Gear review: bottles and bladders

Peter MacfarlaneYears back all we had were dented Sigg bottles in our rucksacks, but of course times move on. We now have a whole array of different ways of carrying water in the hills. The thing that mixed it up and moved us on was plastics giving us bladders with drinking tubes and new bottle designs but metal hasn’t been left behind, stainless steel bottles have become the standard and the durability and easy-cleaning nature of one of those could see you use the same bottle for life.

I take my hydration very seriously on both day walks and on backpacking trips as the memories of my mistakes keep me on the right path. On the Grey Corries ridge one late spring day I was happily sipping from my tube from my new bladder system, so handy, so faff free, but soon so very empty as well. The next couple of hours were very thirsty and while I do still use bladders, I take a wee bottle as well and stow in a rucksack side pocket or in a pouch on the shoulder strap, I always know how much I’ve got left then.

I was bivvying on the top of Lurg Mhor on a cooking hot summer’s day, passing all the running water on the way up confident that the little lochan on the shoulder would be enough to get me through to lunchtime the next day. Instead I was straining muddy soup through a Buff from the nearly dry lochan to make my porridge next morning.

So I think ahead now, not only about where I’m getting my water but how I’m going to store it. Ideally at camp which is usually above 900m I want to have a couple of litres at least to hand for my evening meal, making cuppas when taking photies at 2am and for breakfast. I’m not carrying this all day so I’ll pick it up as the last good water source I pass and that’s where the bladders in this review come in. A roll away bladder weighs very little empty and takes up no space and the inconvenience of carrying a full one on the last stretch to camp is far outweighed by the luxury of having plenty water to see you through to the next day.

All the weights were taken by me when the bottles and bladders were empty and no, it’s not a nice single malt in there that’s giving it that colour, the burn was in spate.

Hydrapak Stash Collapsible Bottle

Capacity 1 litre


The stash is a 1 litre bottle that crushes down into its own lid. Even when full it’s a flexible shape and you can jam it into rucksack pockets that might not take a regular bottle. Drinking out of it takes a second or two to get used to as you have to hold the bottle in shape with spread-out finger or use two hands , especially as it gets emptier as you have to hold the bottom up but it’s fine and I like using it. Once it’s empty, the base clicks into the lid and it stows away.

The top has a carry loop and a grip ring in the cap made from the same softer plastic. The opening is 63mm wide so it’s pretty easy to fill and clean. One thing I’d change is I’d attach the lid to the bottle, but it’s clever, it’s useful and it feels tough.

Hydro Flask vaccum bottle

Capacity 621ml


The odd 621ml capacity comes from it being a US design as it’s a 21oz bottle, and also while it’s the same physical size as a 750ml bottle the capacity is slightly reduced due to the twin-wall vacuum insulated construction.

It’s dead simple, smooth stainless steel on the inside, light textured paint on the outside surface that grips pretty well with damp hands and a chunky lid fitting in a wide mouth that I can get a dish washing brush inside. Washing this is great too, not faffing around not submerging it as it’s a vacuum bottle, it goes in the sink and gets washed properly.

It does insulate well, I’ve been keeping drinks cool in it all summer. Where regular bottles get heated by the sun in an external rucksack pocket, the Hydro Flask resists and my Robinsons Barley Lemon is still below room temperature.

I’d have some knurling on the lid, it can take a bite when tightened on and the smooth edge doesn’t give you much grip to get it open.

MSR Dromlite 4L

Capacity 4L


This is the 2017 version I’ve had on test and it is improved with some reshaping and a better hanging system. It’s big at 4L, it would do a multi person camp but the large shape doesn’t have to be filled all the time, two litres in here makes for a wide and flat shape that disappears inside my rucksack.

The wide mouth is easy to fill and pretty easy to clean while the lid is designed to fit onto MSR accessories like hydration and shower kits. The lid is too awkward to drink from easily so the

The Dromlite is for storage and water lugging which it does very well.

Very tough fabric too, I’ve been jamming all the carriers reviewed here into my rucksacks with all sorts of gear from tent pegs to tying wire for deer fence repair and I’ve had some scratches on the plastic but no punctures.

Platypus SoftBottle

Capacity 1L


Half bottle and half bladder the SoftBottle is slips into pretty much any rucksack side pocket I’ve tried it in. The chunky lid makes it easy to get a grip of and the two-handed drinking style is no great hardship. The narrow opening could make it awkward to clean but the smooth internal shaping means there are no corners that my little wash brush can’t get to. The lid has a push/pull drinking cap which is fine and there’s also an external cap which is smooth sided, hard to remove with anything but dry hands, and if you don’t lose it anyway you should leave at home.

Very handy and I like the way it rolls up when empty, easy to jam in a pocket or fix under a bungee.

The Last Word

The Dromlite is excellent for backpacking, the 4L capacity is a maximum not a necessity and the flat flexible shape when half-filled was great for maintain pack comfort on the trail or ascent.

The other three all did their jobs well with minor niggles on each, I’ve been happy enough using them. All of the plastics here are BPA-free as everything from reputable brands should be now but it’s still always worth checking the labels.

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