Our Guide to Water Storage Devices

Water bag

Our mission is to get people outdoors. Since most people aren't enthusiasts who venture outside regularly, you can buy or rent water bags. Specifically, about our water bag rentals:

  • We rent water bags that are higher end than those rented elsewhere, but still offer competitive pricing
  • We offer a rent-to-buy program so you don't have to worry about losing money from renting
  • Our self-service allows you to hire water bags whenever is convenient for you

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.

Do you really need it?

For many backpacking trips, you'd either need to be able to treat water and/or carry enough. It's up to you to figure out what your strategy will be based on your trip (be mindful that if you want to treat water, you have to be near sources of treatable water), and therefore if you will need this. If you normally do shorter trips where water bottles are sufficient, and are trying your first longer trip, renting a water filter is a great way to experiment .

For more info, read our 'what you really need' protip

What we carry

There was a practical reason to choosing the model we chose. Many water bags have built-in drinking tubes. But drinking tubes can't be cleaned very well if they're a rental. The model we carry has drinking spouts built-in to the lid of the water bag itself, and a separate drinking tube that may be used, allowing for easy renting and/or sharing. The bag itself is also rated to handle boiling water & freezing conditions!

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
$49
6L capacity
$60
10L capacity
$60
$25
Rent $6+
Weight
4L capacity
7oz
200g
6L capacity
9oz
250g
10L capacity
10oz
280g
2oz
60g
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 following What To Use & How To Choose section
  • Buy prices a grayed out box indicates we don't sell it (we may only rent water bags of this model)
  • 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%!

When you hire water bags online, you can select from available options or we'll pick out something for you. You can also write-in any preferences on the last page of checkout. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others.


What to use & how to choose

Sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype of something new (over-spending often 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. Also take advantage of renting water bags to try out what works for you!

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; in fact, for other factors data charts are generally only for a specific Type or Style that we carry (e.g., as a gear shop, would be outdoor-specific products).

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? Check specific model
Even if it can handle boiling water, it may be hard to handle; for example, single-wall stainless steel bottles would burn to the touch
Check specific model
The model that we rent can handle boiling water
Can it handle freezing conditions? Check specific model
Even if it can handle freezing conditions, it may be hard to handle; for example, single-wall stainless steel bottles could cause frostbite
Check specific model
The model that we rent can 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 other 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!)

If you don't go very often, of course you're going to want to spend less money, but this often means real trade-offs in terms of the experience that you will have with the gear. Even if you do go often & are ready to invest in quality gear, having the upfront funds can be hard!

Now, it may seem like this 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). So you might be thinking: I'll just buy something cheap, and because the price is so low it doesn't matter if it's less featured or heavier or whatever compared to something higher end. When that breaks, I'll buy something cheap again, and so on. Just remember:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use or first use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors! And reviews after the first use don't tell you about dudrability at all
  • You're headed outdoors to relax and enjoy life! Saving money only to have a trip ruined due to quality issues will feel terrible. Our program to rent water bags is designed to help you avoid this trade-off: you get to rent high end, quality water bags for around the same price as buying cheap ones (sometimes even for less!)

For this item specifically, the price vs. quality trade-off 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

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.

While we don't carry every size, if we have something different than what you've used, you can rent the water bag to experiment with what capacity is best for you.

Liter range 500-mL 1L 2L 4L 6L 10+L
. . . . . . . . . . . .
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

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.

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about other 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. Remember, we allow you to hire a water bag so feel free to try out various models with different features.

  • 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?

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
Image source here

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 .