The 5 Best Hydration Systems of 2018

A heavy-duty insulated bottle, a versatile filter, and more round out our picks for the best backpacking hydration gear of the year.
By Amy Jurries ,

Stanley Master Vacuum Bottle 25 oz.

Our take With all the insulated bottles on the market, it’s pretty tough to stand out on merit alone, but this bottle does it with four layers of insulation. Stanley added a double-layer stainless steel barrier to the Master’s double-wall vacuum construction to lock in heat or cold for up to 27 hours. Ultralighters and bargain shoppers will want no part of this, but if you like ice cream, you’re in for a treat.
“I served chocolate malts on the second night of a Yosemite backpacking trip in summer,” one tester says. Bonus: It comes with a vacuum-insulated capper cup, and the bottle is dishwasher safe.

Trail cred “This bottle is tough,” one tester says. “Mine rolled off a 20-foot-high boulder onto rocks when I was ski touring in the French Alps, but it didn’t even dent, much less leak a single drop.”

$50; 2 lbs.

Katadyn BeFree 3L

Our take The 0.6-liter BeFree won an Editors’ Choice Award last year for its simple, squeezy filtration, but everyone had to carry his or her own. This 3-liter version puts the same performance in a bigger package for group use. Bonus: portability. “The BeFree’s sturdy carry handle made it easy to schlep two reservoirs up a steep, crumbly incline back to my camp in the hills outside of Huaraz, Peru,” one tester says.

Trail cred “When filtering silty glacial runoff, the BeFree would occasionally get gummed up,” said one tester in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. “But all I had to do to clean it was remove the filter and swish it through any water, clean or dirty, and it would work again.”

$60; 4 oz.

Hydrapak Expedition 8L

Our take When water is scarce, or you have a big group, this hardy 8-liter reservoir cuts down on trips to the trickle. Made from TPU-coated nylon, the Expedition survived falling off bikes and being tossed into rocky camps on one tester’s bikepacking trip across Boliva. It has a tap-style pouring spout that snaps into the cap, making it easy to fill multiple bottles. (“It’s also great for serving wine to a crowd,” one tester notes.) When empty, the reservoir rolls up to the size of a Pringles can. As 8 liters of water weighs almost 18 pounds, HydraPak added a grab handle along with a gear loop for hanging. Gripe: The Expedition’s 2.5-inch-wide opening is too small for easy cleaning.

Trail cred “On the Southern California section of the PCT, I had to carry tons of water,” one tester says. “The cap accepted both my non-HydraPak quick-connect tube and inline filter, so
I drank straight from the reservoir for days.”

$60; 9 oz.

LifeStraw Universal

Our take It doesn’t get any easier than filling your bottle straight from the source and just drinking. But until now, fans of LifeStraw’s hollow-fiber filter could only use it in a LifeStraw bottle (sold together). The Universal gives you a choice, letting you pop the two-stage filter into most brands of hard-sided bottles. The filter eliminates bacteria and protozoa and reduces organic chemicals, and improves taste. Downside: You gotta suck pretty hard to drink, like slurping up soft-serve ice cream with a straw.

Trail cred “New Zealand’s Whanganui River was swollen with silty rainwater during our three-day paddling trip,” one tester says. “But I dipped my bottle, sucked through the LifeStraw, and am happy to report the water was grit-free and tasted fine.”

$35; 3.7 oz.

MSR Trail Base Water Filter Kit

Our take This kit is the closest we’ve seen to an all-in-one water system. The Trail Base can be used to drink from the source, filter for a group, or carry water. It includes a pocket-size TrailShot filter (with a quick-connect head, not just a drinking spout) and a pair of 2-liter Dromedary Bags. “Pumping the bag full takes forever, but integrating the TrailShot and using the system as a gravity filter let me treat 2 liters in just over 2 minutes,” says one tester who used the Trail Base in Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness. Ding: The Trail Base’s price is a bit more than the sum
of its parts.

Trail cred “In Oregon, we met people who had forgotten their filter,” our tester says. “We provided water for nine instead of two that night, with minimal trips back to the stream.”

$140; 1 lb. 6 oz.

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