What are running hydration vests for?
Simply put, a hydration vest – sometimes called a hydration pack or race vest – is an extremely lightweight backpack. It's designed with multiple pouches and pockets to carry everything you might need on a run, while at the same time being easily accessible.
Hydration vests come in different volumes and sizes, so there is one for every runner: whether you're commuting 5-10 km into work or undertaking an adventurous 100-miler on technical trails.
For more traditional running backpacks, see also Best Backpacks for Running.
When should you wear a hydration vest for running?
In its purest sense: whenever there is a need to comfortably carry items essential to that day’s run, which won’t fit in your pockets easily or comfortably. As the name suggests, also on any run where you need a handy source of water.
The principal items you need will vary depending on the length and terrain of the run. A 6-15 mile run in an urban environment will involve some different items to a 2-4 hour or longer road or multi-terrain run that might take in exposed areas of a different character. Items may or may not include: water/fliud, snacks, phone, keys, hats/gloves, spare kit, headtorch etc. Remember: just because a route is flat or low level, doesn’t mean it might not be windy or it will not rain!
What to consider when choosing a hydration (race) vest
- How far are you running?
- Are you training or racing or both?
- What do you REALLY need to carry?
- Worth noting: it is like buying a pair of trail shoes. Just as no one shoe will work on every surface, no one pack is perfect for every run.
- Packs are usually rated by volume size: anything from 5 litres to 20 litres upwards. Do read small print carefully as the volume listed may not just be the size of the main pack but the total of main pack plus the individual pouches and pockets.
- A smaller volume pack maybe fine for a weekend training run, but you need a bigger one for an event with a lengthy mandatory kit list. So finding a compromise or ending up with a couple of bags to go with your pairs of road, trail and fell shoes could be the solution :-)
Bottles versus reservoir or bladder?
Again, this is a personal thing, with advantages for both. Whether you’re knocking out a 10-mile training run, or a 50-mile race, the ease, comfort, and capacity of your vest’s fluid storage system is a top consideration. Some runners (including your author) prefer to carry bottles stowed in front pockets, while others prefer a larger reservoir that fits into a sleeve in back. Every vest in our range is compatible with both options, but be warned: bottles and reservoirs aren’t always included in your purchase.
Reservoirs (AKA Bladders)
- Reservoirs in the backpack portion allow hands-free, fuss-free drinking by sucking on a tube.
- Reservoirs can carry more fluid, vary in size, and the more you carry, obviously, the heavier the load.
- Reservoir capacity can be 1 litre to 3 litres, but you may not need the weight of 3 litres of water on every run!
- Bottles are more versatile, and are easier to refill.
- Bottles are usually 300ml or 500ml capacity, front-loaded in pouches. They can be easily refilled but can be a fuss getting in and out of the pouches while on the move. (If you're scratching your head over sizing and litres, for 300-500ml, think small grocery water bottle. 1.5 litres is your average large grocery water bottle.)
- Most vests come with bottles included, but not always with a reservoir, so factor that into your budget as a possible added extra.
- Some manufacturers' bottles come with longer tubes to suck on, or these can be bought as an added extra. This eliminates some of the downsides of fussing around with bottles.
- Soft bottles v hard bottles? Opinions differ on what is best. Soft bottles are light and flexible but can be a fuss getting in and out of pouches. Hard bottles of the right size slot in easily to a chest pouch, but for some people are not as comfortable as soft bottles.
How should a running hydration vest fit?
- Like any regular running backpack, it should sit high on your back with shoulders and upper back taking the weight. In this way no pressure is put on lower back. The look of a teenager struggling to school with a backpack resting down on their hips and backside is not to be encouraged :-)
- A well-fitted vest should be snug enough to stay steadily in place without any unnecessary movement: front, sides or back.
- It should not be so tight that arm movement is restricted, or that you feel anything rubbing around your neck or shoulders. Certainly breathing should not be difficult!
- All the major running and outdoor brands feature adjustable chest and tummy straps. This generally essential for female runners, but it's important for all runners, in order to ensure a good fit with no movement.
- When the chest and tummy straps are fitted well, the hydration bottles or their pouches should lie vertical and not at too much of an angle.
- Most brands offer gender-specific models. Some brands just offer a unisex fitting. Women’s-fit options tend to be a little narrower at the shoulders and have the ability to offer more volume in the chest area.
- Like with shoes, the fit is so individual, so don’t be put off trying a few different models and sizes to attain that elusive perfect fit. Also, like shoes, a rave review for vest ‘A’, or worn and promoted by some megastar, may not be the one that fits your own body shape best.
- Depending on the manufacturer and the model, there may be slightly elasticated material on the sides of the vest, under your arms, or there might be a ‘cinch system’ of internal drawstrings. Both are designed to provide a snug fit around you.
- Remember all straps etc. may have to be adjusted on different runs depending on how much you are carrying; also depending on whether you are just wearing a base layer, or an extra mid-layer or rain jacket.
If you are able to get to one of our stores to try on a selection, that is always advisable. If it isn’t possible, just take a few minutes to look at the guideline sizing in the details of each particular model, or contact us for advice.
Packs for this category are the ones that are ideal for shorter endurance events or weekend training runs, where the conditions and terrain allow you to carry the essentials without overdoing it. Also likened to travelling ‘fast and light’, they are at the lower of volume capacity.
Salomon Advanced Skin 5 Set
Women's Salomon Advanced Skin 8 Set
The best trail-running vest is somewhat subjective, and also depends on how far or how long you are running. Depending how much you need to carry, you can easily wear one of the lightweight packs above if the distance is fairly low and you are not going to exposed hills or moors. If going out for a few hours or on a long day expedition, a larger volume pack to enable you to carry more spare kit and snacks is desirable (see below).
Generally, if commuting you may have a lot to carry, with change of clothing and shoes as well as a pad or laptop to deal with, so one of the mid-large volume packs are best choices. Check out that the large volume vest can be compressed by straps, so it will fit snugly whatever load you are carrying. Examples to look at here are:
Depending how much you need to carry, see also our running backpacks.
Some of our staff love the new Women’s fit Salomon Advanced Skin 8 as it is very versatile. Light enough for essentials on a weekend training run bit with enough capacity to carry more for a longer day on the trails or in the hills when more kit is required.
That said, all Salomon vests – especially the Advanced Skin 5 & 12 Sets featured above – are truly unisex, and many women in our team actually prefer these over the women's-specific fit.
Women's Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 5.0
Women's Ultimate Direction Mountain Vesta 5.0
What distance should you bring water on a run?
- This is a very individual question, which you will learn from your own experience.
- Running by its very nature teaches us to be self-reliant and listen to our bodies, and this applies to hydration too.
- There are always exceptions, but, unless the weather is totally tropical, experienced runners can usual manage an hour‘s run without the need to drink.
- Some can indeed manage 2 hours if they have adapted to that over the course of consistent training.
- Your own body is the best judge. Don’t over-think it but as your long run gets longer, just keep an eye on when you start to fade, which is often a good sign that your body needs to be refuelled. You should then be carrying something to top you up, before you reach that state.
Photos courtesy of Salomon