Around the time our highly anticipated shipments started arriving, we were still blanketed under a good twelve feet of snow after a long and powdery winter. This meant we had to get creative and the first part of our test was mostly spent out backcountry skiing. While this wasn't what we'd anticipated, it did allow us to push the limits of our larger hydration packs' storage capacities. The gear needed for ski touring, even in the spring, is bulkier and heavier than your typical gear that would be carried while riding, hiking, or running.
After a few snowy weeks, we were finally able to start hitting the trails around the Lake Tahoe area in both Nevada and California. A majority of our testing was done while mountain biking and we carried consistent gear and weight as much as conditions would allow.
We did have to make adjustments for both weather and different styles of hydration packs. While we did test some smaller packs, the majority were the larger cargo capacity models.
Our testers spent several weeks, riding, hiking, and trail running around the Tahoe area. We tested each pack in varying conditions for several criteria including: ease of drinking, ease of filling, comfort, storage, weight, and ease of cleaning.
Aside from the field testing, we spent some time in our laboratory okay, this reviewer's kitchen. Since we had noticed definite differences in how easy it was to drink from each pack, we decided to do a side by side time trial of sorts. This involved filling the packs up with just over one liter of water, hanging the bladder at the same height, and then draining and stopping at exactly one liter which then primed the drinking tube. At this point, we'd start the stopwatch while simultaneously squeezing the bite valve at the point of maximum flow. Each model was timed from start to completely drained and times were recorded. From fastest to slowest, the time was approximately double!
We did side by side tests including comparisons for filling our hydration packs up, seeing how easy it was to access the water bladder and then actually fill them. To test cleaning, we actually broke out our cleaning kits and an assortment of dish rags, sponges, and towels.
Since manufacturer's claimed weights can be a little less than accurate, we also weighed each hydration pack on the same scale and recorded the results for you.
Armed with all of our test results and field observations, you'll be able to make a better informed hydration pack purchase!