We all prefer riding bag free, but the truth is jersey pockets just don’t cut it-especially for long rides where you need to carry extras to ensure you’re never found wanting.
This is particularly true if you’re mountain biking.
Fortunately, hydration packs for mountain bikes, which are more often than not necessary evils, provide a convenient way to carry your water and keep you hydrated.
Of course, some people may argue that mountain bikes hold a small bottle of water in the frame, but that’s not enough, especially if you’re someone who sweats like Shaquille O’Neal free-throw line.
Depending on the size, a hydration pack will keep you hydrated, even for extended rides. Even better, the hydration affords users the much-needed space and flexibility; they’ll allow you to carry other mountain bike necessities such as food, layers, spares, tools, and everything else you might need during a ride.
And the good thing is hydration packs come in different sizes, shapes, and styles ranging from low-profile packs, hip packs to large backpacks, so it’s always easy to find a model that suits your needs.
But with a gamut of options in the market, choosing the right backpack for your needs can feel a bit intimidating.
But it doesn’t need to be so.
We shall review the top five hydration packs in the market along with a handy buying guide to help with the selection process.
2020 Picks : Top 5 Hydration Packs for Mountain Biking
|Model||Pack Size||Hydrapack Size||Ratings|
|CamelBak M.U.L.E. 9L|
(Best in Budget)
|9 liters||3 liters||4.5|
|Osprey Raptor 10|
|10 liters||2.5 liters||4.8|
|Thule Vital 6L|
|6 liters||2.5 liters||4.7|
|DAKINE Drafter 10L|
|10 liters||3 liters||4.6|
|Deuter Compact EXP 12||12 liters||3 liters||4.5|
1. CamelBak M.U.L.E. 9L Hydration Pack – (Best in Budget)
CamelBak M.U.L.E. is a compact, lightweight day pack with a liter water reservoir that is good for biking and traveling. It’s a multi-functional gear, and though marketed to mountain bikers, it works well for hikes or even as a carry-on/travel bag.
But is the CamelBak M.U.L.E. alongside its features the right option for you?
CamelBak M.U.L.E. manages to get the balance right; the 9 liters capacity is sufficient to hold water and gear for full day trails, while at the same time remaining narrow, and lightweight.
The pack also comes with an ergonomic and narrow design, further pushing its intended use for faster activities. It also sits comfortably between your shoulders, and won’t cause your center of balance to shift too much when initiating corners quickly.
M.U.L.E. is made from 70d diamond ripstop nylon, a durable and tear-resistant material that will hold up pretty well on the road.
We like the nylon because it’s water-resistant without any additional coating, which is extremely useful when you consider the position of the tool pocket on the M.U.L.E. It’s the most exposed one and the first to get wet if you get caught in the rain.
CRUX Reservoir With Quicklink System
The star of the M.U.L.E. hydration pack is the CamelBak’s CRUX reservoir, which delivers 20% more water per sip and features a self-sealing bite valve.
The reservoir makes hydration completely hands free, meaning you never have to stop rehydrating. To drink, you simply bite on the hose, and the water starts flowing.
Air Director Backpanel
The back surface of this backpack is covered with an Air Director Backpanel, consisting of mesh for ventilation. It’s an essential feature, especially for the fast riders, as it keeps the cool, dry, and comfortable.
M.U.L.E. is feature-rich, and some of the other features we found worth mentioning are:
Removable waist belt: Adds stability and helps transfer the backpack’s weight away from your shoulder to your hips.
External helmet hook: Offers an easy and convenient way to strap your helmet-much better than carrying it on your hands.
2. Osprey Raptor 10 Hydration Pack – (Editor’s Choice)
There’s a lot to like with the Osprey Raptor 10 Hydration Pack. Like most of the options on or list, this hydration pack is specifically built with the mountain riders in mind. It’s comfortable, lightweight, and reliable. It also packs a punch when it comes to capacity.
Let’s find out more about the hydration pack.
Osprey Raptor 10 is larger enough to carry your entire mountain riding essential for extended backcountry riding.
Aptly named Osprey Raptor 10, this hydration pack has a generous capacity of 10 liters. It’s generous enough to hold your essentials, including food, water, a couple of tubes, tools, pumps, and even a light jacket.
AirScape Back System
We expect some feature improvements with every update, but on this one, Osprey Raptor 10 retains the fantastic AirScape System previously on Osprey Raptor 9.
The system, consisting of split and channeled foam pads covered in a sprung mesh offers a comfortable and less sweaty experience. It optimizes the airflow, preventing you from getting clammy and uncomfortable.
Comfort is the name of the game with Osprey Raptor 10. The shoulder strap has better shape and used more foam for the perfect fit. So, with this option, you’re less likely to feel unstable, and this is further underlined by the presence of wide, stabilizing hip belt “wings” and sternum straps.
Easy to Use
The 3-liters reservoir on the Osprey Raptor 10 is integrated with a handle to make refilling a breeze. The handle similarly gives the bladder some structure to keep it from “sausaging” when full.
And contrary to the Camelbak we had reviewed earlier, this option doesn’t use a quick disconnect system for the hose. Rather, the folks at Osprey are focused on making installation and removing the bladder a cinch by using a clever sipper layout, known as Direct Access.
Aside from the dedicated bladder compartment, Osprey Raptor 10 is also segmented into other small and zippered compartments to the subtle items such as wallets, keys, and sunglasses.
While Osprey Raptor 10 packs all the essentials like all other trail packs, the small creature comforts set the option ahead of the competition.
For instance, the packs’ LidLock comes with an oval shape of plastic, passing through a vent on the top of your helmet- a nice touch that eases gear’s transporting.
3. Thule Vital 6L Hydration Backpack – (Best Overall)
Thule is synonymous with bike racks and carriers, but in the spring of 2018, it entered the hydration pack market with their mountain biking-specific Vital lineup.
The Vital lineup consists of several hydration packs with different capacities, but today, we shall look at the Thule Vital 6L Hydration Backpack.
Thule Vital 6L is a comfortable and capable hydration pack, ticking all the boxes for the best hydration pack. It offers a nice balance of internal and external storage, has excellent breathability, remains comfortable, and remains secure during rough descents.
But is Thule Vital 6L the right option for you?
Design-wise, this hydration has everything desirable in a hydration pack. First, it’s feather-light, weighing a measly 3 oz, and so, it won’t fatigue you even when you strap it on your back for extended periods.
It’s also designed for a comfortable fit, and when in use, it fits snugly. The large side pockets kind of “hug” your body to ensure stability. The shape of the shoulder straps is also a bit curvy, offering the perfect fit on the body. The center of gravity, as promised, is low and offers the perfect weight distribution to keep you going even when initiating the tricky corners.
Thule Vital 6L isn’t the largest option on our list, but the 6-liter capacity and 2.5L hydrapack reservoir capacity offers more than enough space to stock all your essentials during a trail. Moreover, the reservoir is also big enough to keep you hydrated for a day’s long trail.
Thule’s hydrapak water reservoir is free from BPA and PVC, so there is no need to worry about any health concerns. The hydrapak is designed with practicality and convenience in mind. For instance, it features a large opening at the top to allow easy cleaning. The bag can even be cleaned in the dishwasher.
ReTrakt hydration hose
A star point for this hydration pack is the ReTrakt hydration hose, consisting of flexible strips of magnets down the hose and right-hand shoulder strap that you slide around the drinking hose. It’s not a new system, but it’s fantastic to use as it lets the shoulder strap “zip” back together when you let go of the bite valve.
Users were immediately struck by how comfortable and secure this hydration pack.
We were first worried that the lack of suspension would keep the bag tight on our bag and not ventilate well enough. Surprisingly, the bag has a lower center of gravity to keep your upper and shoulders free of material, while allowing wind to travel across them to keep things cool.
Moreover, it lacks a mesh suspension platform, and while not certainly a good thing, it helps keep your shoulder from rubbing against a hard and rigid surface.
4. DAKINE Drafter 10L Hydration Backpack – (Top Pick)
Meeting your MTB needs and more has never been easy as it is with the Dakine Drafter. It’s a sturdy mid-sized option chock full of interesting features. It’s particularly a handy option for those looking for a mid-size and cleverly designed bag.
DAKINE Drafter 10L capacity ties to that of Osprey Raptor at 10 Liters. It’s a generous offering, large enough to hold all of your mountain biking essentials. Whether you need to carry food, water, tools, or even pack a lightweight jacket, the DAKINE Drafter 10L can accommodate everything for you.
Typical of most of the premium hydration pack, the DAKINE Drafter 10L sports a nylon construction. Now, if you know anything about materials, you’re already aware that nylon is a hardwearing option, and particularly one that doesn’t tear easily.
Additionally, it’s somewhat waterproof and will ensure your items are protected from water if you get caught up by the rain.
Air Suspension System
I can’t overemphasize the importance of an air suspension system, especially for the riders who sweat a lot. With the DAKINE Drafter 10L, however, you don’t have to worry much about getting clammy, thanks to the fantastic air suspension system consisting of a meshed material.
The system promotes the airflow on your back, enhances the overall ventilation, keeping you dry for optimum performance.
Strap and Suspension System
With a few quick adjustments, Dakine Drafter is a comfortable hydration pack that won’t fatigue you even when strapped on your shoulders for extended periods.
The 2.5 wide shoulder straps, for instance, are well-padded and lined with mesh for wicking. They also feature a drink tube guide on them so you can set up to drink righty or lefty. Even better, the back area is padded too, with the firm neoprene on the center and padded mesh over the rest.
5. Deuter Compact EXP 12 Biking Backpack
Deuter EXP 12 is the perfect solution for those who need to up their packing capacity. It’s by far the largest option on our list with a 12-liter capacity. But don’t let that trick you into thinking it’s a bulky option.
We shall see shortly.
As we had previously mentioned, Deuter EXP 12 is a rather voluminous hydration pack, capable of holding up to 12 liters.
With such a holding capacity, I don’t think there’s anything that it can’t hold. Whether you need space for tools, food, water, or even boots, there’s always enough space left on the Deuter 12.
It’s true, Deuter EXP 12 is a rather bulky rucksack, considering it weighs 970 grams. While it might sound enough to make Deuter EXP 12 cumbersome beats, you need to worry not.
The manufacturers at Deuter have made sure to give the pack a slim profile, meaning that even when it’s fully loaded, it will cause minimal disruption to arm movement. We also have to acknowledge that the pockets are slightly tapered at the top, minimizing fouling with the helmet.
Even better, the backpack can cinch almost flat, thanks to the compression straps.
The back of Deuter sports a central channel with flexible stays for support. While it does keep the hydration pack balanced when loaded to capacity, it’s unfortunate they only lex vertically and not horizontally. It’s not a bad thing, but it means you won’t get that optimum feel of the hydration pack molding perfectly to your back.
Though the mesh straps on the hydration pack add some weight, they enhance the overall ventilation and free air flow. The solid strap also comes with more padding to ensure the bag doesn’t dig into your shoulders and keeps you comfortable. Bear in mind the EXP 12 doesn’t come with a bladder, instead, it has run for the tubing.
How to choose a Hydration Pack for Mountain Biking
Choosing a hydration pack for mountain biking is not as easy as it sounds.
Specific features should be present in an MTB hydration pack. As not all hydration packs are fitted with quality features, you need to look for them. Again, you don’t need all the hydration pack features, so you need to pick what you need.
Here’re some of the things to look out for when selecting an MTB hydration pack:
Size and Capacity
Most reservoirs have a capacity of 1l to 3l. So, before picking an option, consider how much water you need, and pick an option that can hold that much water.
Tip: If you’re off to a long day ride, consider the 3-liter option as it holds more water and will keep you satiated for long.
As we had mentioned in the introduction, the modern hydration packs are used for more than carrying water. Instead, they can also hold other travel essentials such as wallets, phones, tools, keys, and even a helmet.
So, when picking a hydration pack, consider all you need to carry, and from there, determine the amount of space you would need.
The reservoir of different hydration packs tends to be different from each other, coming in different shapes, sizes, softness, and other features. Some of the reservoirs are soft while rigid. The sot reservoirs tend to slump inside the pack, and holding them to a specific position is challenging. On the other hand, rigid ones tend to hold their position.
The reservoirs also have a distinct closing and filling system, so you simply need to choose an option suiting your needs.
Riders have to bear the weight of the hydration packs until their ride is over. Therefore, you must check the weight of the hydration pack.
While most of them are ultra-light, filling them with travel essentials, perceptibly makes the bag heavy, which may cause a lot of pressure on your shoulder. So, besides choosing a lightweight bag, consider filling it wisely.
A hydration pack should be water-resistant to avoid drenching your travel. It should equally be comfortable, and a back panel can help with aeration and maximum airflow. Mesh back panels are, in particular, a wonderful option as they allow maximum airflow.
The Bottom Line
There you have it!
You now have the list of the best hydration backpacks for mountain biking, and hopefully, you’ve found an option suiting your needs.