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6 Reasons Hydration Packs Suck for Adventure


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It was on a 10-hour bus ride across the Peruvian Andes from Lima to Huaras, the bustling town at the heart of the Cordillera Blanca, where my suspicions about hydration packs were confirmed.

The twisting mountain road and the banana pancakes from breakfast were already wrestling with my tummy. Then I looked across the aisle and saw a fellow tourist’s hydration pack tube. It snaked from his backpack, along the stained seat edge, and under the passenger beside him. My stomach churned, and from then on, I’ve referred to hydration packs as “germ samplers”.

Sure, there’s a place for hydration packs. They work great for some outings. REI has a good article on how to choose the right hydration pack

I use them on occasion. But only in environments where I’m pretty comfortable ingesting almost anything the mouthpiece might touch and when I need my water bottle to collapse when it’s empty. Some manufacturers now put little covers over the mouthpiece, which helps a little, but dirt and nasties still seem to find their way under the thing.

Including the Petri dish effect of hydration packs, there are six major reasons I prefer old-fashioned water bottles:

  1. The Germ Sampler.
  2. I love stopping, taking off my pack, sitting down, looking around at a piece of wild splendor, sipping from a cool stainless steel bottle, and having a little chat with my adventure partner. 
  3. There are few things worse than being miles up the trail and hearing your partner say, “My water broke...”
  4. In cold weather, even the fancy hydration packs with insulated tubes freeze much more quickly than wide mouth water bottles – as if a few millimeters of foam will keep water from freezing in a little tube.
  5.  Sucking plastic, when you’re already sucking air, is highly unpleasant compared to chugging effortlessly as if from a glass.
  6. With a water bottle, every time you take a drink you get a pretty good idea of how much water you have left. With a hydration pack, you get thirsty, suck down all your water without paying attantion, and then when you run out you beg your adventure partner to share their water.
Now I use stainless steel water bottles whenever humanly possible. Even if you doubt the potentially harmful effects of storing water in plastic, or prefer using old soda bottles for environmental reasons, water from a stainless steel vessel just tastes better.

Photo of enjoying a water break at while heli-hiking at CMH Bobbie Burns by Topher Donahue.


Great article! I learned this lesson watching fellow mountain biker racers. We were all covered in mud after a rainy morning, including our water bottles and hydration packs. I was able to unscrew my (plastic) water bottle and drink cleanly. My fellow riders with hydration packs spent precious time trying to clean the "germ sampler" with an already dirty shirt sleeve.  
I don't know if it made a difference in the end, but a lot of others ended up with a stomach bug, likely from the cattle fields we rode through. In my mind it made all the difference!
Posted @ Friday, July 16, 2010 10:03 AM by CdnJake
7. Mixed drinks taste much better in stainless bottles than in hydration packs.
Posted @ Monday, July 19, 2010 4:40 PM by sergei
And argument against is when you need to refill your stainless steel water bottle and you accidentially drop it off the peak of Mt. Nimbus, it makes a pretty cool pinging sounds all the way down to the valley bottom, but you are left without water for the rest of the climb down :)  
Posted @ Tuesday, July 20, 2010 12:29 PM by Becky
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