How to Know When to Use a Hydration Pack or Water Bottle for Cycling

Text by: Kelsey Begg

Dakine, Norrona, Nuun, Osprey, Tacx, Zefal. How to Know When to Use a Hydration Pack or Water Bottle for Cycling

When you leave the house for a bike ride, it is essential that you always remember to bring water to ensure that you stay hydrated along the way. Whether you’re going for a road ride, a casual ride or a mountain bike ride, there is an efficient way to carry your water and a reasonable amount which you won’t want to leave without. 

If you’re new to cycling, knowing how much water to bring along can be tricky at the start. As your fitness level and cardio improve, you can work up a routine and know exactly how much water you will need depending on the route and the weather. Generally, a water bottle is suffice for a short road ride around town or multiple water bottles for a longer road ride. Mountain biking, on the other hand, is slightly different. You can be gone for hours and end up very far from any source of water so a hydration pack is essential

Water Bottle VS Hydration Pack

How do you know whether you should use a water bottle or a hydration pack? It’s simple! Road cyclists very rarely will wear a hydration pack because their jerseys are equipped with pockets on the back as well as water bottle holders located on their bike frame. The longer the ride or hotter the weather, the more water bottles you fill up and bring along. 

Choosing the right style of water bottle is also important. It’s nearly impossible to unscrew a water bottle lid with one hand and riding with neither hand on the handlebar can be dangerous. Therefore, opt for a water bottle that can easily be opened with one hand. You’ll also want to make sure the water bottle fits correctly in either your jersey pocket or the holder on your bike. You want it to fit snug so it stays secured in place but not so tight that it’s nearly impossible to remove it for a quick drink.

water bottle


Arctica Insulated Bottle

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shanti bottle


Shanti Bottle 500ml

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For those cyclists training for races or competitions, adding some Nuun tablets to your water and throwing some Clif Shots into your pockets is a good call. This way you can test different sources of energy and see what will suit your race day best. 

water bottle

When a Water Bottle isn’t Enough

For mountain bikers or other cyclists who embark on extended bike rides far from a clean water source, a small hydration pack between 10L and 25L maximum would be ideal. The backpack size will depend on how long of a ride you are going for and how much additional gear you will keep in your bag (bike pump, tube, tire levers, etc.). You can find a hydration pack with a bladder volume anywhere from 750mL to 3L. If you find you’re going on many multi-hour epic rides, the 3L would be an optimal choice. 

Look for a hydration pack with not only a sternum strap but a waist strap also. This will keep the backpack in place while you’re riding especially along the bumpier terrain. There’s nothing worse than feeling off-balanced by a floppy backpack pulling you every which way.

Some hydration packs will be jam packed with features and designed especially for mountain biking. They will have a pocket for the helmet on the front of the backpack and often times a tool pocket where you can easily store all your bike tools in an organized way. Brands like Dakine, CamelBak , Osprey  and Norrøna will generally have mountain bike specific backpacks in a variety of styles and colours to choose from.

hydration pack mountain biking

An important feature found in some models of hydration backpacks for mountain biking is an integrated dorsal protection. This is an especially important feature for those who are riding on more advanced trails. Even if the backpack is not equipped with a dorsal protector, simply wearing the backpack can protect your back to an extent should you fall while riding.

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Escapist 25L

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With the influx of enduro trends and the enduro style in mountain biking, hydration backpacks are slowly being traded in for waist packs or water bottles to eliminate weight. The waist packs in these cases are designed specifically for mountain biking and although they are similar to the ones you’ll see at a festival, they are designed slightly different in order to accommodate bike tools and fit securely.

 Some enduro riders will still choose to use a hydration pack but don’t be surprised if you get out on the trail and are one of the few wearing one. 

Choose What Suits You

At the end of the day, you’ll choose whichever suits you best. Like anything, everyone will have a preference for various reasons. When you’re deciding between a water bottle and a hydration pack, keep in mind the duration of your ride and the convenience of your choice. If you’re heading for a mediocrely long road ride, maybe opt to leave the hydration pack at home and fill up a few water bottles instead. 

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