I remember when I purchased my first hydration bladder. It felt like a superpower. I could basically just conjure water like a wizard. Abrakadabra… Hydration. Several years, experiences, and broken hydration bladders later, I now question whether they are even a good idea.
A list of grievances:
Hydration bladders are more fragile than almost any bottle. I have broken at least 6 hydration bladders from a wide variety of manufacturers including your favorite. In the best case, your stuff gets wet. In the worst case, you lose your most vital resource.
They don’t handle the cold as well as a bottle that is built for cold. Granted, the bladder itself is usually well insulated enough inside your pack to prevent freezing but your mouthpiece and hose will likely freeze. This can happen even if you are careful about blowing out the hose if it is cold enough.
They are more expensive especially compared to free bottles. That’s right. There are some really good bottles that are basically free with the purchase of something like Smartwater, Gatorade, or maybe those tradeshow freebie sports bottles. Even if you have to buy some bottles for specific purposes, they are less expensive than a bladder (and they lost longer with less maintenance).
They are terrible to clean. If something requires tablets, special brushes, and weird expanding drying rack to clean, it kind of sucks. Those bladders and hoses get really, really nasty if you don’t clean them well.
They make it easy to over-utilize your resources. “Gee whiz, this climb is kicking my tail. I’ll just take a quick swig.” Do that a few times and before you know it, you’ve knocked back all 3 liters and you’re looking for a place to refill. You need to hydrate but hydration bladders make it easy to take in more than you need.
They have the word “bladder” in their name. That’s a little weird, right?
I will grant you that they do have some advantages. The convenience can’t be beat but, again, this is a double-edged sword. They are also often lighter in weight than the bottles required to carry the same volume of water.
The “how” basically boils down to a few key factors. The first is having the right gear. You need to make sure you have the bottles you need to carry a sufficient amount of water and then you have a pack that will support your new hydration bladder-less existence.
The bottle part is easy. Just find bottles that will let you carry as much water as you would have with a hydration bladder. I like to use the big Nalgene 48-ounce bottles. They are the same diameter as the typical 32-ounce bottles so they fit all the same pouches. Two of them will carry roughly the same amount of water as a 3L bladder. Alternately, the 1-liter Smartwater bottles are a great shape for packing in a backpack.
Speaking of backpacks, I like Hill People Gear packs for carrying a lot of water since they typically have ample bottle pockets and provisions for attaching bottles to your pack belt. I can easily and comfortably carry 5 liters of water on my Umlindi or Ute without even having to stash any water inside the pack. I can place additional bottles in the pack as necessary.
Once you have the gear sorted out, you can address the convenience aspect. This is important because, while hydration bladders can lead to over-hydration, you still don’t want to make it hard to take a drink. My standard is that I must have at least once bottle that can I drink from without having to stop to access it, drink from it, or stow it again. I like to use a sports bottle as you might use on a bike but really, almost any bottle will work. The key is to make sure this bottle is easy to access like on your waist belt or lashed to your pack strap. I just rotate water to the easy access bottle from other bottles when I get a chance.
Don’t submit to the tyranny of hydration bladders any longer. Save money, save headaches, and save water by switching to bottles.