Kids hydration packs are, in my humble opinion, a fabulous invention! They mean your child can carry their own water while you’re out on a bike ride, freeing up more space in your rucksack for all the other “essentials” you end up carrying.
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The great things about kids hydration packs
A hydration pack is particularly useful when cycling in really hot weather when you need to carry more water than usual.
However, there are a few downsides too, so in this post, I’m going to take a look at the pro’s and con’s that I’ve discovered over the past couple of years of use, so you can decide if a hydration pack is suitable for your child.
1) Your child carries their own water
The main advantage of a hydration pack is obviously that your child gets to carry all or part of their own water supply.
This is fabulous news for parents fed up of feeling like a donkey lumbering along with their heavy load and is invaluable on long rides or really hot days, where you need to be riding with as much water as possible.
2) They’re easy(ish) to use
Once your child has mastered how to open the valve and suck out the water, hydration packs are really easy to use.
They can be used whilst riding along, or during stops – especially useful if your child’s bike frame is too small to fit a water bottle cage.
However, I do suggest you get your child to practise using it BEFORE you head out on a ride.
3) Your child can drink when they’re thirsty
I found that we had a lot fewer stops during our bike rides when the boys started to use their own hydration packs.
They could drink on the go or at natural breaks in the ride without us needing to all stop pedalling, retrieve water bottles, then wait for them to drink.
They can drink as soon as they start to feel thirsty, and hopefully avoid dehydration when cycling on really hot days.
4) It gets kids used to carrying their own kit
At some point your child is going to have to start being responsible for carrying their own bag whilst cycling – be it a school bag, or a weekend rucksack.
A hydration pack is a great way to get them used to wearing rucksack style straps and carrying weight from an early age.
Packs aimed at younger children are usually for water only with no pockets.
We used a Camelbak hydration pack for kids. We bought a Camelbak when the youngest Cycle Sprog was about 7, but I wish we’d done it a lot earlier.
As your Cycle Sprog grows you can move to slightly larger packs that allow them to carry snacks, spare clothing etc. as well their water supply.
I’d recommend the Camelbak hydration packs for children over the other brands any day for ease of use, safety and size of pockets, plus they come in a wider range of colours.
5) No more muddy water bottles
If you’re mountain biking in wet, muddy conditions (which lets face it is highly likely in the UK!), then hydration packs are brilliant. You can have a clean supply of fresh water throughout your ride, rather than having to drink from water bottles stored in cages on your bike that get caked in mud.
6) A hydration pack keeps cooler than a water bottle
We’ve been very lucky to have been on a holiday to the Rocky Mountains where we did a lot of mountain biking when the temperatures were well over 30C every day.
We chilled our water bottles and hydration packs every night and found that the water in the packs stayed much cooler than that in water stored in bottles on the bike.
This was invaluable in keeping the boys cool and hydrated during long, hot days of cycling.
7) It’s harder for them to waste water
It’s not fool-proof, but it’s much harder for them to waste water when using a hydration pack.
Have you ever been on a ride on a really hot day and worried if you’ve brought enough water with you, and turned round to see your child has decided to wash their bike or cool down by pouring the last of the water in their bottle over their head?
Then you’ll know why this could be seen as a real benefit! It also means they have to find more creative (and fun) ways to cool down……
The downsides of kids hydration packs
There’s a few things to be aware of when using a hydration pack – they’re not show stoppers, but it’s best to be prepared.
1) Your child can drink from their Camelbak when they want to
This is a pro and a con of hydration packs. You set out on a family cycle ride, expecting your child’s water to last all day and suddenly discover that after 20 minutes the pack is empty and they’re needing to stop for a wee every 3 minutes!
Or, the reserve can happen, whereby you get three-quarters of the way through a long, summers day ride and realise your child has hardly touched a drop of their water and is wilting due to dehydration.
I find a regular pat or shake of the pack to determine how much water remains can be useful.
2) They’re difficult to clean, especially if you’re not using water
Hydration packs are reasonably easy to keep clean if you only use water in them, but the moment you add anything else – juice, squash, hydration tablets (adults and teens only) – mould can start to form in the pipes, mouthpiece and bladder very quickly.
It’s best to stick to water only in the packs.
Best to use easily cleanable (and cheap to replace) water bottles for anything else.
If you do end up with nasty things growing inside the pipes or water reservoir, then there are a myriad of products that you can buy to clean them out. Plus replacement pipes, bladders and mouthpieces are available to buy.
We’ve only ever used water in ours and have not had a problem.
3) They can be a distraction when riding
As with any gadget, a hydration pack can be much more interesting than the task in hand.
If your child is supposed to be concentrating on a technical bit of trail, or riding in traffic, it can be disconcerting to see them fiddling with the valve on their pack, either with their hands or their mouth.
4) You may end up carrying it
Very occasionally (!) things don’t go quite as smoothly as anticipated on a family bike ride.
Tantrums, exhaustion and sheer bloody mindedness may result in a refusal or inability to continue to carry the pack. (I’ll let you decide if it’s the adult or child in your party acting like this!!!)
5) Straps can cause chafing
Always check that the pack you’re asking your child to wear fits them well.
If it’s too big and moving around a lot, or too small and cutting in, it can cause discomfort.
The shoulder and neck areas are particularly at risk of chafing.
Be extra vigilant on hot days, when a lack of jacket or neck buff may mean the straps come into contact with their skin.
6) The mouthpieces can get ruined quickly (and can be a choking hazard)
It’s worth remembering that the mouthpiece on a hydration pack is a consumable part, and as such can’t be expected to last the entire life of the pack.
They’re very chewy and rubbery, and attractive for kids to chew on whilst riding.
Do check what the mouthpiece is made of and always ensure you replace at the first sign of wear and tear.
7) They’re more expensive than a water bottle
Hydration packs are naturally more expensive than a water bottle, but they are designed to last much longer.
If looked after well, they can be passed on down through various children, with just a change of mouthpiece.
On that note, we found we were getting confused whose Camelbak belonged to who.
We bought a pack of multi-coloured mouthpieces to replace the standard blue one and now everyone has a different colour and we can tell which pack belongs to which person – result!
Other hydration pack options
The Zefal Z-Hydro Race Hydration packs come in two sizes for children; a 1.5-litre and a 2-litre one.
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