10 Best Running Hydration Vests Reviewed of 2018
For endurance runners, the running vest has become an essential piece of equipment, as important as the water bottle or the waist pack. Yet when it comes to buying a hydration vest (otherwise known as a hydration pack) to carry our water, there are manifold issues to consider. We need a product which is light but stable, and can adjust to the contours of your body without chafing or cramping your running style. So which one do we choose for our bag?
- Ultimate Direction Marathon
- Super lightweight
- Nathan Vapor Air
- Dual stabilization system
- Nathan Intensity
- Designed specifically for females
10 Best Running Hydration Vests
Ultimate Direction AK 3.0
The Ultimate Direction vest is the only vest on our list designed to comfortably carry climbing gear while trail running.
At 330 grams (11.6 oz) without bottles, this vest is a bit bigger then the previous versions. but still very lightweight.
The pack offers storage capacity of 702 cubic inches, or 11.5 litres, and comes with a relatively spacious compartment specifically intended for climbing rope.
While not as cheap as some of its rivals on our list, the Ultimate Direction 3.0 is still good value given its versatility.
- Minimalist design
- Weight is only 330 grams
- Comes with two 20 oz water bottles
- Storage system designed for climbing and rappeling gear.
- Two pockets for electrolytes or valuables
- Only one color available
Nathan Vapor Air
The Nathan Vapor fits great once you have it set up properly. There are plenty of straps involved so there may be a bit more trial and error, but it's a great option if you like to tailor the fit of your vest and you prefer a bladder to water bottles.
This pack is extremely light at only 397 grams (14 oz) - and that includes the bladder.
Includeing the 2-liter bladder, the vest has a total volume of 7 liters, meaning it has serious capacity for such a lightweight item.
The Nathan Vapor Air can be a touch expensive, depending on the version you choose. But the bag's many features and advantages mean it is worth every cent.
Designed specifically for female runners, the Nathan Intensity Race vest has extremely breathable mesh straps
At 413.9 grams (14.6 oz) this vest isn't the lightest on the market, but it's still very competitive.
The vest has total storage capacity of 6 liters, including a 2-liter bladder (which comes included) and a specialized pocket that can fit small personal items or a smart phone is found on the front of this pack.
This vest is one of the most affordable on our list and one of the only options available designed specifically for female runners.
LANZON Hydration Pack
With breathable shoulder straps, fully adjustable chest straps and sliding chest clasps, the LANZON can be adjusted to every nook and cranny of your upper body.
At 340 grams (12 oz) this bag isn't the lightest on our list, but it isn't overly bulky or cumbersome either.
The vest has a total storage volume of eight liters and you can use those seven pockets to store all the gear and accessories you'll ever need out on the trail. The storage capacity includes space for a 2 or 3-liter water bladder, which comes separately.
The LANZON is extremely good value for money, coming in near the bottom of our price list (or the top, depending on how you think about it!)
- Loads of customizable features for maximum comfort
- Great price
- Loads of room
- Not especially light
- Lots of straps
- Bladder sold separately
Arc'teryx Norvan 7 Hydration Vest
This vest is designed to maximize comfort during a wide range of movements on the trail. It has a precision fit to increase stability during movement, and fits very close to the body and chest. The support comes from dual sternum straps and side tension straps to provide a personalized fit. This product also features an emergency whistle on the shoulder, 3 back mesh pockets, 2 pole carrying pockets, a weather resistant storage bag, 3 adjustable zippers, and 4 front mesh pockets for storage.
This pack weighs about 2 lbs, plus the weight of the water.
This vest has the capacity to store 2L of water
This vest tends to be on the more expensive end of the product list, but definitely a good investment for intensive trail runners.
Many additional features for intensive trail training
2L water storage
Adjustable straps and zippers for customized fit
Safety whistle included
Not necessary for beginners
TRIWONDER Hydration Pack Backpack 5.5L
This hydration pack has the sort of storage capacity as a traditional backpack, meaning it can be used in a variety of terrains and circumstances. The wide shoulder pads distribute your weight as you run, and there is little or no bouncing.
At 250 grams this product is seriously lightweight, and it's seriously aerodynamic. You won't notice it as you fly round on your run.
The name kinda gives it away here - the pack carries 5.5 litres, which should be more than enough water storage to sustain you on your run. And the bottles are stored at the front of the bag so you can easily take them out to refill.
One of the best things about this bag is the price. It's one of the cheapest items on our list, making 8itn
- Soft and thin design
- Comfortable mesh padding
- Hugs your body like a glove
- Suits a variety of pursuits and distances
- Limited color choices
- Water bottle pockets don't stretch
UltrAspire Spry UltraViz 2.0
The vest is equipped with a patent-pending Max O2 Sternum - essentially a hook which allows you to fasten the vest at the front. The Sternum is designed with enhanced flexibility so it won't snap when you make an extreme or unusual movement.
At just 127 grams the Spry 2.0 is as lightweight as it gets.
This vest has 1 Liter of space that can be used for a bladder or a running jacket. This makes it an excellent option for runners who don't want to carry water in their vest but still want added storage for personal items or food while increasing low light safety.
This vest is one of the most affordable on our list and is very simple ad versatile.
- Extremely visible, lots of reflectivity
- 3 pockets, plenty of storage space
- Lightweight, decent fluid capacity
- Ergonomically designed
- Tends to bounce a bit
Inov-8 Race Ultra 10
The Inov8's strap design is not well suited for female runners. Despite the amount of straps, however, it is relatively simple to set up and much less likely to tangle than other vests.
The Inov8 Ultra 10 sits in the middle of the pack for weight on our list. At 260 grams (9 oz) it is still quite light for its size.
The Inov8 is designed to carry 10 litres of kit, and includes two 500ml soft flasks with additional capacity for a 2-liter bladder as well. It also includes loops for holding lightweight poles and external bungees.
The Inov8 sits at the upper end of the mid priced running vests currently available. But its award-winning design and specialized features more than compensate.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8L Hydration Vest
This vest is perfect for longer trail races that test your endurance and speed. Its lightweight construction, paired with its ample storage space, make it a perfect option for long-distance trail runners.
Weighing in at just 4.5 ounces, this is super-lightweight and won't weigh you down as you're running.
Designed to hold eight litres (hence the name), the S-Lab Ultra 8L is equipped with two side flask holders and one large zipped pocket which can fit gels, bars and other essentials easily.
The price of this vest is on the higher on of the scale--but its feature are worth it if you are a trail runner who is looking for something that will help maintain or increase your speed without having to sacrifice functionality.
The sleek design of this vest appeals to many runners. Since it isn't bulky it looks like it has less storage options than it actually does because--so you will be pleasantly surprised when you see just how much you can carry with you when wearing this vest.
- Plenty of storage
- Several size and color options
- MotionFit Trail Sensisfit
- Doesn’t include the bladders
- High Price
There’s breathable and lightweight mesh to provide more air flow. The straps are fully adjustable so you can adjust them to your needs. SLS offers the option to include bottles and those bottles come in different weights, meaning you have myriad options to suit your personal needs and running strategy. The vest is made from high-quality, firm materials so you don’t need to worry about skin irritation.
This vest is extremely lightweight, even when your bottles are full.
You can choose from a number of different options regarding water storage. If you pefer to carry your own bottles with you, you can choose an option with no bottles at all. Alternatively you can include two 9.5 oz bottles, or two 24 oz flasks. The weight of the vest will depend on the option you choose but the product is specifically designed to be as light as possible.
This one is extremely cost-effective against its market rivals, one of the cheapest on our list.
Many runners appreciated that there are additional storage pockets. You can store your keys or phone there.
It distributes the weight very well
Perfect for longer distances
Some buyers said that the vest was too big for them
Some people swear that their car drives better when it’s been washed. This psychological trick of the mind applies to clothing and gear as well. If you’re traipsing around in a chafing, cumbersome piece of equipment it’s bound to slow you down, either physically or mentally. The reverse is true as well: get yourself nicely outfitted and you may just get a boost, that 1% improvement that can make all the difference on race day.
Outdated or ill-fitting equipment is extremely inefficient. If you’re too hot or the vest doesn’t fit right, you’re going to end up sweating more than you would otherwise – and defeating the whole purpose of wearing a hydration vest in the first place. Like the hydration backpack, another product favoured by runners who need to keep cool on those long runs, the running vest needs to be malleable, its design capable of following our body shape so closely that we barely notice it’s there when we’re running.
The Criteria for Choosing the Best Running Vest
First of all, it’s important to remember that many of these products are designed specifically for Ultra runners. For 99% of runners out there it’ll be too much, an unnecessary accessory that will be a hindrance rather than a help. Like the high end gps running watches which have come to dominate the market, it’s a product many people will never need. If you’re concerned about hydration, you might be better just taking on more water before and after your runs. Consider buying a new water bottle to stay hydrated before your run even starts.
If you are going to invest in a running vest, remember this: if you forget you’re wearing it while you’re running, that means it’s a good product. It can be hard enough to stay cool with a lightweight running shirt on hot summer runs, you don’t need an awkward, irritating gilet weighing you down. The Ultimate Direction Marathon vest is well-designed for this, its flexible design ensures that it will soon mirror your shape, and your running style, becoming almost an extension of your body.
When you are 8 miles from civilization during your next trail run the last thing you want to worry about is losing your credit card or keys in the middle of the woods. An essential function of any running vest is that it will hang onto your personal belongings regardless of how much strain you put it under. Some packs have many loose straps and buckles that seem to be attracted to every branch along the trail. Simple and slick vests without any frivolous straps or buckles are the way to go, particularly for trail runners. If you primarily run in the city then you may be able to get away with an option with a few extra straps for stability. But if you are using a running vest on city streets then you may want to reconsider if you want those straps flapping around and potentially catching passers-by.
If a running vest forces you to change your form or cramps your range of motion in any way, then find a new pack. With the extremely lightweight options that now exist it’s completely possible to find a vest that doesn’t change the way, you run at all. Matt Carpenter, famous for winning the Pikes Peak Marathon and for having the highest recorded VO2 max of any runner, experimented with many different ways of carrying water during his long training runs and discovered that for some reason carrying water just in front of the armpits at the shoulder is the most efficient method while running.
There are a lot of moving parts when you are running and one poorly placed buckle or poor choice of material could result in painful chafing or tight spots. It is a difficult balance – finding a vest that will not bounce around but will also not be so constrictive that you can’t get a full breath in while going at full pace. Bear in mind that your chest will be expanding and compressing as you run. The best vests have a stretch fabric on their strap that will “breathe” with you while remaining in place. Weight distribution is also important to consider. It may seem strange to have water bottles hanging off your chest, but if you are properly packed then the weight of the gear on your back will counteract the water bottles and ensure they can’t pull you forward.
Is there enough room in your pack for everything you need to carry? Consider what you may need to carry before buying a hydration pack. If you buy a vest with more storage space then you need then you are likely to fill it with superfluous items that you don’t really need. Remember it’s a running vest; you use it to go running, not hiking.
A couple bottles and a few gels and a place to keep your key is what you’re looking for. That should be enough to get you through your longest runs. Another great feature to look for are those straps on the outside of the hydration pack that will allow you to attach a jacket to the outside of your bag. These bungees will significantly increase the carrying options available to you without increasing weight very much or getting in the way. Vests such as the TRIWONDER 5.5L weigh little more than a small bag of sugar, but they are designed to maximize their capacity to distribute space, enabling them to carry a far greater weight than their own (we’ll leave you to work out how many liters the TRIWONDER can carry).
Running vests are primarily used by and created with trail runners in mind. This makes durability very important, because if the right fabric isn’t used then it will be easily torn by the conditions that trail runners find themselves in. Abrasion and tear-resistant materials are essential if you’re picking your way through forests and up craggy rock-faces. Running vests must endure constant bounce and friction for mile after mile, yet remain lightweight and breathable. This is a difficult balance to achieve. Look for a running vest with a track record of durability and avoid lower-end vests that may look like their more durable counterparts, but tear and disintegrate under the slightest pressure.
Other Important Factors To Consider
There are a few other factors that must be considered if you are considering buying a running hydration vest. Running vests are a highly specialized item that only the most elite trail runners will ever really need. For most of us, a handheld bottle with a strap or an old Gatorade bottle will be enough to get us through our runs. But if you want to take your running to the next level and increase the range of areas you can explore, then consider taking a running vest on your next adventure.
Hydration vests can cost twice as much as a new pair of shoes though, so carefully consider what your priorities are before buying one. Perhaps your money would be better spent on a bunch of energy bars.
Running vests are typically available in two or three generic sizes, depending on the manufacturer. A small/medium or medium/large is what you will usually find available. It can also be very hard to find a running vest for larger runners. Most of them are designed to fit the physique of a svelte seasoned runner. There are still options available but you may be a bit more limited on your options. Setting up a running vest can honestly be a bit of a headache, especially the ones with multiple straps that need adjusting. This is one reason we like vests such as the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8L; they’re designed to be minimalist, so you won’t have bits flapping around everywhere as you’re going along.
When buying a vest, we really encourage you to look for good models without checking the price first. If you focus only on the price tag, you may miss out on the model that’s perfect for you. Of course, the price is important and sometimes it may be a decisive factor, but try to focus on quality and comfort. Our top 10 vests include a range of options, covering all points on the price chart. You should decide what features you need and eliminate vests with too many useless features.
If you often find that it is difficult to find shirts that fit you just right and you are often in between sizes, then aim for a vest with many adjustment options. The more generically sized vests are great if they fit you but if it is too loose or tight then you’ll have a rather uncomfortable running experience. Also, don’t be dissuaded by negative reviews about the comfort of the running vests you search for; even the most comfortable running vest can be a bit uncomfortable at times and a bit cumbersome. But if comfort is your number one priority then perhaps running isn’t the best choice of hobby for you anyway. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t find a product that makes the experience as pain-free as possible, but don’t expect your new running vest to hug you like a new Christmas sweater.
Unless you’re from Boulder, Colorado, running vests are hardly a trendy or fashionable item. They are a purely functional product, designed to keep you hydrated and alive on your next adventure. That being said there is something about the Ultimate Direction vest (and several other hydration packs on our list, come to think of it) that makes us wanna get out of the office and spend the afternoon running up a mountain.
You also need to consider the safety features of the hydration vest you are looking at. If you are ever running in low-light conditions then you should add visibility features to your must-have list – the UltrAspire vest is great in this regard. If you want something a bit more conservative consider the Inov-8 Ultra and its more reserved design.
Here are a few frequently asked questions that may have cropped up during your running vest research.
Q: Do I really need a running hydration vest?
A: If you have to ask that question then the answer is probably no. Running vests are designed for runners who already spend hours in the mountains and need a more efficient way to carry their gear.
Q: Is a water bottle carrier or a bladder design better?
A: It depends! Do you like cleaning water bladders and replacing broken bite valves? Do you like carrying water on your back or your front like Matt Carpenter? Water bottles allow you to pour water in your mouth instead of using precious energy to suck water out of a tube while simultaneously trying to breathe. However, water bottles are probably the better choice for most people.
Q: Are there any other uses for my new running vest?
A: Not really. Running vests are a highly specialized product with one purpose in mind. Their limited carrying space and function-oriented design make them ideal packs for running and hiking but not much else. Don’t expect to be able to carry your textbooks around campus or anything else beyond the basics.
Q: Is there any alternative to using a running vest?
A: If you can’t swallow the idea of wearing a running vest but still want to carry more water on your next run, then consider a handheld alternative. They strap to your hand and can still hold your car keys, wallet an a gel or two.
Q: Where is the best place to get my new running vest?
A: It can be difficult to find a retailer with a variety of running vest options. If you are dead set on buying locally then your options will likely be very limited. Running vests aren’t as particular in regards to sizing as running shoes, so consider buying them online to get the best deal and access the biggest variety of options.
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