Whether you’re training for an ultra or heading out on a casual jog, the right running hydration pack will carry all the gear and water you need for a successful run.
There’s been an explosion of running vests and hydration packs 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.
Carrying capacity has also grown, with running vest capacity reaching 10-15 L and running packs reaching into the 20 L range. This means you can go further and carry more, all with the convenience of a running vest.
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 hydration pack that will work for every person, we’ve included a variety of options to fit your style of running.
Scroll through below to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:
- Best Overall
- Best Budget
- Best for Ultramarathons
- Best for Multiday Trips
- Most Breathable
- Best of the Rest
The Best Running Hydration Packs & Vests of 2023
Best Overall: Salomon Sense Pro 10
Salomon’s highest-end running pack, the Sense Pro 10 ($180), is designed to be lighter and more breathable than the Advanced Skin vests. The stretchy material of this running vest is sleek, and hardly moves once it’s fastened. It’s light and comfortable and barely noticeable when on.
The Sense Pro includes space for a hydration reservoir (not included), although it does not have any way to hold it up that we could tell. The reservoir sits against your back, which we imagine could cause the water to warm over time, however, it wasn’t noticeable on runs less than an hour. On the contrary, you can feel the coolness of the water against your back, which we prefer to the foam panels of other running vests.
The Sense Pro 10 comes with two 500mL flasks that have hard bottoms to easily slide in once they’re full. The vest includes elastic bands to secure it in place — so the flasks don’t fall down once they’re partially empty. These are both small features but they stood out for the ease of packing and drinking while on the move.
The main pocket easily fits a few layers with room to spare. There is also a back pocket that is accessible from both sides, two front pockets, and one zippered front pocket. All of the pockets are stretchy enough to accommodate extra items.
- Gear capacity: 10 L
- Weight: 8.8 oz. (with accessories)
- Best for: Performance or comfort any day of the week
Best Budget: Nathan Quickstart 2.0 4L
If you’re looking for something to get the job done without any fancy features, the Nathan Quickstart 2.0 ($80) running vest is an affordable but high-quality option. This vest is the perfect size for short to medium runs. It’s lightweight and breathes well even in hot weather.
Our tester has fit multiple layers in the main zip pocket, although it was more of a challenge than we would like. We recommend this vest for runs where you don’t need to carry multiple layers.
This running vest comes with a 1.5 L hydration reservoir that our tester has used for about 6 months without any leaking or durability issues. We especially appreciate the reservoir tube hook that keeps the nozzle stored out of the way while moving. In the front, there is space for a bottle (not included), a stretch mesh pocket, and a zipper pocket.
- Gear capacity: 4 L
- Weight: 9.5 oz. with bladder
- Best for: Short to medium trail and road runs
Best for Ultramarathons: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 6.0
If you’re an ultra runner, or like to do big mountain runs where you need a lot of supplies, this running vest ($140) is a solid option. We were surprised to see that the capacity is similar to the Salomon Sense Pro 10 — they both have around 10 L of space. But this vest feels like it can carry a lot more with all its bells and whistles.
However, the downside to all the pockets, stash straps, and zippers on this vest is that it feels bulky and bounces a bit when you’re moving. Our female tester had to tighten the vest quite a bit for less bounce, which left long tails hanging from the front buckle straps. This vest does not feel nearly as sleek as the Salomon vests or the Patagonia Slope Runner.
Lots of storage does make it easy to pack everything you need for an all-day outing. The main zippered pocket features a waterproof material and easily fits a few layers. There is space for a 2 L reservoir (not included), two included 500mL flasks in pockets, a zippered phone pocket, trekking pole attachments, two stretchy easy access stash pockets, and small zippered pockets in the back.
This vest features a partial air mesh back panel to protect from the Comfort Cinch 3.0 elastic bands. The air mesh panel is less breathable than other mesh back panels. The Comfort Cinch 3.0 design makes it simple to adjust to your body.
- Gear capacity: 10.3 L
- Weight: 7.9 oz.
- Best for: Ultras or all-day mountain runs
Best for Multiday Trips: Ultimate Direction FastPack 20
This running pack ($150) is the perfect choice for long mountain runs or even overnight trips. It fits like a running vest, but has the capacity of a daypack. It’s probably overkill for short runs but if you’re an ultrarunner or like to do fast and light multiday trips, this is the pack for you.
Our tester took this pack on a 40+ mile run through Southwest Colorado, which included a good section of bushwhacking. The front zippered pockets keep a phone secure, and the other front stash pockets hold snacks for easy access.
In the back, the main compartment uses a roll-top closure so it is secure even when mostly empty. Our tester carried a jacket, 2 L reservoir, and a sandwich in the rear compartment, and appreciated the side access to reach the jacket without needing to take the whole pack off.
One challenge with this pack is that it does not seem to have any way to attach a reservoir hose to the shoulder straps without it rubbing on our tester’s collarbone. The removable hip strap was nice to remove when not fully weighted, but would be great to have for a fastpacking mission.
- Gear capacity: 23.4 L
- Weight: 1 lb., 4.8 oz.
- Best for: Fastpacking, dayhiking, ultra running
Most Breathable: Nathan Sports VaporAiress & VaporAir 2.0 7L
Anyone who runs in hot climates will appreciate this breathable vest ($150). 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 2 L hydration 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 minimizes the dreaded pack bounce.
- Gear capacity: 7 L
- Weight: 12.2 oz.
- Best for: Going light and fast
Best of the Rest
When our tester first saw this vest she was astonished at how small it was. Compared to the other vests and packs on this list, this vest seems like it should fit nowhere near as much gear. But Patagonia created a durable stretchy mesh fabric that fits nearly as much as the larger vests.
Patagonia says the Slope Runner Endurance ($160) fits more like a garment than a pack, and that’s a good way to put it. It’s super low profile and easy to adjust the fit. When empty, this vest lies flush to your body with no loose parts.
There are three back pockets on the Slope Runner, including space for a hydration reservoir. A zippered pocket holds snacks and the stretchy stash pocket is accessible from both sides when the vest is on. Our tester was pleasantly surprised to see she could fit a fleece and a rain jacket in the stash pocket.
In the front, two 500mL water flasks sit with an elastic band to keep them easy to use while running. And two other stretchy pockets fit a phone and snacks. Carry your trekking poles with attachment points on either side.
- Gear capacity: 3 L
- Weight: 6.2 oz.
- Best for: Ultralight outings and everyday runs
The Distance 4 Hydration Vest ($150) is a lightweight, stretchy, and durable pack with innovative storage solutions. The airy vest offers ample space to tow apparel, nutrition, hydration, and gear. The vest worked well for short, daily trail runs and also for ventures with stout mileage in a single push.
The vest’s well-designed compartments allowed us to evenly distribute gear and weight. The front of the pack has two 500mL flask pockets. Usually, the front pockets on other running packs aren’t large enough to hold our phone/camera, but in testing, our phones slid freely into this vest’s flask pocket and were completely encased, which was awesome.
We never experienced hotspots or pressure points in the Distance 4 Hydration Vest. The pack is made out of nylon ripstop material and four-way stretch mesh, so it’s tenacious and stretchy. The seams are soft against the skin due to a stitch-less design that’s reinforced through a proprietary taping technology.
Overall, the Distance 4 Hydration Vest is a quick-drying and malleable yet sturdy vest. The material and seams are not abrasive, regardless of the cargo quantity, and we could comfortably layer up or down beneath the vest. The vest didn’t sway with one item or swing with a full load. Over time, the seams and fabric showed no signs of deterioration. If you need a long-lasting, lightweight hydration vest for trail running, this one is an excellent option.
Be sure to check out our full review of the Black Diamond Distance 4 Hydration Vest for more info.
- Gear capacity: 4 L
- Weight: 7 oz.
- Best for: Those looking for a comfortable and lightweight vest, with solid durability, for everyday trail runs.
Comfort is a top consideration in a running vest, and it’s where the Advanced Skin 12 Set ($160) 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. One of our editors 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 1.5 L bladder (not included).
The shoulder straps each have three open pockets and one zippered pocket. From ultraraces to casual runs, this is a comfortable, durable, and hardworking vest.
- Gear capacity: 12 L
- Weight: 9.77 oz.
- Best for: When you need to maximize comfort while carrying gear and water
This well-designed pack ($110) has everything you need in one sleek package. The medium/large size holds 1.5 L of water, and the small/medium carries 1 L. The lower stretch mesh and zippered pocket offered up just enough room for us to fit a light shell and snacks.
Both our male and female testers were able to get a comfortable, no-bounce fit thanks to the variety of adjustment straps. The double front clips are adjustable and helped hold everything in place, even with a full bladder.
Speaking of which, this hydration vest comes with Osprey’s unique Hydraulics reservoir. The streamlined design allows for easy loading, and we like that it lays flat in the pack.
- Gear capacity: 1.5 L (M/L)
- Weight: 10 oz.
- Best for: A unisex fit, hot pavement runs, everyday training
The Race Elite Pro 2in1 Vest ($190) is a pack that can transition seamlessly from a running vest that’s great for 2- to 3-hour runs to a full-on ultrarunning or adventure run pack that’s ready for your next 100K 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 regard to water-carrying capacity, the Race Elite Pro accommodates a 2 L 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 $190, this is an amazing multiuse pack for all your adventures.
- Gear capacity: 10 L
- Weight: 12.2 oz.
- Best for: Training runs, endurance races
This minimalist vest from The North Face would work well for races or long runs with support. As the lightest vest ($150) on this list, it’s a great option when every ounce matters. It features multiple stash front pockets for gels, snacks, and water, however, it did feel like things could fall out of these pockets in the right situation.
A zippered phone pocket just barely fits our tester’s iPhone 12, it would be very challenging to get a larger phone to stay in. Plus, it’s hard to access the phone to check maps or change music.
The fabric feels very durable, however, it’s not very stretchy. The lack of stretch combined with the slick feeling of Cordura nylon material caused it to move a bit while running for our female tester.
A back pocket holds a hydration reservoir and a lower pocket allows you to stash trekking poles when not in use. Compared to other 8 L running vests, this vest seemed to have less capacity for layers or other things. However, for racing or long-distance running with support, it’s a great option.
- Gear capacity: 8 L
- Weight: 4.2 oz. (size small)
- Best for: Racing or long runs with support
Hydration Packs Comparison Chart
|Hydration packs||Price||Gear capacity||Weight||Best for|
|Salomon Sense Pro 10||$180||10 L||8.8 oz.||Performance or comfort any day of the week|
|Nathan Quickstart 2.0 4L||$80||4 L||9.5 oz. with bladder||Short to medium trail and road runs|
|Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 6.0||$140||10.3 L||7.9 oz.||Ultras or all-day mountain runs|
|Ultimate Direction FastPack 20||$150||23.4 L||1 lb., 4.8 oz.||Fastpacking, dayhiking, ultra running|
|Nathan Sports VaporAiress & VaporAir||$150||7 L||12.2 oz.||Going light and fast|
|Patagonia Slope Runner Endurance Trail Running Vest||$160||3 L||6.2 oz.||Ultralight outings and everyday runs|
|Black Diamond Distance 4 Hydration Vest||$150||4 L||7 oz.||Comfortable and lightweight vest, with solid durability, for everyday trail runs|
|Salomon Advanced Skin 12 Set||$160||12 L||9.7 oz||When you need to maximize comfort while carrying gear and water|
|Osprey Duro 1.5 Hydration Vest||$110||1.5 L (M/L)||10 oz.||A unisex fit, hot pavement runs, everyday training|
|inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 2in1 Vest||$190||10 L||12.2 oz.||Training runs, endurance races|
|The North Face Flight Race Day 8||$150||8 L||4.2 oz. (size small)||Racing or long runs with support|
Why You Should Trust Us
We started by researching the best hydration packs and vests before picking 10+ to test. We tested these vests and packs while running ~100+ miles throughout the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. Our testers have bushwhacked through Gambel oak, scrambled up peaks, and ran smooth single track to test out the capabilities of these vests and packs.
We’ve tested every feature and put these packs and vests through their paces. Fabric has been stretched and stained, every pocket has been tried out, and organizational systems explored. We’ve learned things about these packs and vests that the manufacturers don’t even advertise, and we’re doing our best to convey everything we’ve learned to you, whether this is your first running vest, or you’ve worn your last one to pieces.
Buyers Guide: How to Choose a Hydration Pack for Running
Running packs and vests come in all shapes and sizes. It’s important to consider what kinds of runs or adventures you plan to use your pack on when choosing the right one for you.
If you typically run a few miles a week, a recreational vest will be plenty. But if you have race ambitions, you may want to choose something more technical and geared toward performance. If you want to keep your gear closet slimmed down and like multipurpose gear, a hydration pack might be better for use while hiking, running, and even overnight trips.
Read on to learn more about what to consider while choosing a running vest or pack.
Types of Running Vests
Recreational running vests are more affordable than more technical options. That makes them a great first pick for someone who has never used a running vest before and wants to try one out.
Recreational running vests typically hold 1-2 L of water, enough for a 1-2 hour run or a race with lots of aid stations. They might have one main compartment and a few additional places to stash snacks, phones, and other necessities. But they’re not going to have all the bells and whistles of a more performance-oriented pack.
Performance running vests can look like a lot of different things. But they are generally oriented towards all-day runs, long trail races, ultra marathons, and technical trails.
Performance running vests typically use higher-quality materials which can make them more comfortable over longer periods of time. They also have many more features and ways to organize your gear, such as more pockets, pole and/or ice axe attachments, and unique ways to adjust the fit.
Fastpacking is distance trail running and backpacking at the same time. You’re running or hiking quickly, and while going light is a necessity, you still need enough gear to be safe and comfortable (enough).
For fastpacking, you need a pack that can move with you for long periods of time, but also carry enough gear for multiple days. That’s hard to come by, as many backpacks designed for day hiking are heavy and don’t have the features to carry the gear you need, but backpacking backpacks are far too bulky.
So fastpacking running vests and packs have emerged that walk the line between running vest and daypack. They have enough capacity to fit overnight gear but still fit close enough to the body that it’s not distracting while running.
Bottles vs. Reservoirs
Different types of hydration packs and running vests have different ways to carry water. The amount of water you want to carry will depend on how far you are going. For a 1-2 hour run, you will probably only need ~1 L of water. Whereas if you’re out all day, you might want up to 3-4 L of water throughout the day. Most running vests can hold up to 3 L of water — a 2L reservoir and two 500mL flasks.
Most running vests and hydration packs have space for a hydration reservoir in the back. This looks like a sleeve to slip a reservoir into. The best options have a way to hold up the reservoir so while you’re drinking from it, it doesn’t slip down in the sleeve.
Some of the options on this list come with reservoirs, while others do not. That’s something to consider before purchasing. Also, consider the size of the reservoir. Most running vests and packs can fit a 1-2 L reservoir.
Some running vests also have pockets for flasks in the front. Many of them also come with flasks, which is something to consider when choosing a running vest. When flasks are positioned properly, you can drink while on the move, which is key for any sort of running hydration.
Flasks can also have a lighter weight than reservoirs. However, some tend to fall down or are hard to reach without a lot of work while on the move. Look for elastics to hold flasks in position even when they’re partially empty.
Many runners prefer one hydration method or the other, while others use both. However you choose to hydrate, you just need to make sure to bring enough water for your run.
Capacity: Water & Gear
How much capacity you need will depend on what your runs typically look like. Someone whose average run is a 5-mile road run will have different needs than someone whose average run is a 20-mile mountain run.
Running vests and hydration packs come with anywhere between 2 L and 20 L of storage space. That typically describes the size of the main compartment, however many have lots of other pockets and features to stash gear. Think about what you might want to bring on most runs, and find a pack or vest that fits that amount of stuff.
For example, our tester knows that if she’s wearing a running vest, she’s probably going on a trail run. She likes to bring at least one layer, snacks, and up to 3 L of water on most trail runs. On mountain runs where the weather is variable, she may bring two layers, or other emergency gear. To fit all that, she needs at least a 5 L pack, and 10 L is very comfortable.
When thinking about how much water you need, consider if you will have any opportunities to refill. If you’re running a race, how many aid stations are there? How long is the furthest distance between them? It’s not worth bringing too much more water than you need, since that will just weigh you down. However, it’s a fine line to run since water is a necessity while on the move.
If you’re in the mountains, are there any opportunities to fill up water from natural sources? Just make sure to bring a filter or some way to treat water if so.
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.
Running vests should fit snuggly, without any bounce. You want it to feel more like a piece of clothing than a backpack. Ideally, you shouldn’t feel it move when you’re running.
For women, you need to not only make sure the length and torso circumference is 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 pleased with the overall fit.
Extra features can make the difference between an OK vest and an awesome one. There are so many additional organizational features on different running vests. Here are a few we see a lot:
Trekking pole attachments: If you like running with poles, it’s great to have a way to stash them if you get tired of using them, or get to a section of trail you don’t need them.
Zippered pockets: Front zippered pockets are useful for phones so they don’t fall out of stretch pockets (it’s happened to one of our testers!).
Stretchy pockets: Stretch pockets of any size are great for not taking up space unless you need them to. Stretch pockets allow you to fit larger items than the space allows, and ensure that the item doesn’t fall out if there isn’t a closure. Some of our favorite running vests use stretchy material on the pockets and compartments.
Ice axe attachment: Some running vests and packs have ways to attach ice axes which can be useful if you like to go fast and light while mountaineering. Or if you like to run during seasons when there is still snow/ice in the mountains, lightweight ice axes can be good for safety (just know how to use them).
Compression straps: Compression straps can help you fit even more gear on your pack or vest. It’s an especially good way to carry extra layers that don’t fit in your pack or can be used to carry trekking poles if there isn’t another option. Compression straps are versatile and useful in a variety of ways while running.
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.
When you’re out on runs it’s important to wear clothes and use gear that breathes well. Staying dry, or drying quickly, can be the difference between comfort and hyperthermia, especially in cold months or cold climates. And in the warm months, it can make the difference between a sluggish run and a feel-good run.
Many running vests are made out of material that allows them to wick sweat or dry quickly. Mesh materials can vent heat and keep you cooler. Or some vests and packs use ventilation to keep you cool while on the move.
It’s important to consider how well a running vest or pack breathes, especially if you know you sweat a lot.
The ideal running vest is not distracting while on a run. If you’re trying on running vests, add some weight to them (water, layers, etc) and run or bounce up and down to mimic running. See if you notice the running vest. If you do, it will probably distract you, or even worse, chafe while on a long run.
Like all clothing and gear, the perfect running vest depends on your body shape, and your needs. There is no one “most comfortable” vest, since what fits our testers well might not fit your body as well. But look for something that fits tightly, with no bouncing or rubbing.
What’s the Difference Between a Running Vest and a Hydration Pack?
Running vests sit closer to the body like a piece of clothing, so they ideally don’t move while you run. They often sit high on the back, instead of reaching the low back like a backpack. They also include side panels or straps that connect the front to the back to keep it tight on your body.
Running vests often provide pockets on the shoulder straps for easy access to your phone, snacks, and water. They often include or provide space for soft flasks for water. They also often include space for a hydration reservoir.
Hydration packs fit more like a backpack, with shoulder straps and potentially a hip belt instead of the vest design. They provide space for a hydration reservoir, and sometimes also include pockets for soft flasks. They are designed to easily access water but are not as tightly fitting as running vests. Hydration packs are useful for some runs, but they can also be used for biking, hiking, and more.
Should I Run With a Hydration Pack?
If you find yourself feeling dehydrated on your runs but don’t currently have a good solution to the problem, you may want to consider running with a hydration pack or vest.
If you are regularly running for 2 hours or longer, it is recommended to drink about 1-2 L of water during your run. A hydration pack can offer this with easy on-the-go access.
For short runs that are less than 30 minutes in length, a hydration pack likely is not necessary. However, heat and climate are always factors to consider, too.
Will a Hydration Pack Change My Running Form?
A well-fitted hydration pack should not drastically change your running form, but wearing one will certainly take some getting used to.
Hydration packs that are made from elastic, and stretchy materials hug the body and prevent the entire pack from bouncing during your run. If your hydration pack is bouncing, it may negatively affect your running form and should be adjusted.
What Size Hydration Pack Is Right for Me?
Hydration packs are available with various reservoir capacities. Most options can carry 1-3 L of water. Choosing a hydration pack comes down to how long you plan to run while using it.
If you will be running for very long periods without stopping at water stations or sources, you will want a larger capacity hydration pack to keep you going throughout your entire run. For example, ultra-runners will likely need greater capacity packs, while shorter-duration runners may be able to get by with a smaller capacity.
Remember that the more water you put in your pack, the heavier it will be. For most runners, 2 L of water in the pack can offer a good balance between weight to carry and available water.
Most hydration packs are made to fit everybody. However, it’s a good idea to check the pack’s specs to ensure that it will work for someone with your body type and size.
When Should You Wear a Hydration Pack?
A hydration pack helps prevent dehydration while running or exercising. Sustained physical activities don’t often allow easy access to water bottles. So, the use of a hydration pack offers quick access to water without having to pause your workout.
It’s a good idea to wear a hydration pack any time you’ll be running for long periods of time. A standard rule of thumb is that humans should drink 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes while running.
If you are running for 30 minutes or longer, especially in hot or dry conditions, a hydration pack can be an essential way to stay safe and hydrated.
Hydration Pack vs. Vest: Which Is Better?
Neither is strictly better, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
A hydration backpack tends to be versatile enough to be used for other activities aside from running. Backpacks are often bigger and offer more capacity than hydration vests.
Hydration backpacks are good for runners who will be actively running unassisted for long distances and durations, such as ultramarathoners.
A hydration vest is probably the best pick if you are in search of maximum running comfort. A well-fitted vest sits high on the back and remains close to the body while running.
Another benefit of a hydration vest is that it offers easier access to your things while you are running. You don’t need to take the vest off or reach behind you to access its storage.
How Do You Run With a Hydration Pack?
A properly fitted hydration pack should not change the way you run. If you plan to participate in a race or major planned run, it’s a good idea to run several times beforehand with your pack on so you can get used to it. Then, you can make any necessary adjustments to its fit.
Make sure to organize all your gear so the weight is evenly balanced and there isn’t too much in the front or the back. Also make sure you can access the gear you need quickly, ideally without having to take your hydration pack or vest off.