Runners know how important it is to stay hydrated. Dehydration can lead to poor runs, discomfort, and other more serious injuries. The challenge is that when you are running long distances, hydration is not always immediately available.
This is exactly why running hydration packs were created. These wearable hydration devices allow you to have much-needed water readily available no matter how far you are running. Because they can be worn, runners no longer have to figure out how to carry lots of water while trying to focus on the road ahead. They can also store much, much more water than a handheld water bottle or hydration belt.
Hydration packs also free runners up to plan your route based on where you want to run, not by places to stop for water. Most are designed for trail where you’re less likely to encounter places to refill. But some are designed or can be used for road runs and even during half marathon and full marathon races.
Like all gear, hydration backpacks are not created equal. There are several factors to consider when choosing one to buy.
The obvious factor is how much water a hydration pack can carry. Most packs for running have two ways to carry water: on the front with water bottles or on the back with a hydration bladder. The bladder holds more water (usually 1L to 2L), but are trickier to fill-up on the go.
Front water bottles are more convenient and allow you to carry two different types of fluids – but they don’t have the overall storage capacity of a bladder. Some packs allow for both options while others are limited to either the bladder or the front bottles. You will want to select a pack that holds enough water for your longest runs, keeping in mind that water does add weight for you to carry.
Other factors include overall fit, how easy it is to access the water, and storage capacity for extras like jackets, nutrition, keys, and a phone. We’ll cover more considerations about buying a running hydration pack at the end of this article.
The packs listed here are unisex or made for men (even if not directly stated). If you need a women’s pack, check out our article on the best women’s hydration packs.
Here is our list of 10 hydration packs that are best suited for running…
Top 3 Best and Favorites
1. Camelbak Circuit Vest
The Circuit vest from Camelbak continues to be one of their most popular running vests, especially since the newer version is 30% lighter than previous models. This means that you can carry more water with less weight.
This vest also features a 1.5 liter Crux reservoir. This helps deliver 20% more water per sip to the runner – this means more hydration intake with less effort.
To ensure a snug fit during your run, the Camelbak Circuit comes with two adjustable straps across your sternum. You will be able to enjoy bounce free running while avoiding the pitfalls of restricted breathing from a vest that fits too tightly.
The pack doesn’t hold bottles on the front, but there are several pockets for storing small items.
Made from a ventilated mesh material, this vest allows for multi-directional air flow which gives you maximum comfort and easy breathing. You can also store your cell phone in a zippered enclosure for safe and convenient access. There is also enough storage to carry gels, snacks, and other gear.
The Circuit vest is also a great deal at under a $100.
- Lightweight and breathable
- Excellent combination of water and gear storage
- Snug fit with adjustable straps for less bounce
- Good value
- Limited color options
2. Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 4.0
Ultimate Direction prides itself on innovative products and the Ultra Vest 4.0 is no exception. It provides a strong combination of carrying capacity with a lightweight design. With two 17 oz soft water bottles, this vest still weighs less than 11 ounces (bottles empty).
The lightweight mesh fabric feels like it molds to your body resulting in less bounce and no chafing. The 4-way stretch nylon combined with the MicroMono mesh fabric will reduce irritation, especially around the usual problem areas like the shoulders and neck.
This vest also features Ultimate Direction’s trademark Comfort Cinch technology. This pack-tightening system sits in the rear of pack to cinch the back-to-front connectors snug. In addition to providing a custom fit for every runner, it allows for easy adjustments while you are on the go.
The two bottles are conveniently located up front. Combined they can hold up to a liter of water or your favorite sports drink. There are also stretch mesh pockets with zippers to hold your phone and any other necessities.
The pack is also compatible with up to a 2L reservoir; however, this is not included with the vest – it must be purchased separately.
- Lightweight with custom fit adjustable sternum straps and lower back
- Convenient water bottle locations
- Reduced irritation from chafing during runs
- Higher price point
- Limited color options
3. Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 5 Set
A minimalist style system that fits close to the body, Salomon’s S/Lab Sense Ultra 5 Set packs a ton of features in a small package. Hydration is accessible at the front, while multiple pockets allow for storage of all the essentials.
Two front pockets hold hydration, three zip pockets on the chest and sides keep belongings contained, and three stretch pockets plus a back compartment hold everything else. Two 17 ounce flasks come with the set. Drinking on the go only requires you to tilt the pack up to hydrate – no need to take the bottles out of their holders. Small zipcords also tie around the water bottle head to prevent them from sliding into the pocket holder as they get low on water.
With a mesh and elastic build – and thanks to Salomon’s unique advanced skin design – the Ultra 5 is chafe-free and lightweight. Its slight size and weight mean you’ll barely feel it on the trail. The snug fit means it won’t flap in the breeze, either. Without straps, zippers, and bungees slapping against you, you’ll forget you’re wearing this vest at all.
Depending on what you need to carry and how long you’ll be on the trail, the Ultra 5 Set is one of the best running hydration packs with multiple functions. For conditions where you need to pack not just water, but also supplies like a windbreaker, cell phone, snacks, and more, this trim-fitting option can carry it all.
- 5L, 305 cubic inch capacity
- 6.7-ounce weight
- Minimal-feel while wearing it
- Front bungees can prove difficult to adjust, especially as your water supplies deplete
- Sizing runs big
4. Nathan HPL #20 Race Vest
For conditions that require a fully-stocked bladder, the Nathan HPL #20 vest ranks among the best hydration packs. While no hydration vest is lightweight when full, Nathan makes it a little less cumbersome.
A three-way harness helps with adjusting the pack close to your body, minimizing bouncing and discomfort. The straps are a breathable mesh that lay flat, and mesh pouches can store gels or other must-haves.
Although the bladder itself makes up most of the backpack-style vest, the back panel is breathable mesh as well. The hydration pack also has a zippered pocket for storing other necessities.
With the bladder, the overall storage capacity is 269 cubic inches. Without, a total of 366 cubic inches are available.
The presence of zippers, adjustment straps, and bungees may be an annoyance to some runners, but there are strap-holding mechanisms in place to reduce flopping. That said, runners on the lower end of the height-weight spectrum will have more to deal with when it comes to excess straps.
- Three-way harness allows for nearly infinite adjustments
- Bottle and smartphone pockets
- 14.6-ounce weight with an empty bladder
- Can remove hydration pack for more storage space
- One-size-fits-most, so no custom sizing options
- Straps and bungees may “flop” as you run
5. Orange Mud Endurance Pack 2.0
The Orange Mud Endurance Pack differs slightly from the normal hydration vest in that the front shoulder depth is much deeper than normal which allows for additional flexibility. The end result is that this Endurance Pack can easily adjust to the curves of the female runner as well as the larger male runners.
Equipped with a 2-liter bladder, this pack provides plenty of hydration for your longest runs. It also features additional 2-liters of storage for other necessities you might need along the way. There are also 2 convenient shoulder pockets to hold snacks or energy bars.
The mesh material is rugged but also breathable resulting in improved comfort for the wearer. The two front straps have multiple adjustment points to aid in finding the right fit for comfort and reduced bounce.
- Total of 4-liters of storage for liquids and other gear
- Deeper shoulder depth to conform to larger runners
- Multiple adjustment locations
- Can be heavier than other packs for running as it is designed for more than just running
6. Ultimate Direction Marathon Vest
Ultimate Direction promises that if the Marathon Vest is so light, you’ll forget that you’re wearing it. As impressive as the claim seems, it appears to be true. The overall weight of the pack is just under five ounces, and its construction is breathable and lightweight mesh.
A bottle-compatible front pocket fits multiple varieties of trail bottles, and the rear pocket is also bladder-compatible. It has PowerNet Mesh that aims to eliminate bouncing, so if you need to pack more hydration than one water bottle, the Marathon Vest has space.
Although it is a one-size model, the versatility of the Marathon Vest gets our vote as one of the best hydration packs. You can carry a compatible water bottle or spring for a bladder that fits the pack, though the smaller, the better when it comes to keeping the bladder secure.
The mesh construction of the pack makes it less of a “backpack” and more of a vest, ensuring a close-to-the-body fit with the adjustable straps. For people of smaller stature, the straps may prove annoying once on the trail, since strap excess can flap in the breeze.
However, the tradeoff is a versatile vest that accepts water bladders for most runners’ long-distance needs.
As the name suggests, this pack is designed for long training runs and races like the marathon. It lacks some of the pockets for gear and only has room for one bottle in the front. But its minimal and lightweight design makes it a good option for those who want to carry their own hydration and nutrition in a half marathon, full marathon, or longer road race.
- 248 cubic inches capacity
- iPhone 7-compatible zipper pocket
- Velcro closure mesh pocket on front
- Great value
- Larger reservoir sizes may “flop”
- One-size-fits-most, so no custom sizing options
- Doesn’t come with bottles or water bladder
7. Nathan VaporKrar 12L Race Vest
A versatile pack with plenty of room for the essentials, Nathan’s VaporKrar 12L vest means fewer stops and farther journeys. It can hold everything from the new iPhone 7 to trekking poles, and that’s alongside a full 1.8L hydration pack.
While the material appears solid, as opposed to see-through mesh, the “apparel-like fit” helps make the pack seem like part of the body. The full-coverage style means it’s close to your body, which is ideal for minimizing bounce.
Elastic front pockets make room for essentials, including soft flasks, phones, and on-the-go nutrition. A rear zipper pocket, plus an internal stash pocket, give you a place to put valuable or bulkier items.
The compression system straps help with sizing adjustments so you can obtain the ideal fit. Sternum straps are adjustable and help make the pack more comfortable, but multiple options from XS to XL allow you to measure and select the most suitable size.
- Multiple sizing options for custom fit
- Comes with 1.8L Vapor hydration bladder
- Compression system for stability
- Adjustable sternum straps
- 732 cubic inch storage capacity
- Weighs 12 ounces with the empty hydration pack
- Bulkier than other hydration backpack options
- Material is breathable but not mesh
8. Salomon Agile 2 Set
If you are looking for a vest that can get you safely around those shorter runs in the city or out in the suburbs then the Salomon Agile 2 might be the right choice for you. This lightweight hydration vest is specifically designed for shorter active running sessions.
It is made from 3D Air Mesh with perforated EVA shoulder straps. The harness construction allows for a comfortable fit that is snug yet breathable. The three-point attachment design offers additional stability to the comfort and fit of the Agile 2.
Even though it is designed for shorter durations, the Salomon Agile 2 still has lots of storage. There are two elastic pockets on the front that are designed to hold your water bottles. The back of the vest features a kangaroo pocket for any additional storage needs.
- Available in a variety of colors
- Has a minimalist design to handle quick runs in the city
- Comfortable and ultra-convenient
- Lower price point compared to other endurance models
- Designed only for short active sessions and is not for endurance runs.
- Back pocket is not zippered
9. Salomon Adv Skin 5 Set
If you like the Salomon Agile 2 but require a little bit more than your basic minimalist approach then you might consider stepping up to the Advanced Skin 5 set from Salomon Sports. This model adds a zipped phone pocket in the front, 2 zippered side pockets and a large zipped pocket on the back.
The unique design of this vest allows you to store significant amounts of your stuff on the front and the back. All this additional storage makes the Advanced Skin 5 best suited for long runs.
Your water bottles will be stored into elastic pockets located on the front of the 3D Air Mesh. The fabric is fast wicking and will stand up in a variety of weather conditions. Salomon also uses their MotionFit and Sensifit technologies to create a custom fit that can be adjusted to your specific body style.
- Available in a variety of colors
- Has a minimalist design but carries a lot of necessities
- Comfortable and ultra-convenient
- Will be bulkier than other race designed models
10. Osprey Duro 15 with 2.5L Reservoir
If you are into trail runs that could go all day then you need to take a good look at the Osprey Duro 15 and its 2.5-liter bladder. This vest has one of the largest bladders available on the vests in our list.
Even with its larger bladder, the Osprey Duro 15 is built for speed. It features bounce-free stability and surprising comfort. The Osprey is also flexible in that it can be converted for shorter runs through the use of bottles in lieu of the large bladder.
There is ample storage with the many pockets on the front, sides, and back. Some pockets are zippered for secure access while others are designed for quick and easy access on the run.
- Large 2.5-liter water bladder for maximum hydration
- Built tough to handle extreme trail running
- Capable of holding supplies for all day running adventures
- Available only in two colors
- Bulkier than other models on the list
Running Hydration Pack Buyer’s Guide
These days hydration packs come in a variety of sizes and styles. Some are made for racing, others for ultra-long trail runs. There are packs that can fit a bladder. Others that can’t. Some are one-size-fits-all, some packs are women-specific. Ultimately, there are a lot of options for every need and budget out there.
We’ll break down what factors to consider when shopping for a hydration pack. Follow these guidelines to find the best hydration pack for your needs.
Since we are talking about hydration packs, let’s cover the most important consideration first: water storage!
Hydration packs typically store water two ways: with a bladder or reservoir that sits on your back. Or with handheld water bottles that are stored in the front on the shoulder straps.
Most hydration packs can accommodate both types of water storage. But depending on the pack you buy, it likely only come with a bladder or bottles – usually not both. If you want both options, you’ll need to buy either the bladder or bottles separately.
Hydration Bladder or Reservoir
A bladder, also called a reservoir, sits on your back in either the main storage compartment or a within a sleeve or other storage section of the pack. A tube runs from the bottom of the bladder, through the pack, and up and over your shoulder. At the end of the tube, there is a valve where you drink- like sucking out of a big straw.
These days, the valves are usually bite valves – meaning you squeeze the valve between your teeth to drink. When you are not biting, the valves won’t leak. Some valves are more like water bottles – you pull them up to drink, then push them down to prevent water from coming out. This style is more prone to leaks (or runners forgetting to push the valve back in) so they are less popular.
For extreme temperatures, some packs come with (or can be bought as an add-on) insulation that goes around the bladder and/or tube and valve. This helps keep the valve from freezing in cold weather (a bladder is less likely to freeze due to the higher capacity and sloshing around while you run). The insulation can also help keep the water colder in the summer.
Water capacity varies in bladders. 1.5 and 2 liter storage is most common. And most packs are designed to hold bladders this size. But there are smaller and larger bladders that either come with the pack or can be bought separately.
Most hydration packs have room for two water bottles that fit into pockets on the shoulder straps. They end up sitting at about chest height.
More and more often, the water bottles you find are soft flasks, almost like a mini-bladder. These flasks sit more comfortably and collapse down as they are emptied. Some packs still come with hard bottles, but these are less common.
Depending on the brand, the bottles need to be taken off the pack to drink. Some versions – like Salomon packs – can be pulled towards your mouth to access without having to take them out.
There are other bottles that have a straw that sticks out of the bottle, making it easier to drink without taking it out. The straws can be cut to size, making them adjustable to the exact length you prefer.
Like bladders, the bottles come in various sizes. 20 oz is most common and the larger end of the spectrum. Smaller packs – and often the packs made for women – come with smaller bottles. The downside is… you have less water to drink. But the upside is less weight to slow you down.
Water Bladder and Bottle Considerations
The first factor is how much water will you need to carry?
Are you using this for long, all-day trail runs where water access is limited? Shorter runs where you don’t need as much? Are you running on the road where it’s easier to find places to refill?
If you need to bring a lot of water with you, a bladder is a must-have. This might influence your decision to buy a pack that comes with a bladder vs. one that only has bottles. You may not need extra bottles if you have a large reservoir.
Personally, I go for long trail runs and like to have a lot of hydration with me. I’ll fill a bladder with water on hot summer days and use two water bottles in the front to carry Tailwind, Nuun, or some other type of electrolyte liquid.
But in the winter – or during a trail race with aid stations – I prefer to use a smaller pack with two water bottles in front. It’s less cumbersome and lighter to wear this instead of a heavy bladder. A huge quantity of water isn’t an issue for me when it’s cold or during a race.
Ease of filling
Some bladders use a large screw top that can be opened to fill the bladder. Other styles use an open flap at the top that gets secured down with a plastic clasp that slides over the top when it’s folded over.
Whichever method, make sure the bladder can be filled up without too much difficulty. I say that knowing that there really is no easy way to fill a 1.5 L soft, plastic bag with water or other liquids.
The screw tops should have a plastic lip that you can grasp to open up the bladder as you fill it. The fold-over style requires some dexterity to open and fill at the same time without spilling water all over the place.
How does the bladder tube secure itself to the pack?
A pet peeve of mine with an old hydration pack I once used is that it had no way of securing the end of the tube near the bite valve to the pack. This caused the tube to sway and flop around, which I found incredibly annoying.
That seems to be less of a problem these days, but I would recommend you check that the pack has a way to secure the bite valve/end of the tube.
A small plastic clasp near the sternum is often used. Some packs just use straps to hold the tube in place. The best way, in my opinion, is magnetic holders that clasp on the tube and pack. You can move the magnet around on the pack to customize where you want the tube to be held in place.
Cleaning/Removing the bladder
In some packs, the bladder sits in the main compartment and the tube sticks out the top – a basic and simple set-up. It’s easy to take the reservoir in and out with this kind of design.
But other packs – like some Salomon packs – have a more robust design where the bladder sits in a sleeve. The tubing is fed through a hole at the bottom and wraps up to your shoulder by numerous straps. This is great when in use – the pack sits efficiently and the tube is tucked out of the way. But it does make taking the bladder out difficult. Which in turn makes it harder to fill up and clean.
On the subject of cleaning, some types of bladders are easier to clean than others. Specifically, you want a tube that disconnects from the main bladder. Separating these two components makes it much easier to clean both.
Reservoirs with a screw top are also harder to clean. It’s tougher to get your hand or a brush inside the bladder. The kind that opens at the top and folds over is easier to scrub.
Refilling During a Race
If you need to refill a bladder during a race (and this is only common during long, unsupported races), there’s no easy way to do it. They are all awkward to fill, especially when in the pack.
But the smaller water bottles are another story. If you plan on using the pack during a race, consider how easy it is to remove them. Ultimate and Nathan bottles come out fairly easily.
Salomon bottles have an elastic cord that wraps around the top. They are also long and thin – so I find them harder to take in and out. The advantage is that they sit better on the pack. The unsecured Ultimate Direction bottles tend to fall down in the pockets as they have less water. So you have to dig sometimes when you want a drink. But they do come out of the pack much easier.
Beyond water carrying capacity, the next consideration should be how much storage you want for everything else.
Almost every hydration pack has storage in the back to carry the bladder – and depending on the pack design, sometimes more space for stashing jackets, clothing, food, whatever else you want to bring. Packs that only hold bottles on the front usually have smaller storage space in the back.
Keep in mind that like a regular backpack, you either need to remove the hydration pack or have a friend dig around for you to access the back pockets. It’s nearly impossible to reach items back there with the pack on.
Storage capacity is often noted on the pack description in liters. 5 liters is your average medium size pack. Anything smaller is usually made for races or short runs. Larger packs are good if you plan on really long runs. Even if you only do these occasionally, larger sizes can always be cinched if they aren’t full.
Besides the space in the back, most packs have extra pockets, usually on the front. Some are small pockets for gels or keys. Others are bigger for holding hats, gloves, extra gels – basically anything semi-small you need easy access to.
Hydration packs often have lower side straps that wrap from the bottom of the pack to the front. These add extra stability but are also another place to store gear. In the packs I’ve tried, the pockets have zippers. They can be reached without taking the pack off, but it can be a bit awkward turning around to reach them.
Training vs Race Hydration Packs
In the world of niche-ing down, most hydration pack companies are offering runners an ultralight pack designed for races or short runs. They’ll hold a bit of water – usually just water bottles or a small bladder. And they’ll feature a few pockets for essential gear.
Basically, these minimal packs have just enough storage to get you through a long trail race. But they remain light enough that you won’t feel bogged down like you might with a bigger pack.
Fit and Sizing
Most hydration packs come in different sizes, usually small, medium, large, etc. like clothing. A few packs are one-size fits all.
Both styles have adjustable straps to fine-tune the fit. The one-size fit all hydration packs have way more straps and adjustments to accommodate a wide range of body types.
For sized hydration packs, make sure to check the fit guide that comes with each pack. This is often based on sternum circumference. Although sizing should be roughly equivalent to your shirt size, it’s better to check your measurements against the manufacturer’s recommendation to ensure a good fit.
For the ladies, a lot of hydration packs are being designed for women. These packs have straps in the front that are more accommodating for women. The packs also tend to be a little smaller and come in sizes for petite women. Water bottles on the front are either non-existent or small.
Finally, how the pack is designed along with its material will have an effect on how breathable it is. Larger packs have less ventilation and can feel hot in summer months. Same applies to some designs or packs made with less breathable materials.
Do trail runners wear a hydration pack during a race?
Yes, absolutely! Often, this depends on the style and length of the race.
In trail ultras that are 50k or longer, most runners wear a pack. Aid stations tend to be spaced 4-6 miles apart. Storing food and water in a pack ensures runners have enough hydration and calories to make it between aid stations. And because they are out for so long, a hydration pack lets you carry extra gear like a jacket, hat, or gloves if the weather suddenly changes.
It’s much less common to see runners wearing a hydration pack in shorter races. Because you aren’t running as long, you can often get away with just using a handheld bottle to get between aid stations.
How do bladders work in a hydration pack?
Hydration bladders – or reservoirs – are made of soft, flexible plastic and can carry anywhere between 1 to 3 L of water. Bladders sit on your back, held in by a storage compartment built into the back of the pack. 1.5 to 2 liters are most common.
A tube connects from the bottom of the bladder and snakes up through the pack to the front where you can access it to drink.
At the end of the tube, there is a valve to keep water from leaking out when you are not drinking from it. The valve is often a bite-valve, meaning it only releases water when you bite down and drink. Push/pull valves are also still popular. These are like a traditional water bottle where you pull it out to drink and push it back in to close it.
To fill the bladder, they open at the top with either a screw-on lid or a fold-over flap that’s held in place with a plastic clip. The screw-on lid often has a plastic handle you can use to open up the bladder when you fill it up.
Screw-on lids are easier to operate and more secure; however, they are harder to clean. It’s tough to get your hand or a brush in there to scrub it out. A fold-over design is easier to clean, but a little hard to fill. I usually need two hands to fill it up.
How much water do hydration packs hold?
The average hydration pack has room for 1.5 to 2 liter bladder. Most come with two 17 oz to 20 oz water bottles. So you are looking at 2.5 liters (68 oz) to 3.2 liters (108 oz) total capacity.
How to air dry a hydration pack?
I find the easiest way to dry out a hydration pack is to separate the bladder from the pack. The pack can be hung up to dry or washed on the gentle cycle of a washing machine, then hung up.
Take the bladder, clean it out, and stuff paper towels inside to absorb water and keep the pack open to allow air to circulate.