Backpacking Backpack | Don’t Ingest Bacteria From Your Water Bladder

backpacking backpack

Backpacking backpack hikes mean bringing lots of water on your trip. Could you be ingesting bacteria without knowing it in your drinking water?  You may think because you are using filtered drinking water via your hydration bladder, that germs and bacterial aren’t an issue. This is a myth, so let’s make sure we are properly cleaning our water bladder and hiking backpack drink tubing properly after each use to prevent mold from growing.

Bacteria Grows Rapidly In Moist Places

Typical Water Bladder With Drink Tubing

You’d be surprised at how the slightest molecule of sugar from additives to your drinking water, such as Gator Aid and lemonade, can accelerate the bacteria and mold within your backpack bladder and tubing. Adequate hygiene of this vessel is very important.

Your backpacking backpack water bladder for example, contains fresh filtered water that you filled before your hike. .  As your hike continues, you periodically drink from the bladder tubing. The bite valve, which allows the passage of your drinking water from the tubing to your mouth can collect bacteria from the air. Natural bacteria from your mouth, especially after eating can also infiltrate the bladder and tubing.

Tiny microscopic food particles inside your mouth and on your teeth can collect and travel through the tubing, kind of like when your 3 year old drinks from your straw after just eating a cookie and there’s backwash present.

So…Backpack Drinking Can Be Messy

During a backpacking backpack trek, you need to get the hydration liquids your body needs without worrying about drinking neatly. However, these realities are just a few reasons for proper cleaning of both the bladder and tubing after your trek. You could have a surplus bladder handy to switch off, but the used one must be cleaned after every use for the next switch. If you add fruit juice to your bladder, it should be rinsed immediately before mold can start to grow.

Hiking Bag Hydration Bladder – Keep It Clean and Dry

Cleaning And Properly Drying Your Water Bladder Is Key

Freezing Your Completely Dry Bladder And Tubing

Hiking bladders and pouches have the option of being frozen between uses since it does inhibit bacteria growth. However, we all know water expands when frozen. Unless your bladder mouthpiece and bite valve are completely dry when you put it in the freezer, it could stretch from expansion and prevent the nozzle from self sealing. Be sure to remove the nozzle before freezing the bladder. Water left in the tubing may cause expansion so use extra caution to completely dry the tubing before you put it in your freezer.

Hiking Bag Water Bladders – What Cleaning Agent Works Best?

Hiking bag water receptacles are best cleaned with baking soda and vinegar. These are the best natural cleaning solutions to use on your drinking system. This mix disinfects and leaves your hydration bladder free of bacteria and mold. 

Fill your bladder bag slightly smaller than your backpack bladder capacity with hot tap water (never boiling).If it’s 2 liters, add slightly less. Always use hot tap water as your base. I use a ratio of two tablespoons of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar added to my hot water. It will fizz a bit, but don’t worry about the natural chemical reaction. Close the bag and tubing, shake the water to dissolve the agents, let it flow through the tubing and pinch the bite valve to let the solution clean that area as well.

Let the bladder sit for 30-40 minutes. I shake it again about midway through the 30 minute mark, and let it sit undisturbed for the remaining time. After that, I dump the solution down the sink, rinse out the cleaning solution, making sure to flush the tubing and mouthpiece in the process.  I personally don’t like using bleach, but you can safely use a very small amount if you decide to.

Adequate Drying After Cleaning – This Next Step Is Crucial

Hiking bag water bladders must be dried and dried again. All of your bag and tubing must be completely dry. This is best accomplished by propping open your bag to allow air to dry the inside. Hang the empty bladder up high then squeeze the mouth piece with your fingers to get water to run through the hose. Don’t allow water trapped inside because it will take forever to evaporate. Air flow is key, although don’t be tempted to hang your bladder from the shower in a bathroom where humidity is high. That will defeat your purpose.

Hang Your Water Bottle And Tubing To Completely Dry

Hiking bag bladders should be propped open with several balled-up paper towels, which will absorb the residual internal water while keeping the bladder open. For my tubing, I use cotton swabs. A quick swipe will go a long way in eliminating surface water droplets for faster drying time. This can be a difficult place to get at, so I use some of hubby’s fishing line tied on and pull it through the tubing a couple of times. I have even used some of the kid’s pipe cleaners from their craft drawer.

After initial hand drying, you’ll need to leave the bladder, mouthpiece and tubing in a room with good air flow overnight. You can use a kitchen whisk or a dry bottle brush in the bladder opening propped up on a sink dish drainer. Check after several hours to make sure no water drips off and that it’s thoroughly dry.

Hiking Water Bladder – The Morning After

In the morning, remove the paper towels. You may want to rinse your bladder just prior to the next use for elimination of any possible residual cleaning solution. This is more of a personal decision since the bladder should have been very well flushed prior to drying.

Hiking Bag Water Pouches – Best Enjoyed When Clean

Clean and fresh always tastes better and is healthier for you. If you maintain the bladder and tubing, you’ll have no mold issues. Along with moisture, heat expedites mold growth as well. Be aware that it becomes a more difficult battle during summer months.

Backpacking Backpack – Don’t Give Bladder Mold And Bacteria A Chance

backpacking backpack
Enjoy All Of Your Hikes With A Clean Bladder And Tubing Each Time

It can be pretty easy to get home from a weekend hiking pack trip and be tired. The last thing you want to do is stand at the sink and clean out the water bladder and tubing you drank from. You can fill the sink with water and 1/2 cup of baking soda and leave it overnight for cleaning the next morning. Here’s to happy hiking, proper hydration and healthy drinking water on all of your excursions.


We love the great outdoors, backpack hiking, fishing, camping and experiencing nature's beauty.

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