It's hot out there — stay hydrated!!

Water bottles, water bladders and the hydration they provide to you are probably the single most important aspect of hiking and backpacking. Without the proper amount of water you will get dehydrated and get very ill.  At the very least you will have a very unpleasant hike.

A lot of people buy a bottle of water or two at a convenience store, throw it in their backpack and head out on their hike. There are a couple of things wrong with this kind of planning. One, how do you know that a liter of water is going to be enough for your hike? Perhaps if you are just going for a quick jaunt then it is okay, but for a hike of any length, you will need a lot more water, more than a single bottled water. Two, while you might think those bottles are tough, if you have a good fall on a trail and hit that thin plastic bottle, it’s going to smash right open and you will not have any water left. 

Bottle vs. Bladder Hikers and backpackers have two primary options nowadays for hydration when they are out on the trails. The first and most familiar is the canteen or water bottle. Designed to hold water in a sturdy container,  so that you can drink throughout your hike, they come in a multitude of sizes, shapes and materials. 

The second major option is the water bladder, which is basically a big bag of water (a “soft” water bottle) that allows you to drink water slowly and constantly by using a small hose with a mouth controlled nozzle. These bladders can hold varying amounts of water, smaller ones hold 2 or so liters of water, while larger ones can hold around double that (fyi. a large volume of water gets very heavy very quickly) and can either fit into your backpack or is built into one of its own. 

If your hiking and backpacking consist of occasional day trips to places that are not very rugged or remote, quality water bottles are probably your best bet. However, if your hikes are on the longer side or rugged, the convenience of being able to constantly sip with the bladder, plus it’s larger capacity, probably makes it a better option for you. 

When it comes down to actually picking out a specific water bottle or a hydration bladder, there are several things to consider. The first is cost. Water bottles run anywhere from around a few dollars to about $20 for the most expensive version;  hydration bladders start at around $25 and go up from there

The ruggedness of the bottles should also be taken into consideration. If you’re planning to be out year-round, you’ll want one that can handle its contents freezing without becoming damaged. For this kind of situation, you should be looking at the high-density polyethylene bottles, or lexan bottles, both of which are made of materials that can take temperature extremes. Water bladders, whether they are alone or built into a backpack, usually have their own case that protects the bladders from punctures and other damage. In addition, since the bladder is generally inside a backpack, there is some insulation and unless you are hiking for a long time in very cold weather, the contents should remain liquid. A quick head’s up about the hose and nozzle, though —  unless they are insulated they can quickly freeze and make the bladder useless. 

I would stay away from the old-fashioned “boy scout” style metal canteens. They don’t carry much water compared to more contemporary bottles or bladders, (which when empty, weigh almost nothing), they’re heavy. 

If you prefer to stay away from plastics, there are newer stainless steel containers that are lightweight and are almost as strong as the lexan or HDPE bottles. They are a good choice, but can be damaged if the liquids in them freeze.  Bottles made from aluminum can easily break when the liquid freezes in them, which does not make them a great choice for use in the winter months.

Just about any outdoor store will have both traditional water bottles and hydration bladders. REI, EMS and Campmor all offer a multitude of different bottles. They can also be found in the “outdoor gear” section of most major stores or sporting goods store and online stores like Amazon have huge selections of water bottles and bladders.

I would suggest sticking to the outdoor gear stores or places like Amazon. There you can get the name brand gear; water bottles from department stores are generally not made of the high density polyethylene or lexan and are more likely to break.  For water bottles, Nalgene is the standard bearer of quality and in the world of bladders Camelback is a good choice.

The water bottle selection breaks down into three major sections, the high-density polyethylene bottles, shatter resistant lexan bottles, and the metal water bottles. 

Hydration bladders can be stand alone (that can be put into any backpack) or bladders that are built into backpacks. 

If you’re looking for a basic water bottle, the polyethylene bottles are generally the cheapest and all around best. From cylinders to cubes and just about anything in-between, they come in multiple sizes and shapes. There are wide-mouth models (for adding ice cubes) and narrow-mouth models. These bottles can also easily handle extreme temperatures without being damaged.

Older plastic bottles contained the chemical BPA which could leach from the bottle into the water.  When shopping for bottles make sure to find bottles that are labeled BPA free.

The same really goes for the aluminum and steel bottles. Today there are many choices in capacity, size and weight.

If shopping for a bladder, stand-alone bladders are significantly cheaper than buying a new backpack with a bladder built in (really a hydration backpack). Bladders come in various sizes and offer different levels of insulation and protection from punctures and leakage. 

You most likely will want to have at least a few liters of water with you, which means you can have an assortment of bottles or a few larger ones. I've always been partially to carrying two 32-ounce bottles, which I find sufficient for most trips, but some people like to carry a bottle in their fanny pack and prefer having packing smaller 16-ounce bottles. 

Most will only need a single bladder — you’ll have to decide what size to get. A two or three liter bladder should be more than enough liquid for most people on average hikes. 

Rinse the bottles or the bladder before you use it and then fill them with water. Drink the water as you need to. 

For the bladders, make sure any protective seal is removed from the nozzle on the house and simply bite down on the nozzle and drink like you would from a straw. 

With proper maintenance, water bottles and bladders should last for a very long time. 

Post trip, make sure your bottles are empty, give them a rinse and allow them to air dry sans lid. If you had something in them other than water (say ice tea or juice), wash out the bottles with soap and water and then allow it to air dry to prevent mold growth. Most bottles can be run through a dishwasher if they need a little extra washing. 

Hydration bladders should be completely emptied and left open so that the bladder and the hose can dry completely. To sanitize the bladder,  fill it with a very dilute bleach solution and then rinse it out several times. No need to do this after every use, but to prevent bacteria from gaining a foothold in the bladder, the hose or the nozzle, after every few uses is a good idea.

Whatever vessel you choose to carry, if you're going to fill up with ground water, be certain to filter it first. And if the weather is really warm or your adventure is a duration event, your body will much appreciate the addition of salts and electrolytes.  

Need some gear ideas? The Catskill Center maintains a recommendations page on Amazon for products that can help you enjoy the great outdoors here in the Catskills.


Jeff Senterman

This content originally appeared on Adventures in the Outdoors.