Why review the best hydration packs for trail runners?
Whether you’re hitting the trails for your long run or just out for a long period of time, the most important thing you need to do is stay hydrated.
Fail to do so and it can be a game-changer for you, ending your race, run or day very quickly. The easiest solution for whatever you are doing is to consider a hydration pack.
They fit well and can carry decent amounts of liquid for you to be out for hours.
They also take away the issue of trying to carry bottles by hand, as this can become a bit of irritation over time. For more background information on hydration packs please check out our buying guide which can be found next.
How to Choose your Hydration Pack
Choosing the right Hydration Pack is super important and should not be overlooked.
It needs to be right for the task and needs to be comfortable if you’re going to be wearing it for long periods. With that in mind, here are a few things you should consider.
Doesn’t matter who you are, you want to travel as light as possible. this is especially important when you are running the trails.
A long run over the trails has its impact on the body, so the last thing you want to be worrying about is lugging a heavy pack around. Being light makes it a lot easier on the body overall, and of course the lighter the weight you have to carry, the easier your run will be.
Within our list of hydration packs, we have set the target of offering the lightest equipment possible so that weight doesn’t become an issue you have to worry about when making your decision.
Of course, with the pack being lightweight, we still need to ensure that the quality of the material and overall durability is best in class. After all, there’s no point in being light if the pack falls to bits after a few runs right?
The only consideration, in reality, is that there is a fine balance between lightness and durability. Obviously the most durable of materials are generally the heavier ones.
A hydration pack or vest is no different than buying an item of running clothing.
We want it to be as comfortable as possible. The last thing you want is to be out for hours on the trails with an uncomfortable pack – this would be really irritating.
You need a pack that’s going to fit right without something that’s going to bounce around whilst you run.
We also need to ensure that there isn’t movement in areas that may cause rubbing and irritation – the last thing you want is a nasty chafing sore on the shoulder or rib cage.
This is why the overall fit and quality of the material is so essential.
We hope this goes without saying. It is vitally important that the materials are breathable on your pack. If not there are a number of issues that may arise.
The first one being the fact that you will sweat, you could get cold and it also increases the chances of skin irritation due to rubbing.
The worst-case with sweating is that the kit you are carrying, such as base-layers or spare kit may also get wet which would not be beneficial at all.
Depending on the usage of the pack will determine the size you will require.
When we talk about the size we are considering a couple of things here. What is the volume of liquid you intend to carry?
Hydration packs can either have a bladder (or reservoir), bottles or both. The bladders come in sizes ranging from 1 liter to 3+ liters.
If you’re out for the long haul you might want to consider a larger bladder or a combination of that with bottles.
Remember, there generally aren’t water taps out on the trails so consider what you need before you leave.
The other consideration with the size is what else do you want to carry? If you’re running an Ultra you might need to carry a waterproof, nutrition, spare kit.
You might be on a self-supported Ultra, in which case you need to carry all of your kits with you.
With these variables, it’s important to understand the task you have in mind prior to the purchase of your hydration pack.
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Camelbak Circuit Hydration Vest
The Circuit vest is the lightest in the Camelbak range making it a great option when you’re out on the trails.
The vest also comes in 3 colors so there is the option to pick the one just right for you.
At a weight of 6oz (180g), the CamelBak Circuit running vest is a great lightweight option you should consider for those runs that are around the 3 to 5-hour mark.
With its 1.5ltr reservoir, there’s enough capacity to keep you hydrated over this time. There’s also the option of adding a couple of soft water flasks in the front pockets to give you that little bit extra liquid on those warm days.
It also has an additional storage capacity of 3.5ltr which allows for the carrying gels or other nutrition as well as a front zipped pocket that’s large enough to carry a mobile phone.
The reservoir itself comes with Crux technology which is said to have the ability to deliver 20% more water per sip. Ideal if you want to drink quickly and get on with your running. The reservoir also comes with a neat handle which really aids the filling of the bladder so there’s no messing around trying to get the water in.
The 3D ventilated mesh allows for greater airflow, so you stay as dry as possible even though you’re hot. This is a great asset as there is nothing worse than getting wet and cold on your torso due to a badly ventilated pack.
All in all, this is a great vest for those wanting to travel light and not carry too much kit. It holds plenty of water, and of course, you will get the chance to top up at fill stations if competing in a race. This pack has an excellent design but also comes with a very reasonable price tag compared to other packs on the market.
- Breathable 3D Mesh
- Soft Material
- Decent Color Options
- Some Sizing Issues Reported
- Chest Strap Reported coming Loose by Some
Salomon Agile 2
Coming in at 170g the Salomon Agile 2 is most definitely a hydration pack you should consider.
With a 1.5 liter reservoir, this should be ample to keep you on the go for 3 to 4 hours.
However, unlike the CamelBak Circuit, it doesn’t quite have the additional storage pockets to carry soft flasks, so unless you have the ability to refill during your run, you will only have the 1.5 liters.
In terms of storage, the Agile 2 has an additional 1.5 liters of space. This is enough for you to carry your phone, some basic nutrition, and a mobile phone. All of which is ample enough for those shorter outings.
The pack boasts a feature call Lite technology on the shoulder straps. The idea is that the material promotes ventilation and reduces the chances of chafing around that area. This is a nice addition due to the fact that becoming sore around the shoulders can become uncomfortable.
Across the back, the pack has Airvent technology that helps stop the back from sweating, which can only be a good feature right.
In terms of comfort, some reviews have stated that the pack is better suited to males. Although some women have said the pack is very comfortable, those with a larger bust were less impressed.
The snug fit allows the pack to be very good for running as the ‘bouncing’ of the pack is greatly limited when the straps are tightened correctly.
In conclusion, the Salamon Agile 2 is a pack you should consider if you’re going out on shorter adventures or there are checkpoints and fill stations during your race.
The pack currently retails at a very reasonable $75 making it one of the lower prices we have on review.
The only downside to the pack is the fact that some might not feel it has enough storage for the job in hand.
- Very Lightweight
- Hydration Bladder
- Minimal Design
- Small Front Pocket
- Reported that Ladies with a Larger Bust had Comfort Issues
Osprey Duro 1.5
When you talk about Osprey packs you know you are dealing with quality.
However, during our research, we found that one person had noted the lack of elasticity in the front pockets and found that the hard flasks they used actually fell out of the front pockets. As far as we can tell this is an isolated incident and has seen no issues ourselves.
The pack weighs in at 10oz, which is slightly heavier than the packs reviewed so far. However, due to this pack being more ‘vest-like’ you are more likely to find that pack very comfortable and not notice the difference in weight at all.
In terms of additional space, there are two front pockets that are capable of holding soft flasks or additional kits.
At the front of the pockets are two elasticated pouches capable of holding gels or other similar items. On the back, there is a zipped pocket where the phone, keys, etc. can be stored safely.
The inner material is a ‘contact mesh fabric’ designed to be comfortable next to the skin. This along with side compression straps and adjustable sternum straps makes this vest easy to fit and very comfortable indeed.
The Osprey Duro 1.5 would definitely be a vest that should be considered as part of your running gear.
With the ability to carry a 1.5-liter reservoir as well as 2 soft flasks, this gives you the option of far longer runs and would probably be a good pack for up to 50-mile events.
With the pockets that can hold extra nutrition, phone and also a waterproof jacket, you have all you need to be comfortable out on the trail for a decent length of time.
- Vest Style Pack
- Good Additional Storage
- Build Quality
- Cannot Tighten Front Flask Pockets
- Tube Magnetic Holder Not Strong
Ultimate Direction Race Vest 4.0
The Ultra Vest 4.0 is one of the more expensive packs on the list but for good reason. The weight, comfort and storage space make it a winner for Ultra Marathons.
Ultimate Direction is a hugely popular manufacturer of Packs & Vests and has the backing of some of the world’s most famous trail and ultra runners such as Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka, and Amelia Boone.
The athletes have had input to a lot of the gear and how it is designed too. At least this way we know some of the world’s best back the design and quality of this gear.
The Ultra Vest 4.0 has been designed with a more serious runner in mind. After all, if you’re not doing the long runs or Ultra marathons then there’s not much need to purchase this vest. However, if these are your sort of races then this might just be the vest for you.
The vest itself weighs in at an amazing 119g / 4.2oz with an incredible 10.3 liters of storage. This apparently is down to the Knit Mono Mesh material. Incredibly strong, light and boasts a 4-way stretch. I can vouch for this as the flexibility of the material on pockets is fantastic.
The Vest comes in 3 sizes (S, M, L) and has both a Male and Female version.
The vest also boasts something called Comfort Cinch. Basically, Ultimate Direction has incorporated rear bungee cords to adjust the vest rather than side straps. The beauty of this is it’s a quick-fire adjustment, but also takes away the potential of side straps rubbing against the skin and causing irritation.
There is plenty of storage with pockets too. There are the 2 bottle holding pockets at the front – the vest comes with 2 500ml soft flasks.
In addition to this, there are further stretch pockets at the front for any need to get to essentials.
At the rear, you will find a zipped pocket at the base of the pack that can hold anything from spare nutrition to head torch or a base layer, plus there is another zipped pocket above that can hold waterproofs, hat, glove, etc.
There is also a pocket that can hold a 2-liter bladder, however, this is not supplied with the pack.
In summary, the Ultra 4.0 vest is a top of the range style pack that is fantastically lightweight, has plenty of storage and is extremely comfortable on those long days out on the trail. If you are considering those long runs then you most definitely should consider the Ultra Vest 4.0.
- Plenty of Pockets
- Breathable Materials
- Great for Long Runs
- Very Lightweight
- Might be too Expensive for Some
Nathan VaporAir 7L
The Nathan VaporAir is another vest that is made by a well-renowned manufacturer.
It has great build quality and can be used for very long runs. Some customers have stated that they have used for 100-mile races and it has been perfect for the job. It also comes in Male and Female options.
There is plenty of storage and the vest comes with a 2-liter bladder which is ample for those longer runs. It also boasts a further 5 liters of storage with plenty of pockets for nutrition items or the like, plus there are the pockets that can be used for additional water bottles.
However, 2 liters in the bladder should be ample, especially during the long races where you can refill at the aid stations. For items such as clothing, the best option is to secure with the bungee system that is used with the pack.
In terms of comfort, there are a number of adjustable straps that allow what you might consider as ‘fine-tuning’ the fit. It has adjustable shoulder straps, plus Nathan uses elastic mesh side panels rather than straps which just adds to the overall comfort.
The pack hugs the body well so there is no bouncing around when on the run, plus the excellent front straps allow you to re-adjust as the bladder empties during the day. With an overall weight of 14oz, including the bladder, the pack is a decent weight that you won’t really notice during your activity.
Overall, the pack is lightweight and has ample storage for those long runs. The hydration system is excellent with the 2-liter bladder and the magnetic pipe security at the front of the pack is a great feature. Vapor Air is definitely a pack you should consider.
- Plenty of Pockets and Storage
- Breathable Materials
- Great for Long Distances
- Magnetic Tube Holder
- Phone Pocket is Small
- Leaking Valve Reported by Some
Salomon Adv Skin 12 Set
When it comes to any type of trail gear, Salomon is one of those companies that most people recognize. You don’t get to be this well know without producing quality gear. The Adv Skin 12 Set is no exception and in our opinion, it’s the pack of choice for all running distances if you don’t mind the price tag.
The Adv Skin 12 Set currently retails at around $160, but honestly, it’s probably worth the spend to get such a great race vest. Coming it at 14.6oz it’s not the lightest pack, but with all that storage and comfort due to its great fit, you really won’t notice it at all.
The pack comes with 2 500ml soft flasks that fit beautifully into the front pockets. You really hardly notice they are there at all. There is room for a 1.5-liter bladder in the back, however, this will need to be bought separately if you would rather have this over the bottles.
The pack is made of Salomons Sensefit material which wraps around your body giving a really snug fit without being tight.
The only real adjustment comes from the front with the bungee style sternum straps. These are awesome at making quick adjustments on the move with the greatest of ease.
Storage is plentiful and Salomon has used a fantastic elastic pouch type system at the side of the pack for quick storage of essential kit. As well as this there are 2 zipped pockets on the front that can easily hold a large mobile phone and nutrition etc.
There is another zipped compartment on the back that can easily hold waterproofs or base layers.
If your serious about your running and you have the budget, you really should consider this pack as part of your gear. short or long runs, it’s perfect for all and it has the storage capacity to easily compete in a 100-mile race.
The comfort and durability of this pack alone make it a truly great investment for the avid runner.
- Very Comfortable
- Great Moisture Wicking Ability
- Loads of Space
- Might Be Expensive For Some
- Bladder Purchased Separately
As you will have seen, there are so many choices of hydration packs to choose from nowadays, but choosing the right one is important to meet your requirements.
If you are planning on long runs and serious ultra-marathons then, without a doubt, the Salomon Adv Skin 12 should be your go-to pack. You don’t want to stretch to that budget then the Nathan or Ultimate Direction would be great choices too.
If you’re doing shorter runs and want to keep the budget lower, then I would suggest the CamelBak for your needs. This is a very popular pack with great reviews.
I hope this review gave you an insight into the best packs around today and maybe gave you some great ideas for your next hydration pack.
Drop a comment below if you have had any experience with any of these packs, we would love to hear from you. Or perhaps you have a favorite go-to pack that isn’t on the list. Let us know so we can review it at let others know how good it is.
All the best,