Hiking canteen or water bag?

Have you ever noticed on the trails all those hikers who drink with a hose coming out of their backpack? Have you noticed that there are more and more? Will the water bag or “CamelBak” take over the hiking canteen and it will disappear forever? I have doubts. Canteens and water bags each have their advantages and disadvantages.

For those who still do not see what I am referring to: here is what a water bag.

See on : Amazon.com

A water bag is a bladder that can be filled with liquid. It is equipped with a pipe at the end of which is a nipple. Just bite the pacifier and suck in order to drink. Some people use the word “CamelBak” (which is a brand) to refer to a water bag.

Hiking canteen are mostly made of metal with a screw cap – but there are many other kinds: some hard plastic, some soft plastic, and so on.

See on : Amazon.com

Many people think that the water bag is a fad, it’s a marketing blow and it’s no good. I mocked myself (inside) some of the hikers I saw with water bags when I started the hike. I thought, “They think they’re running a race or something! “. Later, I bought one for climbing and orienteering and found it so convenient that I tried it on a hike.

And I must admit that now, I almost never go hiking without my water bag. A little lesson in life: do not criticize before you have tried … What many hikers also do with trekking poles.

I did not want to create a controversial article, preach the canteen or the water bag, but i’ll introduce the main advantages and disadvantages of each system so that you can choose between them.

Hiking canteen or water bag ?

Water bag


  • Convenient to hydrate regularlyA water bag allows you to drink when you want, without having to take off your backpack, wriggle to catch the bottle or ask your teammate for help.
  • Weight. Water bags are often lighter than water bottles of equal volume.
  • Reduced size. A water bag takes any shape in the backpack.
  • Can be used for other activities such as mountain biking, climbing, kayaking, running, etc.
  • Large capacity (depending on the model) – which generally varies from 1 to 3 liters.
  • Convenient in cold weather. It is possible to keep a well insulated water bag inside the backpack. With a hiking canteen, this is usually not the case when it is kept at hand, and it may freeze.


  • Fragility. Water bags are more fragile than metal gourds. However, some water pockets are very strong and just look fragile.
  • Price. Water bags are usually a bit more expensive, although some are now cheap (of dubious quality).
  • Maintenance. It is not always easy to dry your water bag between uses – the growth of bacteria is often faster than in a hiking gourd. However, some water bags have antibacterial treatments to overcome this.
  • Not practical for pouring water – like cooking, for example.
  • Drinks other than water are not recommended – to prevent the growth of bacteria and molds.
  • The water heats up or freezes easily in the hose. It is possible to overcome this by using an insulator which is threaded around the hose.
  • Unpleasant taste and smell. It depends heavily on the models – some of them do not have these problems at all.
  • Requires a backpack provided for this purpose with a pocket to store the water bag and a hole to pass the hose. On some bags, however, it is easy to use even if nothing had been planned for the use of a water bag.
  • Difficult to know the quantity consumed. We have to take out the water bag from the bag to find out how much water is left. However, there are now electronic systems that allow to know in real time its water consumption directly on the hose.

Hiking canteen


  • Solidity (except for soft models that are close to water pockets on this point). Canteens do not break easily.
  • Durability. It is possible to use a good metal hiking canteen for years.
  • Reliability. There is not much that can fail in a canteen compared to a water bag.
  • Pretty cheap . A canteen is often less expensive than a water bag. However, think about comparing according to the capacity of each. For example: compare the price of a 2-liter water bag with the price of two 1-liter canteen and not just one.
  • Can contain all types of drinks. An advantage if you like to drink something other than water. 
  • Maintenance. Maintenance is easier on a canteen – bacteria grow less easily (except for plastic ones).
  • Easy to pour water.


  • Weight. Canteens are often heavier than water bags. Especially a single hiking canteen is rarely enough for a day.
  • Clutter. Canteens do not deform and take up space once empty (except for soft models).
  • Hydration not practical. You must remove your backpack to hydrate or find another system. Some people hang their canteen at hand with a small carabiner or ask their teammate for help. But it’s rarely as practical as a water bag.
  • Small capacity. It often takes several for a day’s walk.

Note : All the advantages and disadvantages presented above obviously depend on the models. For example, many water bags require significant maintenance. The model CamelBak Omega Plus has antibacterial treatment and is easy to maintain.

The winner

If you read this article well, you must be aware that there is no winner ;-). It’s up to you to find your winner based on your needs and preferences.

The classic hiking canteen and the water bag are just two systems among others. There are for example hoses that fit on the water bottles. Some hikers even use plastic water bottles or cans like those used by cyclists.

Some people like to combine the systems – for example using a water bag and a plastic water bottle (that’s what I do) or a water bag and a water bottle. This allows to have the advantages without the disadvantages and also allows to purify water easily with chemical disinfectants (Micropur type). One container contains water being disinfected and the other contains drinking water. In this way, you always have drinking water available.

You now know what I’m using. And you, what do you use to hydrate you on a hike? Are you rather hiking canteen or water bag?

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