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Best Kids Hydration Packs: 2020

From hiking to bike riding, hydration packs for kids are a must for active families. Over the last 10 years our team has personally tested out over 15 different hydration packs with kids ranging from 2 to 14.

We’ve found that hydration packs are certainly not created equal and are not one-size-fits-all! Well-known brands like Camelbak, Osprey and Thule have amazing options for kids of all ages, but the unique characteristics of different packs make them best suited for different types and ages of kids.

Group of 7 children on a mountain wearing hydration packs

Best Hydration Packs for Kids 3+

  1. Camelbak Mini M.U.L.E. – Easiest to Use, $50
  2. Thule UpTakeBest Storage – Largest Zippered Compartment – $70
  3. Osprey Moki – Best Ventilation, $55

Best Hydration Packs for Kids 10+

  1. Camelbak Charm – Best Overall for Tweens, $50
  2. Osprey Kitsuma (1.5 and 3)- Best Storage and Ventilation for Tweens, $55$65
  3. Camelback Women’s LUXE – Best Overall for Teens taller than 5’6″, $115
  4. Unigear – Best on a Budget, $30

After years of testing, we’ve determined two main factors to consider before purchasing a hydration pack for your child –

(1) the style of the bite valve and

(2) the length of the pack (from top to bottom).

While other features such as ventilation and ease of filling are also important, they don’t have as direct an effect on the overall usability of the packs like size and bite valve do.

In this review we’ll dig into the problem with bite valves and kids, explain the differences in pack sizes, as well as provide a round up of our favorite packs for ages 3+ and 10+.

The Problem with Young Kids and Bite Valves

Bite valves are the bread and butter of hydration packs. If the rubber mouthpiece on a bite valve doesn’t work, then there really isn’t a point to using a hydration pack. There are various styles of bite valves. For most adults, it really comes down to personal preference. But for kids, some styles of bite valves are MUCH harder for kids to use than others.

The problem with bite valves is that kids often literally bite and puncture the rubber mouthpieces! Many of our testers, off all ages, have accidentally punctured the bite valves on their packs within minutes of putting their packs on! Once a bite valve is punctured, it will drip water whenever the bite valve is turned to “on”.

Collage showing a broken camelbak bite valve and a opsrey bite valve
Broken Camelbak (left) and Osprey (right) mouthpiece

Teaching kids to gently bite down on the valve with their back teeth instead of their front teeth can help prevent punctures. But for some kids, especially “chewers”, bite valves can be a lost cause.

image of a boy showing the correct and incorrect way to use a bite valve on a hydration pack

So what’s the solution? While constantly purchasing replacement valves is an option, we’ve found that relying on the bite valve’s on/off switch to prevent dripping is a game-changer. To drink from your pack, turn the switch “on” and then turn it “off” when you are done. This method works regardless of the condition of the bite valve. For some packs, it even works great WITHOUT any bite valve at all!

To further clarify, for packs that do not have punctured bite valves, you can keep your valve set to “on” during your entire ride or hike without experiencing dripping. Turning it “on” and “off” during a hike or ride becomes necessary to prevent dripping from broken valves.

Differences in Bite Valve On/Off Switches

So if we’re going to rely on on/off switches, is one style better than another? YES! Some on/off switches are harder for kids to use compared to others.

Of the many styles we tested, Camelbak’s large “on/off” switch lever was by far the easiest for kids of all ages to see and use. In addition to being easy to engage, it was visually easy for kids to check if they had remembered to turn the switch off.

Collage showing how to turn bite valves on and off

Osprey valves are a bit harder to turn on and off, and much harder to tell if the valve is on or off. After going through lots of kids and lots of testing, we did find a trick to helping kids turn the valve on and off.

Instead of pinching to turn the switch, have kids first cup the bite valve, then grip the entire mouthpiece and then twist! This process is MUCH easier for both kids and adults!

Collage of four images showing an easy way to turn the Osprey bite valve switch on and off.

As an added bonus, the Camelbak’s bite valve can easily be used WITHOUT the rubber mouthpiece. We’ve done this on many occasions once a bite valve gets too destroyed to use any longer. We just take it off completely!

As shown below, the blue Camelbak mouthpiece on the right is long enough to be used as a straw while the gray and white Osprey mouthpiece on the right is awkwardly shaped to use without the rubber valve.

Osprey valve next to the Camelbak valve without rubber mouthpiece
Osprey (left) and Camelbak (right) bite valves without rubber mouthpiece

For those lucky enough to have kids who don’t seem to have any issues with chewing the valves, the style of bite valve shouldn’t be main deciding factor for purchase. While Camelbak’s sytem was easier for our testers to use, other factors like ventilation and fit (covered in the Other Features section below), should be taken into consideration.

Differences in Hydration Pack Sizes: Youth vs. Women’s and Men’s

Hydration pack sizes come in three general categories – youth, men, and women.  Youth packs are the shortest and narrowest while men’s are the longest and widest. In the image below you can see the difference in the size of a men’s, women’s, and youth Osprey back on the left and a women’s and youth Camelbak pack on the right.

Collage showing size difference between Osprey Men's, Women's and kids' packs, and Camelbak LUXE women's pack vs the Mini MULE for kids

The bottom of a properly sized hydration pack should start just below the shoulders and end above the pants. If a pack hangs past a child’s waist, the pack can interfere with their mobility, especially while hiking. 

We found that youth packs – the Osprey Moki, Camelbak Mini MULE and Thule Uptake Youth – are a great fit for ages 3 to 12. Women-specific packs, such as the Camelbak Charm and Osprey Kitsumi are best for kids (girls and boys!) 10+. We found that men’s packs are typically too large for kids under the age of 16.

a boy wearing an Osprey Moki hydration pack next to a girl wearing a Osprey Kitsuma hydration pack
8yo wearing Osprey Moki vs. a 13yo wearing the Osprey Kitsuma

If you are unsure which size pack will best fit your child, be sure to measure the length of their torso (from bottom of neck to waist) before ordering. All three youth-specific packs mentioned above are 14″ long from top to bottom and fit kids with torsos ranging from about 12″ to 16″.

The smallest women’s pack, the Camelbak Charm, is actually slightly shorter than the youth packs at 13″ long, but it is wider to accommodate wider shoulders. This makes it a great choice for tweens (it comes in gender-neutral colors as well).

13 year old girl shown from the back wearing the camelbak mini MULE and the women's Charm hydration pack.
Camelback Mini Mule versus the Charm on a 13 year old

Best Hydration Packs for Kids 3+

Shorter and narrower than standard size hydration packs, these packs typically fit kids starting around age 3 and max out around 10 or 11. Larger and often cheaper adult-size packs are not recommended for younger kids because they are too wide and hang too low on the torso for kids to comfortably wear.

These were the only three packs we could find to test in the smaller youth size. We were unable to find a small “budget” hydration pack.

  1. Camelbak Mini M.U.L.E. – Easiest to Use, $50
  2. Thule UpTakeBest Storage – Largest Zippered Compartment – $70
  3. Osprey Moki – Best Ventilation, $55

Camelbak Mini M.U.L.E

Easiest to Use – Especially for Chewers!


image of young toddler riding a balance bike from behind while wearing a camelbak mini mule hydration pack

A true workhorse, we’ve had several M.U.L.E.s over the years. Not only do they perform great, but they’re also extremely durable and very easy to use.  The water comes out quickly without much effort, and the on/off valve (which is essential to keep the tube from dripping), is very intuitive and simple to use.

When the bite valve gets chewed to pieces by ambitious chewers, the Camelbak M.U.L.E. really shines because it can easily be used without the bite valve (the Osprey cannot, see testing section above).

While the Camelbak Mini M.U.L.E. was able to fit all of our testers, the chest strap is rather long, so really petite kids would benefit from the Osprey Moki, which has a chest strap that can cinch down smaller.  For hot climates, the Moki is also better as it offers much better air ventilation in the back.

MSRP: $50

Rating: Exceptional

Bite Valve Type: Traditional “Camelbak” Style

Length of Pack: 14″

Capacity: 1.5 L

Read Full Review: Camelbak Mini MULE

PROS:

  • Easy to use on/off tube valve
  • Water comes out easier and faster than other brands
  • Comfortable, thin, mesh straps
  • Whistle on chest buckle
  • Tube can be positioned on left or right side
  • Ample storage space

CONS:

  • Chest straps cannot be adjusted high enough for some small kids (Osprey Moki is best for really petite kids – listed below)
  • Clips that attach chest strap to shoulder straps can be finicky
  • Less ventilation along the back than the Osprey Moki

Thule UpTake Youth

Best Storage – Largest Zippered Compartment and Water Capacity


Young boy riding his Guardian bike while wearing an orange Thule Uptake Youth hydration pack

New to the hydration pack market, the Thule UpTake Youth brings some cool styling and clever innovations to hydration packs. Featuring the largest zipper pocket between the three kids packs, the Thule is ideal for young pack rats who can’t bear to ride without bringing some small friends along.

Unlike the other two youth packs, the Thule Uptake does not have a larger outer/open pouch which can often be used to shove in larger items such as a lightweight jacket.

The standout feature of the UpTake is its unique magnetic tube holder. To prevent the drinking tube from bouncing around during a ride, the tube is encased in a unique sleeve equipped with a magnetic trim. That manget quickly and easily connects to a parallel magnetic trim along the shoulder strap.

The Thule UpTake, however, does use Osprey’s mouthpiece, which makes it less ideal for younger kids, and especially chewers, who are likely to chew through the rubber mouthpiece (see the Problem with Young Kids and Bite Valves section above).

With a 1.75L bladder, the UpTake has the highest water capacity of the three kids packs we tested.

MSRP: $70

Rating: Highly Recommended

Bite Valve Type: Round “Osprey style” valve

Length of Pack: 14″

Capacity: 1.75 L

PROS:

  • Large zippered main pocket with smaller internal zippered pocket
  • Innovative magnetic tube holder
  • Cool, modern styling
  • Thin, comfortable shoulder straps
  • Chest strap cinches down the more than others to fit the smallest of frames
  • Largest water bladder for kids

CONS:

  • Tube can only be positioned on the right side
  • Twisting on/off valve difficult for some kids to use (valve is essential for keeping water from dripping from a damaged bite valve)
  • Less ventilation in the back than the Osprey Moki
  • No whistle

Osprey Moki

Best Ventilation


young boy riding a bike while wearing a red Osprey Moki kids hydration pack

The Osprey Moki is another great choice for young hikers and bikers, especially for those in hot climates.  Unlike the Mini MULE and the UpTake, the rear pad of the Moki is ribbed and vented to allow for plenty of airflow.  The straps of the packs are also designed for comfort in even the hottest conditions as the straps are made with thin, breathable material that is also ribbed.

Like the UpTake, the Moki has a magnetic clip to keep the hose in place . The clip is located on the opposite side of the hose and requires kids to manually connect the hose to the clip. Although not automatic like the UpTake, the upright position of the Moki clip points the bite valve up to help it stay clean as well as minimize drips with punctured mouthpieces. (See comparison pictures of the various clips systems in the Other Features section below.)

As discussed in the Problem with Young Kids and Bite Valve’s section above, the hard-to-use on/off switch on Osprey packs does limit the Moki’s appeal for kids. For kids who are not chewers, the Moki is a solid choice, espeicially for those in warmer climates.

MSRP: $55

Rating: Highly Recommended

Bite Valve Type: Round “Osprey style” valve

Length of Pack: 14″

Capacity: 1.5 L

Same Size Pack w/ Larger Storage Area: HydraJet 15, $70

PROS:

  • Ribbed and vented back and shoulder straps to keep cool in hot climates
  • Magnetic, cross body tube clip
  • Whistle on chest clip
  • Thin, comfortable straps
  • Ample storage space

CONS:

  • Twisting on/off valve difficult for some kids to use (valve is essential for keeping water from dripping from a damaged bite valve)

Best Hydration Packs for Ages 10+

  1. Camelbak Charm – Best Overall for Tweens, $50
  2. Osprey Kitsuma (1.5 and 3)- Best Storage and Ventilation for Tweens, $55$65
  3. Camelback Women’s LUXE – Best Overall for Teens taller than 5’6″, $115
  4. Unigear – Best on a Budget, $30

Camelbak Charm

Best Overall for Tweens


11 year old mountain biking and wearing women's Cambelbak Charm hydration pack.

Similar in length to the youth packs, but wider to accommodate broader shoulders, the Camelbak Charm is a fantastic fit for tweens. 3″ shorter than any other women’s pack we came across, it’s the perfect size for tweens who don’t need the extra length of an adult pack, but struggle with the narrow fit of a youth pack. Available in several gender-neutral colors, the Charm is a great pick for tweens on all genders.

As a small pack, the Charm also has the smallest reservoir of the adult packs we tested, holding only 1.5 L. The pack also has the smallest storage compartment but certainly has enough room to hold a snack and a spare tire. Priced considerably less than other Camelbak and Osprey women’s packs, it’s also a great option for families on a budget.

For those who want more storage space, the Camelbak Magic is slightly shorter than a standard women’s pack at 15.5″, and offers a 2L bladder and about 2x the storage as the Charm.

MSRP: $50

Rating: Highly Recommended

Bite Valve Type: Traditional “Camelbak” Style

Length of Pack: 13″

Capacity: 1.5 L

PROS:

  • Good in-between size. Shorter than an adult pack, yet wider than a youth pack.
  • Easy to use Camelbak bite valve
  • Available in several gender-neutral colors

CONS:

  • Minimal storage
  • Holds less water than other adult packs

Osprey Kitsuma

Best Storage and Ventilation for Tweens


13 year old girl riding her bike while wearing a teal Osprey kitsuma 3 hydration pack

The Oprey’s Kitsuma 1.5 and the slightly larger Kitsuma 3 offer a great fit, a good amount of storage, and excellent quality at a reasonable price point. The Kitsuma 1.5 is about 14.5″ long while the Kitsuma 3 (shown above) is 16″ long. The Kitsuma 3 comes with a 2.5 L bladder while the Kitsuma 1.5 comes with a 1.5 L bladder.

The 13-year-old girl shown in the picture above is 5’6″ tall and is wearing the Kitsuma 3. The packs fit her great as it lands at her waistline, but kids shorter than 5’6″ are likely better off with the shorter Kitsuma 1.5.

As their most basic line of packs for biking, the Kitsuma doesn’t offer a lot of storage, but both the 1.5 and the 3 feature a zippered pocket large enough for a phone and a few snacks. The larger compartment for the bladder also has room for additional storage, but anything placed in this compartment will rest directly on the bladder, so if you need to regularly carry more than a few snacks and a spare tire, you’ll likely be better off with a larger pack.

The Kitsuma 3 has two larger side mesh pockets that can easily fit several granola bars, an apple, or whatever you’re craving to bring along for the ride.

For those who live in hot climates, the Kitsuma line of packs are exceptional as they come with amazing ventilation on both the back panel as well as the shoulder straps. The center of the back panel features a vented foam pack covered with breathable mesh while the sides of the back and the shoulder straps are wrapped in soft fabric with deep channels to allow for additional airflow. (See comparison picture of the rear ventilation in the Other Features section below).

For an added cool factor, the chest strap on the Kitsuma features a magnetic buckle instead of the standard buckle. The magnetic buckle also features a tube clip to help keep the bite valve clean and out of the way.

MSRP: $55 – $65

Rating: Highly Recommended

Bite Valve Type: Round “Osprey” Valve

Pack Length: Kitsuma 1.5 – 14.5″, Kitsuma 3 – 16″

Capacity: 1.5 L or 2.5 L

PROS:

  • Larger water capacity
  • Magnetic, cross body tube clip
  • Padded, ribbed, and vented back to keep cool in hot climates
  • Padded and vented shoulder straps
  • Magnetic, adjustable-height chest strap
  • Narrower straps are a better fit for petite or younger kids than the larger women’s specific Camelbak pack

CONS:

  • No whistle on chest strap
  • Twisting on/off valve difficult for some kids to use (valve is essential for keeping water from dripping from a damaged bite valve)

Camelbak LUXE 100 oz.

Best Overall for Teens taller than 5’6″


13 year-old wearing a blue camelbak luxe hydration pack. Shown from the rear
13-year-old wearing an older version of the Camelbak LUXE hydration pack

The Camelbak LUXE is a full-size, full-featured hydration pack designed specifically for biking. As a result, it is much larger and more expensive than the Camelbak Charm and Opsrey Kitsuma, but we LOVE it and wanted to be sure to sing its praises.

Coming with a large 3L bladder and with plenty of storage for a day’s trip, the LUXE is a great pack that will easily last into adulthood for any tween 10+ years. Whether they are doing smaller day trips now or longer adventures in their 20’s, the LUXE will be their trusty companion. At 5’6″, the LUXE was a great fit for our 13-year-old tester as well as our 5’10” mom tester.

As a mountain-bike-specific pack, it comes with clips to easily store your helmet at the end of your ride, is well ventilated with several channeled pads along the back, has a zippered pocket just for your phone, as well as a pouch for a multi-tool kit and tire levers for quick repairs while on the trail.

MSRP: $115

Rating: Exceptional

Bite Valve Type: Traditional “Camelbak” Valve

Capacity: 3 L

PROS:

  • Easy to use on/off tube valve
  • Great fit for older kids – smaller than men’s models
  • Largest water reservoir
  • Insulated water compartment
  • Hip strap to ease weight on shoulders
  • Water tube can be positioned on left or right side
  • Magnetic tube clip (similar to the Osprey)
  • Large storage area
  • Ribbed back for increased air flow
  • Removable tube for easy refilling
  • Straps are wider set than the Osprey Verve, making it better for older kids or those with larger frames

CONS:

  • Chest straps can be hard to adjust
  • No whistle on chest strap

Unigear

Best on a Budget


boy hiking while wearing a red unigear hydration pack. shown from the rear

While none of the budget hydration packs we tested came close to the quality found in the Camelbak, Osprey, and Thule packs, we found the Unigear to be the best quality for the price. Compared to other budget packs, the back panel was supportive, without being uncomfortably rigid and also featured padded air vents to allow for circulation.

Composed of durable nylon with light padding, the Unigear’s shoulder straps were our favorite out of the numerous budget packs we have tested over the years. Some budget packs have straps that are uncomfortably thick while others have the opposite problem and are way too thin!

Compared to the other budget packs that did not make our list, the Unigear offers the least amount of storage, but to compensate it does have a long exterior bungee system to strap down a light jacket or even a sack lunch.

MSRP: $30

Rating: Recommended

Bite Valve Type: Traditional “Camelbak” valve

Length of Pack: 17″

Capacity: 2 L

PROS:

  • Affordable
  • Whistle on chest strap
  • Good quality for the price
  • Camelbak-style bite valve is better for chewers
  • Best quality materials as compared to other budget packs

CONS:

  • Only one zippered storage area
  • Smaller on/off tube valve is harder to use

Budget Packs We Tested But Didn’t Love

  • Kuyou, $25 – While offering a unique bite valve that is easy to use, we could not find a replacement mouthpiece in the event of a puncture.
  • Mubasel Lightweight, $25 – Made with lower-grade materials, the Mubasel lightweight pack didn’t have much to offer compared to similarly priced packs.
  • Mubasel Insulated, $40 – The larger Mubasel insulated pack was a favorite of our tween testers for use around town, but the pack is very large and heavy and not ideal for most hikes or rides.

Other Notable Features of Hydration Packs

How we Chose Packs to Review

For this comparison test, we purchased all new hydration packs to ensure we were reviewing the most up-to-date packs available.  We also only reviewed packs that came with a hydration bladder.  Bladders can be purchased separately and added to any backpack, but without the proper hookups in the bag to hold the bladder, as well as a place for the drinking tube, we found it’s easier to purchase a pack specifically designed for carrying a water bladder.

a large group of hydration packs spread out on the grass

While hiking or biking, our kids often bring snacks or a small lunch and a small jacket, so the ability to store a light load was a requirement for this comparison review.  Since we tend to stick to trails no longer than 10 miles, we selected packs that have decent storage, but not full backpacks. 

Packs with additional storage are available in both youth and adult sizes. For youth sizes, the Camelbak (Scout) and Osprey (Jet 12) are both great options. For adult bikes, there are wide range of packs in various water and storage capacities offered by both Camelbak and Osprey. Thule also has a larger version of the Uptake.

Ventilation

For those who live in hot climates, ventilation of the pack should be a priority. Between the three major brands we tested – Camelbak, Osprey and Thule – Osprey was a clear winner for integrating breathable elements into their packs.

The center portion of the rear panel on both the adult and youth Osprey packs we tested consisted of a lightweight foam material with several large cutouts to allow for breathability. The entire panel is then covered in lightweight mesh. The sides of the back panel are also covered in a textured material to allow for additional airflow. These ventilation features are not offered on the Thule UpTake Youth or the Camelbak Mini MULE.

Comparison picture of the rear panels of the Osprey Moki, Camelbak Mini MULE and the Thule Uptake Youth

The built-in ventilation also carries over to the shoulder straps. While all three brands’ straps are breathable, the textured, channeled fabric of the Moki seemed to provide the most airflow.

Close up shot of the shoulder straps of the Osprey Moki, Thule UpTake Youth and Camelbak Mini MULE

Chest Strap

The length and design of the chest strap plays a large role in the fit of a pack.  Made specifically for smaller frames, the chest strap on the Osprey Moki and the Thule UpTake can both cinch down small enough to fit a toddler well, while the strap on the Camelbak Mini MULE cannot.

In the images below, all three packs have the chest strap cinched down as far as it can go. As you can easily see, the Osprey and Thule UpTake both cinch down farther for smaller bodies (8-year-old shown here).

Collage showing how the Camelbak mini MULE, Osprey Moki and Thule Uptake Youth chest straps can adjust

The height of the chest strap also varies between the brands. The Osprey can be adjusted up the highest on the chest of the three, while the Camelback is the lowest (the Thule can be adjusted higher than shown above, it’s just a pain to adjust!).

While the chest strap height isn’t an issue with taller kids aged 7+, the Camelbak Mini MULE’s minimal adjustment is less ideal with toddlers and preschoolers than the Osprey or Thule.

To prevent the tube of the hydration pack from flopping around while riding or hiking, the Opsrey Moki and the Thule UpTake both have magnetic clips built into the pack. The Moki’s clip consists of a magnet on the tube which attaches to a magnet on the chest strap. This system works great as it also keep the bite valve upright to help prevent leaks.

The magnetic system on the Thule, however, is automatic! A line of magnets along the tube naturally grab onto a line of magnets built into the shoulder strap of the pack. The Thule system is seamless as it requires no extra effort from the kids, but it does store the bite valve pointing down which doesn’t prevent dripping.

The Camelbak Mini MULE does not come with a magnetic clip, but one can be purchased separately as an add-on. This system is also magnetic and stores the bite valve upright, but like the Osprey, it does require kids to properly match up the two magnetic pieces.

collage of three images showing how the Camelbak Mini MULE, Osprey Moki and Thule UptTake Youth can store the rubber mouthpiece.

Reservoir Design

Filling and emptying the water reservoirs was relatively easy for all of the packs we tested.  When it comes to filling the bladders up, Camelbak’s built-in handle made the holding the bladder quick and easy.  Screwing in the threaded cap back onto Camelbak bladder, however, can be tricky and time-consuming to get it just right. For older kids, the larger bladders on Camelbak’s adult line are a bit different and only require a quarter turn to lock into place.

Since Thule uses an Osprey bladder, their filling process is the same, but VERY different from Camebak’s. Instead of relying on a screw cap, the bladder is filled by unfolding and opening a flap at the top of the bladder. Once filled, a plastic sliding clip seals the bladder closed.

We learned the hard way that if you aren’t paying attention, the plastic clip can be slid on incorrectly, causing the bladder to pop open. That problem only occurred during our first use and we don’t anticipate it to be to a common problem.

Water reservoir of Camelbak has a round opening that you screw closed. Osprey's top folds over and is clipped closed.

Bottom Line

Hydration packs are a must-have for biking or hiking with kids!  While there are many features to consider, we’ve found the size of the pack and the bite valve style to be the most important.  If your child is a “chewer”, we recommend packs with a “Camelbak” style bite valve because they can easily be used without replacing the bite valve.  If your child is not a chewer, almost any pack will work, but the magnetic tube clip, ventilated back, and value of the Osprey youth and women’s packs are hard to beat.

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