As noted in my previous review articles on Ultimate Direction and Salomon running packs, there are a variety of water bottles that come with these packs—small or large, soft or hard—as well as different sizes and types of hydration bladders. Just because a particular water bottle or hydration bladder comes with the pack you buy doesn’t mean you have to stick with that option. In this article, I detail the different types of water bottles/bladders and review two filter systems that work well for runners looking to fill up from water sources along the trail.
Ultimate Direction Bottles
The Ultimate Direction 20-ounce bottles are traditional water bottles that are well built and designed, including niceties such as a wide mouth, finger grooves on the side, and a finger loop on top. The 20-ounce bottles are built with a soft nipple and what Ultimate Direction calls “kicker valves.”
The kicker valves work well, but I sometimes long for a more traditional valve. The kicker valves shoot water into your mouth with merely a light squeeze. This is great when the bottle is full. Unfortunately, the kicker valves can’t deliver the last bit of water in a nearly empty bottle. So you have to screw off the top to drink the final drops. But this is a minor inconvenience for an otherwise well designed bottle that I’ve never had any problems with in terms of leakage.
Ultimate Direction also makes smaller 10-ounce bottles that I love just as much as their larger bottles. The 10-ounce bottles feature a traditional plastic valve rather than the soft nipple and kicker valve of the 20-ounce bottles. The smaller bottles are perfectly shaped to slide into the front water bottle pockets of most packs, for carrying in your hand, or for slipping into other storage compartments. Note, however, that these smaller bottles would get lost in the deep (soft flask intended) pockets of Salomon’s S-Lab Advanced Skin3.
Salomon Reservoirs and Soft Flasks
When it comes to hydration bladders, the Salomon 1.5-liter soft reservoir can’t be beat. The “plug-n-play” system allows you to disconnect the hose from the bladder. This makes it easy to take in and out of packs, and to route the tubing from the bottom up along the side of Salomon’s packs. But the thing I like best about these reservoirs is that they can be turned inside-out for easy cleaning and drying. Note that the O-rings used to connect the tubing to the bladder will need to be lubed occasionally (I use a bit of olive oil for the job).
Whereas I love Salomon’s 1.5-liter soft reservoir, I’m ambivalent about their soft flasks. These are soft “water bottles” that come in sizes of 150 milliliters (5 ounces), 250 milliliters (8 ounces), and 500 milliliters (16 ounces). I only have experience with the half liter soft flasks that come with the S-Lab Advanced Skin3, and that experience has led me to stick with my preference for a hard plastic bottle.
The one clear advantage of a soft flask is the ability to roll it up and stow it away when empty. But this malleability also means a half liter soft flask falls down into the deep pockets of the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 pack as you drain it. Pulling it out and handling it can be a bit like trying to hold and drink from a water balloon.
In my mind, the soft flasks would be great for storing forms of nutrition, from gels to nut butters—if only they had a wide mouth top. As the soft flasks are currently designed, the narrow mouth top makes it difficult to put the flasks to alternative uses (since they would be hard to fill and clean). But they do work well for carrying water in the front pockets of the Advanced Skin3 packs.
Platypus Water Storage and Hydration Systems
Another alternative to the soft bladders made by Salomon and Ultimate Direction are the various options created by Platypus, from zip-top hydration systems to foldable storage reservoirs that can double as hydration systems. The sizes and options are numerous. Learn more about Platypus at Amazon.
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
On the trail, being able to drink from streams and lakes means you can extend your runs and eliminate the need to carry extra water weight in your pack. But to do so, you need an easy and effective way to treat the water from streams.
One option I’ve used for mountain runs is the LifeStraw personal water filter. It’s literally shaped like a straw, but contains a filter. You put one end in the water and pull it through the other end like sucking through a straw. It can be used to drink right from a stream or you can fill a water bottle at a stream and then use the LifeStraw to drink from the water bottle. The latter works well with the large mouth Ultimate Direction 20-ounce bottles, which is another reason I prefer those over the Salomon soft flasks.
Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System
Another personal water filter option is the Sawyer Mini, which I have come to prefer even over the LifeStraw for the ability to hook it up to the tubing of a 1.5-liter water reservoir.
Using the Sawyer Mini in-line with the hose of a water bladder allows you to refill the bladder at streams and drink through the top of the tubing like usual. It simply requires cutting the tubing and inserting the Sawyer Mini into either end. The filter is even smaller than the LifeStraw and can be secured to a pack with an extra piece of Velcro. See the photo to the right for how I set this up on my Salomon Skin Pro 14+3 Set.
Like the LifeStraw, the Sawyer Mini can also be used to drink directly from streams. In addition, it comes with a 16-ounce foldable pouch with a top that threads into the bottom of the filter. Fill the pouch with water, attach the filter, and drink through the top. I like to add a small piece of tubing to the end of the filter for a softer straw.
I experimented with using the Sawyer Mini with the Salomon soft flask since the opening of the top of the soft flask approximates the opening of the water pouch that comes with the Sawyer Mini. Unfortunately, even though both are threaded, there is a small but substantial difference so that the filter does not screw tightly onto the soft flask. I tried a complicated workaround by popping out the nipple of the soft flask and using a small piece of tubing as a conduit through the resulting hole in the soft flask’s cap. Although it works, simply carrying the water pouch that comes with the Sawyer Mini remains the simplest option. If only the Salomon soft flask and Sawyer Mini were perfectly compatible then I could find a clear benefit to carrying a soft flask on long trail runs.
Notably, the Sawyer Mini is perfectly compatible with the tops of the Platypus water reservoirs noted above. This is another benefit the Platypus storage containers have going for them. I only wish there were compatible tops for Ultimate Direction’s 20-ounce and 10-ounce bottles that would allow the Sawyer Mini to be screwed in to those when needed.
The Bottom Line
How you carry water on long runs and the types of bottles/reservoirs you use ultimately comes down to personal preference. Most systems are interchangeable with various packs. Try different options to find what works best for you.
Disclosure statement: The products tested for these reviews were purchased independently. The author does not receive any incentive from the companies to use their products.