked on a journey to the land of hydration packs, finding that our Editors' Choice winner, the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10, remains the best overall. The Osprey Syncro 10 prevails as our Best Buy winner, as does our Top Pick for Lightweight Adventures. Our reviewers also discovered the joys of mountain biking with a fanny pack, choosing the Dakine Low Rider 5L as our Top Pick for Minimalist Mountain Bikers.
Best Overall Hydration Pack
Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
The best storage in our test
Best all around performance for mountain biking
Good crossover ability into other activities
Lower volume delivered when drinking
After months of riding, hiking, running, and even skiing, we chose the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
as the winner of our Editors' Choice award. While it was a close battle with other packs like the Osprey Raptor 10, the Deuter Compact EXP 12, and the CamelBak M.U.L.E., the Duthie prevailed. After consistently scoring highly in every metric we tested, its superior comfort and support, combined with excellent organizational design, made the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10 our favorite overall. Even though Platypus geared this pack toward mountain bike riders, the pack's crossover appeal for other activities guaranteed a place on the podium.
: Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
Best Bang for the Buck
Osprey Syncro 10
Lightest weight for a more substantial capacity pack
Even with light weight, this contender has a lot of cool bike-oriented features
Better price than the other bigger models in our test
Storage wasn't as user-friendly as different packs
Doesn't deliver as high of a water flow rate as others
Even though there were cheaper options in our test, the Osprey Syncro 10
was chosen as our pack with the Best Bang for the Buck. We did test a few contenders with a substantially lower cost, but with that, their lesser features and a narrower appeal ruled them out for this award in comparison to the Osprey Syncro 10. Keeping in mind that often you get what you pay for, this pack has several of the features of the higher priced options but at a lower price.
: Osprey Syncro 10
Top Pick for Lightweight Adventures
Even as our second lightest pack, we were able to carry enough items for riding
Top scoring hydration system
Not much storage capacity
Not the easiest to clean
We somewhat split the packs up based on overall size and carrying capacity. For those of you who are more interested in packs on the lighter side of the spectrum, we chose the CamelBak Rogue
as our favorite lightweight pack. Though small, the Rogue still has enough space to carry at least a few small items needed for biking. That in conjunction with CamelBak's award-winning hydration system technology made this the obvious pick for the Top Pick for a Lightweight Hydration Pack.
: CamelBak Rogue
Best on a Tight Budget
Solid performance in a range of metrics
Shoulder straps can be snug for some users
With a list price of $60, the CamelBak Classic
is so much less expensive than the competition that we had to try it out. While storage is limited, it's a minimalist pack that's a great value for anyone on a tight budget. It scored the only perfect 10 for weight and was a high scorer for its ease of drinking and filling. The Classic is, well, classic and is ready to accompany you on your next adventure - as long as you don't need much storage space. Minimalists rejoice!
: CamelBak Classic
Top Pick for Minimalist Mountain Bikers
Dakine Low Rider 5L
Light is right
Pockets allow for organization
Confined storage capacity
Water bladder takes up storage space
Could have more structure
These days, it's hard to ignore the fact that lumbar style, or fanny packs, are making a comeback in the mountain bike world. We found the inexpensive and lightweight Dakine Low Rider 5L
to be a great option for mountain biking, assuming storage capacity is somewhat low on your list of needs. With an included 2-liter Hydrapack hydration bladder, drinking water on the fly was incredibly easy, and we found we could carry everything we needed for shorter length trips into the mountains, whether by bike or on foot. Less pack contact and coverage on your back helps keep you cool when the temps rise, while the low price keeps money in your bank account where you need it. If you hate wearing a backpack while you ride but still want to stay hydrated, the Low Rider
may be for you.
: Dakine Low Rider 5L
Analysis and Test Results
Over the course of several months, we used and abused all of our test models all over the mountains, trails, and roads of the northern Sierra Nevada. We filled, drank, rode, hiked, ran, and skied while keeping notes on each pack's performance. We recruited other users to try the packs and give us feedback on what they did or didn't like and why. The table above shows the overall combined scores that we arrived at for each pack. Below, you'll find more details on the methods we used to evaluate the packs for each metric that we rated.
Testing in the beautiful Sierra Nevada!
Types of Packs
Most of the packs we tested fall into the backpack style category. These packs are essentially small daypacks with integrated hydration in the form of a water bladder with a drinking tube and bite valve. There are numerous brands, sizes, storage and water capacities, and features to suit people's needs and wants out on the trail. Generally speaking, this style of pack is quite versatile and can be used for a variety of activities. To read more about pack size and what might work best for you, head to our Buying Advice article
Also known as Fanny Packs or Waist Bags, we tested two lumbar style packs in this review. Lumbar packs are different than backpack style packs because they have no shoulder straps. Instead, they attach and support the load only around your waist. Lumbar models typically have a smaller footprint than a backpack, making less contact with and sitting much lower on your back. In recent years, fanny packs have grown in popularity particularly among the mountain bike crowd due to the influence of Enduro racing and improvements in designs.
Ease of Drinking
Since the primary purpose of choosing to use a hydration pack is hydrating, we decided to focus on how easy each model was to drink from. At the beginning of our testing, we assumed they'd be pretty similar when it came to delivering water to our thirsty reviewers. After comparing, we found this wasn't the case. There was significant variation between the flow rates of each manufacturer's hydration systems. We were unsure whether this was due to the tubing, bite valves, or a combination of factors and the testing continued.
Initially, we merely used each pack several times, subjectively noting how we felt each model delivered the liquid goods. While using the test packs during mountain bike rides and various other activities, we started to notice significant differences. We found that when we were huffing, puffing, and panting our way up climbs that the CamelBak products, the CamelBak Rogue
, CamelBak Classic
, and CamelBak M.U.L.E.
seemed more natural to drink from. In comparison to some of the other packs like the Wacool 2L
, where we only able to take small sips without feeling like we were suffocating, the CamelBak packs allowed us to gulp our water down thirstily.
Not all bite valves are created equally. The valve of the Rogue is easy to use and includes a shut off valve.
After weeks of subjective information gathering, it came time to obtain flow rates of each manufacturer's hydration system objectively. We decided an individual time trial of each pack's hydration system was the way to go. For our test, we filled each hydration bladder up to one liter and hung them at the same height above our sink. The drinking tube was then primed, and the stopwatch started. We timed how long it took to empty the liter of water into the sink, and we found there was a significant span between the fastest and slowest systems.
The fastest flow rate goes to CamelBak valves. If you need water fast, this is the valve to choose.
The effective Crux systems of the CamelBak Rogue
, CamelBak Classic
, and CamelBak M.U.L.E.
clocked almost identical times with an average of 37 seconds to thoroughly drain the liter of water. This thoroughly reinforced our subjective opinions of how easy it was to drink while using the CamelBak products. We felt they were hands-down the easiest and this proved it.
The slowest flow rate comes from the TETON Sports hydration system.
Not surprisingly, the inexpensive TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0
had a substantially slower flow rate. We already suspected this after struggling to drink from the pack while out using it for biking and hiking. Our stopwatch time trial confirmed the low flow rate of the model. Compared to our speedy CamelBak Crux/Big Bite
equipped packs at 37 seconds, the Trailrunner 2.0
took 2:04 to thoroughly drain. With a difference that dramatic, the contenders that are easiest to drink from have a flow rate 3.35 times faster than the slowest.
As we'd found while out field testing our packs, the Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
wasn't the easiest to gulp from but wasn't significantly different from the CamelBak packs. We clocked the Duthie's
one-liter drain rate at 48 seconds, only 9 seconds slower.
Here you can see the Platypus bite valve in action. The Duthie earned an 8 out of 10 for ease of drinking.
The Osprey Raptor 10
, Osprey Syncro 10
, and Dakine Low Rider 5L
all use Hydrapack water bladders, tubes, and bite valves, and each came in just a few seconds slower than the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
at 54 seconds.
Putting the Osprey bite valves to the test, with both models scoring 7 out of 10.
The surprise of our time trial test was the inexpensive Wacool 2L
. While the pack costs the same as the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0
, the ease of drinking was significantly better. Our testers had found the Wacool 2L
was noticeably easier to drink from than the Trailrunner and our kitchen
lab testing proved it. The Wacool was able to empty its one liter of water in 1:05, almost a full minute faster than the Trailrunner.
The lumbar style Osprey Talon 6
was the outlier in our test selection, using water bottles for water storage as opposed to the water bladders employed in all of the other packs. It wasn't easy to quantify the flow rate of the bottles, as the water comes out as you squeeze them. We found each 20 oz bottle to take six full squeezes to empty, discharging just over 3 oz per full squeeze.
The Wacool outperformed similarly priced options, though it was not a top scorer.
The times below reflect a summary of our one-liter time trial testing
- 0:37 - CamelBak Crux Packs (an average of the CamelBak Classic, CamelBak Rogue, and CamelBak M.U.L.E.)
- 0:48 - Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
- 0:54 - Osprey Syncro 10, Osprey Raptor 10, Dakine Low Rider 5L
- 1:28 - Deuter Compact EXP 12
- 2:04 - TETON Trailsports 2.0
Now it's up to you to consider the flow rates we calculated and decide how significant these numbers are for your activities. Are you a gulper? More of a sipper? Our stable of test packs ran the gamut for ease of drinking.
Part of our crew out testing packs while hiking.
Ease of Filling
How easy is your bladder to fill up? Compared to the "old days" when you had to dismantle your entire pack to fill up a likely-to-puncture hydration bladder with a narrow one-inch opening, today's models are more user-friendly than ever.
One crucial aspect of this metric is merely the size of the opening of the hydration bladder you're filling. Some packs like the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0
has an older-style opening of only 2 inches.
The Duthie's bladder is secured with two clips.
Conversely, several of our packs are equipped with bladders that completely open on their upper end. This creates a significant opening of around six inches, making filling the bladder that much easier.
The stiffener on the Syncro helps with filling and cleaning. This model scored the highest among others in our fleet - a near perfect 9 out of 10.
The Deuter Compact EXP 12
, Osprey Raptor 10
, Osprey Syncro 10
, Dakine Low Rider 5L
, and our Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
all have this type of opening. Somewhere in the middle is where the CamelBak Crux hydration bladders fall. These bladders all have a circular opening near the top of the bladder that has a 4-inch diameter.
The Classic and Rogue share the same wide mouth and convenient handle to make filling up quick and easy.
How important this metric is may depend on where you usually fill your hydration bladder. Do you always fill from your convenient and deep kitchen sink? Do you ever find yourself traveling and filling up your pack from a shallow hotel sink? How about filling on the go from natural sources like lakes and streams?
The Hydrapack Compact 2L water bladder on the Dakine fanny pack was simple to fill.
The size of the bladder opening can make a significant difference in the time it takes to fill as well as the effort needed. A more extensive opening generally makes filling up easier and vice versa for narrower openings.
We didn't let our spring weather slow testing down.
The location of the hydration bladder inside the pack also dictates how easy it is to fill as well. Some models, like the CamelBak Rogue
and CamelBak Classic
, place the opening front and center with easy access for filling from a sink. Other packs like the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0
are designed with the hydration bladder in a harder to reach location. The majority of our contenders have relatively easy access to a dedicated hydration bladder sleeve. This makes the packs' bladders accessible; even the bag is filled with your gear. No more dumping your pack in frustration so you can refill.
A narrower opening, like the one found on the TETON Sports model, is often tougher when filling and cleaning.
The one exception to this is the Osprey Talon 6
with its water bottles. The bottles rest in padded sleeves on the outside of the pack and are as easy to fill as taking off the lid, filling the container, and putting the lid back on.
The Talon 6's water bottles are easy to fill up.
A pack's level of comfort includes several factors. One of the first things we looked at was the intended use of all our test packs. Is the pack intended for simply carrying water and not much else like the CamelBak Classic
or TETON Trailsports 2.0
? Or is the intended use to carry more gear, along with more water like the Deuter Compact EXP 12
or our Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
If you load down an ultralight pack with too much weight, the comfort level will quickly diminish and conversely, if you tend to carry a minimum of items and only partially fill your hydration bladder, a more extensive pack may be overkill. Having too large of a model isn't necessarily uncomfortable, but may create an excess of material or allow the contents of the bag to move around. These factors can decrease your overall comfort.
Hydration pack testing the in the Tahoe area this spring included backcountry skiing. The model shown here is the Duthie, by Platypus. It earned a high score in the comfort metric and is our Editors' Choice.
When we tested, we tried to keep our comparison loads similarly weighted. For hiking, we typically carried a light jacket, 1.5 liters of water, a couple of nutrition bars, lip balm, and sunscreen. For biking, we brought the same items, plus some biking essentials like a spare tube, pump, multi-tool, and increased the water to 2.0 liters.
The Raptor 10, an offering from Osprey, sports comfortable straps and is a top scorer for its overall high level of comfort.
Beyond these basics, we had several wild card scenarios, like spring backcountry skiing. Some of our packs like the smaller CamelBak models, the lumber style packs, and the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0
couldn't be used on ski touring days due to a lack of storage options. On ski days, with our larger capacity packs, we were able to successfully carry an extra layer, 2.0 liters of water, gloves, goggles, helmet, and a few other small items and were able to compare the overall comfort based on these extra large loads.
The Best Buy Syncro at the top of a Sierra Nevada peak, getting ready to ski down. This model earned a near perfect 9 out of 10 for comfort.
Once the general pack size is determined, it's time to look at the overall construction of the hydration pack and test how it supports and carries a load. We found our test models had three basic foundations: No frame like our Top Pick for a Lightweight Hydration Pack CamelBak Rogue
, light wire frame like our Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
, and metal frame stays like the Deuter Compact EXP 12
We found the Low Rider to be comfortable on day hikes and trail runs as well as mountain bike rides.
For lighter weights, a pack without any real frame construction provides excellent comfort but suffers as you add weight. The more substantial the frame, the better the competitor will handle increased gear weight. Not surprisingly, the Deuter Compact EXP 12
and the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
dealt with the heaviest pack loads with the greatest of ease.
Testing the breathability and overall comfort on the uphill. The EXP earned 9s for comfort and storage space, making it a top choice for all sorts of activities.
We also tested our packs for breathability as this affects your comfort quite a bit
think sweat-saturated back on a chilly and windy day
brrr! Our two test contenders that provided the most exceptional ventilation were the wire framed Osprey Syncro 10
and the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
. This high level of breathability is accomplished by keeping the pack body away from your back using a suspension wire frame and a highly breathable mesh back panel.
The tensioned mesh frame of the Syncro keeps your back well ventilated, adding to the comfort levels.
Another consideration when it comes to comfort is the shoulder strap construction. A good portion of the pack's weight rides on your shoulders, especially for models with no waist belt or a skinny webbing belt. We found that shoulder straps with a more anatomic cut were more comfortable; not surprisingly, the higher-priced packs in our lineup tended to have this feature and were more comfortable. The Osprey Talon 6
, one of two fanny packs in the review, excelled when we took it on short day hikes, while the Dakine 5L
won our Top Pick for Minimalist Mountain Bikers.
The Talon 6 in its element on a short day hike.
Some hydration pack users prefer a more substantial waist belt like the Deuter Compact EXP 12
or the Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
while others prefer no waist belt like the CamelBak Rogue
or CamelBak Classic
. Then there's the middle option, a narrower, less padded belt which we found on the Best Buy Osprey Syncro 10
and CamelBak M.U.L.E.
. The belt decision is moderately subjective, and only you can decide which style you like, but generally speaking, the more substantial the waist belt, the better the pack will carry heavier loads.
Our Best Buy hits the downhill in South Lake Tahoe.
Where a pack's comfort is a cocktail of individual ingredients, storage space is a bit more straightforward. Are you only carrying water? Do you regularly carry extras in your pack, like snacks and an extra layer? How about carrying the kitchen sink? Like ordering a coffee, do you want small, medium, or large? Depending on your typical day out and what you tend to bring with you, it's relatively easy to figure out how much space you need.
Out for a spin with one of the largest storage capacity packs in our test, found on the Compact EXP 12.
We tested packs on both ends of the spectrum, from the smallest carrying size with the CamelBak Classic
, to the largest capacity, the Deuter Compact EXP 12
This Compact EXP 12 is even comfortable with spring skiing loads too! No matter your adventure, this model has what it takes in terms of storage.
Once you've decided small, medium, or large, you can fine tune that generalized decision with narrowing down how you want your storage space organized. Do you prefer one or two simple compartments to stuff your gear into or are you someone who likes a lot of individual compartments where your equipment and food can be super organized? Beyond the number of pockets and compartments, you may also want to consider things like how specialized the pack is for your use. Things like bike pump keeper loops like we found in the majority of our more significant capacity packs like the Osprey Raptor 10
, Osprey Syncro 10
, the CamelBak M.U.L.E.
, and our Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
may be a crucial consideration for you.
The Duthie's storage earns the only 10 for this metric. It allows the user to cram in plenty of items, while still remaining comfortable.
To make it easier for you to decide, we measured pockets and overall gear carrying capacity and tried to include as many photos of each pack's storage as we could.
The convenient bike tool roll found on the Raptor allowed for additional storage, thus its high score.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we like to verify everything as much as we're able to and one of the easy things we can check for you is an item's weight. We've found that sometimes claimed weights aren't always accurate and our lineup of hydration packs is no exception. We weighed each pack with its hydration bladder, drinking tube, and bite valve and the actual numbers are listed on the chart.
Small, sleek, and lightweight describes the Rogue from CamelBak.
With gear like hydration packs, there is a surprising weight variance between the low and high ends of the spectrum. The CamelBak Classic
weighs in at 11.2 ounces, while the upper end of the range, the Deuter Compact EXP 12
, rings in at 2 pounds 12.8 ounces. Winning our Top Pick for Lightweight Adventures Award, the Camelbak Rogue
brought great value to the table and was a top scorer among all of the metrics, along with the CamelBak Classic
. Both lumbar style packs, the Dakine Low Rider 5L
and the Osprey Talon 6
also tipped the scales on the lightweight side of the spectrum.
The low weight and simple design of the pack make it comfortable for light and fast movers. This pack was the lightest in the fleet, weighing in at a low 11.2 ounces.
The TETON Sports Trailrunner's
highest score was in the weight metric. Weighing only 12.8 ounces, it finished towards the top of the fleet as far as lightweight packs go. If you just need the bare necessities, this contender rings in at $25 and is a decent option for those on a mega-budget that are also concerned with weight. It's also an excellent choice for kids, keeping the pup hydrated, or occasional hydration specific pack users.
Lightweight packs provide supreme comfort as long as they're not loaded down with too much weight. Pictured here is the TETON Sports model, which earned a high score for its low weight.
How much emphasis this metric has on your hydration pack decision making is up to you. Some riders and runners want things as light as possible where others don't mind an extra few ounces or even a pound if it means their pack is more organized and comfortable. Only you can weigh this decision
Testing breathability on a long sweaty climb at 7700'. The LidLock on the Syncro comes in handy for your helmet, too.
Ease of Cleaning
Okay, we know that most hydration pack users may not clean their bladders as often as they probably should. We're not pointing fingers or making judgments, because well
we're guilty too. With today's hydration packs it's easier than ever to do a quick and thorough cleaning of your hydration system to keep that growing crop of intestinal cooties to a minimum.
One of the widest openings in our test, the Compact EXP was easy to fill and clean.
The ease of cleaning coincides with the effort required to fill up the pack. We found that the quicker the access to the bladder itself, the easier the cleaning process was. Beyond that, the more extensive the bladder opened, the easier it was to clean. Our testers also found that the quicker and easier it was to clean their system out, the more likely they were to do it. Except for the TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0
, our collection of test packs was easier to clean than ever.
A wide opening, like one found on the Syncro, provides complete access for cleaning.
We found the packs with the broadest opening bladders like the Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10
, Deuter Compact EXP 12
, Osprey Raptor 10
, Osprey Syncro 10
, and Dakine Low Rider 5L
were the easiest to clean. The logic here is simple. If you're able to remove the bladder from the pack and open the entire end of it, insert your hand and scrub, then follow it up with a towel, it's pretty darn easy to keep things clean.
Typically, when it's tougher to fill, it's also tougher to clean. The TETON Sports model earned 2s for ease of drinking, filling, and cleaning.
The narrower the opening, the more arduous cleaning becomes. The CamelBak Crux equipped packs filled easily but were more burdensome to thoroughly clean and dry than the models mentioned above. That's not to say they were difficult to clean; they just required a bit more effort. The Wacool 2L
was similar in its ease of cleaning, other than there was no keeper device attached to the cap.
The Crux shoe horn style handle increases the ease of filling, earning the M.U.L.E. a high score.
earned one of the highest scores in our test fleet; thanks to its wide mouth, it was easy to fill and thus, easy to clean.
Easy access for cleaning and drying is found on the bladder of the Duthie.
The Osprey Talon 6
was again the outlier in this rating metric, with water bottles that proved to be quite easy to clean. Simply unscrew the lids and clean as you would any other bottle that you might use for drinking. Not necessarily any easier than the new crop of wide-mouthed hydration bladders, but certainly not any more difficult either.
With a greater variety of hydration packs available today than ever before, we've narrowed down your search by researching and testing the best options that are easily available. We've made this review as comprehensive and detailed as possible to help aid in your decision making. Our gear testers rode, ran, skied, climbed, and hiked all over the northern Sierra in order to help you select the best hydration pack for your needs. For even more detailed information, take a look at our Buying Advice
The Compact EXP eats up the miles and vertical and proved to be a solid performer.