Your Hunting Buddy: A Guide to Hunting Hydration Packs
If you are a beginner at hunting (or any activity that involves the great outdoors, really) you’re probably thinking about all the things you’ll take on your journey: ropes, a lighter, cans of food, a flashlight, a camera, a GPS… oh and water, of course; a few bottle of water. You probably thought of it as an afterthought, just like your shorts or your sneakers.
But if you’re not a beginner, you know that water bottle won’t cut it; they’re usually a lot of weight and volume for a smaller amount of water than what you’ll end up needing, and you know that hydration packs are the invention that saved us all from thirst and carrying those bulky old bottles. But you also need to know that not every hydration pack will cut it for hunting in the wild, there are things you should look for when you’re looking for one to buy.
Features to Consider When Buying a Hydration Pack for Hunting
Here are some tips for finding the perfect hydration pack for you, as well as some picks we’ve found to be really good.
Size, Weight and Fit
First, you need to know that there are two types of packs: Backpacks, and waist packs. Backpacks are the bigger, badder, bulkier cousin, and waist packs are the quiet mouse who goes out for a 3-hour hike and need a small water bottle along the road. For the purpose of this review, we’ll stick to the backpacks as their capacity makes them the only suitable way to go for hunting.
Hydration packs are a more personalized tool than you might think. In order for it to be comfortable, it must fit around your chest or hip (depending on where it straps) and along your torso, so, bear your measurements in mind when picking it. There are packs specific to females as well with the shape of the female body in mind. Another thing is the pack’s weight; of course, the lighter the better.
Remember that this won’t be just a pack for water (and water will have a considerable weight to boot) but it will also carry all of your gear, so you don’t want to add too much weight to your back that you will have to carry for a long day but you want to make sure the size you pick won’t leave you needing room for tools. We recommend a pack over 11 liters in overall weight but no more than 20. For hunting especially, you might want a camouflage pattern and quiet fabric to not scare away your prey.
Remember, the most important thing to bear in mind is the length of time for which you’ll be out in the wilderness and unable to refill. The longer it is, the more water and other gear you’ll need, the bigger the pack and bladder you’ll need and the more support you’ll need to be comfortable, so check for the straps on your pack, where they’re located and how secure they are. For a long day, comfort is everything, but hydration is also really important, so which do you sacrifice? Neither. Choose a pack that offers a lot of water volume (3 liters for a whole day, 1.5 if you’ll be able to refill midday) but isn’t overall heavy, and don’t over-equip yourself!
The Water Reserve
The packs usually have three basic components: The bag, the water bladder and the hose. Sounds simple, but there’s a lot of customization to be considered there. We’ve already talked about bag size, weight and material.
As for the bladder, you need to bear in mind a few things: 1. You want the bladder to have a wide mouth if you intend to clean it by hand or add something solid like ice, otherwise you can buy a cleaning kit. 2. The bladder’s water capacity varies, and it all depends on the time your adventure will take. For hunting you will tend to be out in the wilderness for a long time, so we recommend 3 liters.
As for the hose (The tube that extends from the bladder through a special slit in the pack and right to your head so you can drink whenever you need while your hands are free) its bite valve should have a switch or twist that you trust to not spill your precious water. Some hoses will also be equipped with insulated materials for cold weather, so if you intend to hunt in freezing weather, you may want one of those, but keep in mind that the insulated material adds weight and bulkiness to your pack. Having a clip on your hose that fixes it to your shoulder or chest for easy access can be uber helpful as well. As for cleaning it, you will need a special skinny and flexible brush for that as there is unfortunately no easy access to the inside of the hose.
Top Hydration Packs for Hunting
Now, let’s break down some choices we’ve found to be fantastic for all you fellow wilderness lovers out there.
Our first pick comes straight from Camelbak, one of the top manufacturers in this field, and while the hipster in you might want to shut your ears and opt for something more obscure, hear us out: This pack is huge, comes with a 3-liter bladder, chest straps, a really handy hose that’s fixed to your shoulder with a clip, and it only weighs 1.3 lb without water. Its hose is easily removed for a quick refilling and the bite valve is secured with a pretty safe “hydrolock” switch. It’s also been reviewed as sturdy and durable. One thing to bear in mind though is that the hose and bladder are not insulated and have been reported to let water temperature get affected by weather, so beware. Other than that, if you’re not planning on hunting in freezing or burning hot temperature, this is a solid pick.
This one is equipped with a realtree camouflage pattern, for extra sneakiness in wooded areas. It is also a cheaper option than Camelbak, but is just as good, or even superior in some aspects. This one is lighter (only 1 lb. without water) while offering the same water capacity of 3 liters and an overall capacity of 17 liters, and its hose is insulated to protect your water in different weather conditions. It is also supported at the chest with adjustable straps, and equipped with a kangaroo pocket at the front for a couple extra things you can stuff in and access easily, with a compression strap that allows you to secure those things well. One downside is that the bladder has a pretty narrow opening which makes it harder to clean and deal with in general. Other than that, this is a great one to get for the price.
This one offers a slightly smaller water capacity of 2.5 liters, but if you can forego this, you will enjoy this pack. It’s very comfortable and airy on the shoulders and back, and weighs 1.3 lbs without water. It is equipped with both a waist and chest strap for extra support, and its bladder has a wide mouth. Its overall capacity is 15 liters, but one drawback we found is that its main pocket has a holder for the mouth of the bladder but not a smaller pocket intended especially for the bladder to keep it away from the rest of your gear. When you’re carrying colder water than the temperature of your environment this can be an issue as the bladder will sweat and get water on your gear, and you also have to secure it really well in general.
This one is for your shorter days of hunting; with a weight of 1.9 lbs and a water capacity of 2 liters. Still it is very convenient. It has a special insulated pocket for the bladder which keeps the liquid temperature for up to 4 hours, is very padded for extra comfort and secured with a chest strap. One downside of this is that the direction of its hose and the way it straps to your shoulder strap makes it go towards your back, which makes it harder to grab than if it were strapped to the front of your shoulder with a clip. Still we included this pick because despite being slightly heavier than the previous options and with less water capacity, it manages to be very comfortable especially for half-day hunts.
Yes, this is the second pick from Camelbak and no, we swear we’re not paid for this, but look, the brand is famous for a reason; they’re pretty good at this. This one in particular was included because it’s huge. Its overall capacity is 48 liters (yes, you read that right and it’s not a typo on our part either) and its bladder is a 3-liters capacity. It is also quite heavy (at 5 lbs. it is over three times the weight of most of our other picks) but listen, there will be times when you’ll need this. This one is great for overnight hunts and spending multiple days in the wilderness because it allows you to pack that much equipment. It is also equipped with Camelbak’s famously secure hydrolock system for the bite valve, but not insulated. This is the most expensive option on this list, but as you can probably tell, this is a specialty item that not just any casual hunter will want; it is made for people who navigate the wilderness for days on end to conquer the great outdoors by their side.
For the price, this is a fantastic option. It is perhaps one of the most comfortable picks on this list with an excellent cooling system on the back, a waist strap and a chest strap. It is also a very durable one to place your bets on, with 1000 Denier waterproof nylon, military grade webbing and SBS brand zippers. Its bladder has a 3-liter capacity and with a 360˚ rotatable bite valve for easy drinking, and the whole pack weighs 2 lbs. A couple of downsides you need to consider though: For one, its main and biggest pocket is going to be completely taken up by the bladder, and you may find the rest of the space insufficient for all your tools, food, extra clothes etc., so you may need this one for only one short day of hunting. The other con we found is that the hose isn’t fixed to the front of your shoulder with a clip, which, despite the 360˚ rotation, might make grabbing it a bit hard.
Nothing is perfect, beauty is subjective, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure… etc. We have attempted to break down all of these picks and give you their pros and cons and let you judge. For one person the bulkiness of the Camelbak BFM might be a huge drawback (no pun intended) for another it might be just what they need. Some won’t feel the necessity of a hose fixed by a clip, others will. The choice is, undoubtedly, yours. If we had to pick one that is versatile, good enough to start you off in hunting or for a seasoned pro, and with a perfectly reasonable price, it would be the Alps OutdoorZ Willow Creek. The security, the comfort, the capacity for such a small weight… we’re sold. We don’t mind buying an extra cleaning kit for its bladder; it’s pretty cheap for what it offers, so spending the few extra bucks for the kit becomes inconsequential.
If you want a runner up, here you go: the Camelbak Thermobak. We don’t mind the lack of insulation (like we’ve previously said sometimes all insulation gives you is extra weight… on the majority of hunts, you won’t need it) and, we have to admit, Camelbak have perfected their craft. Still, every single pick on this list is worth checking out, weighing the pros and cons versus what you need, and making a purchase.