The answer is Hydrapak Hydration Packs. If any gear within the athletic world has seen an exponential explosion of options, it would be the hydration systems. Although I don’t know who or what specifically to credit with this latest surge of products, it can only mean good things for the ever-growing population of athletic participants.
From handhelds to vests to waist belts to backpacks, hydration systems are no longer one-size-fits-all. With all the diversification comes choices – some that may work well for a selection of people but may not work well at all for others. The most effective and costly option would be to buy one of each and try it out – and I mean that literally, buy one first then try it, because many athletic specialty stores only stock one or two brands of hydration systems, if even that. Most of us, therefore, have resorted to ordering these products online. Obviously, since most of us cannot afford to buy a variety of products just to test them out, our next best option is to research our many options compared to our needs.
Personally, I’ve always preferred not holding anything while running or hiking (and cannot physically hold anything during many other sports such as biking and skiing), so handhelds are out of the question. Next, I prefer drinking from a bladder rather than messing with water bottles (trying for several minutes to find the exact angle to return the bottle to the holder on my butt isn’t my thing). With just these two preferences, I’ve narrowed my options to a backpack or a bladder within a waist belt. I also should mention that I prefer to have some extra room for extra clothing and food – and my camera, of course. Unless I want my waist belt exploding, I’m down to a backpack. I encourage you to go through a similar process to narrow down your preferred hydration system.
Whichever hydration system you settle on, two of the most important considerations (after functionality) are comfort and weight. You won’t want to wear it if it isn’t comfortable and you won’t be able to wear it very long if it’s heavy. The ultimate goal is to barely notice your hydration system.
Subsequently, with all these factors in mind, I tested two of Hydrapak’s hydration packs – the Avila and the Sequel – over the last month while snowshoeing, running, and nordic skiing. These two packs are two of the leanest packs on the market, meaning small and light, with the Avila being the smaller and lighter of the two. The Avila (45 cubic inches gear storage) weighs in at 7.1 ounces while the Sequel (90 cubic inches gear storage) is 10 ounces. Both are constructed similarly, offering a convenient side-zip pocket for easy access to the two-liter (70 oz) reservoir. The reservoir itself is easy to refill due to its side-sliding closure – easy to open, easy to seal – and easy to turn inside out and clean! The hose also easily disconnects to allow easy cleaning and drying. These are big improvements on any reservoir with a twist-turn closure.
The Avila was the first hydration pack I’ve worn that I forgot I was wearing. The straps are constructed of highly breathable mesh, as is the outer-most layer next to your back. I have to say that the most annoying part of wearing a pack is the sweat that is trapped next to your back, however the mesh on these packs helps alleviate that problem by allowing more air flow. Also, the Avila isn’t one of those jostling type of packs that bounces while you run; it stays put as long as you tighten the straps appropriately. However, the Avila is small – you cannot put very much gear in the pack. You have to be fairly confident of your needs because you cannot take more than one extra shirt along, and you don’t have room to carry any extra layers you might want to remove.
If you’re looking for more room, the Sequel is more appropriate. The Sequel is still lightweight, adding only 3 oz to the Avila, but has double the gear capacity. However, along with the larger storage capacity comes a taller pack that isn’t as snug to the back and is more prone to jostling while running.
Additionally, neither the Avila nor the Sequel has any front, chest pockets essential for carrying food, electrolyte tablets, pain medications, or other small items (like my camera!) that you don’t want to have to remove your pack to access. Hydrapak does produce vests that do have chest pockets, so they should consider adding similar pockets to their packs.
Bottom Line: The Avila ($59.99) is top-notch for shorter duration athletic activities where you’re mainly looking for hydration, since the pack practically disappears on your back. If you need more gear storage, the Sequel ($69.99) will work. However, in my opinion, the longer the workout or race, the more you’re going to want chest pockets to store your quick needs (like food). Hydrapak has many great aspects woven into these packs – they just need to add chest pockets to achieve a superior product.
For more information on Hydrapak and to order products, go to www.hydrapak.com
All photography in this article was done by Bryan of BCochranPhotography.com