How to Drink When Racing Gravel

Ok…so I have been riding gravel for 2 years now and I consistently have dehydration issues because I can’t figure out how to drink. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of confidence in my handling, the constant changing in terrain, or a collection of different things. I’ve tried the hydration pack an that helps a little bit but has not solved the issue.

I’ve been riding/racing road bikes for 13 years and I NEVER have had issues with dehydration.

So my question is…what’s your secret? Do you just smash in as my fluid as possible when on road and tame gravel? What if there are multiple single track sections separated by very little road? I had this experience a week ago and I really struggled to figure out how to drink and went 45min without taking a sip. So PLEASE, dumb this down for me.

Shorter races or less technical ones I have 0 issue drinking from bidons. Longer or more technical I use a camelback style setup. Easy to pop the straw in and sip for a bit even on super technical terrain.

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I do this too. Bottles most of the time, drink when it’s not crazy bouncy. USWE on zone 4 gravel. It’s even easier if your bite valve has a magnet so you can put it just below your mouth.


I just realized this now - I could put the magnet on the chin strap of my helmet instead of the chest strap. Is that easier to use during a race/technical terrain?

What is this magic you speak of?

It would drive me nuts on the chin strap, but you do you!

Here’s one example:

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Do you all usually put mix in your hydration packs?

I have two methods depending on the length of the ride. One is with thick mix in a bottle and water in the bladder. The other is mix in the bladder, but you have to be sure you clean it really well. I know some people freeze them to try to prevent growth.

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I put skratch mixed with Maltodextrin in my bladder + have a bidon of maple syrup.

I clean the bladder with lots of hot soapy water and will rinse with OneStep disinfectant cleaner when I remember.

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Only difficulty drinking while riding in a pack? Or also while more spaced out?

Generally, when I’m riding MTB or gravel, and using bottles, I’ll drink when riding uphill and the pace is slower. I’ll look ahead on the road/trail and time my drink for a section that looks pretty benign.

It’s harder to drink from a bottle when moving fast or in a group on sketchy or loose terrain. That’s where a hydration pack is great.

What problems have you had drinking from a hydration pack?


I run a uswe hydration pack for all gravel racing, but also use bottles to extend range (nobody seems to stop at aid stations any more until 100+ miles or if it’s really hot).

Most of the gravel races I do have sections that are chill enough to grab a bottle. For the pack, I’ve got the magnet on the uswe hose, when I’m done drinking I just let the bite valve fall out of my mouth and it swings to the chest and grabs the magnet so it’s not swinging around. I do have to reach up to pull the hose loose to get another drink, but it’s super quick and easy compared to grabbing a bottle.


I don’t have a secret, but my method is this. Before the race I decided on how much fluid I’ll be taking - so in the case of last week’s race I chose two large 30 oz bottles on my bike, one 750 ml bottel in my jersey all pre-mixed with sugar and salt.
I map out the course and make notes that I tape to my stem marking all the climbs, descents, aid stops which help me with pacing.
While on the course, I start drinking as soon as the first 10 minutes and visually check my bottle levels compared to how much time has elapsed. If I haven’t drunk enough in the first hour, I start to try and make up for it. For me about 1/2 bottle per hour or more if it’s hot.
As for when - whenever you confidently reach down, take a sip and put it down without danger of having to take a turn, having someone too close to you. I don’t look at my bottle, I just know where it is and where to put it back, always with my right hand. Left hand is always on the bars and front brake.
Last week I drank on the flatter sections despite any bumpiness, on the climbs that had moderate pitches, on any of the road sections. Where I don’t drink is on dirt downhills, twisty turny sections, and when there are bunch of people around on a tight section.
In the end, I had a little water left over in my bottle and emptied out the other two, so my strategy worked well.

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My strategy is a pretty concentrated mix in the USWE. I know I can pop the bite valve in my mouth quickly even on challenging terrain and get a few sips, and getting the nutrition is important. Then I have one or 2 water bottles with plain water, so I can add plain water as needed depending on how hot it is and when the race allows me to use the bottle.

I’ve ended up with this because I’ve had some races where it was cool and I didn’t need as much hydration, but to get the right amount of nutrition I was over hydrating and had to make pee stops. Annoying in the middle of a race.

So a concentrated mix in the uswe, then add straight water from bottles as needed the hotter it is, and can still pour water over me for cooling as well.

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Yes. In training just water in the pack and fuel in the bottle but for racing it’s mix n the pack. Easy sections = they’re drinking, I’m laying the hammer down.


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Yes. Also, make sure your bottles allow lots of water flow and drink on the outside of the group. I race gravel and MTB and I’ll go through 3-4 bottles drinking twice every 15 minutes. I take 1 sip of my concentrated bottle (all my fuel for the ride/race) then wash it down with plain water. Additionally, during your drinking you may at times have to hold the bottle with your teeth as you pass an unexpected sketchy situation (root, sand, rock, rut). Also holding on to the bar with a bottle in your hand is possible.

While riding alone, practice all these weird situations and you’ll realize you have a lot of options. I’ve held a bottle in my teeth for 30+ seconds if needed or had to ride MTB trails with a bottle in my hand. It’s not ideal and you go slower, but it’s an option. Once you get skilled you’ll be able to swap an empty bottle from your cage with a full bottle in your jersey pocket, then replace the empty bottle back in your jersey. All while holding pace.



That’s how I do it

Why not, exactly?

Not Gravel for me, XC MTB mainly, but I think it’s a comfort thing - just have to practice.

There are always tamer sections interspersed (especially when climbing and going slower) and you learn to drink and eat when you have a good window.

I use a blend of an USWE Outlander Pro / Race pack, and bottles. With the USWE, definitely get the magnet keeper - makes it super quick to take a swig if it’s on the shoulder strap right below your chin. I’ve started doing hydration only in my pack and bottles, and fueling by gels for anything longer.


Soft bottles help get the water into you in a hurry.

Also, you didn’t ask about fueling, but cargo bibs where I can stash gels in the leg pocket have been extremely helpful for me (Pactimo FTW!). Much easier to quickly grab a gel from one leg, and store the wrapper in the other than sitting up and going for the back pockets - I do that less frequently when I want to re-supply the leg pocket with a handful.