The Apidura Bikepacking Hydration Guide

Every bikepacker knows the challenge of choosing between water carrying capacity or possessions; the delicate balancing act of making sure you never run dry, without losing your ability to carry other essentials like shelter, clothes and food. In this guide, we explore how much water you need to carry and how best to attach it to your bike without reducing the space available for the rest of your bikepacking gear.

Reading time:
A rider fills his water bladder from a fast-flowing river

How Much Water Do You Need to Carry?

Typically, cyclists should aim to drink around 500 – 1,000ml of fluid per hour, depending on the temperature and intensity of their riding. If you’re riding through densely populated areas, then two bottles will be plenty (as long as you stop regularly to refill them). If you’re riding in more remote areas, then aim for up to a litre per hour between refill opportunities, particularly if you’re riding somewhere hot.

For most road rides in densely populated areas, up to three litres will be plenty, whereas remote off-road rides might require up to five litres… or even more. Bear in mind that water is one of the heaviest things you can carry on a bike, so you will want to balance capacity with weight and aim to keep the majority of that weight low and central on your bike. Simply carrying as much water as possible might seem sensible, but there are diminishing returns to carrying more water than you actually need.

While water is essential, you might also want to consider caffeine, electrolytes and carbohydrates as part of your hydration plan, depending on the intensity of your riding. If all your water is in one container, then it can be more challenging to adjust the mix to suit your needs. Carbohydrate mixes can be particularly useful when bikepacking to ensure you’re getting enough energy and taking in fuel between meals. Having at least two separate water containers will mean you can take on caffeine, electrolytes or carbohydrates as needed, while also staying hydrated with plain water.

Having decided how much water you need to carry, the next problem is working out where to put it on your bike. There are two main options: water bottles and hydration bladders.

A rider refills his water bottles at a river mid-ride

Riding with Water Bottles

Most bikes have at least one set of bottle cage mounts, with two sets of bottle cage mounts inside the frame being particularly common. Increasingly, bikes also feature mounts on the top tube, down tube and forks and some can fit three bottles within the main triangle without any adapters or hacks.

Depending on the size of your bike, fitting a frame bag and bottles within the main triangle might not present any difficulties. Often, however, at least one of your bottles will interfere with your frame bag and at the very least you’ll want to use sideloading bottle cages to make accessing your water bottles easier. You might also want to check out our Guide To Bikepacking Setups For Small Bike Frames.

Bottle Cage Relocators

Often, a bottle cage relocator will be required to lower the height of your water bottles and make more space for a frame pack. These simply attach to your existing mounts and allow you to mount your bottle cage lower in the frame. If you need to lower both bottles, you might need to experiment with how low each can go without blocking the other cage.

A bottle cage relocator allows a bottle to be mounted lower in the frame, creating more space for frame bags

What about when you’ve used up all the space inside your frame? Particularly if you have a smaller bike. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of places you can fit a bottle or two:

On the Forks

Many adventure bikes now come with mounts on the fork and can easily accommodate two bottles in standard bottle cages. Depending on the weight limit, an “anything cage” might also allow you to carry a larger water bottle, such as a Nalgene. You’re unlikely to be able to safely access bottles on your forks while riding, but it’s a good place to carry reserves of plain water for topping up easier to access bottles or bladders elsewhere on your bike.

A one litre water bottle mounted to a fork on a competitor's bike at Badlands

On the Top Tube

Bikes with mounts on the top tube can easily accommodate a bottle cage if you’re not using a top tube pack. You’ll generally need to use a bottle cage that holds your bottle particularly tight to avoid your bottle bouncing out over rough terrain. You’ll also want to make sure the lid closes easily and firmly to avoid spilling as you ride.

On larger bikes, there’s no need to compromise between carrying a water bottle or a top tube pack if you fit the top tube pack to the seat post end of your top tube.

Below the Down Tube

Many adventure bikes also come with mounts on the down tube. This can be a useful place to put spares (in a tool keg) or fit an “anything cage”. It’s also a good place to carry extra water, either in a water bottle or a larger container. Be careful to use something with a lid or dust cover to avoid the mouthpiece filling with dirt and make sure it’s held tightly – many riders will use a Voile strap to add extra security to a down tube bottle.

If you don’t have mounts on the down tube, you can still take advantage of the space available by using an Expedition Downtube Pack or Backcountry Downtube Pack. These will both fit 750ml water bottles and the roll-top ensures water and dirt won’t contaminate the lid.

Despite the name, Downtube Packs can be used all over the bike to add extra water storage. Popular locations include on the top tube, higher up on the down tube, and above the bottle mounts inside the frame.

An Expedition Downtube Pack will keep your water bottle clean and works on any bike

An Expedition Downtube Pack mounted on the downtube of a bike with no mounts

An Expedition Downtube Pack will keep your water bottle clean and works on any bike

A water bottle mounted to a bicycle down tube, covered in dust and secured with a Voile strap

A bottle mounted on the down tube can become dirty and might need further securing with a Voile Strap

A bottle mounted on the down tube can become dirty and might need further securing with a Voile Strap
A demonstration of some of the locations an Expedition Downtube Pack can be secured to a bike, including the down tube, seat tube and top tube

Behind the Saddle

Carrying water bottles behind the saddle has been common in triathlon for years and if you’re not using a saddle pack, there are countless mounts available for holding one or two bottles. If you’re using a saddle bag, choices are more limited and you’ll need a contraption like the Woho Saddle Bag Stabilizer, which allows you to mount two bottles, one on either side of the bag.

It’s worth noting that bottles mounted behind the saddle have a tendency to bounce out of bottle cages, so you’ll want to choose a cage with a tight grip and consider adding a Voile Strap or similar to aid bottle retention.

Additional water bottle storage capacity, created by mounting a bottle cage to a Woho stabiliser

On the Handlebars

Backcountry Food Pouches are designed to fit standard cycling bottles, so can be used to carry extra water, as well as extra snacks. They’re versatile packs that provide close-to-hand and easy access storage, so even if you don’t fit one specifically for carrying a water bottle, you can use it to carry a bottle or can from a resupply point on a more remote stretch of your route, instead of carrying extra water for the full duration.

It’s also fairly common to mount a water bottle between aero bars and there are a number of solutions designed for the triathlon market that would be suitable for bikepacking. It’s even possible to create something using a food pouch, as long as you get the angle right to avoid the bottle coming out on rougher terrain.

Two Backcountry Food Pouches mounted behind the handlebars provide storage for two water bottles

Riding with Hydration Bladders

On Your Bike

Using a frame pack means you can no longer use the water bottle mounts in your frame and most riders combine a full frame pack with a hydration bladder to compensate for the last water carrying capacity. The Innovation Lab Frame Pack Hydration Bladder comes in 1.5 or 3L, with 1.5L offering the equivalent capacity of two water bottles. These bladders are custom designed to make efficient use of the space at the bottom of a frame bag, ensuring as much space as possible remains available for the rest of your kit.

Riders on smaller bikes can also benefit from fitting a bladder in a full frame pack, rather than fitting a frame pack that prevents them from using water bottles and leaves the bottom of their frame unused.

A rider fills an Innovation Lab Frame Pack Hydration Bladder inside their frame pack at night

On Your Back

As bikepackers, we normally strive to take the weight off our body and put it on the bike. However, with the rise of gravel cycling and remote gravel events with long stretches between resupply, hydration vests have become more popular. The Racing Hydration Vest comes with a two-litre bladder, adding significant water carrying capacity to any setup.

A rider fills the bladder in a Racing Hydration Vest while preparing for a ride
Share

Join our mailing list

If you enjoyed reading this post and would like to be updated when we produce more posts like this, then please sign-up below to join the Apidura mailing list.