I know tens of thousands of people love them and swear by them and leave them in the fridge overnight to get the water nice and cold before a backpack trip or a long bike ride and I get that, but I’ve never really liked using hydration packs. For one, filling the floppy bladders with their fiddly closures is kind of a pain. For another, cleaning them is important and fussy. Also, it just always seemed kinda weird to me to drink from a tube, like I was pretending to be a stillsuited member of House Atreides or something.

In fact, when I first started using the Patagonia Nine Trails waist pack, I removed the hydration bladder altogether. After all, the pack has two water bottle pockets on either side of the main compartment, and that, plus a bottle in a bottlecage, should be plenty of water. And, it is. But, I don’t really like bottlecages either (as you can see by the lack of one in the picture below) and prefer not to use one. I know I’m pedaling the same weight, but I prefer to keep the weight on my person and not the bike. A peccadillo, to be sure, but it’s my peccadillo.

As I kept using the Nine Trails and the summer heat kept building in Northern California, I started going on longer and longer rides. Windows for riding as a new-ish dad came infrequently, so I maximized my time with rides that kept me out in the heat for hours. Suddenly, the hydration bladder made lots of sense. So too did stashing it in the fridge overnight to get that water icy cold. Plus, I could fill a water bottle with a flavored hydration mix for variety, while having most of my water, that in the bladder, of the plain variety. So, the hydration bladder found its way back into the pack.


Now with winter here, I’m loving the hydration bladder even more—I don’t have to fuss with muddy, messy water bottles on a ride. The drinking tube stays out of the mud, and is right there at my waist. This, plus the voluminous design of the Nine Trails makes it an ideal winter bike pack.

The pack is 8 liters, big for a bike-specific waist pack, but that bigness is what makes it so good in the winter. Even with the hydration bladder full, I can stuff a light rain shell in the largest pocket that also holds the bladder. Or, if I’ve stuffed that pocket to the brim with snacks, a book, whatever, I can still stuff another layer inside the front shelf/pocket thing (more on that in a moment), and tighten that flap with compression straps to keep it on my waist. I’ve ridden with pants stashed that way in case it was too cold for the shorts I set out in. If you wear knee pads or elbow pads, you could stash ’em in there on the way to the scary stuff. This is a big pack for nasty weather days.

The pack with a shell stuffed in the front compression straps.

The Nine Trails also boasts a sweet little shelf setup at the front of the pack. Unzip the sides, release the velcro at the top, and a small shelf secured with fabric straps drops down, with mesh pockets for tools. I’ve never once used this as a tool shelf, but the idea is pretty cool. To me, this setup is far more useful as a big compression strap for the front of the pack. Though, I have used it as a snack shelf, if I’m being honest.

Tool shelf, shelving.

When full of water, and a jacket, and a pair of pants, and snacks, and a pump, and a tube, and phew, that’s quite a lot of stuff, the pack still holds tight to the body and remains quite comfortable. I prefer not to wear a backpack-style pack when riding, largely because I prefer to quickly and easily swing the pack around my waist to access the contents, rather than take a backpack off.

Summer, winter, if you’re looking for a bike waist pack that can hold anything you could possibly need, here you go.


Other waist packs that can get the job done

The Osprey Savu pack is well-designed, smaller, and cheaper than the Nine Trails. $55

A bit smaller but also with a hydration bladder included is the Dakine Hot Laps—comes in sweet colors, too. $40

Quick ride? The Bontrager Rapid Pack is awesome, light, and tough, designed for rides that won’t take all day. $60

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