Water bottles vs bladders

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Water is heavy stuff.  I have been racking my brain for years to work out a way to dehydrate it!

Alas, the technology seems to evade our bright sparks, but the good news is there are some pretty good ways of transporting this glorious liquid.  The three main ways are water bladders, water bottles and St Bernards.

Here’s our run down on the pros, cons and tips for these options.

Water Bottles

Pros:  Know exactly how much water you have left at a glance so you can manage your water. This is really important when walking in hot conditions.  Water bottles are less likely to leak and they are easier to fill up than bladders. It is also easier to pour from a water bottle into another container than it is from a bladder.  This is important when you need to share water or make cups of tea out on the trail.

Cons: If you don’t have pockets on the side of your bag, you have to stop walking to have a drink.  I don’t know how many times I have come home from a walk with a half full water bottle because I was too lazy to stop for a drink. On the other hand, a drink stop is a glorious thing sometimes and having bottles gives you an excuse to rest and take in your surrounds while you catch your breath.

Bottles can be hard to clean if they have a small mouth opening. You can get a scummy layer on the bottle and often the only way to clean it is with chemicals.

Other things to consider are that bottles don’t reduce in size as they empty. They can also break quite easily if you drop them, leaving you in a potentially dangerous situation.

Tips for water bottles: If you’re walking on a rocky trail, you’re clumsy, or if you’re concerned about chemicals from plastic, you might like to try a lightweight stainless steel bottle. Also look for a wide mouth for easy cleaning.

Water Bladders

Pros:  Easy access. When you’re panting at the top of a sand dune you can just grab at your water tube and start hydrating. It’s nice not having to take your bag off or ask someone to help you every time you’re thirsty.

A bladder is usually easier to fit inside a backpack because it can mould itself into almost any space, or just lay on top. And, as you empty your bladder it will reduce in size. This is great if you’re collecting rubbish along the way.

Cons: You can never be certain of how much water you’ve drunk without stopping to check.  Sometimes you can think you’ve drunk lots but then you get home with 2 litres of water still in your bladder!

The water in the tube often heats up while you are walking and it is a bit disconcerting to have a mouthful of hot water when you are huffing and puffing at the top of a hill. That tube is also an easy place to grow mould because it’s so hard to get completely dry between uses. We use a sterilising solution to clean our bladders and tubes but we’ve never been able to completely avoid mould with this method. If you have room in your freezer at home, we recommend completely empting your bladder and letting it hang with your frozen peas until your next hike – mould can’t grow in freezing conditions.

Lastly, a bladder will leak in the end. There’s no way of getting around it.

Tips for water bladders:  Make sure you buy a bladder which you can get your whole hand into. It makes it so much easier to clean. And dry it between uses to avoid mould.

St Bernard

Pros: St Bernard’s are very cute and they can be used to keep you warm if you get lost.

Cons: Not allowed into national parks. Plus, they slobber.


So what do we use?

I’m not allowed to have a St Bernard so we mostly use bladders. I find that I will drink a lot more with a bladder. The brand I use is Source which are reasonably priced at around $30. I can take the whole top off to get my hand in to clean it out. Usually, the bladder goes in a dry sack as well just to be sure it doesn’t leak onto my mobile or satellite phone – this is probably over kill, but better safe than sorry!

So there you have it, water bottles vs bladders. What do you prefer to use? And why? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you.

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