Gear Closet: Hydro Flask Journey Hydration Pack Review

Since its founding back in 2009, Hydro Flask has always strived to do one thing –– keep us well hydrated while pursuing our favorite adventures. This started with the introduction of its first water bottles, at a time when the idea of a double-insulated, stainless steel, BPA-free bottle was still a bit of a novelty. Since than, the company has gone on to introduce coffee tumblers, food containers, wine bottles, and much more. Most recently, it has even introduced a line of impressive soft-sided coolers as well, which left only one obvious hole in the line-up –– a hydration pack. That gap has now been closed however, with the introduction of the Journey Series, a set of backpacks built for mountain bikers and hikers that are designed to keep our water cold for hours at a time.

The Journey Series consists of two packs, which are virtually identical other than their size. The Journey 10L is the smaller 10-liter version, while the Journey 20L is larger with a 20-liter capacity instead. Both feature very similar design, which is meant to be sleek and aerodynamic –– perfect for riding a bike. Both packs are also made from very durable, waterproof fabric and include taped seams and water resistant zippers. The fabrics used the Journey’s construction are abrasion and puncture resistant, while still managing to remain lightweight.

Inside, both packs have a spacious main compartment designed to swallow up all of the gear you want to carry with you on a ride or hike, although this is one of the areas where the two differ. Having tested both models out on a mountain bike ride in Bend, Oregon last fall, I found the 10L version of the Journey to be a bit small and confining. The extra space provided by the larger pack definitely came in handy and kept the Journey from feeling cramped and overstuffed. When looking at the two bags side by side, I thought that I’d prefer the sleeker, smaller 10L model, but in the field that didn’t necessarily prove to be the case. At the end of the day, if you like to travel light the 10L model may work just fine for you, but personally I prefer to have a bit of “just in case” room in my backpack.

In addition to the main compartment, the packs also offer a few organizational pockets  for storing important items, all of which are easy to access. For instance, there is a pocket located on the top that is perfect for a cell phone, while a wallet or energy bars slip nicely into a side pocket. The included hydration reservoir –– which is an important aspect of the Journey story –– slips into its own dedicated sleeve too, keeping everything neatly organized at all times. You won’t find any external mesh stash pockets or even a helmet attachment, as Hydro Flask designers elected to exclude those items in favor of the more streamlined look.

One of the key features of the Journey is its articulated back panel, which serves a dual purpose. As you would expect, it has been built to keep the pack away from your body, which prevents perspiration building up over the course of a long ride. This helps to keep the rider (or hiker) more comfortable while out in the backcountry, and having tested the pack in a variety of conditions I can safely say that it does this job very well. The byproduct of keeping the Journey well separated from the back of the person wearing it is that it prevents body heat from being transferred to the hydration reservoir inside. That helps to keep the drinking water cooler for a much longer period of time and plays an important role in the performance of the pack overall.

Much of the description of the Journey backpack that I’ve shared so far is not unlike other hydration packs on the market. What truly separates this one from the competition however is its ability to keep cold water cold for extended periods of time. Hydro Flask says that it can maintain a cold temperature for as much as four hours, but in my testing I’d say that is a conservative estimate. Outside conditions will play a role in how quickly the water warms up of course, but in moderate temperatures it can easily go longer than the four hour timeframe based on what I’ve seen so far.

So how does the pack accomplish this? There are a lot of design features that work together to make this happen. As mentioned, the back panel plays a role in preventing body heating from warming things up, but the internal design of the pack and the reservoir itself are crucial too. For example, the hydration sleeve in which the reservoir resides is made from neoprene fabrics designed to prevent warm temperatures from creeping in. Those materials also include a reflective lining on the inside of the sleeve that bounces cold temperatures back at the reservoir, helping to keep the water inside cooler for longer. The result is a cold drink, even after you’ve been on the trail for awhile.

But the story doesn’t end there either. The reservoir itself, which is made by a company called HydraPak, also plays a very important role too. The reservoir, which can hold up to 3 liters of water, is actually insulated too, providing another layer of protection against rising temperatures. This component, working in conjunction with Hydro Flask’s design choices, can keep water cold for 4+ hours without missing a beat. It can also work the opposite direction in the winter too, keeping water from freezing in cold weather, although you may want to pair it with an insulated bite valve and tube for optimal performance.

As you can probably tell, I’m very impressed with what Hydro Flask has done with the Journey. It is a very well-made product that can keep your water cold for extended periods of time in the outdoors. The only downside is that this pack isn’t amongst the lightest on the market, with a large-sized Journey 20L clocking in at 3.6 pounds (1.6 kg). That may turn some riders and hikers off, although I have to say that once you wear it for a bit the extra weight isn’t very noticeable. This is a testament to the fit and comfort that the pack brings to the table.

The Journey isn’t inexpensive either. The 10L version is priced at $165 while the 20L model will set you back $200. There are obviously similarly specced hydration packs on the market that cost less. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind your drinking water being warm, than perhaps you’ll find the price of entry on these packs to be too much. On the other hand, if you’ve found yourself wishing you could get a cold drink of water, even after a long ride, the Journey is worth ever penny. Not only does its performance exceed expectations, it is also comfortable to wear, great looking, and extremely durable. Personally, I prefer the extra space that the larger model brings, but the size and sleekness of the 10L edition is appealing too. At the end of the day, if you’re looking for this kind of performance, either one of them will meet your needs, and then some.

Find out more at hydroflask.com.