Waterbottle cages mounted on the downtubes of bike frames may remain the standard for asphalt-bound tour riders, but times have brought a water revolution to dirt-track cyclists...

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Waterbottle cages mounted on the downtubes of bike frames may remain the standard for asphalt-bound tour riders, but times have brought a water revolution to dirt-track cyclists. The days of frame-mounted waterbottle cages and mud-caked bottle tops are over. Backpack-style water bladders and drink tubes are the only way to go to stay hydrated while cranking along the single track.

Hydration systems have become de rigueur for backpackers, and mountain bikers aren’t far behind. Given the growing popularity, more manufacturers are offering hydration systems, and that means better selection of quality products for consumers. One of the best of the new crop of hydration packs suited for mountain bikers comes from venerable backpack maker Kelty.

The Kelty Nautilus boasts a 70-ounce bladder for all-day drinking, and 450 cubic inches of storage space. That’s just enough for valuables such as wallet and car keys, and enough snacks for a day-long ride. There’s also an expandable “stuffit” pocket to hold a windbreaker or other layers as you shed them during a ride. The pack, sewn from tough, ripstop nylon, sports well-padded shoulder straps contoured to fit an active rider. The suspension system hugs the body well without being constrictive.

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Inside the pack, the polyethylene reservoir used by Kelty boasts an anti-microbial coating, which not only eliminates the ghastly plastic flavor from tainting your drink, but also prevents nasties from growing in your water source.

During long rides around the sagebrush flats near the Snake River of Southeast Washington and over the slickrock country of Moab, Utah, the Kelty Nautilus served me well. It rode comfortably on my back, providing easy access to my water. The bite valve works well to regulate water flow, while preventing dripping. The one knock on the system is that the bite valve requires careful placement in the mouth — it works only when squeezed in one direction.

The suggested retail price of the Kelty Nautilus is $75, though many online retailers offer it for substantially less. For more information and a list of retailers, see www.kelty.com.

Dan A. Nelson is a regular contributor to Backpacker magazine, and an author of outdoor guides with The Mountaineers Books. He lives in Puyallup.