Whether training for an ultra or heading out on a casual jog, the right running pack will carry all the gear and water you need for a successful run.
There’s been an explosion of running vests in the past few years. Not only does that mean there are more options, but they’re also more comfortable and functional than ever before. Improved designs have led to less bounce and chafing, and more comfort mile after mile.
From mountainous Colorado trails to the wilds of New Zealand, we’ve put a lot of miles on hydration vests. We tested for overall comfort, capacity, fit, and ease of use. And while there isn’t a single pack that will work for every person, we’ve included a variety of options to fit your style of running.
For more help choosing a hydration pack, check out the buyer’s guide at the bottom of this article.
The Best Running Hydration Packs & Vests
Salomon Advanced Skin 12 Set: From $99
Comfort is a top consideration in a running vest, and it’s where the Advanced Skin 12 Set excels. The vest rides almost unnoticed, hugging the back, shoulders, and chest. It doesn’t bounce, even when loaded with a full pack of gear, water, and food. Our editor-in-chief recently ran the Leadville 100 in it with zero chafe.
This pack is designed for runners who need a decent amount of gear but also require comfort for moving fast. It has one large internal pocket with a bladder-hanging system compatible with a 1.5L bladder (not included). The shoulder straps each have three open pockets and one zippered pocket. For ultraraces to casual runs, this is a comfortable, durable, hardworking vest. It’s available now on Amazon for $99 in Fiery Red.
Gear capacity: 12 L
Weight: 13.05 ounces
Best for: When you need to maximize comfort while carrying gear and water
The Race Elite Pro 2in1 Vest is a pack that can transition seamlessly from a running vest that’s great for 2-3 hour runs to a full-on ultrarunning or adventure run pack that’s ready for your next 100km run or 24-hour race. The ability to detach the backpack makes this a truly versatile pack. Pack it full for long days out or go light and fast. GearJunkie editor Chelsey Magness and her adventure race team have been using this ultralight pack for the last couple of years for short training runs and adventure races around the world.
The vest is easy to adjust, and the main compartment can accommodate a surprising amount of gear. In regards to water carrying capacity, it accommodates a 2L bladder and comes with two 500mL flasks and a speed cup. So whether you’re high in the mountains and speed cupping it or down in the valley with a bladder, this pack will keep you hydrated for the long haul. At a weight of 345 g and a price point of $185, this is an amazing multiuse pack for all your adventures.
Gear capacity: 10 L
Weight: 12.2 ounces
Best for: Training runs, endurance races
Nathan Sports VaporAiress & VaporAir: $150
Anyone who runs in hot climates will appreciate this breathable vest. At just 12.2 ounces, this pack won’t weigh you down. But it’s big enough to hold all the race-day necessities. It comes with a 2L bladder, and the front storage pockets can easily fit 22-ounce soft flasks (sold separately).
Our testers didn’t have any problems with chafing and appreciated the breathable, mesh-like fabric. The two adjustment points allowed us to get a custom fit, which will minimize the dreaded pack bounce. Side toggles allow you to carry trekking poles, and the back kangaroo pocket is perfect for easily stashing an extra layer.
Gear capacity: 7 L
Weight: 12.2 ounces
Best for: Going light and fast
The Arc’teryx Norvan 7 Running Vest is a durable, technical, and streamlined pack for all lengths of minimalist runs. The vest comes with a 2L bladder that is designed to sit low on the torso. This helps keep bouncing to a minimum and is a helpful reminder to keep a good running position (ribs down).
At first glance, the carrying capacity looks to be rather small, but we were pleasantly surprised how easily and comfortably it fit emergency gear, snacks, and water. The material is a little on the abrasive side, so we wouldn’t recommend going shirtless. But it has showed no signs of wear after 6 months of intense use, which makes this a quality investment.
Gear capacity: 7 L
Weight: 9.25 ounces
Best for: Going light and fast, runs where you don’t need a lot of extra gear
Ultimate Direction’s FastpackHer is my new go-to for missions over 16 hours, ultralight fastpacking trips, or even for run commuting around town. With a carrying capacity of 20 L, this pack is a fastpacker’s dream come true. The two large pockets can hold enough food for a big adventure, water, maps, a phone, and even ultralight trekking poles. We recently used it on a 24-hour mission in the mountains where there was a lot of off-trail scrambling and routefinding. It’s big enough to hold everything you need, without any unwanted bulk.
Between the seamless shoulder strap system, the soft fabric, an adjustable T-hook, this pack rides great. Weight is evenly distributed, and it’s comfortable all day long. We didn’t have any trouble with chafing even when only wearing a tank top. But perhaps our favorite feature is the full zipper on the main body of the bag. It makes it easy to get to anything in the pack without having to unpack the whole thing. This pack has been a favorite for running or biking around town.
Gear capacityb 20 L
Weight: 1 pound 3.7 ounces
Best for: Lightweight fastpacking trips, run commuting around town
How to Choose a Hydration Pack
Take a few moments to imagine what your runs look like. Do you plan to run commute around town? Hit the trail for an all-day sufferfest? Or enjoy a few easy miles? Do you run in extreme weather or need something versatile for a variety of training runs? With this vision in mind, read on for four important hydration vest considerations.
Bottles vs. Reservoirs
Some runners prefer a bottle stored in the front pocket, while others want a full bladder on the back. This is mainly a matter of personal preference, though if you plan to take on multiday or mega-mile runs, a larger bladder is recommended.
Capacity: Water & Gear
The best advice is to choose the lightest vest that will get the job done. If you’re fastpacking, that might mean something like the 20L Ultimate Direction FastpackHer. For backyard trail runs, the 12L VaporAir offers plenty of space. And if you regularly switch between all-day outings and minimalist runs, a versatile option like the inov-8 2in1 is a great choice.
Getting the right fit is key for any piece of gear, but especially for a running vest. When possible, head to your local running store and ask for a fitting. For online shopping, take the time to measure yourself and refer to sizing charts.
For women, you need to not only make sure the length and torso circumference are correct, but also be sure to take bust size into account. The women’s-specific VaporAiress offers two adjustment points for an easy fit, and our female testers were very happy with the overall fit.
Extra features can make the difference between an okay vest and an awesome one. Depending on your running plans, look for extra pockets, reflective materials, and easy-to-use trekking pole-keepers.
Whatever pack you end up choosing, remember the goal is to get out and run. Use a vest to maximize comfort and hydration, and enjoy your time on the trail.
Have a favorite running vest? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.