In the last edition of Reyce’s Rad Rec Reviews, I mentioned the hydration reservoir that came with the Skarab 22 technical backpack. Well now it’s time to pit that reservoir against other industry favorites and determine the pros and cons of each.
For those unfamiliar, a hydration reservoir (or as I like to call, a “bladder”) is simply a synthetic pouch used to store water.
A drinking tube extends from the bottom of the pouch out of the backpack and usually rests across one of the shoulder straps.
These removable pouches are typically easy to refill and make for an excellent vessel to carry water while hiking or otherwise recreating
Now, let’s dive into analyzing some of the popular bladders available for retail.
First up is the Osprey Hydraulics® reservoir, which usually comes with the purchase of an Osprey bag, but can be bought as a stand-alone.
The unique features of new Osprey bladders include the magnetic bite valve attachment set into a clip on the hose, which attaches to a magnetized sternum strap for easy access. As I mentioned in my article about Osprey bags, the magnet is not very strong.
Additionally, the Osprey bladder has twin welded chevron baffles, essentially two seams forming a v-shape in the bladder, which functions to stabilize the pouch when filled with water.
The Hydraulics® has a quick disconnect in the middle of the hose right below where it would sit in a pack, so as to make removal for filling easier. Larger sizes have a bonded back plate which adds needed support, but makes the reservoir heavier.
The zip top is becoming more common among bladders and a must-have feature in my opinion. I will say that disconnecting the tube from the reservoir has not been an easy task for me, and having to take the whole assembly out of the pack is a little irritating.
My Osprey bladder did not have the quick disconnect feature, so either it’s not included with bladders that come with their backpacks or I got gypped.
The mouthpiece twists open and closed at 90°, and has a small backflow preventer device that also keeps the hose from dripping or leaking about 80% of the time. I typically take that 20% chance of dripping and keep mine open because it has not been easy to twist.
Despite the minor frustrations, I find it a decent bladder for $34.
My Platypus Big Zip™ LP replaced an Outdoor Products reservoir that I had used for years, and I’m glad I made the switch. The design has been updated to the Big Zip™ EVO since that time, but is essentially the same as the one I’ll be detailing here.
This bladder is made of a much more durable plastic than Osprey’s bladders, the hose is easy to remove and clean, and it comes in a wide variety of sizes ranging in half-liters from 1.5 to 3.0.
What I like most about the platypus bladder is the quick disconnect for the hose. Pressing a small button releases the hose and the flow of water is immediately shut off so no leaking occurs.
I just leave the hose in the bag and refill the pouch, that way I don’t have to unthread it from my shoulder strap every time I need to take out the bladder. This feature also makes it easier to clean the tube, which I’m inclined to do after each trip with the bladder in stow.
The Platypus also has a zip top, and a normal clip that slides up and down the hose, giving the freedom to clip the hose where it best sits depending on the backpack.
The bite valve twists open and closed at 135°, and unlike Osprey’s is much simpler to handle. A simple, center baffle provides more than adequate support for this bladder.
It’s a robust reservoir which I think is the best one I’ve owned so far. It ran me about $30 from a third-party retailer.
This bladder is on the cheaper end of the spectrum, and it shows. I had an Outdoor Products bladder in high school and into my first year of college, which I replaced with the Platypus mentioned above.
The big downfall of this reservoir is the twist cap located on the front face near the top of the bladder. I always had difficulty holding this bladder while filling it up under a sink or in a faucet.
The positioning of the opening on the front surface is to be blamed, and the tendency of the pouch to become unwieldy the more it fills was inconvenient to say the least.
I suppose having a bladder is better than not, so this one will do the job at about $12 from stores like Walmart. If you’re in urgent need, then consider it, but spending the extra money for a nicer bladder is worth it in my opinion.
Honorable Mention: Camelbak Crux 1.5-3L
Camelbak perhaps pioneered modern hydration bladders, however despite design updates over the years, the twist-off cap on the front surface is once again a big turn off for me.
Its redeeming quality would be the quick disconnect, located at the bottom of the pouch where the hose attaches to the reservoir and a self-sealing bite valve.
Story by: Reyce Knutson
Photos by: Reyce Knutson and courtesy Osprey, Platypus, Outdoor Products and Camelbak