Every house needs at least one hose: to wash the car, water the garden and feed the pressure washer, among other jobs. They come in all shapes and sizes, including some that leak on purpose to spread water gradually, and others that attach to downspouts and roll out to drain water away from the house when it rains.
Capacity It's determined by pressure (about 50 pounds per square inch in most homes), the length of the hose and its diameter. The least expensive are often 1/2-inch and carry about 9 gallons per minute. Large diameters carry more: about 17 gpm for 5/8-inch and 23 gpm for 3/4-inch. (With a large galvanized watering can, you're bringing about 2 gallons per trip.) If you home has low water pressure and the garden is far away and uphill, buy a large-diameter hose. They're also best for pressure washers, which have a minimum flow requirement, often in the 3 gpm range. Minimums are rarely a problem on municipal systems, especially if you don't run the dishwasher or do laundry at the same time.
Materials The most common and inexpensive hoses are vinyl. They're light and flexible but can gradually dry and crack from exposure to sunlight. They also kink more than other types. The better versions are double-layered and reinforced with tire cord. All-rubber hoses are stronger, more durable and rated to carry hot water, if needed. The downside is they're heavier and more expensive. Some, like Gilmour's Flexogen hose, have foam liners for more flexibility, 500 psi burst strength, 1-inch diameters for increased flow rates and carry lifetime guarantees. But even those can't survive a common cause of hose failures: getting run over by a car when the hose is stretched across the driveway.
Configurations Among many specialties, flat hoses, often with a fabric covering, are handy if you're short on storage space. They come in hand-carried reels designed to wring out remaining water and store flat as you roll them up. Most models are easy to extend but can take some time getting a lot of hose back into a very small space. Soaker hoses that come with holes are an alternative to sprinklers and water garden beds more gradually. They can be used directly off a spigot or tied into automatic watering systems. The end is sealed, of course, so water seeps out along the entire length. Under full pressure, sprinkler hoses with two or three perforated lines tied together can cover a long bed up to 8 feet wide.
Anti-freeze valves The best exterior spigot is an anti-freeze, anti-siphon valve. Outside, it's like a standard spigot, with a handle to turn water on and off. But the water flow is actually controlled inside the house due to a long valve stem attached to the handle. It's as though you're reaching through the wall to stop and start the flow. And when you drain and disconnect the hose for winter, there's no water standing just behind the spigot to freeze, break the plumbing and leak.
Storage Ames, Reelcraft, Suncraft and others make reels with a handle so you can crank the hose in for storage. But the standard curved metal rack you simply loop the hose over works pretty well too. Check the Web and you'll find other alternatives. Many work off the practical idea of using a 5-gallon bucket to curl and store a hose as you drain it. Several companies offer masonry and metal pots that do the same thing in a prettier package.