Best Backpacking Water Containers – How to Choose

Jake and the Vapor Bottle
Jake and one of our Vapor backpacking water bottles.

Water is obviously an essential part of life. It is crucial to have a way of easily carrying it and having access to it while on the trail. In some desert environments, it is necessary to carry multiple gallons of water per person and this might be an argument for having a larger backpack if you intend to desert camp. We have done a few deserts overnights but on a whole won’t camp in places that do not have reliable water sources for filtering water. Having easy access to water at higher elevations is also crucial to staving off altitude sickness. Having the best backpacking water containers and a great way to filter freshwater are tools needed for successful journeys into the wilderness.

Classification and Rating

Best Backpacking Gear
It is hard to imagine that this is what we have the potential of packing into our backpacks.

We classify the best backpacking water containers in this article as essential but also give them a rating. Obviously you need access to water so it is an essential piece of gear. Our A-F rating is to help newcomers to backpacking know where to best spend their budget. A quality water container if taken care of and cleaned properly can last for many years. Check out our best backpacking gear post to see how we rank and rate all backpacking gear in one place.

Best Backpacking Water Containers

  • Classification: Essential Gear
  • C-Rating: Spend some money on a quality product if you can but if not you can save money now and plan on upgrading later.

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Hydration Reservoirs vs. Water Bottles

Best Backpacking Water Containers
Our packable Vapur water bottles and Camelbak Reservoirs are the best backpacking water containers.

The primary question when it comes to having the best backpacking water containers is do you prefer a hydration reservoir (AKA: bladders) like the Camelbaks or a more traditional Nalgene type of bottle. We find that when hiking or backpacking we like the usability of a bladder on the trail but prefer a water bottle in camp. The hydration reservoir’s hose clips on the shoulder strap and is easy to access while the water, which is usually the heaviest thing in our backpacks, is located close to our backs keeping the weight at an optimal location.

Water Bottle

Vapur Bottles
Our packable and ultra-lightweight Vapur bottles are perfect for backpacking.

A water bottle is traditionally placed in a side pocket in the backpack which is difficult to reach, especially when returning the water bottle to the pocket. Some manufacturers have created holsters so that a water bottle is more easily accessible and this is a good alternative if you do not like the use of a hydration reservoir. We actually like to have a water bottle for meals so that we don’t get food stuck in the bladder tube. We used to carry a Nalgene bottle for this which attached to our old MSR pump filter but since we upgraded to our Katadyn gravity filter (Backcountry, REI) we have each started carrying a Vapur foldable water bottle that weighs (0.6oz), almost nothing.

Hydration Reservoirs

There are many manufacturers of hydration reservoirs and each has slightly different functional designs. We started off with the Camelbak because we have two of their hiking day packs that came with bladders. We’ll continue to buy their products mostly because of the way our gravity filter interfaces with the Camelbak’s connector. Many people think the tubes on bladders make the water taste rubbery which is usually the case when they are brand new but that does dissipate quickly. The tubes can also be hard to clean. If you do choose a bladder, make sure you understand how to and are diligent in keeping them clean. It isn’t really that difficult. You just need to make sure they are clean and dry after each trip. The kit we have listed helps with that.

Which Size and Shape?

Hydration reservoirs come in a multitude of sizes but we recommend a 3L volume for backpacking. This is usually the maximum needed for a single day’s journey. You won’t always need to fill it completely. The empty weight difference between a 1L and 3L is almost negligible, so get a 3L for backpacking. There are two 3L Camelbak models. I prefer the lumbar reservoir myself as it keeps the weight lower in my backpack which allows for a lower center of gravity and better balance. However, some people prefer the slim nature of the standard verticle bladder. This will be a choice in preference. Many backpackers won’t notice or care about the difference in comfort between the two models. Which is right for you will usually come down to which fits better inside your backpack.

Choosing the Best Backpacking Water Containers

Best Backpacking Water Containers
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Regardless of how you choose to store water on your backpacking adventures make sure you carry more than enough to get you safely from one water source to the next. More so than any other piece of gear, having the best backpacking water containers for your adventure is crucial to having a safe and successful journey into the wilderness.

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