By Andy Souder
Hydration reservoirs are all the rage in the hiking world. They provide convenience and consistent hydration, rather than having to take breaks and remove your pack, hunt for your water bottle, etc. you can simply grab the hose and sip. While they are amazing for warmer climes and lower elevations, they can be challenging for high altitude or extreme cold. Here’s some considerations before bringing one on your trip:
Ease of filling
How easy is it to fill your reservoir? Best served from a sink, or can it be poured into from a pot by yourself? Having a slider system like on the Hydrapak Force and Contour models offer wider openings, meaning easier to fill. Old-school twist styles like the Camelbak Crux or Gregory 3D can be difficult to fill one-handed.
Be aware of how you pack your bag around your reservoir. Most modern hydration systems have a quick-disconnect point on the hose somewhere. If you have something pressed up against the button, you could inadvertently disconnect your tube and soak the inside of your bag. Similarly, be aware of how your pointy objects are stored. Are those crampons resting adjacent to the reservoir? Sitting on your pack and popping it or jabbing the side with a pole or crampon can spell disaster for a trip.
High alpine temps that stay below freezing are not a great place for reservoirs. The water in the hose can freeze, rendering the whole system useless. A helpful way to keep the tube from freezing is to blow the water back into the reservoir. It can’t freeze in the tube if it’s empty! The heat from your back will keep it above freezing and drinkable. There are plenty of accessories out there that offer some thermal insulation for your hose and reservoir, but they don’t work in all scenarios. We recommend only using bladder systems on the approach and only when the temperature is above freezing.
Caring and managing your reservoir on the trail is important as well. Being aware of how much you are sipping is important, it can be easy to drink 2 liters of water in just a few hours without realizing! Imagine you’re participating in our 3-day Muir climb on Rainier, you can easily drink all your water accidentally by the time you hit Pebble Creek, leaving none for the Muir Snowfield. Not a great position to be in. Sip sparingly!
“it’s just water in there, how gross can it get?” the answer is VERY. Best practice after using your reservoir is to empty and rinse it out, allowing plenty of time to air dry before storing. Leaving water in the reservoir can lead to mold and mildew, which never taste very good when you’re dying of thirst.
If your reservoir does end up getting gross, not to worry. There are all kinds of cleaning options. Custom shaped brushes are out on the market, as well as effervescent cleaning tablets. You can buy the brand-specific tablets, but they are all essentially the same as denture cleaning tabs, which are often much cheaper. Dish soap works as well, although you’ll need to be thorough about rinsing!
Our recommended options
best overall for insulation. Expensive, but there’s a lot included. This system is the bladder, insulated bag, insulated hose, dust cover for the mouthpiece, a quick—release and shutoff valve. Wow!
Best for simple durability. The force has more tactical intentions, but works very well for alpine endeavors. More likely to have freezing problems at the bag due to the lack of insulation there. Easy to clean, the whole bag can be turned inside-out!
Osprey 4-Seasons Insulation Kit
Have a reservoir already? Osprey has you covered for winterization. This is somewhat universal and can work with many different manufacturer’s reservoirs.
Osprey Hydraulics 3L Reservoir
For getting started, the Osprey Hydraulics 3L is great. High volume and plenty of good features. Will not do well in freezing conditions, no insulation at all. Great for practice and 3-season use on courses that don’t get into the alpine.
MSR Dromedary Bag
MSR’s Dromedaries are great for carrying lots of water. Not a typical “hydration reservoir” system, you can manually refill water bottles with one of these. They are incredibly burly and can take getting crushed and thrown around. They can also be used as training weights for the off-season: fill up for extra weight on the climb, dump at the top and hike down. Easy!