You don't need to be running an ultra-marathon to use a hydration vest - if you run, hydration on the go (especially during a heatwave) is important. Plus with extra pockets, hydration vests also make carrying your valuables (phone, key, that pack of tissues - just in case) easy too, meaning you can run hands-free.
But which hydration vest is the best? We've compiled a list of our favourites, ideal for shorter and longer runs. We're looking at ease of storing the water bottles/pouches, additional pockets, overall fit and breathability. Scroll down to find out which ones ticked the boxes.
What type of running hydration vest or hydration pack do I need?
The main things to consider when buying a hydration vest are the following:
- How far are you running?
- What essentials do you need to carry on your run?
This is because, like most backpacks, hydration vests are measured by volume - the capacity they can carry. For shorter training runs you may only need to take your phone, keys, gels and water. But if you plan to go for a longer run, an ultra, or a trail run - is this bag still going to be big enough to carry water for the whole run? For a race, are there any mandatory pieces of equipment you will also need to take with you?
Bottles vs Bladders
Many bags come with water bottles included, which are usually 250ml or 500ml capacity and sit in the front pockets/straps for easy access. Usually, bottles are soft and squeezable for added comfort.
Bladders are bigger reservoirs that usually sit in a large compartment of the hydration vest on your back. They have a long 'hose' style tube that you can thread over your shoulder to suck like a straw. Typically the capacity can be 1 litre to 3 litres which is heavier than bottles when full. These allow you to be hands-free but are tougher to fill up when you are on the run or at a feed station during a race.
How should a running pack fit?
A running pack should fit like a regular backpack, sitting comfortably on your back. Your shoulders should take the weight and it should not restrict your movement around the arms, or the chest. The chest/stomach straps should not be too tight, but also should stop the bag from moving around when you run. If you go for a pack with bottles, you want the bottles to sit upright.
Best Hydration Vests and Hydration Packs 2021
2l bladder included
Our favourite feature on the USWE Vertical 10 Hydration Pack is the NDM (No Dancing Monkey) technology that makes the pack completely bounce-free. Larger bags have the tendency to move around a little more when running, but the USWE stays put. This is because the bag has a 4-point harness system to secure it in place which is adjustable to your body. The bag has one main compartment where you can store the water bladder (included) and will still have room for other bits you need to carry. There are also 2 additional side pockets.
There are no pockets on the shoulder straps for quick access to phone/gels but the bladder system is super convenient way of drinking on the go!
2x 500ml bottles included
The Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 5.0 is lightweight, is made with a fabric that breaths well and you have the ability to adjust the straps to fit your body. The size and position of the shoulder straps mean the weight of anything you are carrying in the vest get distributed evenly so on long runs, your shoulders and back do not start to ache. This vest comes with two soft bottles, which fit nicely into bottle compartments on the front for easy access. There is also room on the front to store gels or your phone, meaning you don't have to take the pack off to get what you need. There is also plenty of room on the back if you wanted to purchase an additional bladder/water pouch or needed to carry additional equipment.
2x 500ml bottle included
The Salomon Active Skin 8 Hydration Vest has fantastic features and is great value for money being on the lower end of the price range for Salomon. This vest, like some of the more expensive Salomon hydration vests has 'Sensifit' construction which means you get both freedom and stability from the material. Fabrics stretch and conform but there are lightweight straps and adjustments to make the vest fit against your body. When running, you do not want any chafing or bruising from the bag moving around, and the Salomon Active Skin 8 really stays put. The vest comes with two soft bottles which can be stored in the compartments on the straps at the front so again, offer easy access.
2x bottle included
The Osprey Duro comes with two bottles that you can easily stash in the front pockets, but these bottles have an extended straw/hose making drinking on the go even easier. Rather than removing the bottle or bending awkwardly to squeeze the contents into your mouth, these extended straws directly from the bottle make drinking hands free similar to when drinking from a water pouch/bladder. This vest has a small capacity for the bare minimum, so is ideal for training runs, or fast races.
2x bottles included
The Camelbak Zephyr Hydration Vest is extremely lightweight and the mesh fabric is more breathable than many other hydration vests on the market, so not only do your shoulders stay cool under the straps, your back stays cool too. Obviously, you will likely sweat under the vest, but the mesh material is wicking and fast drying so you won't feel any discomfort. The vest comes with two soft bottles which, similar to the Salomon Active Skin, sit nicely in the pockets on the front of the shoulder straps giving you easy access. There is room for gels and a phone on the front too. Plus the addition of a small zip pocket on the front and the inside means any small valuables or cash can be stashed safely and don't bounce around all over the place. This bag is very versatile for short runs, where one bottle may be enough but the bag on the back is big enough to be able to add a bladder if doing longer runs too.