Why I'm Not Taking A Water Bottle On My Next Ride?
A big part of this sport is ensuring you keep your body hydrated, on long rides this will help you focus, prevent muscles from cramping out and help avoid excessive fatigue. Mountain biking evolved from road cycling and the first mountain bikes were hardtail ones, with suspension only at the front. This meant that you could easily fit 2 water bottles on the frame and carry around 1.5 litres of water, enough for 2/3 hours of riding.
With the proliferation of dual suspension bikes, some still have the option to carry 1 water bottle, albeit in a tighter space and are harder to reach, whilst others have no water bottle mounts at all. This has forced riders into looking at other ways to carry water in an easy to reach place.
Backpack - storage and hydration in one
Backpacks proved to be the very best option. In one way, every rider needs to carry some tools, bicycle pump, inner tube and the occasional mid ride snack. Adding a bladder to a backpack is easy and it means that for an extra kilo or 2, you can carry enough water for your 2/3 hour bike ride.
But then I'll be carrying that whole weight on my back, isn't that uncomfortable?
Yes and no. In one way, you now have 3 to 5 kilos extra on your back, depending on how much you carry. The weight is also higher up from the ground and some might say you accumulate more sweat on your back.
However, you'd be always carrying these extra 3 to 5 kilos regardless of whether it is on your back or strapped to your bike, and now this weight is attached to you and you can move around with your body, this effectively improves handling as you remove weight from the frame, making your bike easier to twist and turn around the mountain bike trail.
In regards to adding weight higher up from the ground raising the centre of gravity on the bike, the backpack will add less than 5% of your body weight to your back and as long as you pack things tightly inside, that extra weight is now moving seamlessly and effortlessly with your body. The benefits you gain from removing weight from the bike, far outweigh the potential raised centre of gravity.
Lastly, the back sweat issue is not what it used to be, due to increased breathability from 3D ergonomically shaped air vents and channels keep your back dry as never before.
Other advantages you haven't thought about
It's now much easier to carry your phone and even listening to music from earphones as most of hydration packs have a specific waterproof phone pocket with earphone access, so you no longer have to carry your phone in your short pockets and have the earphone cable getting tangled everywhere.
You drink more water because it's easier and it flows faster. I found that I drink 25 to 50% more water when I carry a hydration pack. Getting many smaller sips of water instead of one massive gulp when you reach the top of the climb helps your body absorb the water better and keeps your body hydrated for longer. I also found that it's easier to drink water in general, even on super technical parts of the track, something impossible to do when using a water bottle.
Back airbag. This is something I never thought about till the moment it happened. Whilst trail ridding, I stuffed up and saw myself flying through the air on my way to a spectacular stack. Mid air, my body rotated and I landed back first. Now, I've done this before and the result is crushed chest sensation with me gasping for air for a few minutes. This time around, the hydration pack acted like an airbag and soften the blow entirely. I just got up, dusted off, picked up my bike and kept riding. Don't know about you but I see this as an advantage!
Which hydration pack to pick and what to pack:
The Camelbak range is quite diverse and will suit the needs of most riders. I personally have had a few throughout the years in different shapes and sizes. Here's my feedback on them.
Camelbak Hydropack/Classic: great to carry enough water for a 2 hour bike ride and essential tools, like a small multitool, tyre pump and tyre levers. These are featherweight and feel like you're not wearing them at all.
Camelbak Mule/ Mule TR 15: with larger water capacity and multiple storage options, I call these ones all day adventure packs. These usually feature one full size storage pocket with compartments inside, followed by a small outer pocket for car keys and nutrition. In between these pockets, there is an open stuff pocket for a rain coat or a busted up inner tube. The Mule LR also feature waist side pockets for easy to reach items, such as a phone or a quick bite.
Long are the days when carrying a backpack on a bike ride was a nightmare followed by a horribly sweaty back. These days hydration packs feel like you're wearing nothing at all and allow you to ride for much longer and keep your body hydrated for the entire ride.
In a time where every little bit of help can make your riding more enjoyable, I have to agree that a hydration pack is a must have for an adventurous rider with limited water bottle options on the frame.