Updated December 1st, 2023
Mountain biking is a pretty strenuous activity and you need water if you’re going to ride for more than a few minutes. Water bottles and hydration packs are the 2 most popular methods of carrying water around with you on your ride. Hydration backpack vs water bottle, which works best for mountain biking?
I have a strong preference for hydration backpack. It lets me carry my tools and other bits in the same bag as my water. You can fit several bottles worth of water in one hydration pack. Others prefer water bottles because they are cheap and easy to clean. I know a few people out there bring both along.
Water. Why is it important?
Water keeps you from getting dehydrated. Dehydration can have some pretty serious consequences.
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat stroke
- Muscle cramping/fatigue
- Loss of muscle tissue.
It’s important to bring along enough water for your ride to keep from getting dehydrated.
How much water do you need for a mountain bike ride?
Some guidelines published by the University of Michigan state that you should drink the following amounts when exercising. You can see the report here.
- Before the ride: 17-20 oz. of water at least 2 hours prior to exercise
- During the ride: 7-10 oz. of water for every 10-20 minutes of exercise
- After the ride: 16-24 oz. of water for each pound lost due to sweating.
If were going on a 2 hour ride which is pretty common we need 7-10oz every 10-20 minutes. That is a range of 21 oz to 60 oz of water per hour. For a 2 hour ride you could need anywhere from 42 oz to 120 oz of water during the ride. If you go for a longer 4 hour ride the amount increase to 84 oz to 240 oz.
Hydration backpack vs Water Bottle for mountain biking
Which solution is the best? Hydration packs or water bottles. They bot have their advantages and disadvantages. I know some people out there use both such as a hydration pack for water and a water bottle for sports drink.
First up in the battle of hydration backpack vs water bottle for mountain biking is the hydration pack. Hydration Backpacks are what they sound like. A backpack with a water bladder in it.
Common hydration pack bladder sizes are 1.5, 2 and 3 liters. (50.7, 67.6, and 101ozs) Hydration packs cost more than water bottles. A quick scan showed they run anywhere from $25 to $200. You can get a water bottle for under $10.
You can use the backpack for carrying your trail tools, spare tubes, pump, snacks, etc.. With full suspension bikes and dropper posts it’s getting harder to find good ways to carry things on the bike.
There are some pretty innovative solutions out there for hiding tools inside your bike these days. You can get mutli tools that fit in your handlebars, head tubes and even wheel skewers. None of these are particularly cheap. If you ride more than one bike you’d have to buy more than one set for each bike. If you want a grab and go solution backpacks work pretty good.
Hydration backpacks are very easy to drink from while riding without stopping. Anyone can do it. Yes, you can drink from a water bottle while riding. It takes a whole lot more coordination to do it that all of us are not gifted with.
No matter how you try to do it. Water bladders are just not as easy to clean as water bottles. The bladder portion of the hydration pack will cost $20 to $50 to replace. Companies such as Camelbak have spare parts such as mouth pieces available to try and reduce costs a little bit.
Riding with a backpack can take a little getting used to. They do bounce around. It takes a bit time adjusting the straps to get to a point where the backpack is stable while your riding but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable to ride with.
On hot days the backpack can give you a really sweaty back and can feel a bit hot. It takes a little getting used to.
Hydration Backpack Pros and Cons
- Carries lots of water (1.5-3 liter)
- Carry bike gear (tools, spare tubes, pumps, etc..) in the bag also
- Works with any frame geometry and dropper posts too
- Easy to drink from while ridiing
- Can be expensive
- Not very easy to clean
- Can be awkward to ride with until you get used to it
What else to keep in your pack while riding (tools, spares, etc…)
Besides water, I keep some simple tools, first aid kit, and other useful items in the pack. Below is a list of what I currently have in there on most rides. Most of these items have come from past walkout experiences.
- tire pump
- Parktools multitool (has a chain tool)
- SRAM missing links (12 speed and 10 speed)
- Presta valve to schraeder valve adapter
- tube patches
- spare tube if not riding tubeless (check that the spare tube holds air)
- small first aid kit
- a set of tire removal tools
- A pair of Niterider lights if it’s an evening ride that might go into after dark
Hydration Pack Recommendation
I’ve personally been using a hydration backpack from Camelbak for years. I’m on the 3rd bladder now. The backpack itself has held up great throughout many miles and more falls than I want to admit. My bag is the equivalent of the current Camelbak M.U.L.E.
CamelBak M.U.L.E. Mountain Biking Hydration Backpack
- Air Director Back Panel: Channels air flow to keep you cool.
- Removeable Stability Belt: For additional fit and stability.
- Ventilated Harness: Lightweight and breathable.
Next up in the comparison of hydration backpack vs water bottle is the water bottle. There are 2 generic sized water bottles out there that fit in cages you can mount to your bike frame. Large size water bottles tend to run in 21-26 oz sizes. Small water bottles tend to run 14-16oz. Your bike frame shape will dicate how many and what size bottles you can carry.
There are many many options available for water bottles and also a ton of water bottle cage options. It’s very easy to find bottles and cages that match your bike, outfit or anything else you want to match.
With many bike frames, especially full suspension mountain bike frames, there just isn’t room for 2 large size water bottles. There are other solutions out there such as seat mounted bottle cages. If you use a dropper post, again these don’t work well.
Some people have no trouble drinking from water bottles while riding without stopping. I won’t lie. I can’t. Like many of you I’m just not that coordinated. Drinking out of a bottle and riding with both hands off the handlebars are just skills I’ve never been able to master.
Water Bottle Pros and Cons
- Easy to clean
- Many water bottles and cages to choose from to match your bike
- Not all frames can accommodate 2 large bottles
- Limited amount of water you can carry
- Difficult to drink from while riding
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Co-Founder & Chief Editor
I grew up back east in Pennsylvania and learned to ski on a family trip to Killington, Vermont when I was 6. I immediately fell in love with the mountains and outdoors and have been skiing across the US and Canada ever since. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering, and have a Master’s Degree in Material Science and Reliability.
I am a total gear nerd and love learning how things work and thinking about how they could be improved. Nothing excites me more than trying out new gear. I’d rather spend 3 hours taking my bike apart and learning how to change something than go to a bike shop. These days I reside in Michigan by the Great Lakes and go skiing, biking, and boating as much as possible.