Osprey, an American Backpack producer make, in my mind, some of the best quality backpacks around. Their build quality is high, for me, pretty comfortable and generally quite light considering the features. Their only downfall for me is their sometimes overly busy exterior and overly long straps. One can be easily solved, the other not so.
Osprey also make backpack accessories, you may have seen my AddOns review a while ago. Unlike many backpack manufacturers, Osprey also have a hydration bladder in their range, the Hydroform. This breaks the Osprey mould in a few ways which I will cover in my review.
The first thing you notice about the Hydroform compared to something like a Camelbak Omega is the fact that it isn't just a tough bag. It has a backing to it and a handle at the front which support the bag making it in some ways nearer to a bottle. The backing, according to Osprey, is a plastic pad between a nylon layer and the bladder. The bladder itself is PVC and BPA free and features Aquaguard, Ospreys equivalent to it's competitors antibacterial protection to reduces the growth of, well, bacteria. The bladder is also claimed to not retain tastes and odours. The bladder material seems thinner than others. But has a more rigid, plastic feel to it than the majority of other bladders such as Camelbak, which tend to be more of a rubbery feel, with the Source bladder I have lying somewhere in-between.
Looking at the handle on the front reveals the actual manufacturer of the bladder, Nalgene. This is possibly a smart move on Osprey's part as it adds integrity to the Hydroforms quality since hydration bladders aren't something Osprey are renowned for.
The filler cap for the bladder is easy to open and close, but unlike the one on say the Camelbak Omega, when tightening up it feels more positive. Although to be honest I prefer the Camelbak's lid design.
The plastic shroud that the cap screws onto has an integral slot which allows the bag to be hung in a backpack with the appropriate feature. Having said that, due to the bladders construction, hanging the back is not as necessary as it is with many other bladders. Full or empty, the bladder retains it's structure, making it ideal for anyone who has a backpack with no means to hang an hydration bladder.
Filling the Hydroform is a piece of cake. You hold the handle, and while keeping the bladder level, fill it up. It doesn't flop about, and reduces the chances of spillage. The downside to all this convenience is weight. It isn't incredibly heavy, but the weight difference compared to more basic bladders is noticeable. Specifications show the Hydroform to be 25g heavier than the Omega. I don't have any scales, but the difference seems greater, not by a lot, but's there.
The tube and bite valve on the hydroform are acceptable, but for me the weak point of the Hydroform. It's nice to have the integrated on/off valve, but drinking from the bit valve is not as easy as the big bite valve on the Omega. This makes it a little frustrating when you are thirsty and only able to drink at quite a slow rate. Since Osprey use a wider diameter tube than Camelbak, swapping the bite valve on the Osprey is going to be difficult. The tube on the Source bladder (next to be reviewed) may be a possibility. If so, I may try to find a Source bite valve to swap for that on the Hydroform.
So it's not all roses with the Osprey Hydroform. It is more practical to prepare for use than other, more flimsey bladders. But it is a bit of a letdown in use. It's not the end of the world if you are a steady drinker (water and soft drinks, etc), but it is worth considering when purchasing.