Whether training for an ultra or heading out on a casual jog, the right running hydration pack will carry all the gear and water you need for a successful run.
There’s been an explosion of running vests and hydration packs in the past few years. Not only does that mean there are more options, but they’re also more comfortable and functional than ever before. Improved designs have led to less bounce and chafing, and more comfort mile after mile.
From mountainous Colorado trails to the wilds of New Zealand, we’ve put a lot of miles on hydration vests. We tested for overall comfort, capacity, fit, and ease of use. And while there isn’t a single hydration pack that will work for every person, we’ve included a variety of options to fit your style of running.
For more help choosing the best hydration pack for running, check out the buyer’s guide at the bottom of this article.
The Best Running Hydration Packs & Vests
Comfort is a top consideration in a running vest, and it’s where the Advanced Skin 12 Set ($165) excels. The vest rides almost unnoticed, hugging the back, shoulders, and chest.
It doesn’t bounce, even when loaded with a full pack of gear, water, and food. One of our editors ran the Leadville 100 in it with zero chafe.
This pack is designed for runners who need a decent amount of gear but also require comfort for moving fast. It has one large internal pocket with a bladder-hanging system compatible with a 1.5L bladder (not included).
The shoulder straps each have three open pockets and one zippered pocket. From ultraraces to casual runs, this is a comfortable, durable, and hardworking vest.
- Gear capacity: 12 L
- Weight: 13.05 oz.
- Best for: When you need to maximize comfort while carrying gear and water
Anyone who runs in hot climates will appreciate this breathable vest ($150). At just 12.2 ounces, this pack won’t weigh you down. But it’s big enough to hold all the race-day necessities.
It comes with a 2L hydration bladder, and the front storage pockets can easily fit 22-ounce soft flasks (sold separately).
Our testers didn’t have any problems with chafing and appreciated the breathable, mesh-like fabric. The two adjustment points allowed us to get a custom fit, which minimizes the dreaded pack bounce.
Side toggles allow you to carry trekking poles, and the back kangaroo pocket is perfect for easily stashing an extra layer.
- Gear capacity: 7 L
- Weight: 12.2 oz.
- Best for: Going light and fast
The Arc’teryx Norvan 7 Running Vest ($179) is a durable, technical, and streamlined pack for all lengths of minimalist runs. The vest comes with a 2L bladder that is designed to sit low on the torso. This helps keep bouncing to a minimum and is a helpful reminder to keep a good running position (ribs down).
At first glance, the carrying capacity looks to be rather small, but we were pleasantly surprised how easily and comfortably it fit emergency gear, snacks, and water. The material is a little on the abrasive side, so we wouldn’t recommend going shirtless. But it has shown no signs of wear after 6 months of intense use, which makes this a quality investment.
- Gear capacity: 7 L
- Weight: 9.25 oz.
- Best for: Going light and fast, runs where you don’t need a lot of extra gear
This well-designed pack ($90) has everything you need in one sleek package. The medium/large size holds 1.5 L of water, and the small/medium carries 1 L. The lower stretch mesh and zippered pocket offered up just enough room for us to fit a light shell and snacks.
And both our male and female testers were able to get a comfortable, no-bounce fit thanks to the variety of adjustment straps. The double front clips are adjustable and helped hold everything in place, even with a full bladder.
Speaking of which, this hydration vest comes with Osprey’s unique Hydraulics reservoir. The streamlined design allows for easy loading, and we like that it lays flat in the pack.
- Gear capacity: 1.5 L (M/L)
- Weight: 10 oz.
- Best for: A unisex fit, hot pavement runs, everyday training
The Race Elite Pro 2in1 Vest ($185) is a pack that can transition seamlessly from a running vest that’s great for 2- to 3-hour runs to a full-on ultrarunning or adventure run pack that’s ready for your next 100K or 24-hour race. The ability to detach the backpack makes this a truly versatile pack.
Pack it full for long days out or go light and fast. GearJunkie editor Chelsey Magness and her adventure race team have been using this ultralight pack for the last couple of years for short training runs and adventure races around the world.
The vest is easy to adjust, and the main compartment can accommodate a surprising amount of gear. In regard to water-carrying capacity, it accommodates a 2L bladder and comes with two 500mL flasks and a speed cup.
So, whether you’re high in the mountains and speed cupping it or down in the valley with a bladder, this pack will keep you hydrated for the long haul. At a weight of 345 g and a price point of $185, this is an amazing multiuse pack for all your adventures.
- Gear capacity: 10 L
- Weight: 12.2 oz.
- Best for: Training runs, endurance races
How to Choose a Hydration Pack for Running
Take a few moments to imagine what your runs look like. Do you plan to commute around town? Hit the trail for an all-day sufferfest or enjoy a few easy miles? Do you run in extreme weather or need something versatile for a variety of training runs?
With this vision in mind, read on for four important hydration vest considerations.
Bottles vs. Reservoirs
Some runners prefer a bottle stored in the front pocket, and others want a full bladder on the back. This is mainly a matter of personal preference. However, if you plan to take on multiday or mega-mile runs, a larger bladder is recommended.
Capacity: Water & Gear
The best advice is to choose the lightest vest that will get the job done. For backyard trail runs, the 12L Salomon Advanced Skin offers plenty of space.
And if you regularly switch between all-day outings and minimalist runs, a versatile option like the inov-8 2in1 is a great choice.
Getting the right fit is key for any piece of gear, but especially for a running vest. When possible, head to your local running store and ask for a fitting. For online shopping, take the time to measure yourself and refer to sizing charts.
For women, you need to not only make sure the length and torso circumference are correct, but also be sure to take bust size into account. The women’s-specific VaporAiress offers two adjustment points for an easy fit, and our female testers were pleased with the overall fit.
Extra features can make the difference between an OK vest and an awesome one. Depending on your running plans, look for extra pockets, reflective materials, and easy-to-use trekking pole-keepers.
Whatever pack you end up choosing, remember the goal is to get out and run. Use a vest to maximize comfort and hydration, and enjoy your time on the trail.
Should I Run With a Hydration Pack?
If you find yourself feeling dehydrated on your runs but don’t currently have a good solution to the problem, you may want to consider running with a hydration pack.
If you are regularly running for 2 hours or longer, it is wise to have access to drink around 2 L of water during your run. A hydration pack can offer this with easy on-the-go access.
For short runs that are less than 30 minutes in length, a hydration pack likely is not necessary. However, heat and climate are always factors to consider, too.
Will a Hydration Pack Change My Running Form?
A well-fitted hydration pack should not drastically change your running form, but wearing one will certainly take some getting used to.
Hydration packs that are made from elastic, and stretchy materials hug the body and prevent the entire pack from bouncing during your run. If your hydration pack is bouncing, it may negatively affect your running form and should be adjusted.
What Size Hydration Pack Is Right for Me?
Hydration packs are available with various reservoir capacities. Most options can carry 1-3 L of water. Choosing a hydration pack comes down to how long you plan to run while using it.
If you will be running for very long periods without stopping at water stations or sources, you will want a larger capacity hydration pack to keep you going throughout your entire run. For example, ultra-runners will likely need greater capacity packs, while shorter-duration runners may be able to get by with a smaller capacity.
Remember that the more water you put in your pack, the heavier it will be. For most runners, 2 L of water in the pack can offer a good balance between weight to carry and available water.
Most hydration packs are made to fit everybody. However, it’s a good idea to check the pack’s specs to ensure that it will work for someone with your body type and size.
When Should You Wear a Hydration Pack?
A hydration pack helps prevent dehydration while running or exercising. Sustained physical activities don’t often allow easy access to water bottles. So, the use of a hydration pack offers quick access to water without having to pause your workout.
It’s a good idea to wear a hydration pack any time you’ll be running for long periods of time. A standard rule of thumb is that humans should drink 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes while running.
If you are running for 30 minutes or longer, especially in hot or dry conditions, a hydration pack can be an essential way to stay safe and hydrated.
Hydration Pack vs. Vest: Which Is Better?
Neither is strictly better, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
A hydration backpack tends to be versatile enough to be used for other activities aside from running. Backpacks are often bigger and offer more capacity than hydration vests.
Hydration backpacks are good for runners who will be actively running unassisted for long distances and durations, such as ultramarathoners.
A hydration vest is probably the best pick if you are in search of maximum running comfort. A well-fitted vest sits high on the back and remains close to the body while running.
Another benefit of a hydration vest is that it offers easier access to your things while you are running. You don’t need to take the vest off or reach behind you to access its storage.
How Do You Run With a Hydration Pack?
A properly fitted hydration pack should not change the way you run. If you plan to participate in a race or major planned run, it’s a good idea to run several times beforehand with your pack on so you can get used to it. Then, you can make any necessary adjustments to its fit.
Have a favorite running vest or hydration pack? Let us know in the comments and we’ll check it out for future updates to this article.