Everyone agrees that keeping properly hydrated is important in any endurance sport. But do you really need a so-called “hydration system” to do this? Water bladder systems may look svelte and modern, and they do have some benefits for mountain biking and trail running.
But they have a host of downsides you may want to consider before you take one on your next hike or climb.
The tubes can freeze.
There are many delicate parts (tubes, bladders, mouthpiece bite valves) that can easily break or malfunction, and they’re hard to repair in the field.
They have lots of hard to clean cracks and crevices where funky microorganisms can grow.
They’re hard to fill, either from streams or with snow.
It’s difficult to monitor your water consumption and see how much you have left.
It’s hard to share water with others.
The mouthpiece can easily drag in the dirt when you put your pack on the ground, yuck.
You can’t use a bladder in camp as a cup for hot drinks.
You can’t put hot water in a bladder and put a sock over it at night, to help dry out wet socks.
They’re very expensive compared to a simple water bottle.
Bonus reason: Unless you’re in some sort of a race/competition, are you REALLY in that much of a hurry that you can’t stop and enjoy a drink of water?
So, how to stay well watered on the go? The tried and true water bottle. Simply clip a “keychain” mini-carabiner to a pack shoulder strap or side compression strap, and clip a small one pint bottle to the carabiner. Or put a water bottle in one of the stretchy mesh pockets on the side of your pack, a feature of many newer packs. If it'a a hot day, start the climb or hike with two full 1 liter bottles inside your pack, and simply refill the small bottle at breaks. This lets you drink on the move as effectively as a bladder system, with none of the cost and hassles. When your climbing partners complain about their problems with their “hydration systems” you can chuckle . . . and then give them some water from your pint bottle.
Oh, and, check the water bottle aisle next time you’re in REI. Camelback sells, you guessed, it, a simple water bottle (complete with large Camelback logo.) A tad ironic, no?
Related story: A friend of mine went on a trekking expedition to Tibet. The trekking company explicitly told everyone on the trip NOT to bring tube style water bladders. Reason: Many parts of the trek were also used by pack animals such as yaks. Yaks poop everywhere. The sun and low humidity dries out the yak poop, and then the poop pulverizes into tiny particles from the feet of people and animals. The floating yak poop powder then settles on, you guessed it, your drinking tube YUCK! They found that many Westerners were getting sick on their trips. When they had people change to using a simple water bottles, the illness rate went way down.