First Impressions: Hydration Packs from CamelBak & Hydrapak

Cycling is an activity that is steeped in tradition. There are rules–both spoken and unspoken–and some riders follow them with near-fanatical devotion. Even something as seemingly simple as on-the-bike hydration is subject to scrutiny by the cognoscenti. Sure, having two bidons on one’s bike may look PRO, but running out of water definitely ain’t PRO.

What’s a thirsty rider to do? Mountain bikers adopted hydration packs long ago, but some riders find those large packs overkill for on-road or even gravel riding. Thankfully, slimmed-down solutions from CamelBak and Hydrapak are available for when bottles just aren’t enough.

CamelBak HydroBak hydration pack gravel grinder
Image courtesy of CamelBak

The HydroBak ($48.00) is CamelBak’s most minimalist bike pack. Aimed at the road segment of the market, the HydroBak weighs a scant 310g (pack and reservoir), and has a 1.5L fluid capacity. The pack’s short length allows more freedom of movement, and prevents it from interfering with your jersey pockets. That’s good, because the HydroBak’s single pocket only has room for a couple of energy gel packets or a set of keys. The lightweight mesh harness and back panel do a decent job of wicking moisture, but they’re not as effective as the NV Back Panel found the company’s larger (and heavier) packs.

Hydrapak Avila hydration pack gravel grinder
Image courtesy of Hydrapak

Hydrapak’s Avila ($59.99) boasts a 2.0L fluid capacity, and tips the scales at 330g (pack and reservoir). Internal compartments offer a bit more storage capacity (45 cu in), but the Avila isn’t a replacement for Hydrapak’s larger models. Like the CamelBak HydroBak, the Avila features a mesh harness and straps, but adds a sternum strap to help improve stability and comfort. Despite the Avila’s larger, 2.0L capacity, I was able to access my jersey pockets’ contents with ease.

During my test period–which included plenty of 90°-100° weather–both packs performed equally well. The biggest difference that I noticed were the reservoirs themselves. The external-fill design of CamelBak’s Antidote reservoir was easier to fill, and the Big Bite Valve required less effort when drinking. Hydrapak’s reversible reservoir could be cleaned and dried quickly, and was especially convenient when used with powdered drink mixes. Either pack would be a welcome addition to conventional bottles.

Disclosure: CamelBak and Hydrapak provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.

3 thoughts on “First Impressions: Hydration Packs from CamelBak & Hydrapak

  1. What do you think of bladders in say frame bags like the Revelate Tangle? That way it gets the stuff off your back and back onto the bike.

    1. I, personally, haven’t tried that combination, but I’m considering it. I’ll look into sourcing a frame bag that can accommodate a 2L (or larger) bladder.

    2. I’ve tried that combo the 100 mile Gravel Slayer in western Oklahoma. I have a 1.5L bladder in a Banjo bros frame bag. It was a hot 90 degree day with 35+mph winds.

      I used my two bottles to get me through the first 50 miles. At the half way point I should of emptied the bladder and refilled with cold water. 30 miles later I ran out of water and couldn’t stomach the hot water in the bladder.

      It ultimately wasn’t convenient enough. I’ve never tried it again.

      Finished the Dirty Kanza 200 with a 2.0L Cambelbak classic on my back. It was so convenient and a big key to my finish. On the last leg as it got dark I actually dumped my water bottles in the last 10 miles.

      I also discovered a pack with ice cold water feels good leaving a check point and it’s useful also as a hose to spray yourself during a hot ride.

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