When you’re on a long run, you need fluids. Short of carrying a water bottle in your hand or wearing a bulky fuel belt, the only other way to make sure you have all the liquid you need is to wear a hydration pack.
To find out what the best hydration pack for running is, you’ll first need to figure out your specific needs.
Quick Look: Our Top Picks
Why Do I Need a Hydration Pack?
- If you’re training for a 5k, you don’t need to wear a hydration pack. If temperatures soar while you’re training for a 5k, you might want to carry a water bottle with you. There’s no need for hydration packs for shorter distances.
- If you’re running for an hour or more at a time, you should bring some fluids with you. Whether you choose a handheld water bottle or a hydration belt or pack is entirely up to you and your comfort level.
Won’t Carrying Water Slow Me Down?
Runners are highly competitive — we want to run our fastest, and whenever possible we want to finish with a medal. We don’t want anything slowing us down come race day.
The big fear runners have when it comes to carrying their own water is that the extra weight from the belt or the pack will slow them down. Newer runners are especially concerned about this. Hydration packs can feel heavy or bulky at times. But if you find the right pack for you, you’ll barely notice it’s there.
Carrying your own water doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll run slower. Sometimes bringing your own hydration gives you an edge and the extra confidence to power through your race.
How many times have you had to slow down at water stations in races just to wait for the crowd to thin out so you could grab a cup of water? You might only lose 5 or 10 seconds during each stop because of it. But when you factor in there are several water stops during a long race, you’re actually losing a lot of time by using the water stations.
By wearing your own hydration pack, you could just zoom right past those other runners.
How Can Hydration Packs Help Me On Race Day?
When you participate in races, there will be multiple fluid stations. So, if you stop at every one, you could probably take in enough water, even on longer runs, to keep you safe from dehydration.
But there are several cases where hydration packs can help you on race day:
- You won’t spill them: If you’re like me, when you come to a water station during a race, you don’t stop — you just grab the cup and drink from it as you run. Inevitably, I end up spilling about one-fourth of the water while grabbing it from the volunteer, and then I spill more when I go to drink it. With a hydration pack, you don’t spill anything.
- You have water when you need it: We’ve all had that one race where we needed water so badly, we felt like we were crawling through the desert. Your mouth is dry and you can feel yourself fading because you’re so overheated and thirsty. With a hydration pack, you’re not reliant on someone else to decide when you can have water — it’s always with you.
- You’ll perform better: When you’re well hydrated during a race, you perform better. And if you have water with you, you’ll drink it more frequently and in greater amounts than you would if you were solely relying on a water station.
- You’ll always have water for your energy gels: Energy gels are a great tool for enhancing your performance in a run. But you need to take water with your energy gels in order for them to work properly. Sometimes, when you need to take an energy gel, there’s no water in sight. Then you have to hold off until you finally come across an aid station. That can lead to unnecessary fatigue and slower times.
- You’re creating less waste: Whenever I see all those disposable paper cups littering the ground during races, I feel bad for what runners are doing to the environment. The New York City Marathon uses millions of paper cups just for that one-day race. That’s a lot of garbage that could be eliminated if more runners used hydration packs instead.
- Running in hotter than normal temperatures: Nothing throws curve balls at runners like Mother Nature. Two days before your race, you might find out that the weathermen are calling for your big day to be the hottest day of the year. If you’re running in extremely hot weather, you need to take in more fluids, and having a hydration pack handy can help you with that.
Top 5 Hydration Packs for Running
1. CamelBak 2016 Dart Hydration Pack
The CamelBak Dart won’t leave you feeling like a pack mule on your run — it’s light enough that you won’t feel too weighed down.
- A redesign of this pack means it has a better harness and more compression than prior models.
- It has an easy-to-open cap, which means you won’t spend much time or frustration trying to get it open while maintaining your pace.
- It has a bite valve, which means you simply bite the mouthpiece and then suck the water out.
- This pack also includes pockets and a clip for your keys, so you won’t have to wear a fuel belt as well.
- Both the front and the back have some reflective material for added safety.
- It can hold 50 ounces of liquid, so it’s a nice alternative to the heavier ultra-marathon packs you’ll see.
- There’s a stretch mesh pocket included right on the harness just for your energy gels, so you’ll be able to reach them without stopping.
- You can switch the hose clip to whichever side you’d rather use it on.
- It doesn’t shift or slide around when you’re running.
- Larger-sized runners will find this model a bit too snug, if it fits at all.
- You have to slide the reservoir mostly out of the pack in order to fill it.
- A bit on the pricey side for the amount of water it carries.
2. Mubasel Gear’s Ultra Lightweight Hydration Pack
Whether you want to run, kayak, cycle or hike, this pack is a solid option for keeping you hydrated along the way.
- This pack is affordable.
- It carries 70 ounces of liquid.
- This pack is another light alternative for when you need water with you, but you don’t want to feel like you’re lugging a piano on your back.
- It has two good-sized storage compartments that will fit your essentials, and even some bigger items.
- The opening to the reservoir is big enough that you can add ice cubes if you like having a cold drink during your run.
- It’s leak-proof as long as you keep the straw tightened on there.
- The chest and shoulder straps can be adjusted to ensure a proper fit.
- It fits a wide range of chest sizes from 27 inches up to 50 inches.
- The pack uses an extendable bite valve that will always be in reach.
- It’s a cinch to clean out the reservoir — you can just use warm water.
- Doesn’t need a waist strap to keep it from bouncing around, so that means you don’t have as many straps to mess with.
- It’s BPA free.
- The water does have a bit of a plastic taste to it.
- The bladder seems to hold condensation without fully drying between uses.
3. Unigear Tactical Hydration Pack Backpack
This pack is durable — it won’t tear or snag. Run after run, it’ll continue to look as good as the day you bought it.
- This one also offers a good range of sizes, fitting 27-inch chests to 50-inch chests.
- The chest straps on this pack means it isn’t shifting or moving when you run.
- This pack has PVC lining and is made of tough polyester that will protect it from extended use.
- It uses a bite valve hydration hose.
- The bladder holds 2.5 liters of liquid.
- The pack uses a BPA-free bladder, which is nice for runners worried about chemicals.
- The big cap means the opening is wide enough to add ice cubes if you want your water to remain cold.
- It includes two front pockets, which will hold quite a few personal items.
- It also has a key clip to keep your keys secure, which reduces the risk of you losing them.
- The bladder is easy to fill.
- The muted colors offered don’t offer much as far as visibility goes.
- These packs seem to be better suited to the body contours of men, not women — it seems to chafe women much more than it does men.
4. Nathan Intensity Race Vest
If you’re a woman runner who has had problems with many models of hydration packs, you’ll want to check out this Nathan Intensity race vest. It’s been made to fit women.
- It has a propulsion harness that helps prevent the movement of the vest during runs, which means there’s no bouncing.
- The shoulder straps are made out of breathable mesh, which is a great feature during summer runs.
- There’s a front zipper pocket so you can store your phone.
- It has reflective trimming which will help keep you safe on the roadway.
- It holds two liters of liquid.
- The tank is easy to clean.
- It doesn’t feel heavy, even when the reservoir is filled completely.
- This pack will fit even large-chested runners very well.
- The hose doesn’t seem to have any problems with leaking.
- It fits more like a vest and less like a traditional running pack does.
- The color choices are cute and will please a lot of women runners.
- You won’t want to wear tank tops with this vest because you’ll get chafed.
- There’s not much room for storing bigger items.
- It gets pretty hot to wear in the summer.
5. SLS3 Running Hydration Vest/Backpack
Runners who love hydration packs, but hate using tubes to suck water out, may want to check out this pack. It uses water bottles instead of a reservoir.
- You’ll get a bounce-free run with this pack, thanks to its chest strap that can be adjusted.
- The ergonomic design makes your run feel as pain-free as possible, even when shouldering the weight of the water.
- There’s a tiny pocket that’s just the perfect size for a key.
- The vest is inexpensive.
- One of the front pockets is mesh and is large enough to hold your phone, which is nice if you like to run listening to earbuds attached to your phone.
- The water bottles are close enough to your sides that they are easy to reach during a run.
- The vest isn’t going to weigh you down — it feels light and natural.
- If you have bigger bottles, you may be able to fit them in the pockets.
- The two bottles that come with this vest only hold 19 ounces of fluid collectively. If you wanted to, you could cram an additional bottle in the backpack portion of the vest. The only problem is you wouldn’t be able to reach it if your other bottles empty during a run without taking the vest off, unless you’re a contortionist.
- The vest will ride up pretty high on the neck, which means tank tops won’t be comfortable to wear with it.
And the Winner Is …
My favorite of the battle of the hydration packs is the SLS3 vest. The two main draws for me are the affordable price tag and the fact that I’m not a fan of drinking out of tubes while running. That’s just a matter of personal preference — I’d rather use water bottles.
I tend to wear t-shirts while running instead of tank tops, because I don’t want the extra sun on my shoulders. The chafing this vest can cause tank-top-wearers is a non-issue for me. I love all the pockets, including the separate key pocket that comes with this vest.