10 Best Racing Vests Tested & Rated

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Running, over time, has become an art and one of the many ways that runners practice their art is by racing. Just like a painter or a sculptor, runners have their own tools of the trade that improve their performance and help give them the edge they need. One great piece of running gear that takes the functionality of several of these tools and wraps them all up into one is racing vests.

Racing vests often combine features like hydration systems, reflective materials, and accessible storage to bring you all the necessities for a long-distance race where you don’t have time to stop and fumble with a backpack. With lots of styles to choose from, we’ve put together a list of the best racing vests on the market to help you find the right fit for you. We want you to be able to make confident, informed decisions about the tools you use to perfect your own races and running routines, so we’ve also included our criteria for the best racing vests and some of the most frequently asked questions to help you decide.

Last Updated: August 29, 2018
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By Max Knapp:

We've added the UltraAspire racing vest to our list this time around. This is a racing vest that has plenty of great features with a good lifespan for frequent runners. We've also brought new info to our criteria and new questions to our FAQ with some great alternatives to hydration bladders for those who run in races with very specific rules about gear.

Salomon S-Lab Racing Vest
  • Salomon S-Lab Racing Vest
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Durable
  • Price: See Here
Nathan HPL 020 Vest
  • Nathan HPL 020 Vest
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Holds 2 liters
  • Price: See Here
Nathan Fireball Race Vest
  • Nathan Fireball Race Vest
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Best bang for your buck
  • Price: See Here

10 Best Racing Vests

 

1. Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 3

This vest is one of the most brilliantly designed models on the market today. It fits more like a vest than a pack, and is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a lot of storage space. It’s designed with top-of-the-line materials and its quality remains unmatched.
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Features: Rather than using a hip or waist belt, this vest uses a twin link fastening system with multiple fastening options. Many find this feature to be great, as it’s more comfortable and you don’t have to deal with the restrictive feeling of the usual belt.

Storage: The main compartment features a two-way zipper and is designed to provide the most amount of storage possible. A zippered pocket on the front is great for holding your phone, cash, or keys. Another zippered outer pocket, made of mesh, is stretchy and quite roomy. There are mesh pockets on either side of the vest for extra storage, and you don’t have to take the vest off or stop running to access them. The top-opening hydration system is held in place by a thermal sleeve, and the bladder can hold up to 1.5 liters.

Cost: While this is one of the more expensive vests on the list, it’s designed so well and is so durable that you will definitely get your money’s worth.
Pros
  • Durable
  • Tons of storage
  • Doesn’t bounce while running
  • Doesn’t rub or chafe
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Storage pockets are easy to reach
  • Comes with a whistle on a lanyard
Cons
  • Price

2. Nathan HPL

The lightweight Nathan HPL 020 vest is a comfortable way to stay hydrated on your run. With a 2 liter bladder and a lightweight design, this vest is a great choice.
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Features: The straps on this vest are wide and made of a mesh material. The back of it contains a large pocket with a zipper for a bladder, which holds 2 liters. Unlike Nathan’s last vest, the HPL 020 has thin chest straps designed to reduce heat retention. A patented 3-way propulsion harness stabilizes movement of the bladder so you don’t have to worry about it bouncing while you run.

Storage: The Nathan HPL 020 vest has a total storage capacity of 6 liters. The bladder holds 2 liters. Despite having a lot of storage capacity, this vest still manages to be lightweight, weighing in at only 13 ounces.

Cost: This vest is moderately priced in comparison to other similar products.
Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Bladder holds 2 liters
  • Belt pocket
  • Stabilization harness
  • Easy to adjust straps
Cons
  • Some find it difficult to close and secure the bladder

3. Nathan Fireball Race Vest

The Nathan Fireball Race Vest is a highly rated and recommended racing vest this year. It is durable, comfortable, and affordable--a perfect fit for many runners out there.
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Features
This race vest is lightweight and has ample storage room. It can fit a 1.5-ounce bladder, the 12 ounce insulated hot flasks it comes with, and additional items such as your phone and keys.

Storage
This vest has plenty of storage space and has a phone pocket that can fit up to an iphone 6.

Cost
This vest comes at a great price and is highly recommended. It also comes with reflective properties--to additional safety qualities.

4. Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0

4. Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0
This vest will be great both for hiking and running. This is the newest version of AK Mountain and users pointed out that the comfort is even bigger than in the previous versions. That’s why we’ve decided to put in on our list- let’s see the main features.
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The vest is very breathable thanks to Mono Mesh Fabric. Thanks to the boosted ventilation, there’s better moisture management and your skin isn’t irritated. The vest is well fitted and this enabled to reduce the bouncing. There are 3 sizes available. The vest can hold 11,5 L so it’s much more than the previous version. The top pocket on the left is made of waterproof materials so you can keep more precious belonging there. There are also pockets when you can store the bladders. Many other pockets like zipped pocket or mesh pocket can be very useful while storing. There’s even iPhone compatible pocket. Runners also praised the dual access to the main compartment. It’s both from the top and from the bottom. This vest is on the expensive side. We can’t say that the price is low but in this case, you pay for what you get. This high-quality west is worth investing some money as it will last for a long time.
Pros

There are also trekking pole attachments so it’s much easier to carry them

The main compartment is waterproof

The soft flasks are included

Durable and comfortable

Cons

Some users said that the water caused skin irritation

5. Inov-8 Race Elite

5. Inov-8 Race Elite
This vest is a little bit different than the other on our list as it has more minimalism in its design. This doesn’t mean that it’s worse. For some runners, this vest was the best. Check out all the info.
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It will be great for marathons and racing. It’s designed with highly breathable mesh so you stay cool and dry during the run. There are 6 straps so you can easily adjust the tightness. The straps include special sternum ones that don’t slide. For this vest, you can choose both water bladders or just simply bottles. There are many pockets and bungee system. Two large mesh pockets can be used for storing smaller items and the access is still very easy. The overall construction is very durable.The price is very reasonable, it’s not the very expensive product. Definitely great for races.
Pros

Very affordable

There are 7 pockets

The design is very breathable

Cons

Some users said that the access to some pockets could be better

6. UltraAspire Astral

6. UltraAspire Astral
The UltraAspire Astral racing vest is a comfortable vest that will easily accommodate diverse body types. With an open design meant to mesh with the shape of your body and super convenient side pockets, this is a favorite of those with larger chests or who don’t like the feeling of vests with more coverage.
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Features
This vest uses a hydration system that sits loosely across the chest, making it easy to access and offering a wider range of motion. It comes with a 2L bladder that, unfortunately, may absorb the heat from your body while it rests against your back, but there is room to add an insulated sleeve around the bladder to try and keep it a little cooler. The micro-fiber mesh and polyester blend of fabrics is comfy and durable.

Storage
There’s plenty of room for odds and ends in this racing vest, with a large compartment, a storage sleeve, and straps in the back as well as easy to access front pockets and an inner compartment for safe storage. One of the front pockets has an elastic close so it’s super easy to reach in, get what you need, and put it back quickly while the other one has a zipper closure for items that need to be more secure. These front pockets are perfect for energy gels, salt pills, cell phones, keys, safety whistles, and whatever else you may need while running.

Cost
This is one of the more expensive selections on our list but is comparable to other name brand racing vests. It does come with the bladder and depending on what color you get it may be a little cheaper.
Pros
  • Curved, open design
  • Micro-fiber mesh and polyester
  • Max O2 Sternum hydration system
  • Plenty of storage
  • Easy to access pockets
  • 2L bladder
  • Lightweight
  • Adjustable and easy to get on and off
  • Available in multiple colors
Cons
  • Runs small and a little constricting across the midsection
  • Bladder absorbs body heat easily
  • A little pricey

7. Ultimate Direction TO Race Vest 3.0

7. Ultimate Direction TO Race Vest 3.0
Next product on our list is To race Vest 3.0. The newest version of the product is definitely lighter than the previous one. The back is really breathable but it’s still lightweight. This means that it will be great for racing where additional weight is bad for you.
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There are special T- hook straps. They enable to adjust the vest to your needs. There’s also possibility to carry camera or phone with you thanks to bottle holsters. You won’t also have problem with keeping your phone as there are special pockets for it There are also two layered pockets if you want to store the other things. To make the vest even more attractive to customer, brand applied special holders for trekking pole. It comes with two bottles so you can stay hydrated during your race. The vest is available in 3 sizes and it’s unisex. The price is an average for racing vest, users said that the vest is worth the price.
Pros

The fabric is really breathable

Runners stated that it was very easy to find the right size

Trekking pole loops are very interesting feature

Cons

Users said that some pockets are hard to use during the race

8. SLS3 Running Hydration Vest

8. SLS3 Running Hydration Vest
The SLS3 Running Hydration Vest is comfortable, non-restrictive, and very practical to have with you on a run. This is a great choice for anyone looking for a minimalist style vest with all the features of a standard one.
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Features
This vest is designed to be resistant to sliding around while you’re wearing it. Comfortable, wide strips ensure that the weight of the vest is distributed evenly, so you’ll still have a smooth run. They’re made of breathable mesh which is great for hot days. Two reflective strips on the back are there for extra safety and visibility.

Storage
There’s a small pocket on the front for items such as keys, and a larger pocket that zips which is great for holding your phone or iPod. A back pocket, which also zips, measures 6.5 by 10.5 inches. Two 9.5 ounce flasks are included in the front pockets.

Cost
This vest is affordable and priced relatively low compared to others of its kind.
Pros
  • Adjustable straps
  • Bounce-free
  • Comes with 2 water bottles
  • Reflective stripes
Cons
  • Does not include hydration bladder

10. Triwonder Marathoner Vest

10. Triwonder Marathoner Vest
If you’re looking for an affordable yet high-quality hydration best, look no further. One of the most lightweight running vests on the market, the Triwonder Marathoner vest is so non-restrictive that you’ll barely notice it’s there.
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Features: Made of polyester net and nylon spandex yarn, the elasticity of this vest is incredible. Not only that, but it’s extremely breathable, making it a great choice for hot days. It has full side adjustability, so you can customize the size to fit you perfectly. Wide shoulder straps ensure that weight is evenly distributed and minimizes bouncing. In addition to the vest, you’ll receive two quality 8.5 ounce water bottles.

Storage: A stretchy, breathable mesh pocket on the front left side of the vest is great for storing your phone. This vest only weighs 4.6 ounces.

Cost: This vest is one of the most affordable on this list.

9. Evolike Reflective Vest

9. Evolike Reflective Vest
This vest does an excellent job of providing 360 degree visibility. Retro-reflective stripes line the entire vest, ensuring your safety on your run. It’s made of EvoClimate fabric, which is 100% polyester, so you can rest assured knowing you’ll be comfortable in it. Not only do you get the vest, but it also comes with 2 slap wristbands, 2 Velcro straps, and a durable bag.
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Features
Made with EvoClimate fabric, this running vest is an excellent choice for those looking for a comfortable, flexible fit. This vest comes in sizes small through extra-large, and the company has also recently added a kids’ size and an “extreme” size if you’re looking for a vest to wear over a bulky jacket. At night, this vest is visible from up to 650 feet away.

Storage
This EvoLike vest contains one pocket, which measures 4 by 6 inches.

Cost
Considering all you get with this product, the price is extremely affordable. The company also offers a 30-day money back guarantee.
Pros
  • Flexible
  • Lightweight
  • Breathable
  • Adjustable
  • Strong Velcro closures
  • Machine washable
  • Multiple sizes
  • Keeps you cool
Cons
  • Some find it to be thinner than expected.

Our Criteria for the Best Racing Vests

Finding the right racing vest can be just as important as finding a speedy pair of shoes or a comfortable pair of racing shorts. Just like any great piece of gear, a solid racing vest will help boost your performance to the next level and make running a much more pleasant experience. We’ve outlined the most important features and functions for a running vest to have below, taking you through our process of selecting the best racing vests for our list and providing you with informed and accurate advice on how to make your own selection when shopping.

Storage

One of the great draws of a racing vest is the storage it offers runners for long races or to keep your hands free and your belongings secure while you’re running. Many of the vests on our list have a back compartment that you can use by taking off the vest, as well as front or side pockets that give you easy access to the things you need. If you use energy gels or supplements (like caffeine pills or salt tablets), or if you need to bring along a cell phone or keyring you’ll get plenty of use out of this convenient storage. Think about the kind of extras you’ll need to bring along with you, whether you’re racing, hiking, marathoning, etc. and what kind of storage you’ll find the most valuable.

Fabric

The best racing vests are composed of light cotton fibers, synthetic fibers, or synthetic cotton blends. Fabric determines how the vest will fit and features such as moisture-wicking abilities, breathability, comfort, and how lightweight it is.  Vests made of 100% polyester are ranked among the best among the most breathable and apt at moisture management. Blended synthetic and cotton fibers also provide adequate moisture management properties but are far less than vests made of 100% polyester. Racing vests made from pure cotton will provide the least amount of moisture management and breathability but provide you with a good fit and adequate warmth.

To help a racer be in control of their body’s’ temperature, in both weather conditions temperatures, the advisable running vest material should be lightweight and of high-performance material designed to remove moisture away from the skin.

The best running vests are breathable and made of a blend of polyester, Lycra, or nylon. They keep you warm and dry during the winter and in the summer they help to regulate your body temperature and provide maximum breathability, comfort, moisture-wicking properties.

Weather and Seasons

Typically racing vests are meant for the hot summer seasons, but some are great for colder weather–and even help keep you warm. This is why it’s important to choose your vest based on the climate you typically run in. If you are running in cold conditions you will need to layer up and go with vests made of pure cotton. This will help keep you warm and comfortable during your cold runs. During the summer months, a light racer vest is recommended. These are typically made of pure polyester, polyester blend, or pure synthetic fiber. This allows them to regulate your body temperature wick moisture away from your body, and comfortable.

Breathability is of utmost importance during hot summer months–it’s important you stay cool and comfortable so you don’t overheat, so keep this in mind when choosing your running vest. During the winter, athletes should dress in warm running vest fabrics. It is important to note that whenever you exercise your temperature and heart rate elevates, so you need attire that will help keep these level.

Comfort 

Racing vests are usually the most useful during long-distance runs, which means comfort is crucial. If you’re wearing uncomfortable gear while running, you’ll quickly become aware of how much your body moves and how easily things can rub and chafe. You don’t want to get caught in the middle of a race with something that’s painful and too uncomfortable to keep wearing.

A comfortable racing vest will be stretchy, adjustable, and breathable. Adjustable straps allow you to create a more custom fit–which helps prevent any chafing due to unnecessary rubbing.

 

Other Important Factors To Consider

Apparel Basics

Many running vests come with weather-resistant features, additional protection from the wind and the rain, and help keep your body temperature regulated. They are lightweight thanks to their polyester or polyester blend material–others are made of high quality or compound blends.

While running vests can be worn in mild chilly weather, but more extreme low temperatures will require running jackets or hoodies.

Below are some additional features to look for when searching for your vest:

  • UPF and UVR protection against rays from the sun.
  • Reflectivity–enhances the safety of a runner
  • Accents in the form of piping or reflective fabric.
  • Moisture-wicking properties
  • Pockets and storage space–and how accessible are they?
  • Flat-lock seams that prevent chafing and provide a smooth fit
  • Thumbholes
  • Breathable mesh on the inside panel of the vest for optimal ventilation
  • Check for weather resistant features: waterproof, wind resistant, water resistant, and quick drying ability. These are important because they offer you additional protection from outdoor elements, such as harsh weather.

Reflective Features

If you typically like running at night or on busy roadways, reflective fabrics and features are very important. This allows you to be seen by drivers and bikers, reduces the chances of an accident, and increases your overall safety.

Style

When it comes to style, it’s important to note your own preferences and look for a comfortable and flexible option that works best for you. Some racing vests will have an open chest design to better accommodate people with breasts or those who like a minimalist fit. Some will offer more coverage and fit more like a true vest than a backpack. There are plenty of different cuts and designs to choose from, so you’ll have a little liberty to individualize your comfort.

FAQ

Q. What size of hydration bladder is best?

A: This completely depends on your needs and preference. If you’re running longer distances and need to be able to hydrate more you may want to go with a bigger bladder so you don’t have to worry about refilling. On the other hand, if you know you’ll have more opportunities to fill up and don’t want to bother carrying the extra weight, you might prefer a smaller size bladder. Keep your needs and your environment in mind when making your decision.

Q. The race I’m running doesn’t allow hydration vests–do I have any other alternatives?

A: Unfortunately, sometimes we’re restricted by the rules and regulations specific to each individual race. Don’t be discouraged though, there’s still plenty of options out there for you. Hydration belts are an easy to wear alternative to their vest counterparts and may be allowed at more races that have banned backpacks or racing vests. You could also try a handheld hydration pack that offers a small amount of storage and a compact design that won’t slow you down while you’re running. Race belts sometimes have extra loops and storage space to make taking extras with you on race day a breeze.

If you’re eagerly planning your next big race, make sure you always check the rules and guidelines so you can be properly prepared.


 

Sources

  1. Nathan Sports, Marathon Hydration Vest Ban: You’ve Still Got Options!, Sports Gear Manufacturer
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