I didn’t know much about hydration packs, bladders and vests until I did my first trail marathon in early 2020. When I was doing the prep work for the marathon back in mid to late 2019 the first thing that stuck out was that I needed the right shoes. However, once I got into the research I realized I needed things such as energy chews, electrolyte drinks/tablets and water on the go. I’ve seen people wearing vests on runs but I never really thought much of it.
I thought it was for people that were trying to do the best time possible without having to stop at aid stations. I knew those existed because I’ve already done the local city half-marathon and they pretty much had an aid station every 2 miles as it was a big event. People don’t wear vests in half-marathons done in the city.
However once looking at the map of my trail marathon and seeing that there were only two aid stations throughout the whole thing, it all started making much more sense to me.
I quickly did my research on the best hydration packs for running and what I did was buy the no-name brand running vest at the local Decathlon. I took it out for a test drive and could tell it was really annoying for the first 5 miles as it kept jumping side to side and the water bouncing around in the bladder was really frustrating.
I realized I couldn’t get away with a cheap option and quickly refunded the product. What I did next was research what the best hydration backpacks were and came up with the below list. I opted for the Salomon because most of my running products are from them but I did manage to do research on quite a few of them.
Hopefully, the below list will help you make an informed decision and at least provide you with some guidelines for purchasing your first hydration pack for running or perhaps an upgrade.
Best Hydration Packs For Running Compared and Reviewed
|Top||Salomon Adv Skin 12 Set Hydration Stretch Pack||Salomon||Check Price on Amazon|
|Nathan Vaporhowe Hydration Pack||Nathan||Check Price on Amazon|
|Salomon Agile 2 Set, 29L||Salomon||Check Price on Amazon|
|Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 4.0||Ultimate Direction||Check Price on Amazon|
|CamelBak Ultra Pro Running Hydration Vest||Camelbak||Check Price on Amazon|
#1 - Salomon Adv Skin 12 Set Hydration Stretch Pack
The Salomon hydration backpack for running is definitely my top pick. As a company that’s been around since the 1940’s they definitely have the experience under their belt. This Hydration Stretch Pack from Salomon is no different. The pack boasts a 20-liter volume capacity with 88% nylon, 12% elastane fabric to comfortably and securely hold all of your gear.
The pack contains two 500ml soft flasks from Salomon to store either water or your electrolyte drink mix at the front of the vest. It contains a flexible sternum strap which can be used to find a tailored fit for your body, and also to re-adjust it on the go whilst balancing all of your essentials. It contains two large pockets on the outside for all of your energy chews and nutrition needs.
It has an internal mesh pouch that you can use to store your safe belongings such as your keys, bank card, and phone. It contains a clip in there so you can rest assured that your keys will be safe if you do decide to bring them.
What’s great about the Salomon is really how much storage capacity it contains. If the above wasn’t enough, there’s also a large expandable zipper pocket at the back where you can store any extra essentials such as clothes, gloves and any extra nutrition you might have. If the front two pockets aren’t enough for hydration, there’s also a sleeve where you can place the Salomon soft flask bladder for extra access to hydration.
However, the bladder isn’t included and you would need to purchase it separately. Just remember you have 1L in total at the front which might already be enough for your race needs. If you’re doing a much longer race or doing an ultra trail where there’s heaps of mountain passes or incline then there’s room for your trekking poles on the side which have been designed to not be intrusive and hit you whilst you’re on your running phase of the race.
For safety, it contains a whistle as well as reflective detailing throughout. This is a great backpack and one which I opted for with my first trail race. However, with this vest, it seems to have a limit on its sizing. If your chest is 44 inches or more then you’re likely not going to fit this hydration backpack.
The good part of this backpack is the fact of how versatile the storage is. You might just be starting with running trails and it can tailor for that. If you start moving up to ultras then it can tailor for that as well. The product isn’t waterproof so it might not be good for storing your phone, however, if you’re like most runners then you know that a ziplock bag will do the job. If you put your phone in a ziplock bag which can be purchased from most supermarkets then your phone is going to be safe.
Given the quality of Salomon, you will probably have this backpack in your arsenal for some time to come and the fact that you can change up between short and long races due to its storage capacity you’re potentially going to get the best bank for the buck with this product.
What have others said about this hydration pack?
“This is a great running pack with a ton of storage capacity, whilst I think the whistle is a bit lame and not really required it’s definitely one of the higher quality backpacks out there and I’m happy with it. No waterproof compartment for the phone is a bit of a letdown with the price but not many vests offer this anyway.” Taylor K
#2 - Nathan Vaporhowe Hydration Pack
This lightweight vest contains 12-liter storage capacity and comes with a 1.8-liter bladder with the purchase. The design of the vest itself is body-mapped and form-fitting to your body shape with an apparel-like feel. The front two pockets fit bottles up to 22oz or your iPhone Plus models. Unfortunately, I don’t see this fitting an iPhone 11 Max for example.
The hydration vest contains side adjustment straps that help you tighten the vest for a more comfortable fit that can be molded to your chest size. Chafing has also been reported to be nonexistent on this vest. The sternum strap also contains a magnet that you can attach the bladder reel to for maximum comfort and little disturbances whilst running.
It has been reported that if the bladder is full to the brim that it can cause some rubbing on your back. However, if you fill it up with a bit less water in the Vaporware bladder provided then the problem is also nonexistent.
What other people have said about the Nathan Vaporhowe Hydration Pack?
“With a size 36G chest I was really not looking forward to purchasing a hydration vest, I thought with my physique that I would get constant chafing and rubbing which I just couldn’t handle. After giving Nathan a try, I fell in love. The only thing is that it’s a bit on the expensive side but after receiving it I understood why.” Jane T
#3 - Salomon Agile 2 Set, 29L
The Agile 2 Set from Salomon provides a unique minimalistic design which is rather unconventional for hydration running packs. It has been stated by Salomon that this design is designed for short, active sessions. Its ability to hold your key card and phone whilst also being able to hold two water soft flasks at the front proves this point. There is also room for a very lightweight jacket at the back as it also boasts a zippable mesh pouch.
If you’re looking for a much smaller and agile Salomon product compared to the Salomon Adv Skin then this could be a great option for you. Whilst the Salomon Adv Skin is typically designed for longer trail races such as ultramarathons this one can be used for the shorter races. It could also be used for trail marathons or ultramarathons where the aid stations are very close to each other.
There’s not much more to say about the Agile 2 Set. It’s basically a nimble vest that will get you from A to B with minimal intrusions. It’s best suited for city running and shorter marathons or trails where there are plenty of aid stations. I wouldn’t recommend this product for any ultra runners as there’s simply not enough space.
How have others reviewed this Salomon pack?
“The bottles are a bit too close to my face but otherwise its a great pack that does the job. Perfect for shorter runs where speed is everything and you don’t want to go too big on size.” Paul T
#4 - Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 4.0
The Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest is a new player in the field, and many have raved about its quality. It contains a Flex Mono Mesh which adds to comfort and assists in helping mold the vest to your body which is really important to stop internal items from bouncing around.
It’s a very lightweight vest weighing at 206-grams (7.27 oz.). It’s also a vest that includes two 500ml soft flasks out-of-the-box. It’s also compatible with a hydration bladder that you can put at the back for your extra hydration needs. The Ultimate Direction team has put an emphasis on the vest being as lightweight as possible whilst also being ultramarathon ready. The latest vest which is the 4.0 is also 20% lighter than previous models.
It contains six pockets and its front mesh storage can hold valuables such as your phone, energy gels and other valuables. The total storage capacity through the pockets is 10.3-litres. The MicroMono Mesh material prevents the vest from staying too wet which will help when you get extremely sweaty or bad weather arises.
For comfort, it also contains an adjustable sternum strap that can be tailored and adjusted on the run to suit your needs. It’s also another vest that contains a safety whistle such as the Salomon Advance set and it is also a more affordable option.
What are people saying about the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 4.0 online?
“I wasn’t expecting much from this vest due to me always liking to buy the ‘top brands’ when it comes to running gear but I was sold at my local run shop. The amount of storage that this pack contains is awesome and the added flasks that came with it were a bonus. A bit disappointing that the bladder is sold separately and quite expensive but you can’t complain when the vest is half the price of most products” Adrian H
Ultimate Direction has done a great demonstrational video on the features of the vest, check it out below:
#5 - CamelBak Ultra Pro Running Hydration Vest
The CamelBak brand spans over three decades now and has been a go-to choice for many runners and hikers worldwide. It’s also another hydration backpack that contains two 500ml soft flasks that come with the purchase. It’s also another vest that requires a bladder to be purchased separately however it can hold the 1.5-liter reservoir in its back.
The CamelBak contains a harness and dual adjustable sternum strap that can be adjusted to fit the needs of your chest. This vest contains a specialized zippered phone pocket where you can store your smartphone, although it’s not waterproof so likely another one where you’ll need to get a ziplock bag for extra protection.
One of the biggest pluses of investing in this hydration vest for running is that CamelBak provides a guarantee for all the accessories that it comes with such as its soft flasks, accessories and the bladder if you opt to purchase it. This is done for the lifetime of the product so it spells the quality of the gear you would be investing in.
The backpack also contains storage capacity for trekking poles if you’re doing any mountaineering with the backpack or a tough mountain ultra trail. It’s quite similar to the Salomon Advanced hydration pack which we’ve rated at number one. This backpack, however, is tailored more for females and as such the design has this in mind versus it being unisex.
One thing that others have mentioned about the CamelBak though is that for running purposes the side pockets are a bit hard to access. It might be a bit frustrating for those that carry around heaps of energy gels, nutrients and are quite competitive runners. Other than that there’s not much else to fault with it.
How have other users reviewed this product?
“Quite the trendy vest that can suitably be used for more activities than running. I’ve also taken this on hikes with my sons and it fits the purpose. However, one thing I’ve noticed with running is that the side pockets aren’t that easily accessible. Not much else that I can fault with it though and the quality is good.” Matthew D
My Number One Pick
Key Considerations Before Purchasing A Hydration Backpack For Running
To be quite frank there are a lot of nuances to these backpacks which you need to consider. What works best for you might not be right for someone else. Considering which size you need is usually the most important. You need to think about what items you want to store such as your phone, emergency beacon, compass and map if you’re doing an ultramarathon. If you’re doing a much shorter race with a lot more aid stations then you should think about going lightweight so you don’t need to lug around all that extra weight.
Another important aspect that you need to consider is how much water you want to be carrying around. On my first trail marathon, I carried a 5-liter water bladder around and all that extra weight was slowing me down. By no means am I a competitive runner however by slowing yourself down with that extra weight you’re also burning out your stamina.
When you’re doing an ultramarathon though you’re usually making it a lot easier and that extra weight might not be a problem. You really need to look at the information provided on your race and see how far the aid stations are from each other.
You know best how much water you need to drink as some people sweat a lot more than others. For example, if the aid stations were 5 miles apart then you might only need to carry less than 1-litre of water in between aid stations, this will help conserve your stamina for the long race ahead.
Below is a guide on what I believe you should look out for before purchasing your first hydration pack for running. If you’re already aware of these tips and might have some others that could help people then feel free to leave a comment below.
As you’ve probably noticed there are some vests that have a bottle at the front with a long straw. These straws are usually well designed and the suction will only work if you bite on the surface of the straw which creates an opening that funnels from the bottle and into your mouth.
Another option is that you have a bladder at the back of your backpack. These will usually have a straw-like hose that funnels from your back to the front of the vest. Make sure that if you opt for this option that there’s a small latch or opening in your vest that keeps this in place. Some of these will have a magnet on them so that they can get stuck to your vest and do not bounce around when you’re running.
Although, some heavy-duty hydration vests might have an opening for a bladder at the back as well as room for bottles in the front. It’s up to you to decide on what you need and you should look at the information provided on the trail to ensure that you know how far aid stations are where you can refuel.
For me, I use both and in the front two pockets, I have soft flasks that contain an electrolyte mix which I’ll have on the go to ensure I’m properly hydrated.
Comfort And Sizing
The comfort of the vest is very important, if you’re considering buying a hydration vest or backpack then it’s likely that you’re going on a very long race. If you’re going to cover a lot of miles you want to ensure that the equipment that you’re dealing with is up to the task. You have probably already felt pain such as blisters in your feet in a long run. You might’ve felt chafing in between your legs from the shorts you’re wearing. A vest is no different, if you aren’t comfortable with your vest it will bring you problems later in the race.
The best thing to do is to find a vest that fits your body shape properly. Make sure that you measure yourself and see the manufacturer’s guidelines for sizing. Once you get your vest, make sure that you take it on a long run that covers at least 1/3 of the distance that you’re going to do when the actual race is on. This will allow you to get a feel for your equipment and make sure that you don’t experience any problems that can’t be fixed once you’re in the race.
Look out for how many adjustable sternum straps there are. These straps will allow you to tailor the tightness with respect to your body type. A lot of us will lose a lot of water and weight in the long run and being able to adjust the strap through the race will ensure that it doesn’t start bouncing around.
Make sure you look at how many pockets there are for storage. Depending on the race that you’re doing you may need to store a compass and a map which is a requirement for a lot of ultra trails. You would also need to bring your mobile with you and in some cases, an emergency beacon that can alert the relevant authorities if you get stuck or injured. Some trail races don’t have more than 100 people and making sure that you can get help is of utmost importance.
Another thing to consider with storage capacity is how much room there is to store your water, fluids and your nutrients such as energy chews, electrolytes and anything else you’re packing to keep the calories in. You don’t want to go on a race where there’s an aid station 15 miles apart from each other and to find out you don’t have enough water or food. This is very important and you need to look after yourself first and foremost. If you’re unsure, the best thing to do would be to look at the event information sheet and see how far away the aid stations are, which ones have food and so on.
Let’s face it, your vest is going to wet with or without the rain. You’ll be sweating so much and you might even drop a bit of liquid here and there. This is very normal, however, if you’re carrying any electronics around such as your phone you might want to make sure that there are pockets that are waterproof for this purpose.
An alternative is to bring a zip lock bag to put your phone in and you can open it up when you need to use it. Most zip locks bags will allow you to still use your smartphone whilst inside anyway. And a big plus of them is that they’re very affordable at your local supermarket.
Your hydration pack is going to get put through the wringer and let’s be real here, they’re not exactly cheap. I suggest that you look into getting a backpack that has a good manufacturer with a good history of durable products. If you’re running bush trails with lots of sticks, branches and other sharp objects such as rock passes, then you want to make sure that your backpack or vest can withstand the pressure of the environment.
The last thing you want is to create a tear in your backpack a mile into the race. And obviously, you want to be able to re-use the pack for future races considering the price of them. So ensure that you get one that is of higher material quality.
Frequently Asked Questions for Hydration Packs
Q: How often should I hydrate?
A: This depends on your individual body type, many people sweat differently. The best thing to do would be to check your weight before and after a run. Do a one-hour run to test this. Once you come back check your weight again. This will indicate how much water you’ve lost and how much you should drink throughout the hour on your run.
Q: Do my shoulders get tired from hydration backpacks?
A: Generally if they’re good design this shouldn’t be a problem. However if you’ve got a bladder in the back make sure that you’re only packing as much liquid as you need. Just because it’s a 5-liter bladder doesn’t mean you need to use 5-liters. Check the race information and see how far aid stations are. Only fill up how much water you need based on your hydration needs and refuel at each aid station.
Q: Will my fluids get warm in my hydration pack?
A: It could, it depends on how hot the day is. Generally the soft flasks are manufactured to keep room temperature but if you like your drinks to be extra cold then you might need to get some ice in them during each aid station stop.
Whichever hydration pack you choose for running your next marathon or trail marathon, make sure that you are well equipped with the right information for the event. Check out the events website and see how far the aid stations are, do your research and then consider which pack or vest will be the most comfortable for you. You’re going to be going a long way and you want to be best friends with your backpack.
And as mentioned, make sure you take your hydration backpack for a trial run before your actual event. A good rule of thumb is to cover 1/3 of the race distance and see how the comfort and extra weight feels for you. This will give you the best preparation possible for your upcoming event. I hope you have a fun time and wish you all the best. If it’s your first time just take your time and enjoy it!
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is to take a holistic approach to fitness and health.