The Gear Junkie: Hydration Bladder Test

Hydration packs such as the CamelBak are useful when thirst hits you outdoors.
Hydration in the great outdoors for me now rarely involves a water bottle. For activities where I'll be on the move--from hiking to mountain biking to downhill skiing--the hose-sucking efficiency of a water bladder in a backpack overrules anything obtainable by a bottle.

My standard-bearer bladder, the Camelbak 100-ounce Omega Reservoir ($30, www.camelbak.com), has kept me hydrated on a hundred adventures. It's a simple, strong design with a burst-resistant body, a drip-free bite valve, and a reservoir that leaches little plastic taste when water is left inside to stew.

Over the past two months, I put two competing bladders up against my Camelbak. I employed the Reversible Reservoir II from Hydrapak LLC and Polarpak's MOFLOW, the latter of which shoots water from its valve via air-pump pressure.

MOFLOWMade to take the "suck" out of the hose-hydration equation, the MOFLOW ($31.95, www.polarpak.com) comes with a small air pump that attaches to the tip of the hose. You remove the bite valve, add on the pump, and inflate the bladder to a desired pressure.

Once inflated, water squirts from the valve when you bite, allowing for a quick drink. When camping, the pressurized stream can also be used to spray down muddy gear or shower off.

Polarpak's system worked fine in my test. The pump attached via a quick-release coupler that seals off pressure. Internal baffles prevent water from sloshing when on the go. And the bladder, which has 70 oz. of fluid capacity, provided a constant flow when pumped up.

You can achieve a similar squirting effect by blowing into other hydration bladders. But the MOFLOW keeps air pressure sealed in as you hike.

Compared to my Camelbak, the MOFLOW is harder to work with. It has a smaller opening for pouring in water, and it's more difficult to dry. It also had more of a propensity for a plastic taste when water is left inside for a few hours.

HydrapakHydrapak's Reversible Reservoir II ($26 to $30, www.hydrapak.com) comes in three capacities, from 50 to 100 fluid ounces. As the "reversible" name implies, the bladder turns inside-out for drying, which is a nice touch.

Made of a rubbery polyurethane, the reservoir opens on top, its entire width yawning wide to enable fast fill ups or for pouring in ice cubes. It seals shut in a second with a plastic slider, making the Hydrapak the easiest of all bladders to manage and refill.

Water pulls fine through its hose, which clicks on and off the bladder's body with a push-button connector. The bite valve is drip-free, and the whole package is of high quality--nice to use and simple to clean.

In the end, I still prefer my Camelbak to these models. It is the most durable, with a tough bladder material, a stronger reservoir closure, and a lifetime guarantee from the company against product malfunction.

But all three bladders here passed my test. Each has its unique functions, from air-pressure power to an easy-to-dry case. Pick the one that suits your personal hydration style.


Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.

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