The Ultimate Guide to Water Storage Devices

Water bag

Our mission is to get people outdoors, not sell gear. That's why our guide starts with the core function that needs to be addressed, then helps you evaluate your options holistically, since sometimes you may not need any gear & can use what you have at home. We want you to think critically about what you need, which is personal to you with no right answer (some people go venture outside naked without any gear, survive & have a great time).

Core function: Water is life, and if you're out on trail, you want to be sure you have a good quantity of potable water securely stored.

Is either the core function or the outdoor-specific gear made for it an essential?

Either having a water treatment device and/or carrying in enough water is needed for most backpacking trips .

For rationale, read our 'what you really need' protip

What to use & how to choose

Key factors

Cool zippers, new waterproofing, etc... sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype (over-spending happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features.

We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked.

While we encourage you to use regular items wherever possible, as an outdoor gear shop, we only carry outdoor-specific products

Type or Style

We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.

Our category name Single-use plastic water bottle Plastic water carrier (soft)* Reusable water bottle Water bag (aka water bladder)
Example qualities & features Example images Plastic bottle Water carrier Reusable bottle Water bag
Material Soft plastic Hard plastic, metal, or glass Plastic or technical fabric
How durable is it?

Somewhat

Body may puncture or lid may crack, but not super likely

Extremely

Hard plastic or metal likely to last forever. Even if lid cracks, usually you can buy a replacement

Very

Body may puncture, but quality models are far more durable than a single-use plastic water bottle

Can it handle boiling water? Generally yes, check specific model
Can it handle freezing conditions?

Compatible with a drinking tube & hiking backpacks for hands-free drinking?

See Usage section for image example

Other considerations N/A N/A

If fully stainless steel, in a pinch may be used as a pot on a stove

Check manufacturer instructions to verify. The bottle must be wide enough to balance on the stove, you will need a way to hold it (the metal will get hot & there's no handle!)

N/A
Effect on secondary factors Price $1-2 $5-30 $10-50
Capacity <2 liters 5-20 liters <2 liters 1-10 liters
Weight A few ounces/ grams Up to 1lb (0.5kg)

Up to a few pounds (~1kg)

Varies widely based on material (e.g., plastic, metal, etc.)

Up to 1lb (0.5kg)
Size Does NOT compress down when empty May collapse down when empty (depending on model), but won't compress as much as a bag will Does NOT compress down when empty DOES compress down when empty
Rationale Less technical More technical

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Not specific enough for outdoor use

Standard for most outdoor uses in backpacking

*There are also plastic water carriers that are hard, but those are are less often used outdoors, unless it's also a cooler designed to hold liquids directly (usually with a dispensing valve), and since that primary use is as a cooler, we do not discuss it here (think of those large cooler drinking stations at sports camps). As you can imagine those containers are more expensive, can have larger capacities, and are heavier & larger. They're used for groups, and only for car camping (it won't fit into any hiking backpack!)


Price

One of life's certainties is the trade-off between price & quality. This creates an inherently unfair situation. If you save money today by buying something lower end, you'll end up replacing it more frequently, spending money & time each instance so that at the end, you probably haven't actually saved anything. On the other hand, if you decide to invest in something higher end, you'll need a lot more upfront money, and you need to be able to use the item frequently enough to make it worthwhile.

We developed our rental program to address this unfairness. We don't sell lower end items. But for our higher end items, we offer them for rent at up to 90% off retail price, generally well below the cost of buying even the cheaper option. That's a win-win!

It may seem like the price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). Remember 2 things:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use, first use, or infrequent use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors!
  • The point of gear is to give you a good experience because you've already spent money to be on vacation from work! Don't let quality issues affect your relaxation

For gear specifically, the quality issues center around performance & durability.

For water bags, performance & durability are linked (ripped fabric leaks water!). Therefore with lower end products, be especially concerned (e.g., take care to cushion it & store it away from sharper objects).

Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Capacity (size)

Water is life! Rule-of-thumb: drink 1 liter for every 1 to 2 hours of hiking. Don't forget, you may also need water for cooking, cleaning, etc. With any trip, you can either bring the water that you'll need, or treat natural water sources. Here's the trade-off:

  • The benefit of bringing water: you're not reliant on nature (a stream may have run dry) & don't have to wait to treat the water
  • The benefit of treating water: you don't have to carry water, which is heavy: 1 liter of water weighs 2.2lbs (1kg)

You'll need to decide based on research for your trip conditions (e.g., where is there potable, filtered water or natural water you can treat relative to your campsite or trail). Often, the decision isn't one or the other, but a combination of both.

Liters range 500mL & below 1L 2L 4L 6L 10L & above
. . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Examples Standard single-use plastic bottle Larger single-use plastic bottles, most reusable bottles, smaller water bags Standard water bag size Larger water bags or carriers to share for groups, or where frequent water treatment is not possible. Can also be used to transport water to camp, rather than being carried for backpacking
Effect on other factors Price Less expensive More expensive*
Weight & Size Lighter Heavier*
Rationale While effect on other factors follows above trends (larger capacity = more material = greater price & weight), there is significant product variation across brands, we have not teased out "breakpoints"

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Doesn't add that much more value (you can use something non-outdoor-specific which would be much more affordable)

4L bags are versatile for most outdoor uses, therefore more worth the money (you can have extra capacity, just don't fill it up all the way)

6L & 10L water bags for people who share or use them to transport water. (10L bags generally do not fit in a standard hiking backpack)

*Exception to these trends is the plastic water carrier, which, because it's plastic, is not very technical and therefore priced lower & weighs less compared to a water bag

Weight & Size (Compactness) for Backpacking

If you're thru-hiking 20+ miles (32+km) per day, every advantage counts! In this case, size refers to compactness. You can carry more gear in the same size backpack if all of it is very compact, or for more weight savings, you can get a smaller size pack.

There isn't a separate comparison table, because weight & size are functions of form factor (see Type or Style). Within each form factor, the industry doesn't then offer 'Superlight' or 'Ultralight' models (especially because if a water container is too thin it could puncture more easily!). That said, weight & size will of course vary based on brand & model.


Minor features that may be important

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about minor features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget.

  • Does it require a drinking tube, and is this sold together or separately?
  • Are there multiple mouthpieces/ or ways to drink (for easier sharing)?
  • Can it be easily carried outside of a backpack?
  • Does it impart a "plastic" taste?

What we carry

General Notes

  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the How To Choose section
  • Buy prices are MSRP with tax, i.e., what you see is what you pay. Prices may differ in-store due to change in models or discounts, but this is rare. If we don't sell what we rent, we list MSRP value with tax
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!
Type or style Water bag
Actual bag Accessory drinking tube
Model MSR Dromedary water bag MSR Dromedary Hydration Tube
MSR Dromedary MSR Dromedary Hydration Kit

Buy

MSRP with tax

4L capacity

$45

6L capacity

$50

10L capacity

$55

$22
Rent $6+

Weight

4L capacity

7oz

200g

6L capacity

9oz

250g

10L capacity

10oz

280g

2oz

60g

When you rent online, we will pick a model for you. You can change the model if you pick-up in-store, subject to availability. On the Options page of our online order process, you can also select options or write-in any preferences. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others. We will only pick something else if it doesn't conflict with your choices indicated on the Options page; moreover, if there's a major functional difference (e.g., capacity), we will attempt to contact you first

Usage tips

Be especially considerate when you're taking a water storage device in cold weather, as the water can freeze. This can damage many types of containers (also, if it's really cold, a metal water bottle can hurt you)! There are some water bags designed for cold temperatures, these are insulated to prevent damage & allow the water to still be drinkable.

Remember the biggest advantage of water bags is that you can connect them to a drinking tube, and then pair them with most hiking backpacks, that have specific pouches for water bags and an exit for the tube, allowing you to drink hands-free, like this:

Hands-free drinking

Source: https://www.outdoorequipmentreview.com/product/2l-hydration-bladder-bags-drinking-water-reservoir-pack-system-leakproof-backpack-water-bag-for-sports-cycling-camping-climbing-hiking/

Maintenance tips

Repairing

Often lids that crack or break can be replaced by themselves. Rips, tears, or holes can't really be repaired (even for water bags) because while Tenacious Tape with liquid seam sealant may objectively repair small issues, we wouldn't recommend using those chemicals in something designed to store drinking water.

Cleaning

Especially if a storage device has been used to carry dirty water (e.g., from a river or stream) or has been used with drink mixes, you'll want to clean it out after use. For water bags, follow manufacturer guidelines, often this will involve rinsing lightly with soap or baking soda and water.

Storing

Don't put it away or close any lid(s) until it's fully dry

Water bags: are difficult to dry. We recommend:

  • Pinching the bag open, then vigorously shaking all water out
  • Using a clean towel to mop up excess water that pools at the bottom
  • Using a blow dryer to further ensure it is totally dry

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

Other products on the market

Since reusable water bottles are trendy & used by everyone, not just outdoorspeople, there are lots of interesting bottles you might find. Just make sure that the usage meets your actual needs & don't get caught up in the hype. For example:

  • Bottles with integrated filters (both more of the Brita-type for urban use & actual water treatment filters compatible for outdoor use)
  • Hybrid bag-bottles, water bags that can stand up & are sized like a regular water bottle. The benefit of course is compressibility

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 . That said, there usually isn't dramatic change; we update & review the market roughly biennially.


Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!