We’ve run many thousands of trail miles to try, test and bring to you this list of the best hydration packs for men and women. If you’re running trail distances over a half marathon and want to know the best way to carry water while running then one of these running vests is your new best friend.
In fact, these running hydration packs (also known as running hydration vests or running backpacks) are becoming popular not just among trail and ultra runners but anyone who wants a convenient and comfortable way to carry water as well as their phone and other essentials when running.
If you’d like to learn more about how to choose which is the best running pack for your needs, click here to jump down to our running vests buyer’s guide, otherwise scroll down to see the list.
Best Hydration Packs For Running – Table of Contents
- Overall Best Running Vest
- Best for Ultra Marathons
- Best Lightweight Vest
- Best Value (Budget Options)
- Best for Mountain Ultras (Larger Volume)
- GUIDE TO CHOOSING A RUNNING VEST
Best Running Vest All-Round
1. Salomon Adv Skin 5 Set [Editor’s Choice Award]
This Salomon running vest is popular with men and women for good reason. The Advanced Skin 5 Set pack offers a snug, precise, comfortable fit and balances the load between front and back, and the sternum strap is adjustable and elastic, flexing as you move.
Salomon have included plenty of well-thought-out features for runners, including zipper pockets, the ability to carry collapsible poles and a useful back ‘kangaroo’ stuff pocket you can reach without removing the pack.
These unisex running packs are super popular in the UK and Europe and gaining popularity in the US and other countries rapidly.
- Volume: 5 liters
- Weight: 228g (8oz)
- Pros: Can carry poles, comes with 2x500ml soft flasks
- Cons: Not the best option if you prefer to carry water in a hydration reservoir rather than bottles
- The verdict: This race vest is the best running hydration pack and our top choice for trail running distances from 10km to 50 mile ultras, especially if you prefer to carry water in soft flask water bottles rather than hydration bladders.
3 new from $139.95
out of stock
2. Nathan VaporSwift / VaporSwiftra [Runner Up]
These men’s and women’s Nathan running vests come in a couple of size options and are made from soft, body-contouring and sweat-wicking materials, offering easy-to-adjust side and chest straps to get that bounce-free fit.
The hydration packs come with a 1.5 litre water bladder, although the two front pockets will fit 500ml water bottles if you prefer. Additionally, the two zip-up pockets at the front are perfect for storing important items that you need to secure upfront, such as your mobile phone.
- Volume: 4 liters
- Weight: 195g (6.9 oz) without bladder
- Pros: Comfortable, form-fitting and easily adjustable pack with great storage up-front
- Cons: Rear pocket is one large unit with no compression
- The verdict: A great value all-round running hydration pack for trail runs of all distances.
Best Running Pack for Ultra Marathons
3. Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest / Vesta 5.0 [Editor’s Choice Award]
These running packs offer plenty of storage, including zippered pockets up-front for your phone and essentials, and attachment straps for stowing collapsible trekking poles. Plus, they come with two 500ml soft flask water bottles for hydration. The Ultra Vest and Vesta packs also have a cord on the back for compression when you’re not using the whole volume to stop the contents moving around when you run.
- Volume: 10.8 liters
- Weight: 180g (6.3oz) without bottles
- Pros: Water reservoir compatible, soft flask bottles included, zipper pockets, pole storage
- Cons: Lacking the useful 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.
3 new from $139.95
Best Lightweight Minimal Running Vest
4. Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5 Set
Part of the premium S-Lab range from Salomon, this hydration vest has a lightweight, minimalist design, but still has a 5 liter capacity and is packed with plenty of features, including several zip pockets, stretch mesh pockets and the back kangaroo pocket for stashing essentials such as your waterproof running jacket.
This breathable and moisture-wicking unisex race pack also includes a whistle (a requirement in many long mountain trail races), reflective decals for safety if running at night, and 2x 500ml soft flasks for hydration.
- Volume: 5 liters
- Weight: 190g (including bottles)
- Pros: Lightweight, minimalist hydration vest with bottles included
- Cons: May not be large enough to carry all you need for more extreme climates or mountain races. Relatively expensive and carry poles you need to buy an add-on ‘quiver’
- The verdict: This lightweight Salomon running vest is the best running hydration pack for minimal runners who like to run fast and light.
1 new from $127.96
out of stock
5. CamelBak Ultra Pro [Runner Up]
This Camelbak vest is made from a lightweight breathable mesh that makes it the best Camelbak for comfortably running long distances. This pack comes with 2x 500ml Camelbak water bottles included however it is also designed to be used with a 1.5 liter hydration reservoir if you prefer (bought separately).
The dual adjustable sternum straps stabilize the pack, reducing any bounce as you run, and it comes in men’s and women’s fits. There are plenty of easy to reach pockets for stashing a layer, snacks, energy gels, and whatever else you may need.
- Volume: 6 liters
- Weight: 160g
- Pros: Can carry poles, plenty of pockets, breathable mesh
- Cons: Less contour-fitting than the Salomon hydration vest options
- The verdict: A contender for the best lightweight running vest, at a better price point than the Salomon S/Lab vest
6 new from $119.99
Best Value Running Hydration Vest
6. Osprey Duro 6 (Men’s) and Dyna 6 (Women’s)
The Osprey Duro and Dyna 6 liter Hydration Packs offer room for extra layers and plenty of pockets for fueling long days out on the trails. 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, and Osprey has added a magnet for the hydration pipe so that it’s easy to access on the move.
- Volume: 5 liters (size S/M) or 6 liters (size M/L)
- Other sizes available: 1.5 liter and 15 liter
- Weight: 312g (11oz)
- 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 the best running hydration pack for the money, for all the features and low price point, you’re getting a great deal.
6 new from $109.95
out of stock
7. REI Swiftland Hydro [Runner Up]
This REI hydration pack offers versatile storage options and a comfortable fit. It comes in a range of men’s and women’s sizes from S/XS and 2X-3X, 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 Swiftland Hydro review.
- Volume: 5 liters
- Weight: Not stated on REI’s website but comparable to my Ultimate Direction Vesta
- Pros: Easily adjustable, multiple sizes, comes with 1.5 liter reservoir
- Cons: Only available in one color
- The verdict: An excellent hydration pack for running at a great price of under $100
Best Hydration Pack for Mountain Ultra Marathons
8. Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest and Vesta
These Ultimate direction hydration packs are specifically designed for long mountain days and epic adventures. They offer lightweight stretch construction and well thought-through pockets, with zip pockets at the front and rear and usage of the space at the side of the vest for additional storage.
The Mountain Vest and Vesta also feature an external adjustable bungee on the rear, which can be used to compress the contents of the hydration pack as well as secure items such as waterproof jackets for quick access if you get caught in a rainstorm.
- Volume: 12.7 liters
- Weight: 11.5oz (326g)
- Pros: Carries poles up front, convenient zip pockets, bungee storage for quick access
- Cons: Difficult to fault this pack
- The verdict: If you’re running big mountain ultras or long trail races where you need to be self-sufficient for long periods (including overnight) this pack has your back!
9 new from $164.95
9. Salomon Advanced Skin 12 Set [Runner Up]
The Salomon Advanced Skin 12 Set is a popular lightweight race vest that shapes around your body and so is one of the rare unisex hydration packs that can offer a comfortable fit for women and not just men. It is offered in a range of sizes with each vest being adjustable, so you can find the best size and fit for you.
While it comes with bottles, this trail running vest can hold a water bladder in the rear and has a selection of useful pockets, from the two zip-up pockets in the front, to the low rear pockets on either side, which you can access while it’s on.
- Volume: 12 liters
- Weight: 13.9 oz (394g)
- Pros: 2x 500ml soft flasks included, can carry poles on front or back, plenty of pack storage for big mountain days
- Cons: Heavier than alternative options if you don’t need all the volume of a 12L pack
- The verdict: Popular Salomon hydration vest that is proven to perform in all conditions including extreme mountain ultra-marathons.
4 new from $159.95
Running Hydration Vest Buyer’s Guide
- What is a running hydration pack and why do you need one?
- What is the difference between a running vest, pack and backpack?
- How to choose the best running pack for you
- Brands offering men’s and women’s hydration packs
- Alternatives to hydration vests for carrying essentials on runs
What is a running hydration pack and why wear one?
A running hydration pack (aka running hydration vest) is basically a small backpack for running, and is a great way to carry everything you need on long trail runs, for everything from 10ks and half marathon distances up to ultra marathons.
Most trail 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 :).
If you’re relatively new to trail running and you’ve seen other runners with these small backpacks on then you may be curious to know more about them and the pros and cons when it comes to buying your own. You may have also noticed they can be expensive (often much more than $100) so it’s worth doing some research to find the best one for you that will fit well, be comfortable to wear for hours at a time, and store all the water and gear you need to carry when running trails.
While hydration packs have been popular among trail and ultra runners for many years now, they are starting to be more popular among road runners as a comfortable and easy way to carry water while running, as well as other essentials such as your phone and waterproof jacket on longer runs.
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 running hydration packs (or backpacks) and others call them running hydration vests, or simply running vests. We refer to them in these ways in our content.
Technically, a running hydration vest is a smaller running backpack, whereas a running pack indicates that it has a larger volume, but in reality the description varies by brand and style and you should normally take both terms to mean the same thing – a small pack you wear on your back to carry essentials while trail and ultra running.
We also sometimes refer to them as ‘race vests’ as this is a 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 running hydration pack is almost as important as having a comfortable pair of shoes on – if it’s uncomfortable then the whole running experience is less enjoyable – nobody wants to run around with an uncomfortable pack that moves around or is difficult to access on-the-go.
This means that when it comes to choosing a running hydration pack, generally most women are going to be better off with a women’s-specific running vest than a men’s version, as these versions have been designed to fit women’s bodies and are more likely to offer a comfortable fit that doesn’t shift around when you run.
Other considerations when choosing a good running hydration pack are its:
Storage capacity and weight
Running hydration packs come in a range of sizes, often measured in litres, with the smallest generally starting at around 4 litres (which is around 1 US gallon, although you can find smaller), and larger packs going up to around 12 litres (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 litres 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 litres is going to work well, with the most popular options (if you expecting to run for up to 3-4 hours at a time) being between 4 and 6 litres.
That said, if you’re not sure and you expect to be running ultra marathons and trail marathon distances in the forseeable future, then it may be worth investing in a larger volume hydration pack, as the weight differential isn’t that much 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 both. Most of the hydration vests we have picked come with either soft flask water bottles, or a water 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.
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 men’s and women’s hydration packs
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 and the option of running with a waist belt or fanny pack if you’re not carrying too much gear with you.
Now you’ve read our running vest buyer’s guide, click here to jump up and see our full list of the best hydration packs for running.