Hydration bladder vs bottle. It’s an age-old question that’s been pondered by thousands of runners venturing in the ultra distances. You will find people on both sides that swear by their choice. But does that make it the right choice for you? There are some key differences and benefits between hydration packs and water bottles, advantages and disadvantages. Below I’ve made a list of facts between the two too better help you make the right choice for you. Let’s get started!
- Hydration Bladders hold more water than a single Water Bottle.
- Water Bottles are easier to clean than Bladders; Bladders require thorough cleaning.
- Filling Hydration Bladders is time-consuming and challenging, potentially leading to longer stops and cramping in ultra running.
- Water Bottles, especially squeeze bottles, are easier to drink from than Bladders, saving time and effort.
- Water Bottles allow for cooling by squirting water on the body during a hot race, which Bladders cannot do.
- Carrying multiple Water Bottles allows for varied hydration options, while a bladder lacks this versatility.
- Using Water Bottles provides a backup option in case of equipment failure.
Hydration Bladder vs Bottle for Trail & Ultra Running
Hydration Bladders Hold more water than a single Water Bottle
The capacity to hold a larger volume of water stands as the primary advantage when considering a hydration bladder. Typical bladder will hold up to 2 liter of water, while a single water bottle will hold 500 ml.
Water Bottles are much easier to clean than a Bladder
While cleaning a water bottle is as simple as placing it in the dishwasher, maintaining a hydration bladder is a bit more involved. After each use, it is essential to thoroughly clean and dry not only the bladder itself but also the tubing connected to it, the mouthpiece, and any connectors.
Hydration Bladders take Longer and are Harder to Fill on the Trail
This is crucial in the context of ultra-running for two significant reasons. Firstly, filling a hydration bladder can take several minutes longer compared to water bottles. When multiplied by the frequent stops at 6 or more aid stations during an ultra race, this can add up to over 30 minutes for an average runner. These extended stops can increase the risk of muscle cramping. Secondly, filling a bladder can be more challenging when fatigue sets in, making runners somewhat reliant on assistance from others.
Water Bottles (especially squeeze bottles) Are Much Easier to Drink out of than a Bladder.
Most traditional hydration bladders require you to draw water through a hose, which can be quite challenging while exerting yourself uphill and trying to catch your breath. On the other hand, with a squeeze water bottle, you can simply squirt the water directly into your mouth, saving precious time for uninterrupted breathing.
With a Water Bottle You Can Squirt Water Onto Your Head, Hands or Body During a Hot Race
In a scorching race, water bottles offer the convenience of easily squirting water onto your head or the back of your neck to help cool down in the heat. They also come in handy for moistening sticky hands from energy gels or snacks. Achieving these tasks is more challenging with a traditional hydration bladder, particularly while on the move.
Carrying Multiple Water Bottles Allows You to Carry Multiple Forms of Hydration
Having multiple water bottles provides the flexibility to fill them with different hydration options. For instance, I often carry one filled with water and another containing an electrolyte mix like Liquid IV. This is a capability that isn’t possible with a hydration bladder.
Bladders Can Break on The Trail
It’s not unheard if to have a hydration bladder break, either from the bladder breaking from a fall or one of the connectors pop off. This can be devastating when on the trail. Since most people / aid stations will not have back up parts for you.
It’s Easy to Carry Backup / Extra Water Bottles
Through personal experience, I’ve learned that losing a water bottle on the trail can be a real possibility. As a result, I’ve adopted the practice of carrying a backup in my pack when tackling longer distances. This precaution is particularly useful during races in hot weather, where there may be extended stretches between aid stations. I simply roll up an empty squeeze bottle and store it in my vest for such occasions.
Conclusion – Hydration Bladders vs Water Bottles
As you might have surmised from the above I’m definitely in the “water bottle” fan club. I’ve run with both and can tell you that in my experience water bottles are much more functional than bladders. Especially for ultra running or endurance hiking. The one advantage bladders have is their size, often carrying 2 liters or more. I always carry the ability to have 2 liters, I just do it with multiple collapsible water bottles. This has a couple advantages in itself. When racing you don’t typically go far enough between aid stations to need 2 liters. This means your just carrying extra weight if you use 2 liters. Carrying multiple water bottles allows me to easily and quickly fill my needs. I like to carry a bottle with just water and one with whatever electrolytes light i’m using/served at the race #6. And I also have back ups is something goes wrong, see above #7.
Here is my setup. I run with a Salomon vest will have all 4 full for long hikes and 2 full with 2 empty backups for ultras:
The Salomon came with my vest and they have held up great but for the price you can’t beat the Triwonders.