Using a water bottle or hydration pack for backpacking is really an issue of personal preference.
Water bottle vs. hydration pack
Hydration packs or bladders give the option to sip water on-the-go without needing to remove a water bottle from a pocket, day-pack, or backpack. This extra convenience means it is possible to drink more water and stay hydrated without even realizing it. But the water bottle can provide a variety of benefits over the hydration pack.
Hiking with a hydration pack
A hydration pack such as a Platypus, CamelBak, or Teton Sports, comes with a plastic drinking tube for easy on-the-go use, and includes a variety of advantages, including:
- Heavy – A hydration pack makes it easy to carry the supply of water close to the back, which is the most efficient way to carry the heavy load of water for a day-hike.
- Greater convenience – A great convenience of the CamelBak/Platypus type packs is the ability to drink as you hike. There is no need to keep stopping and starting (stop, retrieve the bottle, remove cap, drink, and turn cap and bottle to backpack) in the process of staying hydrated. Being the only one in a hiking party with a water bottle might be inconvenient, especially if it keeps holding up other members of the hike.
- Weight – Many of the hydration packs on the market are lighter when filled with water compared to a regular water bottle.
- Collapsibility – A hydration pack depleted of water is able to collapse or roll-up to save space. But, the hard-body water bottles, while being lighter, will still take up the same space whether full or empty.
Although there are great positives of using a hydration bag, there are still a variety of concerns that can impact its usability.
Hydration packs and bladders are more susceptible to punctures, tearing, leaks, etc. Whereas, the outdoor ready water bottles (1-liter Nalgene for instance) can be highly durable.
While the hydration system is the most efficient option to stay hydrated while hiking, a back-up water bottle can be used for extra safety in the event of the main bladder failing.
Hiking with a water bottle
For the long-term hiker that hasn't experienced issues with a regular water bottle, there is usually no real need to switch to a hydration pack.
Here are several of the issues related to hydration packs and why it might benefit to continue using a hiking water bottle:
- Refilling the bladder – The process of refilling the bladder isn't always the easiest, especially if attempting to place the bladder system in an already full backpack. Having to unpack and repack the backpack to load the bladder can be a time-consuming process.
- Tube water gets warm – Any water left in the tube when walking in the warm regions can soon start to warm up. This means it is necessary to dump the water in the tube and add fresh to get a cool and refreshing drink.
- How much is left – It can be difficult to determine the amount of water left in the bladder in the full backpack without first unpacking to view.
- Condensation – Pouring cold water into a bladder and then packing inside a warm backpack can result in water condensation.
- Heavy pack – A large hydration system is rarely needed on the hiking trails where water is easily sourced and available. Filling a hydration bag to its limit can mean too much water and weight is carried on the trails.