Hydration Packs for Summer Trails

Having a pack that makes hydration easy (and enjoyable) makes all the difference

I never drink enough water during ski season. It’s cold, I can never reach my water bottle, and, well, there’s just no time for self-care when there’s pow skiing to be had.

While I’ve gotten away with wintertime dehydration for a few decades, summer is another story. When I’m oozing sweat out of pores I didn’t even know existed in the middle of July, gulping down water and electrolytes becomes paramount to any moderately strenuous outing into the high country.

Having a pack that makes hydration easy (and even enjoyable) makes all the difference in the world while biking, hiking, or running all summer. If the nozzle is nearby, I’ll frequently gulp down two liters of water on a bike ride—that’s like a week’s worth of water in the winter.

Here are four great packs that will keep your thirst satiated and your snacks nearby.

CamelBak Octane 18 Hydration Pack
Photo Credit: CamelBak

The Octane 18 is like a cross between a hiking pack and a running vest, which is perfect for the sort of run-walk-crawl I refer to as a “trail run.” Because it’s designed like a running vest, the fit is snug and secure thanks to the dual sternum straps that hold the pack in place for a light jog or ridgetop scramble. The main compartment opens on top for easy in and out, and there’s a back stash pocket that you can stuff a layer into if you don’t want to open up the pack. The trekking pole attachment has also come in handy for hikes that end in a scramble where I need my hands free.

I love how intuitive the front vest pockets are. There’s tons of space for a phone, snack, sunglasses, and even a little zippered pocket I like to use for headphones – all which you can access without taking your pack off. The mesh back kept me from sweating too much on an 80-degree hike in the Tetons and while the 18-liter capacity isn’t huge, with the 2-liter reservoir and enough space to stash a few layers and lunch, it was more than enough for a full day out.

I wouldn’t go on a full-on run with this since it’s a little too much weight on my back, but it’s ideal for that in between phase that we all probably fall into more than we care to admit.

Dakine Hot Laps 5L Waist Pack
The Hot Laps 5L has become my daily driver this summer for post-work rides, weekend adventures, and everything in between. When I first started riding in a hip pack last season I was surprised at how natural it felt. Having the weight lower down and over my saddle feels great while descending and I love how you can just flip the whole thing to grab a snack or multitool. Plus, it takes back sweat (mostly) out of the equation.

For the fact that you barely notice it while riding, it’s impressive that the Hot Laps holds a 2-liter reservoir, which is as much as any backpack I’ve ridden with. Inside, there’s a secure zippered pocket and a few other organizational pockets, as well as enough space in the main compartment for an extra layer and plenty of food.

The tiny mesh pockets on the waist belt are a great place to stash granola bar wrappers that always clutter up the pockets of my packs. The reservoir hose is plenty long for taller riders, and easy to pop the mouthpiece off and cut if you’re on the smaller side and you have too much of it dangling. Lower straps also open up so you can haul knee pads for the ride down, which is a nice touch for enduro-style riders.

Patagonia Slope Runner Endurance Vest
Photo Credit: Patagonia

Patagonia’s Slope Runner Endurance Vest fits like my favorite tank top, only it can haul an afternoon’s worth of water, tons of candy bars, and an extra layer for the summit. Because of all the jostling around, I find there’s far less room for error in terms of fit and design with a running vest, and this one feels by far the most natural than any other vests I’ve tried.

One thing I’ve found with more spacious vests is that if they’re not packed correctly, they bounce around. With the Slope Runner, it sits super snug against my body when it’s empty or full. The stretch mesh pockets expand to carry a windbreaker or sun shirt, but pretty much disappear when empty.

Bungee cords at the shoulders and rib cage adjust the fit of the vest depending on what you’re carrying and where the weight is distributed, which I’ve found helpful to adjust depending on how much water I’m carrying. The vest comes with two 500ml flasks, which is more than enough for a medium to long run, but the 3-liter capacity doesn’t have a ton of storage space aside from keys, phone, and a few bars so if I’m headed on a big adventure and need more layers and gear I’ll probably size up.

Thule Rail 2L Hip Pack
Photo Credit: Thule

Thule just released a brand new line of mountain biking packs in June, including three hip packs, the Rail 0L, Rail 2L, and Rail 4L. I found the 2L to be incredibly versatile for half day rides or less, with the option to carry two water bottles (not included) on either side of the main compartment, with plenty of space for spare parts, tools, keys, and a decently large sandwich. Having the ability to carry two separate bottles instead of a larger bottle has come in handy on sweltering days where I’ll mix some electrolytes in one.

The side-access phone pocket is a cool touch (and it’s fleece-lined), which makes it easy to reach for your phone without flipping the pack around. I was a little skeptical about the double waist strap at first—there’s a velcro waistband along with a buckle that cinches tight—I found the wide, breathable strap to be super comfortable while riding, even if it takes an extra half second to get out of the thing.

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