Most everyone has heard of the concept of the 'Quiver', that being a selection of various shapes, sizes, weights, lengths, etc, of whatever it is that helps you do what it is you do. So, a long board and a short board for surfing; a powder or a down hill ski; an AM bike and a hardtail SS, etc. The quiver is the idea of having more than one kind of arrow at the ready.
And so it is with hydration packs. I have a passel of them right now where I used to have one, then two...a regular one and a bigger one. Now I have a small one, a medium one, a few large ones, a red one, a green one, etc. So I thought I would talk a bit on what I like about a few of them and encourage you to build a quiver as well.
Go fast, go light: The Baby Bear pack
The Camelbak XLP
When I first saw this pack I thought, "holy smokes, I can't put anything in this". I am a consummate over-packer of stuff. So I saw this as limited use. But over the year, this has changed. It may be the perfect summer-after-work-ride pack and I think it would be killer as a race day pack if the race is supported or not too long. First, it is darn light. The stretchy pouch can hold a windbreaker OR arm warmers/leg warmers but not much else. That keeps it into the warmer climate zone for me as it is hard to carry shed layers like jackets, etc. The tool section is perfect for the basics like a CO2, multi tool, etc and maybe some snacks. I slip my longish pump into the bladder compartment, a 70OZ version, and I have stuffed extra food or gloves, etc, into there as well. I took off the waist strap as the pack is so short that it was like having a 'ribcage strap'. It is easy to remove the strap...velcro. All summer long, this has been the pack of choice for a 2 hour and under (supplemented with a bottle for 2 hrs) rides from home. Complaints? Well, the little loop of string that the bladder clips onto is stupidly hard to get out of the clip on the bladder, especially with gloves on. That is about it.
Ready for most anything, daily driver: Momma Bear packs
The Camelbak M.U.L.E. NV.
Perhaps the quintessential all-rounder, the M.U.L.E. was my first decent hydration pack years ago and is still around today, having been refined over the years. It has enough carrying capacity to bump it into a semi-epic pack for 3-4 hours rides unsupported and holds 100oz of water. Camebak does a great job of compartmentalizing their packs. If you can't find a pocket/pouch or stuff spot for something on the M.U.L.E., you may not need it...or...you need a Poppa Bear pack.
JeffJ (AKA Circus Bear on a Bike) is rocking this pack and he is still happy with it.
Osprey Raptor 10.
Osprey has a very impressive line of packs and they are very well made. I love the nice touches like the zipper pulls that can easily be used with gloves, the killer Hydraform reservoir set-up, the Lid Lock helmet holder and the sleek overall feel to the pack when worn. I think some of the organization of tools, etc, needs to be re-thought a bit along with the silly hip belt pouches that allow things to fall out too easily. But, overall the line of Raptors from the Six (liter) to the Eighteen (liter) offer a wide choice of sizes and all of them are really good packs. Osprey is making some real inroads into MTB hydration packs and I bet with some refinement they will only get better.
Deuter Race EXP Air:
Bigger Days: Goin' all Poppa Bear on ya'.
Osprey Raptor 18:
An expanded version of the Raptor 10, I have used this pack on some bigger days and it is super. My absolute fav part is the Shove-It feature that allows for clothing, cameras, food, small animals, interesting fossil samples...whatever...to be stuffed in it and then compressed with the straps. Love it. Perfect pack for days that require lots of clothing changes. When you are wearing all the clothing, the pack is pretty tidy, but begin to strip jackets, jerseys, etc, and the Raptor 18 just swallows it all up. Add in the typical Osprey stuff like the Hydraform 100 oz Reservoir, the high quality of the construction, and the tool and smaller item organization and you have a winner. What would I add? A rain fly option built in, but at least I can get one separately.
Honorable mention: Camelbak H.A.W.G. NV.