Running packs have come a long way from the bouncy rucksacks of the past.
Many are so well-designed that you barely notice they’re there, with vest style packs in particular designed to distribute weight evenly across front and back.
We’ve tested packs that span a wide range of needs. From budget-friendly commuting packs – that just need to house a change of clothes, water, keys and a phone – to packs and vests for longer, off-road runs or races, where you’ll need to carry compulsory kit such as a waterproof, extra layers, foil blanket and first-aid kit.
Arguably, the latter can also be used for the former as you’ll want to be as comfortable on a commute as you are out on the trails.
How we tested
We tested all these packs on different distance runs and were looking at a variety of factors. Specifically, we wanted one that was comfortable to wear, a good fit, had breathability, and gave us easy access to our water, food and kit on the move. We also took into account bounce factor – there’s nothing more annoying or uncomfortable than a pack that bounces up and down as you run.
The best running backpacks for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Osprey dyna 15: £129.99, Sportsshoes.com
- Best value for money – Alpkit artlu 10: £44.99, Alpkit.com
- Best for comfort – Harrier curbar 5L race vest: £54, Harrierrunfree.co.uk
- Best multi-purpose investment – Inov-8 race ultra pro 2In1 vest: £150, Inov-8.com
- Best for commuting – Asics lightweight running backpack 2.0: £45, Asics.com
- Best for easy breathing – Salomon adv skin 5 unisex running vest: £110, Salomon.com
- Best for a hot day – Sundried mesh backpack: £20, Sundried.com
- Best for low-light runs – Proviz reflect360 running backpack: £49.99, Provizsports.com
- Best hydration plus a little kit – Ultimate Performance arrow 3 race vest pack: £47.99, Sportsshoes.com
- Best for overnight runs – OMM classic 32: £90, Wiggle.co.uk
- Best budget commuting option – New Balance fast flight running backpack: £25.99, Zalando.co.uk
Osprey dyna 15
Breathable, comfortable and stable, this pack is built for distance. It’s women’s specific – the male equivalent is the Osprey duro (£125, Ospreyeurope.com) – and it’s adjustable in so many places to personalise the fit that there’s no bounce at all on the move.
We felt ready for anything as we were able to carry so much with us. The main compartment is capacious enough to fit essential kit and food, while a separate compartment can house a bladder with hose ports over both shoulders. That hose connects to two 500ml flasks (included), so it’s easy to stay hydrated on the move. There are also two adjustable, removable torso straps that move up and down are elasticated to make breathing easier.
A stretch panel on the outer gives you quick access to layers – although a tiny gripe is that you have to undo that to access the main compartments. There are also two easily accessible zipped pockets on the hips, plus another two zipped ones just behind them, enabling you to reach a lot of kit/snacks without removing the pack.
Alpkit artlu 10
Best: Value for money
This is a high-quality pack for the price. Designed for long runs or races, it has a waterproof outer and a 10l capacity big enough for the Fell Running Association minimum race kit requirement. Two straps come across the torso to prevent bounce in addition to the waist strap, and their position can be moved up or down using toggles to tailor the fit. It’s soft and comfortable, and stays in place beautifully.
A niggle is that it’s one size only and the straps flap a bit if they’re pulled in tight across a small frame – they can be tucked in but we’d prefer them not to have the excess in the first place. It’s well ventilated and can house a 2l bladder, with hose ports over both shoulders, plus a toggled pocket on the front that can hold a soft flask. It has loops and bungees for carrying poles and well-placed pockets (a mix of easy-access open pockets and stretchy, zipped ones) and another pocket on the back for quick access to layers.
Harrier curbar 5L race vest
Best: For comfort
An extremely comfortable, form-fitting vest that’s thoughtfully designed and good value for money. It weighs just 220g (for an XS) and everything about it is neat – the straps are tucked away and nothing bounces or dangles. It has pockets upon pockets, perfectly placed for easy access on the move. It can house a 1.5l or 2.0l bladder plus two 500ml flasks in the front. Both of the torso straps can be moved up or down with a toggle system and it has a wide range of sizes, which ensures a great fit without having to excessively cinch any of the straps. It sits high and it’s super soft so we experienced no chafing on a long run.
The main compartment doesn’t look like it will hold much, but, it’s surprisingly capacious due its stretchy fabric. The tiniest niggle is that the zip access to the main compartment is quite small so it can be a little difficult to pull things out. A stretchy panel sits on the outside for stuffing in layers and there’s a small whistle and horizontal pole holders.
Inov-8 race ultra pro 2In1 vest
Best: Multi-purpose investment
For £150 we were expecting a lot for our money, and thankfully we weren’t disappointed. This is an excellent, lightweight pack for technical racing that comes with an awful lot of functions. It can stand alone as a well-ventilated, lightweight vest, housing a 1l or 2l bladder, plus two 500ml bottles and a collapsible cup (included) on the front. Or, you can attach a 10l pocket using sliding clips if you need to carry more kit.
The aforementioned hoses sit right next to your chin for easy hydration. Although, the bottles sit slightly lower on the strap than some other packs, so you may find them slightly in the way if you run with your arms significantly across your centre. The two adjustable torso straps can be moved up or down and have easy release on the clips for cold hands. It even comes with bungee cords sit over the extra pack for stuffing in layers.
With one stretchy and one zipped pocket at the front, plus two zipped hip pockets, you’ll have easy access to whatever you need without taking the pack off. It’s a comfortable and bounce-free pack, and felt nicely balanced, even when the extra pocket was full of kit.
Asics lightweight running backpack 2.0
Best: For commuting
A good choice for commutes or shorter runs. It doesn’t advertise as one of the specs but it has space for a bladder and hose ports through the shoulder straps, so that you don’t have to stop and pull out a water bottle on a hot day. The shoulder straps are wide, ventilated and padded, so it can manage a bit of weight. The ventilation doesn’t stretch all the way across the back, so it got a little sweaty in the mid-back but it’s fine for a commute. A couple of small open pockets on the straps can hold snacks and a stretchy outer pouch is handy for stuffing in layers. It’s unisex but won’t suit people with a small, narrow frame as it can’t be pulled in tight enough to prevent bounce.
Salomon adv skin 5 unisex running vest
Best: For easy breathing
At just 308g, including accessories, this is a superb, lightweight pack. The torso straps are stretchy and slide into tiny clips that can be moved up or down for the perfect fit. They’re a little bit fiddly if you have cold or gloved hands but they keep the pack in place very effectively (not a hint of bounce) and allow for such easy breathing that you can forgive them that. Great if your build makes thicker straps coming across your front uncomfortable, it has a wide range of sizes for a precise fit.
It can also house a bladder and has a stretchy 5l compartment for kit. It moves beautifully with your body as you run and it’s breathable and padded where it needs to be. The flasks included don’t have hoses but you could replace them with hosed bottles if that’s your preference. It sits high, so perfect for those that don’t like a waist strap. There are pole carrying loops (that can be moved about according to preference) and pockets where you need them to be on the run.
Sundried mesh backpack
Best: For a hot day
Super-lightweight and affordable, this pack is perfect for short or medium runs on a hot day if you simply want to carry hydration and a few snacks. It can hold a 1l (£9, Sundried.com) or 1.5l bladder (£9, Sundried.com) (not included), but a small gripe would be that the sundried 1l bladder has a hose that’s too long and dangles a bit. Two adjustable straps across the torso slide up and down and they hold the pack close, while two pockets on the shoulder straps can house small water bottles, although we preferred them for snacks and keys. But, as the whole thing is made of mesh, it was easily the most breathable option we tested.
Proviz reflect360 running backpack
Best: For low-light runs
You can’t beat Proviz kit for low-light or night-time visibility. It quite literally glows when light is shone at it, making it a good choice if you run at dawn or dusk along badly lit roads or paths. It has the requisite waist and chest strap, and the chest strap can be moved up and down, although we found that it affects the fit of the shoulders straps if it’s pulled in too far so won’t suit very small, narrow frames. It sits well against the body with minimal bounce, and the straps are ventilated but not padded. The edging isn’t the softest we tried, so this is a pack for shorter runs where being seen is the priority. Two zipped hip pockets give easy access to your phone and snacks, and the 10l main compartment is big enough for a change of clothes. Plus, it’s compatible with a bladder if needed.
Ultimate Performance arrow 3 race vest pack
Best: Hydration plus a little kit
Well ventilated, soft, and pared-back, this is a vest that’s all about the hydration. Zipped pockets and two 500ml flexi-flasks (included) sit in your airy, mesh shoulder straps (although we found the hoses a little unwieldy) plus there’s an optional 1.5l bladder in the back. Minus the flasks, it weighs just 215g and there’s 3l of space for a small amount of kit.
It’s unusual in that it has just one adjustable strap across the torso, which can be moved up and down, but it works surprisingly well to keep the pack close. It sits high on the body and it’s very narrow in the back, leaving you unrestricted. Bungees are on the back for trekking poles and a small outer pocket will house a phone and gels. It’s billed as suitable for trail marathons but we’d probably want a bigger capacity for off-road.
OMM classic 32
Best: For overnight runs
This 32l pack is designed for overnight adventures. The torso straps move up and down to suit your build and the shoulder straps are heavily padded to reflect the extra weight you’re carrying. We personally found them too close in the sides of the neck, but it would be dependent on your geometry.
It has a Duomat sleep mat tucked into a sleeve in the main compartment, which can also house a bladder. Breathability in the mid-back is limited but that would be expected for an overnight pack with a mat in it. Even when it’s packed full, thoughtfully designed strapping pulls the load close so that it doesn’t feel ungainly. And, they can be adjusted if you have less kit in there to reduce the size of the compartment or extended out to increase the capacity under the lid. While, well-placed stretch mesh pockets make for easy access to layers and a handy gear rail runs across the back.
The waist belt pockets have a 2l capacity to add to the storage potential. A nice feature is that the waist pads can be removed, as can the sleeping mat/back pad, leaving you with a super-light but capacious pack for shorter runs.
New Balance fast flight running backpack
Best: Budget commuting option
Extremely lightweight with a nice narrow shape and good capacity – you can fit a change of clothes, shoes and snacks inside. It’s one size and the narrow waist strap and lack of padding in the shoulder straps make it purely a commuter pack. The adjustable chest strap moves up and down and it’s elasticated to help make breathing easier. Two mesh pockets on either side give you easy access to a phone or water bottles.
The verdict: Running backpacks
The Osprey dyna ticks all of the boxes on performance, and especially on comfort and fit. The Alpkit artlu is a strong contender at a lower price (it’s just a shame it doesn’t come in more sizes). The Salomon and Inov-8 packs are great performers from brands that really know their stuff when it comes to technical packs, and the Harrier curbar is a very well-designed race vest from a smaller brand.
For the latest discounts on running gear and other sports essentials, try the links below:
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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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