We’ve run many thousands of miles to test, review, and bring to you this shortlist of the best hydration packs for men and women.
If you’re running any distance, from 5k to half marathons, full marathons and trail ultramarathons, and want to know the best way to carry water and other essentials while running then one of the packs from this list is what you need!
Running hydration packs (also known as hydration vests, running vests or running backpacks) are popular with runners who want a convenient and comfortable way to carry water as well as their phone and other essentials on their runs, and prefers the ‘vest’ style rather than wearing a running belt.
1. Camelbak Apex Pro Run Vest
- Volume: 11 liters
- Weight: 390g (14oz)
- Cost: $180 at Camelbak.com
- Sizing: Unisex, XS to L
- Pros: This highly spec’d-out running vest boasts every feature imaginable, including a RECCO reflector, 2x 17oz Quick Stow Flasks, a secure phone pocket and a water-resistant pocket, and a removable trekking pole quiver.
- Cons: If you don’t need a high volume running vest you could opt for a less expensive, lighter-weight alternative.
- The verdict: This is the one running vest you’ll ever need, for running any distance.
It’s exciting to see brands such as Camelbak using the RECCO® reflector technology in their running gear. It’s like having an extra layer of safety, making you searchable by rescue teams, which is reassuring, especially when you’re pushing limits in remote areas.
The vest, which is made with recycled materials, is also super versatile with a deployable trekking pole quiver for easy access on changing terrains, and a water-resistant pocket that keeps your essentials dry.
Plus, with an 11L capacity and up to 1L water capacity with 2 soft flasks (or a 1.5L reservoir, bought separately) there’s ample storage for all your running needs—hydration, nutrition, and even your phone stays secure but accessible
2. Salomon Adv Skin 5 Set
- Volume: 5 liters
- Weight: 228g (8oz)
- Cost: $140
- Sizing: Unisex, XS to XL
- Pros: Can carry poles, comes with 2x500ml soft flasks
- Cons: Not the best option if you prefer to use a hydration reservoir rather than bottles
- The verdict: An excellent running vest for trail running distances from 10km to 50 mile ultras.
Salomon is known for making some of the best hydration packs out there, and this unisex Salomon running vest is popular, for good reason.
The Advanced Skin 5 Set pack offers a snug, precise, comfortable fit for both male and female runners. It balances the load between front and back, and the sternum strap is adjustable and elastic, flexing around your body shape, and as you move.
Salomon has included plenty of well-thought-out features for runners, including a zippered pocket for your phone, the ability to carry collapsible trekking poles and a useful back ‘kangaroo’ stuff pocket you can reach without removing the pack.
If you like the sound of this pack but need a larger volume than 5 liters, also consider the Salomon Adv Skin 12 Set, which is a 12 liter version, which has similar features.
3. Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest / Vesta
- Volume: 10.8 liters
- Weight: 180g (6.3oz) without bottles
- Cost: $140
- Sizing: M: S/M/L/XL, W: S/M/L/XL
- Pros: Water reservoir-compatible, soft flask water bottles included, zipper pockets, pole storage
- Cons: Lacking the back kangaroo pocket of the Salomon vest
- The verdict: With so many versatile storage options you can customize your pack to use it exactly how you like it – and it can handle long runs including ultra marathons with ease.
Ultimate Direction is a US brand offering some of the best running hydration packs for men and women, including these popular Ultra Vest and Vesta styles.
This Ultimate Direction running vest (or ‘Vesta‘, for the women’s fit version), offers plenty of storage, including zippered pockets up-front for your phone and essentials, and attachment straps for stowing collapsible trekking poles.
Plus, it comes with two 500ml soft flask water bottles for hydration, and features a cord on the back for compression when you’re not using the whole volume, to stop the contents moving around when you run.
4. Nathan Pinnacle Featherlite 1.5L
- Volume: 1.5 liters
- Weight: 4.4oz / 125.4g (without flask)
- Cost: $110
- Sizing: 4 unisex sizes to choose from
- Pros: Comfortable, breathable form-fitting and easily adjustable pack with a 14oz soft flask water bottle included
- Cons: No zippered phone pocket and the rear zippered pocket can be difficult to access when on
- The verdict: A great low-volume, lightweight hydration pack for everyday runs
This Nathan running vest is made from soft, body-contouring sweat-wicking materials, offering easy-to-adjust side and chest straps to get that bounce-free fit, for both men or women.
It comes with a 14 oz soft flask water bottle and is capable of storing 2x 20 fl oz soft flask water bottles if you need to carry additional water on your runs.
For more details, photos and insights, read our Nathan Pinnacle Featherlite review.
5. Salomon Active Skin 4
- Volume: 4 liters (also available in 8 and 12 liter versions)
- Weight: 195g / 6.8oz (including bottles)
- Cost: $100
- Sizing: XS, S, M, L, XL
- Pros: Lightweight hydration vest with bottles included, at a great price
- Cons: No side adjustments, so it’s important to get your sizing spot-on for a no-bounce fit
- The verdict: This lightweight Salomon running vest is a great choice for everyday runs on roads or trails.
Constructed with stretchy, breathable fabrics, this unisex pack includes 1 back compartment, 1 front zipped pocket and 2 front stretch pockets that accommodate the two included soft flask water bottles.
This breathable unisex running vest also features compression straps to fix the weight on your back – important if you’re not stuffing it full with gear and want to lock everything down.
6. Osprey Duro / Dyna
- Volume: 5 liters (size S/M) or 6 liters (size M/L), also available in 1.5 liter and 15 liter
- Weight: 312g (11oz)
- Cost: $120
- Sizing: S / M / L
- Pros: 1.5-liter water reservoir included, plenty of pocket storage options, holds poles
- Cons: Heavier than alternative running vest options
- The verdict: This Osprey pack is a good choice if you like to carry water in a hydration reservoir rather than bottles on the front of the vest.
Osprey encourages using the rear of the pack for your hydration storage, in the 1.5-liter water reservoir that comes with the race vest.
This is not surprising given Osprey specializes in hiking backpacks with hydration reservoirs.
There are front panel stretch-mesh compression pockets and a vertical zipper stash pocket for a phone.
8. REI Swiftland 5 Hydration Pack
- Volume: 5 liters
- Weight: Not stated on REI’s website but comparable to the Ultimate Direction Vest
- Cost: $100
- Sizing: From S/XS to 2X-3X
- Pros: Easily adjustable, multiple sizes, comes with 1.5 liter reservoir
- Cons: Only available in one color
- The verdict: Another contender for best budget hydration pack, particularly if you prefer to carry water in the back rather than bottles on your chest and struggle getting a good fit in other brands.
This REI hydration pack offers versatile storage options and a comfortable fit. It comes in a range of sizes, which is great if you normally struggle to get a good fit in one-size or more limited-size ranges.
The pack is easily adjustable around the sides and across the front of your chest and features plenty of pockets for storage on the front and back – including two large pockets on the front, which fit most hydration soft flasks as well as a phone, snacks and other essentials which you may need to access quickly while running.
To learn more about this running vest read our REI Swiftland hydration pack review.
Best Hydration Packs For Running: The Buyer’s Guide
A running hydration pack is basically a small backpack for running, and is a great way to carry everything you need on your runs, for everything from 10ks and half marathon distances up to trail ultra marathons.
Most runners will own at least one hydration pack as they are the best, and most efficient way to carry essentials including water, energy food, spare clothing (including your running hat when not being worn), mobile phone, keys, and even trekking poles… the list goes on and is only limited to your creativity :).
While hydration packs have been popular among trail and ultra runners for many years now, they are also becoming more popular among road runners as a comfortable and easy way to carry essentials while running.
If you are just getting into trail running then visit our beginner’s guide to trail running for more tips on technique and what gear to take with you.
What is the difference between a running vest, pack and backpack?
The terms to describe a small running backpack are generally used interchangeably – many people choose to call them hydration packs (or backpacks) and others call them hydration vests, or simply running vests.
We also sometimes refer to them as ‘race vests’ as this is common terminology used to describe this piece of trail running gear in the UK and Europe, where we lived for many years.
How to choose the best running pack for you
Firstly, and most importantly, having a good-fitting, comfortable hydration pack is almost as important for running as having a comfortable pair of shoes on.
If it’s uncomfortable then the whole running experience is less enjoyable, and nobody wants that!
Other considerations when choosing a good running hydration pack are:
- Storage capacity and weight
- Options for carrying water
- Durability and construction
- Style and cost
Storage capacity and weight
Running hydration packs come in a range of sizes, often measured in liters, with the smallest generally starting at around 1.5 liters.
Larger packs go up to around 12 liters (3 US gallons) before they start to become larger and more like hiking daypacks.
If you are going on a short day hike then a running hydration vest could be a great, lightweight option (for more on what to pack for day hikes, visit our hiking for beginners guide).
Generally, I would not choose to run with a running hydration vest larger than 12 liters in volume, unless I am going fastpacking and need to carry extra food and overnight supplies.
For most people, something in between 4 and 12 liters is going to work well, with the most popular options (if you expect to run for up to 3-4 hours at a time) being between 4 and 6 liters.
That said, if you’re not sure and you expect to be running mountain ultra marathons and trail marathon distances in the foreseeable future, then it may be worth investing in a larger volume hydration pack.
The weight differential isn’t that much between smaller and larger volumes, and good hydration packs feature straps and bungees that allow you to compress them to stop the contents moving around when the pack is half-empty.
Carrying water in a running hydration pack
There are two main options for carrying water with you in a running hydration pack – either in bottles (preferably for most people – soft flasks) or in a hydration bladder.
Depending on the capacity of your hydration vest and how much water you need to take, you could even take a hydration bladder as well as a bottle or two.
Most of the packs we have included in this list come with either soft flask water bottles, or a hydration bladder, but are so versatile that you could choose an alternative combination if that’s your preference.
Durability and construction
A hydration pack is an investment and something that should be able to stand up to snags, falls, moisture, dirt, and more and last for many years. So tough, technical yet breathable material is desirable – and the lighter weight, the better.
It also almost goes without saying that soft fabric with minimal, thoughtfully placed, seams will help reduce discomfort or any potential for chafing during your long runs, especially around the shoulder straps, under your arms and around your chest where the sternum straps attach.
Style and Cost
Style and cost are more matters of personal preference and budget rather than key elements for a running hydration vest’s function, however, if you can get a great hydration vest for a good price and which also looks great, then all the better!
Brands offering the best hydration packs for men and women
Popular brands offering running packs are specialist hydration pack companies such as Nathan, Camelbak and Ultimate Direction, as well as long-term players in the trail running and mountain sports equipment arena such as Salomon.
Other brands entering the running hydration pack market more recently include backpack brand Osprey, and larger running brands such as Nike.
Alternatives to running packs
For ultra running there aren’t really any viable alternatives to hydration packs, unless you’re running a very fast ultra and have support crews and places to resupply.
If you need to be self-sufficient on the trails and in the mountains then a hydration vest is the way to go, but for shorter runs consider handheld water bottles or wearing one of these running belts instead.