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Hydration Systems buying guide




Things have come a long way since the good ol’ steel Boy Scout canteen. Today we have the luxury of hauling our water in a wide variety of high-performance vessels. Whether you’re hiking in the backcountry or hucking your bike off a cliff, there’s a bottle or hydration pack that makes it easier than ever to stay hydrated.

“Your body is kind of like a motor, and it needs lubricant. You can’t run a motor without any oil in it,” professional mountain biker Kirt Voreis says. “Same with water and your body. Stay hydrated and your muscles will work better and you can go a lot farther at a faster pace.”

Voreis knows a lot about speed and the importance of regular hydration on performance. That’s why we asked him to give us some buying tips. So read up, fill up and stay hydrated.

THE LOWDOWN: THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB

Voreis says the first thing to think about is what activity you’ll be doing most. For hiking or camping or hanging at the skatepark, a water bottle or canteen might be perfect. Just carry it in your hand or toss it in your daypack. If you’re doing something like cycling, snowboarding or kayaking in which you need your hands free, consider a hydration pack.

BOTTLES AND CANTEENS

“If you’re hiking or going to stay in one area, the bottle is great,” Voreis says. This is the cheapest option, too. A couple of buying considerations:

Weight: If you’re backpacking, get something lightweight. There are even special collapsible bags that weigh next to nothing.

Taste: Sometimes cheap water bottles and canteens can give your water a strange plastic taste or hold the flavor of something you had in the bottle weeks earlier. Usually those made of very hard polycarbonate plastic are best. Look for the words “taste-free” on the label or ask a shopkeeper in an outfitter store for help.

Seals: Make sure the top screws or pops on tightly.

HYDRATION PACKS

Like a camel, these packs are equipped with a special bladder that lets you carry all your water on your body; you just drink it through a special straw.

“It’s secure on your back, and you don’t have to take your hands off the handlebars to take a drink,” Voreis says.

Plan to spend $30 to $80 for one of these. When picking a pack, first think of how much water you’ll want to carry and how long you’ll be gone. Some hold as little as 30 ounces; the largest can carry up to 100 ounces or more. Most hydration packs have pockets and room for other stuff, and some are as large as a big daypack.

“Don’t buy a big giant pack if you’re just going to be doing jumps all day,” Voreis says. “And if you’re not going to do big epic rides, bring something small that’ll hold just like a cell phone and a bar.”

Finally, you want it to fit snug and not slung low on your lower back, otherwise it’ll cause painful pressure and bounce around like crazy while you’re moving.

IS A BLADDER BEST?

Most manufacturers offer hydration bladders separately rather than built into a special pack. These run as low as $6 and are cool and versatile because you can use them in your backpack and move it to your daypack for shorter trips.

CLEAN IS KEY

This is probably the last thing you want to hear about (especially after having to clean your room, the dishes and Dad’s car), but if you don’t keep your bottle or hydration bladder clean you’ll risk getting sick.

“If you leave water in something for a while, it gets stale and you can also get bad bacteria in it,” Voreis warns.

If you’re lazy, look for something dishwasher-safe. (It should say so on the label.) Bladder systems are notoriously tough to clean. The easiest are ones that have openings large enough for you to stick your hand inside. Some have detachable hoses, but to really get one clean, you may need to buy a special brush, which will cost you an extra $10 or so.

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