How To Choose Your First Hydration System

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Hydrating on the run How To Choose Your First Hydration System

Much as you’ve sworn that running was and should stay a sport of minimum gear and little fuss, you’ve just realized that thirst and dehydration are limiting your fun on the run. You want to go further or longer or head out to the trails, but the lack of watering stops are holding you back. Considering purchasing your first hydration system? We have some handy tips and info for you.


Hand-held water bottles

Prefer running with a water bottle in your hand? Well, apart from running with that iffy old plastic Gatorade bottle, there are plenty of options that are safer and more comfortable. Your willingness to carry it (in your hand) will largely determine the capacity you choose, but here are a few other things to consider.

  • For shorter runs or on runs where there are plenty of refilling opportunities
Factors to Consider:
  • How does it fit in your hand? Will you be able to carry it for the duration of your run? Most runners that prefer hand-helds report that, although uncomfortable initially, they got used to carrying a bottle fairly soon.
  • Hard or soft? Hand-held hydration can be anything from insulated water bottles to soft, collapsible flasks. Hard bottles can range between BPA free double-walled, vacuum insulated stainless steel bottles that keep your drink cold or hot to your heart’s content. Soft flasks eliminate the “sloshing” noises while your run since their shape and size adapts the volume of liquid that remains.
  • Easy to use? How easy (or hard) is it to take a sip or to refill the bottle or to refill it.
  • Any extras? Many handhelds come with a strap that secures the bottle in the palm of your hand. Often the strap also has some capacity for gels and keys. Just take into consideration that you may want to switch hands every so often when one gets tired.  


Nathan Speed 4R Hydration Belt, Cabaret, Large

Hydration Belts

Need your hands free on a medium distance run? Then the hydration belt might be a good option.  Hydration belts are carried around your waist, so comfortably close to your center of gravity. Belts may have a capacity for one to up to 4 small water bottles with up to 1 L water carrying capacity in total. Often there are an array of smaller pockets too with capacity for fuel, a phone, and other small items.

  • For short to medium distance runs or long runs with plenty of refilling options.
Factors to Consider:
  • Fit and adjustability. Make sure the belt sits snugly around the part of your waist where you prefer to carry it. Also, determine if it can be adjusted for a fuller or lesser load.
  • The sloshing. Since conventional hydration belts generally entail one or more hard flasks, there is bound to be some sloshing. If that really puts you off, there are a few brands like Salomon and Nathan that do, however, have hydration belts that use soft flasks.


Osprey Packs Raptor 10 Hydration Pack

Hydration Packs

According to Wikipedia, a hydration pack is a system that is designed in the form of a backpack, which happens to contain a reservoir for liquids. It comes with a unique mouth cap and hose, allowing runners to drink water hands-free. Numerous types and brands of hydration packs exist. Mostly based on carrying capacity, there is also a great variation in sizes of hydration packs available. The pack may have small pockets of storage space built in on the waist belt or fronts of the shoulder straps, but the bulk of the storage goes in the back.

  • For longer runs, races or mountain treks where runners need to carry own water, fuel, and other required clothing items and equipment.   
Factors to Consider:
  • Functionality. Some hydration packs are basically just a pack built around a water reservoir, while others have more room for fuel and equipment. Think about when and how you will be using the pack.
  • Fit and adjustability. Hiking and running with a heavy pack on your back are two very different things. Rubbing and chafing from a pack that doesn’t fit snugly can quickly put a damper on your running fun.
  • Everything goes in the back. Not only will you have to get used to running with a heavy load on your back, but you will most likely have to stop and remove the pack everytime you want to take out or put something in it.


UltrAspire Alpha 2.0 Hydration Vest Green, M

Hydration Vests

The hydration vest, or racing vest,  is aptly described by these two terms. It fits more like a vest than a pack, so for most, it may be more comfortable to carry your supplies on the run. Popular brand vests like the Salomon S-Lab Advanced skin series is made from breathable material that keeps you cool and at the right fit should not bounce on the run.

  • For most runs when you need to carry water and/or additional items. (Also when you dislocate your shoulder during a race, don’t have a sling and you are Killian Jornet)
Factors to Consider:
  • Functionality. The carrying capacity of race vests also varies greatly. Some come with a bladder, while others make on soft flasks or both. If hydration will be your main need for the pack you may benefit from a pack with a 1.5L minimum reservoir. If you intend to use the vest on races with minimum gear requirements that include plenty of layers and loads of fuel you may benefit from a vest with soft flasks in front and multi-use space in the back.
  • Fit and adjustability. The beauty of the racing vest is that it fits like a layer of clothing. When purchased at the correct size, it is furthermore finely adjustable for the load that you are carrying. It (usually) doesn’t chafe and if packed well you may soon forget that you are carrying anything.
  • Ease of use and variation: A hydration vest with soft a reservoir and soft flask option is highly versatile for both racing and training. With the various pockets usually found on a hydration vest, there are plenty of storage places for equipment and fuel, all accessible on the run without removing the vest.  Most vests can be machine-washed to keep it fresh and ready for the next use.

In a Nutshell

Hydration on the run is vital, but it shouldn’t become a hindrance from going longer and further to your runner-heart’s desire. Just like running shoes, your hydration system of choice will be a very much personal one based on your own preferences. But with proper homework and some trial and error, you are sure to find the best system that works for you. Happy running!

Featured Image created by Freepik.