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Everything You Need To Know About Hydration Systems

Proper hydration is an essential component of mountain biking. Whether descending wide, flowy trails or climbing steep, technical single track, mountain bikers exert a tremendous amount of energy and must continuously hydrate in order to keep pedaling.

If your body looses to much water, dehydration may occur which can cause dryness and/or stickiness in your mouth, lips, tongue, and skin, muscle cramps and even headaches.

And you may find yourself having to cut your epic ride short, just because you didn’t have enough water to drink. So how can you solve this problem…

Just as mountain bike technology has evolved significantly over the past 20 years, so too have the systems we use to ensure proper hydration during a ride. We now have an assortment of options, many of which are tailored specifically to mountain bikers, as well as the many different styles of riding and preferences of riders.

Here we will examine various hydration options to help you determine what system is right for you and best fits your riding style and needs on the trail.

The classic water bottle

The standard water bottle, sometimes referred to as a “bidon,” is still around in cycling for a reason. Water bottles offer an inexpensive, convenient means of hydration during a ride and are still the go-to solution for many riders.

Both bottles and cages come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Here are a couple of bottle brands and models worth considering:

  • Specialized Purist – One of the most commonly seen water bottles on mountain bike frames, Specalized’s Purist is true to its name as a good, basic water bottle. If you’re looking for a bottle that will do the job, hold up to abuse and won’t break the bank, the Purist is a safe bet. The bottle is also dishwasher safe to allow for easy cleaning.

  • Polar Bottle – Perfect for warm weather rides, Polar Bottles are insulated to keep your water cold when temperatures rise. These bottles are available in a variety of styles and sizes.

  • Camelbak Podium – Expanding on the success of its line of hydration packs, Camelbak now offers a variety of water bottles including the cycling-specific Podium. The Podium features a large bite valve similar to that of its hydration packs. Camelbak also offers an insulated version of this bottle.

If you wish to forego the cage, water bottles can also be paired with a cycling jersey as many jerseys come with bottle pockets in the lower, rear panel. Competitive road cyclists have long favored water bottles in their jerseys due to convenience, especially on long or strenuous stages. This system has also become popular within the enduro racing discipline of mountain biking.

Hydration pack

Hydration packs are the ideal solution for riders looking for both convenience and utility, and are often a mountain biker’s most trusted piece of gear. The reasons are simple: convenience and capacity. Mountain biking is a demanding sport that often requires impromptu trail-side repairs and the necessary equipment to make quick fixes. On long rides, it is also essential to have some form of nutrition handy, such as an energy bar.

Prior to the advent of hydration packs, carrying tools, food and other supplies represented a bit of a quandary for mountain bikers. While bags mounted to the frame or under the saddle can offer some storage, they rarely provide the same capacity of a hydration pack. But more importantly, the hydration pack allowed riders to extend their rides thanks to a larger supply of water. The standard water bottle, which generally holds 20-24 ounces, can only sustain a rider for so long. Some of today’s hydration packs can hold 100 ounces or more, allowing mountain bikers to ride on without fear of dehydration.

Drinking via a hydration pack is also much more convenient, and arguably much safer, than a water bottle as the water is delivered to the rider through a hose and valve mounted on the shoulder strap of the pack. Rather than reaching down on the frame for a bottle, the rider can simply grab the hose from their shoulder and place it in their mouth to quench that mid-ride thirst.

The design, style and size of hydration packs varies widely but most share some key common elements: a backpack, a bladder or reservoir that fits in the backpack and holds water or other liquids, a hose and valve to deliver the water to the rider, and storage compartments.

If you’re interested in carrying a few supplies during a ride and prefer your H2O on your back, here are a few noteworthy hydration packs to check out:

  • Camelbak – The original “hands-free hydration system,” Camelbak knows a thing or two about hydration packs. Its lineup includes several mountain bike-specific models designed with trails in mind. The Classic and Aurora offer minimalist options for riders looking to go light and stash a couple of small items, while the Mule and L.U.X.E. are popular packs among riders who enjoy long, multi-hour rides or simply want the ability to stow an extra layer or two and plenty of food and supplies.

  • Click to see prices for Camelback Mule

  • Osprey – A well-known name in backpacks, Osprey’s mountain bike-specific line of hydration packs has developed a reputation for being truly mountain bike specific. From smart design features like a magnetic bite valve that easily attaches to the rider’s chest strap to thoughtful touches like an easily-accessible tool pouch, Osprey hydration packs are made by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. Consider the Raptor 10 if your typical ride is roughly 2 hours or less. Check out the Raptor 14 or Zealot 15 if you routinely spend a full day or several hours in the saddle.

  • Platypus – A hydration brand that delivers everything from filtration systems to wine storage, Platypus has put some thoughtful design into its hydration packs. Models such as the DuthieTMM. 10.0 prove they are mountain bike-specific by offering enough storage for a full-face helmet and pads. The DuthieTM A.M. 10.0 may be a good option for those who do more gravity-style mountain biking or freeriding.

  • Evoc – A trusted name in mountain biking, Evoc’s lineup includes several hydration packs. One notable mention is the FR Trail Blackline 20L. This voluminous pack is a good option for bikepacking or backcountry rides. An interesting feature of this pack is its removable foam back protector designed to shield the spine from trauma in the event of a major collision or impact.

Fanny pack

Believe it or not, the fanny pack is making a comeback in some mountain biking circles. While it’s not the same fanny pack you rocked at the local amusement park while Vanilla Ice blared in your Walkman’s headphones, it’s not too far off. This fanny pack 2.0 was born out of enduro racing, a discipline in which riders traverse a mix of downhill terrain and steep, technical climbs. As a result, racers were looking for a piece of gear that offered them accessible hydration and minimal yet adequate storage. Re-enter the fanny pack.

Even though this “movement” is relatively new, there are already a few models of mountain-bike friendly fanny packs (usually marketed as “waistpacks” or “beltpacks”) on the market. Here are a couple:

  • Camelbak – Like most models in this category, Camelbak’s Flash Flo LR is designed to be worn on the lower back. It includes a small reservoir for water; enough storage for small items such as a cellphone, wallet and keys; and a hose that can be clipped to your shirt or jersey.

  • Dakine – Inspired by moto trail riding, Dakine’s Enduro Hip Pack is compartmentalized and offers internal mesh organizers. While it does not include a bladder or reservoir for water, there is plenty of room for a standard bottle and even a jacket or extra layer.

  • Osprey – Osprey’s Talon 6 comes with two water bottles that each have a dedicated pouch on either side of the pack. Like the Dakine model, the Talon 6 has plenty of room for a jacket or extra layer and also includes compression straps so you can cinch down your gear.

So if you’re looking for a hydration system you can carry on your person but find a hydration pack too large or bulky, the fanny pack may be for you.

Electrolytes and enhancers

While there is no substitute for water when exercising, strenuous activity – especially in very hot climates –sometimes calls for something extra. Electrolyte-enhanced drink supplements such as Nuun offer mountain bikers an option for replenishment and sustained energy when it matters. Products like Nuun come in tabs that can be easily dropped into a water bottle and dissolved. These hydration tabs come in a variety of flavors. For long or difficult rides, pairing a hydration pack filled with water with a water bottle containing a drink like Nuun can help ensure adequate hydration for the long haul and prevent “bonking.”

The bottom line

While the list of hydration options may seem overwhelming, it is important to remember that there is no wrong way to hydrate as long as you’re adequately hydrating. Water is just as effective through the hose of a hydration pack as it is in a bottle. Explore the options to determine what system is right for you.

So keep in touch and get out on the trails.

About The Author

Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia…discover the shortcuts to mountain biking for beginners and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.

Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.

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