Hydration Packs Versus Bottles
Like most Cross Country riders, I used to rely on bottles for a long time. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I got my first hydration pack. Ever since I have tried two different models from Camelbak, the Classic and Ratchet. After using the Camelbaks exclusive for a few months I think I have got enough experience with both sides. So here’s my take on the topic.
Let’s face it. Bottles are simple and hassle free way of bringing water with you on the trails. By hassle free I mean the preparations and service required before and after rides. At the best case scenario it’s just a matter of filling the bottle with water and after a ride rinsing it quickly before drying. Bottles are also dirt cheap compared to hydration packs and even the cheap few dollar bottles get the job done. Once they get gunky or break, just get a new one. Simple.
As with everything, there are downsides to using bottles too. Drinking while riding can be a bit of a hassle as you need to move around quite a bit to grab a bottle and have a sip. Thus you might end up feeling slightly dehydrated on longer technical sections with no breaks to drink. With bottles, the amount of water you can carry is much more limited too. While there are some 1-liter bottles available such as Zefal Magnum, most bottles can only hold between 0.5-0.75 liters of water. To make matters worse, many frames can hold only one if any water bottles. That pretty much eliminates using bottles for anything but very short rides. On top of this, bottles also have a tendency to get dirty when mounted low on the frame.
Some people seem to need their hydration packs for storage as well. I can see that being the case for long and remote backcountry rides, but for local rides, a saddle bag/other bag on your bike and jersey pockets should be more than enough. If you go with bottles, I’m sure you will appreciate a sweat free back and non-restricted movements.
When it comes to carrying the maximum amount of water with you, a hydration pack can’t be beaten. Since you’ll be carrying the water on your pack, you can still carry a water bottle or two on the frame for extra long rides. Drinking from a hydration pack is effortless too since you just need to grab the tube and suck. Therefore drinking is possible even during technical sections. Hydration packs also offer a great deal of storage for those long remote rides.
The main disadvantage of hydration packs is the fact that they always restrict your movements, more or less. With several kilograms of water in the pack, it needs to be strapped quite tight to keep it in place. This also leads to reduced airflow over your back which ultimately leads to a sweaty back. To make it even worse, a Hydration pack will shift the overall weight of you and your bike upwards, which is bad for stability. Hydration packs are also a bit of a hassle to set up and clean. While the reservoirs are getting easier to service, they still require a lot more care than bottles. In case you mess it up, a new reservoir isn’t going to be cheap.
With tons of different hydration packs on the market nowadays, some of the upsides or downsides are more or less present. For instance, a small and lightweight hydration pack might be barely noticeable on your back, but the trade off is reduced water and storage capacity. For larger packs it’s the other way around, they sacrifice some comfort for larger overall capacity.
So, which is better
Personally, I think there are no winners or losers in this debate. Both have got their ups and downs, and work better for different kinds of rides. Bottles are great for short and quick rides when you want to bring the minimal kit and be out riding as soon as possible. Hydration packs are more versatile by offering more capacity and allowing one to be more self-sufficient. This makes them particularly good for mountain biking.
Which one do you use? Let me know in the comment section! Stay hydrated.