Hydration when hiking is always important, but is absolutely essential when you’re in the desert where the keys to a safe and fun experience are often just access to shade and water. The world’s deserts are by definition very dry places. With so little natural water to rely on (unless you’re in river country!), you must be sure to bring your own. The best hydration packs make it easy to access water on demand, decreasing the chances you'll get dehydrated which happens too often to even experienced desert adventurers.
In this post, we’ll cover what to look for when shopping for the best hydration packs, and we’ll share our hydration pack reviews. We’ll dive into the various types of packs, including ultralight hydration packs, lightweight hydration packs, and large hydration backpacks designed to tote in a serious amount of H2O.
Our Best Hydration Pack Recommendations
Here’s the rundown of the packs we’ll cover in-depth. They’re top performers when it comes to keeping you hydrated during desert adventures.
- Osprey Skimmer 16
- Osprey Mira
- Evoc Hip Pack 3L
- Thule Vital 6L
- Teton Sports Oasis 1100 Hydration Pack
What To Look for in a Hydration Pack
Before we get into these recommendations, let’s talk about what makes for a good hydration pack — the criteria we used for our top picks.
Hydration packs come in two main types: hydration waist packs and backpacks. Hydration waist packs wrap around your hips like a fanny pack, while the backpack-style hydration packs are designed to be carried on your shoulders.
Whether your preferred outdoor adventure is a short hike, a multi-day backpacking trip, or something in between, there’s a hydration pack designed to carry the specific amount of water you’ll need.
The smallest hydration packs are the hydration waist packs. They sit low on the waist for maximum comfort and stability. Although there’s not nearly enough water-carrying capacity for an extended hike, they’re pretty convenient for quick trips where you want to keep your hands free and avoid fiddling around with a water bottle as you hike. Most hydration waist packs have a 0.5-1.5 liter carrying capacity. For perspective, our favorite Kleen Kanteen 16-ounce water bottle holds a little less than half a liter, while a good rule of thumb is that you should drink around 64-ounces (1.8 liters) of water per day in the desert.
Backpack-style hydration packs come in a variety of sizes. Ultralight hydration packs are at the small end of the spectrum, designed to carry only water and mainly used for running, biking, or light hikes that don’t require a lot of extra gear. Large hydration backpacks generally have larger water reservoirs and can also accommodate other gear like food, compass, cell phones, etc.
See our complete desert hiking gear list.
Considering that 4 liters of water weigh just under 5 pounds, picking a hydration pack that’s comfortable is very important. Many hydration packs come in different dimensions, making it possible to pick one out that fits the length of your torso. Larger hydration packs also include a hip belt. A hip belt keeps the pack from moving around as you walk to provide extra stability.
The best hydration packs come with special features that make using and maintaining them more convenient. Here are some top features that are worth seeking out.
- Wide mouth opening — Cleaning hydration packs can be quite a feat. Packs with a wide mouth opening allow you to get a hand inside the reservoir for easier and more effective scrubbing.
- Quick disconnect tubing — This setup allows you to separate the drink tube from the pack with a press of a button. When you refill the reservoir, the tube stays put, preventing you from having to rethread the drinking tube through the tube portal.
- Insulated sip tubes — For cold-weather hiking, insulated sip tubes help keep water from freezing mid-sip.
- Shoulder strap clips — This handy gadget keeps your drink tube at the ready, clipped right to the pack’s shoulder strap.
- Pockets — Some ultralight hydration packs and other smaller-capacity packs have strategically placed pockets for carrying small items like a light snack, cell phone, or keys.
When Should You Use a Hydration Pack?
Hydration packs are an ideal choice for desert hiking. Since deserts are very dry and often sunny, your water needs will be higher, while the availability of water sources to replenish your stores is generally lower.
Check out our top tips for hiking in the desert.
5 of the Best Hydration Packs
Image courtesy of Osprey. Used with permission.
This light-duty hydration pack from Osprey is an ideal pick for shorter day hikes. The 2.5-liter reservoir shares space with a rucksack with a wide-mouth, bucket-style opening. It’s perfect for stuffing a lunch, snacks, and some light gear into for a fun day exploring a slot canyon or two.
2. Osprey Mira
Image courtesy of Osprey. Used with permission.
If you’re planning an all-day day trip, the Osprey Mira (women’s) or Osprey Manta (men’s)is hard to beat. It can accommodate up to 2.5 liters of your favorite hydrating beverage and has ample space for your gear with plenty of extra pockets for the small stuff. A cushioned hip belt offers more support for longer hikes. It also features a breathable back frame to keep the back of your tee shirt from getting drenched.
Image courtesy of Thule. Used with permission.
An ideal choice for an ultralight hydration pack, the Thule Vital 6L is light as a feather. Its comfortable shoulder straps and hip belt keep it nice and snug. The drinking hose is held in place by an innovative magnetic strip that eliminates the floppy feel that plagues many drinking hoses.
With 3 liters worth of carrying capacity, the Evoc Hip Pack provides plenty of space for both water and other essentials. This waist pack features a 1.5-liter water reservoir that allows you to bring along the equivalent of three 16-ounce water bottles. The other 1.5 liters worth of space is split up into a series of handy pockets with lots of storage room. Finally, the pack’s unique Venti Pack System allows users to adjust the distance between the pack and their back to maximize airflow.
Image courtesy of Teton Sports. Used with permission.
Fully adjustable chest, shoulder, and waistbands make the Teton Sports Oasis 1100 a top choice for longer treks where comfort under load is important. With a 2-liter reservoir and 18-liter gear space, this pack is a solid choice for hiking or backpacking. As a bonus, it includes a rain cover that’s sewn in and tucks neatly away when not in use.
Now that You’re All Set with Your Sips, How About Your Kicks?
Taking care of the feet that you depend on to get you out on your adventures is just as important as staying hydrated. At Erem, our passion for the desert drives our dedication to making some of the best desert hiking boots available. We craft men’s and women’s hiking boots for peak performance in some of the world’s most challenging landscapes. Erem boots keep your feet comfortable and protected, providing superior breathability, unrivaled durability, and the comfort you need to keep you moving longer.
And our boots are created using sustainable, eco-friendly practices to tread lightly on the Earth’s resources. Every pair of Erem Xerocole™ boots is Biocircular, which means they are made only with materials that have a proven path back to nature. When you’re done with them, they return to the earth quickly and won’t languish in a landfill for generations to come. If you can’t bear to part with them, they can be renewed through our Reboot program, where they’re resoled and returned to good-as-new condition. Whether you’re an avid day hiker or die-hard backpacker, our hiking boots have what it takes to transport you to your happy place.