Dehydration can be a runner’s worst nightmare. Symptoms can be as mild as a slight headache, or so severe that they require hospital treatment.
It goes without saying that you need to make sure to stay properly hydrated when you’re out on a run, to stay at peak performance – and to avoid potential health problems.
It can be difficult to carry an adequate amount of water with you when you’re out running, be it on the road or on a trail. That’s why a hydration pack is a good idea. Camelbak is the original option, and they remain an industry leader. Whether you want to carry a small amount of water for a short outing, or you’re carrying water for a full-day adventure, there is a Camelbak that fits your needs. You can carry more water with you than you can just in bottles, and it leaves your hands free so you don’t have to adjust your gait to accommodate a bottle in your hand or on your belt.
We chose the Circuit Vest as our favorite Camelbak. It has a 1.5-liter reservoir, is reflective for extra safety, and is made from mesh for coolness and breathability.
But Camelbak makes a variety of styles and sizes at different prices to fit your needs and budget.
Read on to see our top picks…
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Best For Half Marathons
1. Circuit Vest
If the half-marathon is your go-to distance, this is the hydration pack for you.
It has a capacity of 1.5 liters, which means you will have a good amount of water to see you through your race. At that capacity, it won’t be too heavy when filled to capacity.
It’s also designed to give you 20% more water per sip, so you don’t need to sip as often as you would with other vests. The vest is constructed from 3D micro-mesh so it’s lightweight and won’t weigh you down on the trail or road. It also has good airflow, so you won’t overheat while wearing it.
The Circuit comes in men’s and women’s versions, and they’re slightly different from each other. The women’s vest is anatomically designed to fit a woman’s body, so it’s shaped slightly differently from the men’s.
There are four soft flask pockets that you can fill with bottles or use for other things like energy bars. There’s also a zippered pocket that is ideal for a smartphone or set of keys. You can adjust the fit using the side straps at the bottom.
The men’s vest has two bottle pockets, a mesh pouch, and a zippered pocket. It can also be adjusted to fit snugly using the side straps, and making sure it’s tight ensures stability no matter what terrain you’re running on.
Both are reflective and have an integrated tube trap that prevents the tube from flapping around and makes it easy to find every time you need a drink.
- 1.5-liter CRUX reservoir
- 3D Micro Mesh
- Dual Adjustable Sternum Straps
- Integrated Tube Trap
- You may need to be gentle when closing the bladder as the water cap seal could break and your bladder would leak from the bottom
Top Lightweight and Simple Design
2. Octane Dart
Lighter and simpler is usually better when it comes to running gear.
The Octane Dart is our choice as the top lightweight Camelbak. It has a minimalist design that makes it inconspicuous and easy to wear.
Camelbak has taken care to create this model out of very light materials, so it doesn’t weigh you down at all while you’re running. It also has a simplistic design and only features a few front-facing mesh pockets.
Although it is minimalistic and light, the water carrying capacity is 2 liters. The Crux system delivers 20% more water with every sip, has an ergonomic handle that helps make it easy to refill, and it even has an on/off lever that will help prevent leaks.
- Made from ultralight materials
- Liquid capacity of 2 liters
- Front-facing pockets
- You may have to tighten this more than usual so that it doesn’t leak
Best for Long Runs and Races
3. Octane XCT
If you’re the type of runner who enjoys long runs, then the Octane could be the Camelbak for you. The BPA-free bladder has a 2-liter capacity so it will keep you hydrated for an extended period of time.
It is also built a bit more solidly, with a thick but ventilated waist belt to keep it firmly in place throughout your run. The waist belt has built-in zippered pockets for carrying essentials, as well as open-topped pouches on the front for easy-access storage.
Even though the back of this Camelback is thick and padded, it’s made from breathable mesh. The straps are made from a stringy mesh that offers a lot more breathability and airflow, so you’ll stay as cool as possible.
The vest is reflective, so if you like to start your runs early in the morning or finish late at night, you will be visible to traffic.
- Ventilated waist belt
- BPA-free bladder
- Breathable mesh back
- 2-liter bladder capacity
- The straps have no padding
- Some may find that the pack sits too high on the waist to be comfortable
Best For Carrying Trekking Poles
4. Nano Vest
Whether you’re a trail runner, a hiker, or you like to run ultramarathons, you may be looking at a Camelbak that offers you storage space for trekking poles. The Nano Vest is the one for you.
It has a uniquely-designed carrying space on the back that fits trekking poles perfectly, and can also be used for other things if you don’t use your trekking poles all the time. In additional to that, it features nine different pockets to carry supplies with you. The pockets are small, so you will be thoughtful about what you put in them.
There are also two soft flask holders on the front of the vest, and you’ll get two 500ml Quick Stow flasks with the vest. There is no space to store a hydration bladder in this vest, so you will have to rely on the two flasks for your water.
Some people may find that the vest runs small, so consider ordering a size larger to fit the bottles in comfortably. Even so, the bottles can slip out of the pockets easily when filled, due to the movement of the body.
- Water flask holders and food pockets
- Made from ultralight material (weighing in at a nearly nothing 150 grams)
- Designed for carrying trekking poles
- Includes two 500 ml Quick Stow flasks
- The vest runs small and you may want to order a size bigger
- Some people may find that the Quick Stow flask either slips out of the pockets or sits awkwardly when filled
Top Large Capacity Pack
5. Octane 10
If you like to fill your pockets when you run to make sure you have everything you could possibly need, then you might like this large capacity Camelbak. It has a hydration capacity of 2 liters and a pack capacity of 8 liters (or 480 cubic inches).
The CRUX reservoir has a QuickLink system to make it more easily accessible to link the tube, and a tube trap keeps it in place while you run. The increased flow rate allows you to take in more water in one sip so you can ration your water better.
You’ll find a large main compartment with a double-zippered closure. There’s also a variety of internal pouches so you can safely store smaller items. On the front, you’ll find a few pouches for water flasks, as well as a small zippered pocket.
Some other useful features include the 3D mesh design that makes it comfortable and breathable, designated space for carrying trekking poles, and a safety whistle.
- 8 liters of compressible cargo space
- 2L CRUX Reservoir
- 3D Vent Mesh
- Trekking Pole Carry
- Some people may find that the screw-on closure for the bladder doesn’t tighten enough and the bladder could leak
Best for Ultramarathons
6. Ultra Pro Vest
You can tell by the name of this Camelbak that it’s been designed specifically for runners who take part in ultra marathons. It comes with two 500ml soft flasks, but you can add 1.5 liters more using a Crux reservoir, to give you 2.5 liters of total hydration capacity. More than enough to get you from aid station to aid station.
There are separate men’s and women’s designs. The men’s seems to be more simplistic, while the women’s offers more space on the sides to store accessories. Both of them fit the Camelbak standard two 500ml Quick Stow flasks in their front pouches, with a few extra pouches and a zippered pocket on each.
Both of them are made from sturdy but breathable mesh and have reflective elements on the front and back for increased safety.
The men’s comes in three sizes (small, medium, and large) and in brighter colors than the women’s. The women’s comes in four different sizes (extra small, small, medium, and large).
- 1.5-liter Crux reservoir can be used with this vest
- Front and back reflectivity
- Front cargo storage
- Stretch overflow pocket
- Some people may find that the two 500 ml Quick Stow flasks fall out of the pockets easily when they’re full
Top Lightweight Vest with Two Front Bottles
7. Zephyr Vest
The Zephyr vest is the top lightweight Camelbak, weighing just 7 ounces without water bottles in it. When using the two water bottles, it has a capacity of 1 liter or 34 ounces of water, which is still light and gets even lighter as you run.
The two bottles are made of plastic and are BPA, BPS, and BPF-free, so they are safe to drink from. If that’s not enough water for your run, you can add a CRUX reservoir of any size to increase your water capacity.
There are storage pouches and pockets strategically placed so you can reach your fuel and accessories quickly and easily. There is also a secure cell phone pocket, an attachment point for trekking poles, and a safety whistle.
This vest is also made from engineered knit mesh, and like all of Camelbak’s vests, is breathable and keeps you surprisingly cool when running with it on your back.
- Engineered knit mesh
- Secure phone pocket
- Attachment point for trekking poles
- Material is treated with Polygiene
- The vest is expensive, and if you want a hydration bladder it’s an additional purchase
Best Extra Large Capacity
8. Octane 18
If a large capacity pack isn’t enough for you, we have chosen this one as the best extra-large capacity Camelbak. It is almost a full backpack added on to a hydration pack, so you will be able to carry everything you need. It would be great for hiking or camping as well as running.
A 2-liter CRUX reservoir fits inside, and a couple soft flasks can be carried in the front pockets. The main compartment is large (22 liters or 1340 cubic inches) and there are multiple pockets and pouches throughout the bag to store all your essentials.
It has plenty of added safety features too, like a safety whistle and reflective elements on the front and back so you can be easily seen in low light.
- 2L Crux reservoir with Quicklink
- Top load access
- Multiple stow options
- Reflective detailing
- The front clasps may come loose easily if you’re on rough terrain
What is the history of Camelbak?
Camelback knows what it’s like to be an athlete and what an athlete needs. The idea of a hydration bladder was born on a 100-mile course.
This company was born out of thirst, literally. In 1989, the founder, Michael Edison, entered a cycling race called the “Hotter N Hell 100” in Wichita Falls, Texas. This grueling event had many challenges, but not many water stops. Michael was solving one issue he would face on the open road.
He was an energy medical technician, and he took an IV bag and filled it with water. He then stuffed that into a tube sock while he used a clothes peg to clamp the hose of the IV to his shirt.
When the other cyclists saw him they laughed, but before the race was over they saw that he had fewer stops. This allowed Michael to cycle further and improve his race time without having to worry about hydration.
Camelbak rose to greater prominence, especially in cycling, when Norm Alvis wore one en route to setting the US hour record.
What is the main benefit of a hydration pack?
When you have a hydration pack, you’re able to go further and push your personal best without having to sacrifice on liquids!
You can go further and explore more as you can choose what hydration bladder you want to use. You don’t have to worry about carrying water bottles or the awkward shape of the water bottles that won’t let you put them in your back pocket.
Hydration bladders can be taken with you for every outdoor activity from cycling, mountain biking, rock climbing, running, or hiking.
What do you need to consider when buying one?
When thinking about what bladder you’re going to get, consider the activities that you’re going to be using them for. Give some thought to:
- Where you are running, trails or road.
- How far and how long you’re going to be running
- The capacity of the pack and how much storage it has
- The type of bladder you’ll be using
- The fit of the pack and how comfortable it is to run in.
- Do you need a running vest or do you need a running backpack.
This will help you decide which Camelbak hydration pack you should get for your running needs. You may even decide to get two different Camelbaks, one for running shorter distances and one that will allow you to run further. You’d be able to switch between them depending on your training or race goals.