Our family has used Hydro Flask tumblers and water-bottles for years so when I saw the company was diving into the hydration backpack market I jumped at a chance to review the new Hydro Flask Journey Series 20L Hydration Backpack (also available in a 10L version).
I’m going to skip listing the whole manufacturer description and non-relevant specs as those are easily seen on the companies website linked above. Instead I’ll focus on how I tested, first impressions, who I think this pack is perfect for, and some of the minutia both good and bad.
How I Tested
I’ve worn this pack for about 40 miles of hiking in the White Mountains between May-August. I took it rock climbing once, hiking 6 times, and casual road biking with the family twice. Most of the testing was during the hottest weeks of our summer where the allure of actual cold water on a trip outweighed some of slight negatives of my first impressions of the pack (more on that below). While temps were often in the upper 80’s New England’s famed humidity often had heat index’s reach into the upper 90’s.
Right out of the box I was a bit concerned with the empty pack weight. At 3.6 pounds (1633 grams) this is definitely on the far end of the spectrum for packs I consider for day trips. Once I convinced my ounce-counter-self that not every pack design needs to focus on shaving grams I started looking at what I would gain with carrying a pack that was comparatively heavy on the volume to weight scale. Let’s start by addressing the penultimate claim Hydro Flask makes regarding this pack… it keeps water COLD for 4+ hours!
How it Performs
- Keeping Water Cold– That is where this pack truly shines. I’ve tried a lot of tactics over the last two decades to carry cold water in the mountains on long hot days. I used to freeze hydration bladders the night before a hike and then enjoy the long slow melt out during a hike (but it never melted fast enough and my spine pretty much had frostbite). I’ve filled reservoirs half way with ice which might buy me two hours of cold hydration on the hottest hikes (but this “sweats” a lot of condensation adding a fair amount of moisture to the contents of my pack).
- This is where the “Revolutionary Cold Flow™” system comes in. It starts with a 3 liter HydraPak® insulated reservoir that is easily removed thanks to the Plug-N-Play™ connection system. A “fill to here with ice” line is about a third of the way up the reservoir. Once filled with ice and topped off with cold tap water this insulated reservoir slides into an insulated pocket on the back panel of the pack. Interestingly the connected hose is not insulated which isn’t a big deal. After a bit of hiking without sipping you’ll notice how cold the reservoir still is after an ounce or two of warmer water thats been in the tube. Finally the back panel of the suspension system is well ventilated to help keep body heat from reaching the reservoir. In practice I found the system could easily uphold the 4+ hours claim even in 80 degree temps.
- Organization– For a mountain biking or hiking backpack I found the pack layout to be quite nice. There are two main compartments which feel to have the same volume when the bladder is full and in place. The outer pocket has some nice stretchy organization internal pockets. There is also a zippered top pocket that easily accommodates a first aid kit, lunch, headlamp, car keys, etc.
- Comfort/Fit- I went with the M/L size for my 5’9″ build. The waist belt rides a little high as I’d expect for a pack designed with mountain biking in mind. The higher riding waist belt was also a benefit when used while wear a climbing harness. The contoured dense foam shoulder straps fit well. Most of the packs weight will be carried on the shoulders as the waist belt is pretty small. Not really an issue in a pack that is only intended for 15-20 pound loads. I found the pack to carry well while hiking and biking but I would chose the 10L version for a dedicated mountain-bike or trail running pack.
Who is this for? (Summary)
As I mentioned in my “first impressions” this pack is noticeably heavier than most of the packs I test. This weight is a necessary component of a hydration pack designed to be so well insulating. There really isn’t much on the market to compare this pack with for what it’s intention is. I see it as being more attractive for sports where an extra pound isn’t really a big deal (mountain biking, road biking, casual/family hiking, kayaking/canoeing, fishing). The luxury of cold water isn’t as important for sports where less is sometimes more (rock climbing, trail running, fast-hiking).
Made with waterproof zippers and fabric this pack would lend itself well to water sports, slot canyoneering, and wet climates. The lack of an insulated tube makes it a poor choice for winter sports and I’d keep this one in the gear room for the warmer months. It’s been perfect for a number of family hikes and a couple outdoor concerts at our local ski hill this summer.
All in all I’m happy to see Hydro Flask has entered this new market and think this first line of packs is a solid addition to their line. I’m also happy to see Hydro Flask still has a customer friendly warranty! If you put a premium on having cold drink stay cold for the longest possible time you should take a look at these packs!
Backcountry has both the 20L and 10L models in stock and is running a 20% off coupon! Details here!
You can also purchase directly from Hydro Flask here.
Thanks for reading!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
A media sample was provided for purpose of review. All opinions mentioned are that of the author. Affiliate links support the content created here at no cost to you! Thank you!