Whether you’re riding on tarmac of off-road, the constant concentration that’s required and, if you’re green laning, the physical demands put on the body, can be thirsty work. There’s nothing wrong with carrying a few bottles of water in your panniers, but it’s always a bit of a faff to take your helmet off, remove your gloves and then go rooting around for your water if you want a sip.
That’s when hydration packs come in really handy. For those who are thinking ‘what on earth is a hydration pack?’ Put simply it’s a small rucksack that contains a bladder which you fill with water. A hose can then be routed from the bladder to the front of your body, allowing you to easily sip on water while you’re riding, without having to remove your helmet.
As the primary function of a hydration system is to provide you with enough liquid to stave off dehydration, a good pack must satisfy the basic criteria of allowing you to easily take a sip whilst on the move, and have sufficient liquid carrying capacity for whatever riding you have planned. I consider sufficient liquid to be a minimum of two-liters for a normal day’s rail riding or riding on one of the really hot days. Of course, three-liters is even better. More than three-liters starts to become heavy.
A lot of people won’t bother with hydration systems and prefer to stop and enjoy a nice relaxed drink, in a cafe or pub perhaps. But for the energetic out there, and especially trail riders, having a hydration system is essential. One of the worst thing you can do to your body is to allow it to become dehydrated. And by the time you notice the symptoms (e.g. excessive thirst, headaches, tiredness) it is too late, and with this in mind it is essential to keep your fluid intake up. One of the easiest ways to monitor this is by the color of your pee, if it’s clear you are drinking enough. The darker the color the more dehydrated you are becoming.
A secondary function of a hydration pack is to provide the wearer with valuable storage space. This is why bladders are normally placed into rucksack type products. Some people (me included) don’t like too much weight on their back whilst riding (remember one-liter of water is equal to 1 kilogram. Over time, even the lightest pack can take their toll if heavy objects are placed there. However, I do like the space there in case I need it, so I normally ride with a fairly empty backpack with full bladder inside.
The temptation is to fill it with gear, but this defeats the object for me. I like the space in case I need it when on the move, and it’s great for stocking up on food and drink when doing a wild camp. Many people stop before looking for a camp spot to stock up, only then to realize they have no space to carry anything. This is where having unused space really comes into its own.
It’s essential the hydration system is comfortable to wear and not restrictive. You have to be able to drink effortlessly with minimal fuss whilst on the move. You also have to be able to easily fill the bladder with liquid, and in a lot of cases this means removing it from the pack. Whilst wearing a hydration pack, it is essential for the system to have good ventilation to help reduce sweating and warm patches. This is achieved with ridges or padding at the rear of the backpack. This makes the backpack sit away from your body and enables airflow in-between.
Also, the rucksack straps are another point where you may sweat, so good ventilation here is always ideal, this could take the form of mesh straps to allow the air to flow straight through.
When it comes to storing your hydration bladder, it can be quite hard to combat mold build ups as the inner remains moist. A good way to counter this is by storing the empty bladder in the freezer or refrigerator. If you freeze it when you return home no mold can form and the bladder is preserved. It only takes a few minutes to thaw out when it’s time to use.
Personally I use the Kriega Hydro-3 backpack, the bladder has a capacity of 3-liters, I selected the 3-liters version for the fact that most shops in Thailand sell water in 1.5 liter bottles, which means that when I have the idea that the bladder is getting low I can always empty a 1.5 liter bottle of water. I can also use the bladder from the Kriega Hydro-3 backpack in my bigger Kriega R25 backpack, depending on the ride.