Are Hydration Backpacks Worth It? Here's Why I Never Hike Without One!

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

If you haven't already - now is definitely the right time to invest in a decent hydration backpack.

As awful as 2020 was, there was a silver lining.

With entertainment options limited and confined to my 600 square feet apartment all day working from home, I found myself wanting (needing, really) to get outside way more. This helped me to rediscover my love for hiking!

A hydration backpack resting on top of Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park overlooking a mountain range
View from atop Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park

Sure, sometimes hydration backpacks are overkill. You certainly don't need one when you're taking the dog for a walk through the park.

But if you're visiting National Parks like Joshua Tree (above) or Glacier (below) you're naturally gonna want to climb mountains and see glaciers.

And to survive all of that epic hiking - you're going to want a hydration backpack!


The Road Less Traveled

First off if you've never been to Glacier National Park in Montana, do yourself a favor and make that your next vacation. If you're looking to hike in the higher elevations (yes you are) you'll want to visit in late July or August to ensure the trails are clear of snow.

I took the photo below while doing the Mount Brown hike which is a 10.0 mile out and back with 4,200+ feet of elevation gain. Many places in Glacier offer you a chance to see wildlife - and on this day we were lucky enough to pass a group mountain goats!

We were completely wiped, almost to the top and when we turned the corner these furry beasts were walking right at us. It was such an amazing encounter it gave us a second wind. While the views at the top were stunning and unforgettable, the mountain goat run in was the most memorable piece.

Most of the time these encounters are reserved for those willing to take the trails less traveled deeper into the park and away from the parking lots.

Three mountain goats approach hikers at Mount Brown in Glacier National Park Montana
Mountain Goat Encounter Glacier, MT

When doing a long hike, especially with this much elevation gain, you're going to need a lot of water. Alllll the water. This is past the point of carrying a water bottle. I had a large 40L backpack with a 3L Platypus Big Zip Water Reservoir in it while my girlfriend had a 2 liter reservoir in her smaller hiking backpack.

You can also check out all of the gear I currently use on my About page.

We also stuffed some extra water bottles in mine for good measure. The Platypus Reservoir performed extremely well. We took our time on the way up (it was.. brutal). Spent lots of time up top enjoying the view from the abandoned observation tower (unforgettable). And then took our time on the way down (really wasn't any easier going down).

The whole journey took us nearly 8 hours for a couple in average shape.

We couldn't have done it without our hydration backpacks. Well, we could have, but they made the whole experience way more enjoyable. First off - keeping your hands free makes hiking for 8 hours way more enjoyable.

There's nothing more annoying than carrying a bottle of water the whole way. It also makes snapping pictures less of a hassle. The perk of having water readily available at all moments courtesy of the shoulder mouthpiece should not be underestimated!

Typically the hydration pack inserts are interchangeable so when you buy a backpack you can swap out the default option for a larger pack or different brand.

What Reservoir Size is Best for my Hydration Backpack?

They usually range from 1 liter to 3 liters. The weight difference is negligible so I'd really just recommend getting the largest size available. You don't always have to top it off if you're doing a shorter hike to minimize weight.

Think you'll be doing longer hikes like this?

Not only do you need to select a hydration pack, but you'll need to choose a backpack itself.

Where is the Best Place to Buy a Hiking Backpack?

I'd recommend visiting an REI or other outdoor store.

The staff are very knowledgeable and will be better suited than random guides on the internet for choosing what you need. You can tell them what type of hiking you'll be doing, what sort of gear you typically bring and help you get fitted for the right one.

I have light small one for shorter hikes and a larger one for adventures like Mount Brown.

Don't forget that when doing something that takes all day you're going to need to bring multiple meals. The list only grows from there. You may want to bring things such as first aid, extra layers, sunscreen, flash lights, lighter snacks, and so on.

Many backpack options have belts and hip pads which can really save your back!

Woman hiking with hydration backpack in Glacier National Park Montana
View from trail on Mount Brown

Looking For Other Great Places to Hike?

Once you've got your hydration backpack - you just need some epic places to go. If you're seeking a warmer hiking destination you should check out my guide on the Top 10 Things To See & Do at Joshua Tree National Park!