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8 best hydration packs for running, hiking and long distance walks

These top-rated training buddies keep hold of your stuff so you don’t have to

Alice Barraclough
Monday 09 August 2021 15:29
<p>Not just for water, there’s extra space to stash your phone, keys, and energy gels too </p>

Not just for water, there’s extra space to stash your phone, keys, and energy gels too

While most long distance running races have water and Lucozade stations dotted along the course, it isn’t always as easy to quench your thirst when you’re out running on your own.

Of course, if you’re super organised, you could head out before your long run and leave water bottles hidden on route but running and training with a hydration pack or vest is a lot more convenient. Plus, carrying water via a backpack-style vest means you can focus on your running (rather than holding a bottle) – plus there’s extra space to stash your phone, keys, and energy gels, too.

If you’re planning to head out for a full-day hike and you want to stay hydrated or you’re training for a marathon and you want to practice running and drinking at the same time, you’ll need a hydration vest that’s big enough to carry all your essentials, something that’s both lightweight and breathable, and has easily adjustable straps to keep you comfortable.

Think about how long you’re likely to be on your feet and how much water you’re realistically going to need – smaller packs may only have 1l bladders and one small pocket, while others may have bladders that can hold up to 5l of water and more pockets than you’ll ever need.

How we tested

We sweat-tested some of the top-rated hydration packs for long-distance walkers, runners and hikers over a series of runs between 12 and 16 miles to find out which ones are worth your money.

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The best hydration packs for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Salomon ADV skin 5 set hydration vest: £98.90, Wiggle.co.uk
  • Best for storage – Ultimate Direction women's ultra vesta 5.0: £120, Runnersneed.com
  • Best for beginners – Camelbak women's ultra pro hydration undershirt: £61.99, Wiggle.com
  • Best value for money – Decathlon unisex trail running hydration gilet: £29.99, Decathlon.co.uk
  • Best for ultramarathons – Salomon advanced skin 12 set hydration vest: £125, Salomon.com
  • Best for women – Lululemon enlite hydraffinity vest: £158, Lululemon.co.uk
  • Best for the trails – Adidas terrex trail running vest: £130, Adidas.co.uk
  • Best lightweight vest – North Face race day vest 8L: £135, Thenorthface.co.uk

Salomon ADV skin 5 set hydration vest

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

This is one of Salomon’s most popular running vests and it’s easy to see why. Designed with only the essentials in mind, it remains lightweight by including everything you’d need while on a long run, and nothing you don’t. Featuring six pockets, including one for your zippered phone, it also has two 500ml water bottles and the fact it’s made from breathable fabrics means it fits snugly to the body – we really loved how comfortable this vest felt to run in. It also offers minimal bounce and we really appreciated the subtle elastic loops that secure the flasks in their pockets which makes them easy to drink. The elastic straps on the front offer a wrap-like feel and they are adjustable so you can customise the fit. If you need more than 1l of water, you can buy a 1.5l bladder (£32, Saloman.com) separately to pop in the back.

Ultimate Direction women's ultra vesta 5.0

Best: For storage

Rating: 8/10

A staple at ultramarathon events, this hydration vest has a lot of storage for fuel and water but also enough to stow a rain jacket. We particularly like the small ​​handy pocket on the shoulder strap, which is excellent for your keys or a lip balm. Like the Salomon ADV skin 5 (£98.90, Wiggle.co.uk) it comes with two 500ml bottles and it’s made of nylon and polyester, so it’s breathable. It has a large compartment on the back, which can store 3l of water, and also has nifty little trekking pole holders that are very useful for walkers and hikers alike. But the best thing is that it’s been designed with female ergonomics in mind – so in comparison to some of the unisex vests, the ultra vesta allows for a little more adjustment based on a woman’s body.

Camelbak women's ultra pro hydration undershirt

Best: For beginners

Rating: 7/10

Also designed with women’s bodies in mind, this hydration pack is great for beginners and marketed at an affordable price. It has most of the features you’d want, including a breathable, lightweight feel (thanks to its 3D micro mesh), a secure pocket for your phone and two 500ml quick stow flasks for water that you can drink on the go. It also has adjustable straps for increased stability – although we found this came up a little on the small side, so size up if you’re unsure.

Decathlon unisex trail running hydration gilet

Best: Value for money

Rating: 7/10

If you want to buy a vest-style hydration pack without breaking the bank, try this one. Coming in at under £30, it features 12 pockets to store any belongings – there are even pockets inside other pockets, so we’re still finding new places to store our gels. The main downside is that it can only hold up to 1l of water and the two water bottles for the front must be purchased separately (£9.99, Decathlon.co.uk). But, even after purchasing those add-ons, the price still comes in at less than many other race vests.

Salomon advanced skin 12 set hydration vest

Best: For ultramarathons

Rating: 9/10

Enter any ultramaraton event (which is technically any run that exceeds the marathon distance of 26.2 miles, or 42 kilometers), and you’re bound to see someone with one of these. Very similar to the Salomon ADV skin 5 set hydration vest (£99, Wiggle.co.uk) – the fit is just as good and comfortable – but the main difference here is the size. With 12l volume there’s a lot more space for longer endurance races. The two 500ml soft flasks come with the vest and it boasts two zipped front pockets, a bladder compatible pocket on the back, tunnel pocket and a main compartment compressor – plus, the bright yellow colour is cool. So if you’re planning on running for more than 10 hours, especially if it’s trails and you’re not likely to spot a water fountain or a supermarket, then a pack with a reservoir for water and a drinking straw is ideal.

Lululemon enlite hydraffinity vest

Best: For women

Rating: 6/10

This vest is slightly different to the others on this list – mainly because it looks, and feels, more like a bra. It doesn’t come with any bottles, so it’s arguably not as great value for money as those that do, but it is compatible with a 1.5l reservoir. Best suited for women who like an extra bit of support – and want to carry water without lugging an actual bag – this sweat-wicking, distance-running vest/high-performance-bra would be perfect for wearing during an especially hot and sticky marathon, or for a run where you’re not going to be isolated or out in the wilderness for too long.

Adidas terrex trail running vest

Best: For the trails

Rating: 8/10

The Adidas terrex trail running vest is a pricier option but it’s one of the best – and acid mint never looked so good. The lightweight and breathable pack features mesh lining, multiple storage pockets, which are easily reachable mid-run, two soft water flasks on the front, reflective details and bungee straps with toggles that are adjustable and allow you to customise the fit. This is a unisex vest, so consider sizing down if you’re female and up if you’re male.

North Face race day vest 8L

Best: Lightweight vest

Rating: 8/10

With a fuss-free and minimalist design (would you expect anything less from the North Face?) this hydration vest is a great lightweight option for going the distance. In fact, due to it’s thin, quick-drying fabric, this vest feels barely noticeable when running with it. The durable, ripstop fabric wicks excess moisture away from your skin more than most and it also offers 360-degree reflectivity if you’re out running early in the morning or late at night. The vest includes two soft water bottles in the price, which can be firmly attached to the actual bottle pockets and retract quickly with a simple leash system – great for quickly filling up mid-race.

The verdict: Hydration packs

Just like running shoes, there isn’t one perfect hydration vest for everyone. You need to choose one that fits your own body shape best – so don’t be afraid to try a few different styles out and remember to choose something based on what you actually need it for. We personally loved the unisex Salomon ADV skin 5 set hydration vest that was comfortable, high quality and lightweight with minimal bounce. Top tip: wash out your soft flasks and water bladders as soon as you get home with lemon and warm water to avoid a plastic taste.

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Keen to beat that PB? Try our roundup of the best men’s running gear, from shorts to shoes and jackets

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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