The number one tip when out on the trails is to stay hydrated. In fact, in any sport, hydration is a key factor.
When I first started to get into trail running I was fairly clueless about a lot of things to be honest as I had never really been out for long periods of time without having access to a store to buy a drink.
The more I got into my running the more I realised the importance of being more self-sufficient when it can to carrying water to stay hydrated.
With that said, having to stay hydrated is one thing, but how are you supposed to carry your water with you whilst still being comfortable. Here are my 3 top ways to carry water on a trail run.
The 3 best ways to carry water on your run from my experience is:
- A Hand Held Bottle – perfect for shorter runs up to 90 minutes
- Hydration Belt – capable of carrying 2 bottles and essentials
- Hydration Vest – perfect for long runs such as marathons and ultramarathons
However, there are many options within the top 3 ways to carry water which we will discuss in more detail below, with some added tips around the types of fluid you should carry – it’s not just water.
Why It’s Important To Carry Water When Running
If you have run any sort of road race like a half or full marathon you will know that there are water stations every few miles, so there is no need to carry any water or nutrition during the race. It’s all made quite easy when it comes to thinking about hydration.
However, when you move to the trails and there is a bigger distance between the aid stations, then it’s advisable to carry water or some form of fluid with you.
I ran an ultra a few years ago where the aid stations were over 10 miles apart so you can be out on your own for 3 to 4 hours depending on the terrain.
Of course, there are no aid stations when you train either, so you need to self support yourself if you are going to be out for a number of hours.
It’s also important to note that hydration isn’t just important when the weather is hot, it’s equally important when it’s cold.
If you are running and you feel thirsty, you are already starting to dehydrate. Sip fluids regularly to stay hydrated.
Now we understand how important it is to carry water and stay hydrated, lets look at the top 3 methods of carrying it.
The Handheld Bottle
For me, the handheld bottle is my go-to everyday use equipment for my shorter training runs. To be honest, I even used one on a couple of 50k’s a few years ago that had its pros and cons that I will talk about shortly.
If you are fairly new to running and do some shorter runs at the moment then the handheld bottle is your friend.
Benefits Of A Handheld Bottle
There are many benefits to using a handheld bottle. Here are a few of the main reasons.
- They are cheap to buy – of all the options of carrying water the handheld bottle is the most cost effective of them all.
- Bottles come in various capacities usually ranging from 10oz to 24oz. You can even carry two to maximize your water.
- They are easy to carry – slip your hand into the holder and off you go.
- Easy to fill at aid stations – unscrew the top and refill, simple as that. If you have ever tried refilling a hydration bladder on the move you will understand what I mean.
Disadvantages Of A Handheld Bottle
A handheld bottle won’t come without a downside, but that’s to be expected right? Here are some of the disadvantages of carrying one.
- They will take a bit of getting used to – if you aren’t used to carrying a weight in your hand for a period of time, you will notice this to begin with. After a 5 hour 50k I noticed my arm and shoulder was aching the next day (but 5 hours is a long time right).
- There’s only so much liquid you can carry – on a very hot day you might not have enough to see you through a longer run.
- You can’t carry a lot of gear – most handhelds will have the capacity to hold keys, some nutrition, or a small phone if you are lucky. I just gets too heavy after that.
Types Of Handheld Bottle
Believe it or not, there are a few types of handheld bottles that vary in size and type. There are solid bottles, insulated bottles, soft flasks, and various others.
Here are a few of my favourite ones to use.
Nathan SpeedMax Plus
This is my new go-to bottle for shorter trail runs. For years I used Ultimate Direction but they no longer make my handheld as pictured above.
I have given the Nathan SpeedMax Plus a try lately and I have to say I really like it.
It comes with a 22oz/650ml bottle so I’m more than comfortable with running up to 90 minutes with it.
The top of the bottle has a nice big opening for easy refill if you are at an aid station, or even if you want to pop some ice in there to keep your drink nice and cold.
The hand strap is also easily adjusted for your size and to be honest, I have found it very comfortable to wear in the short time I have had it.
Finally, there is a zipped pocket for you to stow your keys and also some nutrition like gels if that’s your thing.
Overall a very good handheld that you can check out via Amazon from this link.
Salamon Active Handheld
If minimal is your thing then a soft flask with basic handle might just be right for you.
This offering from Salomon has a large opening for quick refills and filling with ice if required.
The bottle will start to collapse the more you drink. It’s a good option for travelling light with a 16oz/500ml capacity.
Personally, I like to leave the soft flasks for the running vest, but on the occasion that I have used one I have made up my own handle with my Buff.
My advice on a short run is to not overthink what you are carrying too much – you generally won’t be out long enough to be concerned.
Hydration Belts & Waist Packs
Like many people, if you are concerned about having to carry a fairly heavy bottle for too long during a run, then a hydration pack or waist belt might just be for you.
They are a very popular option amongst trail runners for many reasons that are outlined below.
Benefits Of A Hydration Belt
A belt or waist pack can be a great option for a number of reasons. Here are just a few:
- They can carry more liquid than a bottle – the reason I say this is that most of the belts are capable of carrying the larger bottles up to 24oz. In a few cases they will hold 2 bottles as well.
- You can stay hands free – if carrying a bottle is annoying than a waist belt can help resolve that issue for you.
- Carry additional kit – you will often find that a belt will have the capacity to carry more nutrition, keys, and very often a phone which isn’t something a handheld will allow.
- Some people find them very comfortable to wear.
Disadvantages Of A Hydration Belt
- They can be uncomfortable – now this will depend on the pack and your body shape no doubt. When I tried one I found that it was bouncing around a lot which became really irritating after a while.
- Chafing – that’s right. Another issue I found with the pack was that the straps can rub on your hips and cause some real irritation, especially when it’s hot and sweaty.
My Waist Belt Picks
Nathan Trail Mix Plus
As I had said previously, I personally haven’t had great experience with the running belts, however, that might have just been the specific belt itself.
I have seen some very good reviews for the Nathan Trail Mix Plus for various reasons.
Firstly, the belt is supplied with two 10oz bottles giving an overall capacity of 20oz for your run. I’m fairly sure it would hold a couple of 14oz bottles that are the same shape that will give you more water on your run.
They say that belt is made of a material that is multi-directional stretch so it fits snug against the body and won’t bounce. The reviews on Amazon appear to back this statement up.
What I Do When It Comes To A Waist Pack
When it comes to my mid to long range runs I do things a little differently. I don’t use a hydration belt, I tend to use a waist pack instead.
The reason for this is that I actually like running with a handheld bottle but I’m aware that one bottle is often not enough. I also like my phone, real food for nutrition, a buff, and maybe my headphones.
So, with the waist pack I can store all of these items, plus a soft flask in the front pouch and I’m good for a few hours out on the trails.
My pack is the Inov8 All Terrain 3 Running Waist pack that I have used for a couple of years now. As you can probably see in the photo, it comes with double straps which all for multiple adjustment points around the waist.
This pack has been excellent to run with and is very comfortable indeed with no issues of bouncing or chafing whatsoever.
You can check out the latest All-Terrain 3 prices on Amazon by clicking on this link.
When you are going to be out on the trails for more than a few hours, or your running a marathon or ultra, then a hydration vest will most likely be what you need to consider.
Most hydration packs have the ability to hold a bladder that can hold 1.5 to 2 litres of liquid, as well as the ability to store 2 soft flasks at the front. Potentially you could be holding over 3 litres of water which is enough for a long day out.
When choosing a hydration pack, especially if it is for an endurance event, you need to weigh up whether you will use a bladder or leave space for kit.
If a pack says it has a 12 litre capacity, this means the room it has to hold kit and not the amount of water it will hold. Apart from the fact 12 litres of water would not be a good weight to run with.
Just remember this when considering what pack to purchase.
Benefits Of A Hydration Pack
- You can carry enough liquid to last you most of the day if required.
- They are excellent for carrying extra kit on long runs. This might include more nutrition, waterproof gear, warmer layered clothing etc.
- Perfect for Ultramarathons where you need to carry mandatory kit. This will often include a waterproof jacket, a minimum amount of water, head torches or lights for the evening, first aid kit, phone, spare clothing etc.
- They are often very comfortable and keep you completely hands-free, which is great at aid stations where you are grabbing snacks.
Disadvantages Of A Hydration Vest
- Your back will likely sweat – this can be irritating for some, but for some people, there isn’t much you can do about it. Could be less comfortable when it’s cold and the wet clothing starts to chill.
- They can chafe around the shoulders and waist if not fitted correctly. Take the time to adjust the straps to keep it secure. In the event of chafing try some body glide in those areas of concern.
- They can be expensive – not everyone has lots of money, but for me, this is a piece of kit that should last a few years if you look after it.
- The liquid in the bladder sloshing about drives me insane – oh man! this is why I don’t really use a bladder. The constant noise of the liquid is not what you need when your body is starting to tire and you just want peace. That’s how I feel anyway, which is why I don’t use one any more.
My Hydration Pack Picks
I only bought my current vest because I saw so many people wearing them and thought it looked comfortable.
Salomon Advance Skin 12 Set
The Salomon race vest is possibly one of the best purchases I have ever made for long distance runs. I have worn it for multiple races and it is amazingly comfortable for the whole race.
The fabric is quite stretchy so it seems to hug every part of your body in the right way making it really comfortable to wear.
Loads of storage space with lots of pockets and hideaways. With the fabric being so elasticated you seem to be able to stuff a lot of gear in.
It holds two 16oz/500ml soft flasks which is ample for an ultramarathon between aid stations. On a warm day you can add a hydration bladder (not supplied) in the back that will offer an additional 1.5 litres of water for you.
I bought a size XL which weighs a measly 9.5oz/270g so you barely notice you have it on.
Hydration Tips For Trail Runners
So you have your bottle, waist pack, or hydration vest, but how do you plan to stay hydrated whilst out on your run?
I wanted to share these tips with you to keep you moving without fuss.
When To Carry Water?
Unless you are on a run that is 30 minutes or less I would advise taking some water with you, especially if it’s a warm day. When you become thirsty you are already becoming dehydrated so sip water regularly.
How Much Should I drink When I’m Out Running?
I have seen quite a few people say that you should drink when you are thirsty, but like I said previously this is not a good idea. If you become thirsty, especially on a really long run, it could result in other issues occurring.
Heres what can happen when you dehydrate on the run:
- You become thirsty – already dehydrated (you’ve been warned).
- Fatigue will set in.
- Cramps will likely set in – that’s painful.
- Confusion – when very dehydrated.
- Muscle spasms that could eventually result in injury.
- Everything starts to feel harder than it really is.
Bottom line is don’t become thirsty. Take regular sips of water and aim to drink at least 16oz/500ml per hour if you can.
Should I use Electrolytes?
For me personally, if I’m running for an hour or more I tend to use an electrolyte tablet in my water. It not only flavours the water but also has Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium for increased hydration.
I often also use a product called Tailwind mixed in one of my bottles. Not only does it hydrate, but also gives me 200 calories per sachet, so I’m staying strong on my long runs. As I can’t stomach or even like gels, this is the perfect partner for my longer runs.
We have established that the top 3 methods for carrying water are handhelds, waist packs, and hydration packs, all of which have their place in certain scenarios.
For me, I try to go quite basic on the handheld, even though I use it quite a lot. As long as it’s comfortable it’s good for me.
I’m not a big fan of hydration belts because I don’t feel they offer the right comfort levels for me, but I think a waist pack and handheld together is a viable option for many run distances.
For long runs and ultramarathons I believe a hydration vest is the best option as you not only need to carry water, but some additional kit that might be required during the race.
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