Updated: January 12, 2017
Do you drink enough water when you run?
According to the Institute of Medicine the general recommendations of daily water intake for women is 91 ounces (2.7 liters) and for men is 125 ounces (3.7 liters).
That’s a lot of water.
What’s more, they go on to say this:
“Prolonged physical activity and heat exposure will increase water losses and therefore may raise daily fluid needs…”
Suffice it to say, you need to stay hydrated.
Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Hydration Pack for You
Below you’ll find our 5 step system that goes into quite a bit of detail.
Step 1. Determine pack use.
Let’s be clear on something first. Hydration packs are not running backpacks. Yes, sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, but for the most part hydration packs are slimmed down to be a lot more lightweight for the primary purpose of feeding water to the runner. If you want a more traditional running pack that you can stuff a bladder or reservoir in then check out our top picks here.
So, are you a casual runner that hits the road for a few miles everyday?
Are you a trail runner or racer that is typically in the 5-10 mile range (or maybe more)?
Are you an ultra runner or marathoner that pushes themselves to the limit?
We’re going to get into how each of these types of runners breaks down in terms of which pack to go with, but for now just ask yourself. What type of runner are you and what will the primary use of your pack be?
Step 2. Select reservoir size.
You know what type of runner you are, so now it’s time to figure out your reservoir size.
A general rule of thumb is to consume approximately 1 liter (33 ounces) for every hour of running.
There are 4 common volumes:
1L (34 oz): Very popular with minimalists, run commuters, or those trying to stay as lightweight as possible.
1.5L (50 oz): This size is somewhat uncommon, but popular with what we call “thirsty minimalists.” Basically if you’re looking to stay lightweight, but know you consume a lot of water then this may be the perfect size for you.
2L (68 oz): This is usually the most popular reservoir size and is our recommendation if you’re not sure where to start. Our go to bladder is actually the Platypus Hoser, which is a 70 oz bladder. Most of the time filling it to around 50 oz is perfect.
3L (102 oz): Think of the 3L as a one size fits most. Thirsty? Don’t want to stop for refills? Then you may want to consider this size. The only pitfall is the potential extra weight and actual size of the reservoir versus how much space you have in your pack.
Last but not least, make sure you check the reservoir mouth or opening size. The normal opening for a reservoir greater than 1L is 3.5 inch. This is more than enough to drop in a few ice cubes if desired. Keep in mind that this dimension may change based on brand, and you should always check it.
Step 3. Check sip tube, bite valve, and miscellaneous components.
Sip tubes. Most tubes are made out of polyurethane, which for the most part is extremely durable and won’t tangle.
The only downfall to polyurethane is it can transfer some taste of the plastic to the water, especially during initial use.
We’ve found that filling the bladder up with water overnight and then emptying and letting it thoroughly dry the next day will help reduce this effect.
Bite valves. Typically constructed from a silicone or silicone based material. Most common bite valves work by applying tooth pressure to the valve to release the water. You may notice that some bite valves will actually twist on/off or have an on/off switch. It’s really a matter of preference.
Geigerigg has a unique system called the “hydration engine” that is a “spray to drink” instead of “bite to drink” system. This is quickly become a fan favorite.
Clips. Make sure your reservoir comes with some type of tube clip that you can clip to a shoulder strap or jacket to keep from bouncing around.
Step 4. Determine storage needs.
Storage space for each pack can vary from 1-2 small pockets for keys or gels to traditional backpack pockets as large as 40-50 L. Use your information from Step 1 above to determine how much room you’ll need for storage.
Keep in mind that when you look at hydration packs, some are meant for mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, skiing, etc. Runners usually tend to be on the lower end of the storage spectrum.
Step 5. Find a good comfort and fit.
We like to live by the golden rule of: the smallest possible pack to do the job and also fit comfortably is the best pack.
You’ll find that hydration packs come in two main styles:
- Hydration backpack
- Hydration vest (sometimes called a race vest)
You can’t always try the pack on before you get it, so here’s 3 main questions to ask yourself about fit before you buy:
- Will the pack fit my body shape? (i.e. longer narrower packs might fit taller persons better)
- Is there padding and/or mesh (assuming you may run in the heat) on the straps?
- Are there any features included that I don’t need or that may get in the way?
Even with all the information above we know it’s hard to choose a hydration backpack, especially if it’s your first one. That’s why we’ve included 2 additional features.
First, you can watch this 6 minute video that recaps (visually) what we’ve just explained.
Second, we went through the hundreds of hydration packs available and put together a top 10 list to cut down on you wasting endless hours looking for the best pack.
Top 10 Hydration Running Backpacks of 2017
|1||Camelbak Lobo Hydration Pack||100 oz||$$$$|
|2||Nathan Intensity Race Vest||70 oz||$$|
|3||TETON Sports Trailrunner 2.0||70 oz||$|
|4||Camelbak Hydrobak||50 oz||$$|
|5||Nathan Vapor Air Hydration Pack||70 oz||$$$$|
|6||Nathan HPL 020 Vest||70 oz||$$$|
|7||Osprey Rev Hydration Pack||50 oz||$$|
|8||Salomon Advanced Skin Pro 14||50 oz||$$$$$|
|9||Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0||70 oz||$$$|
|10||Geigerrig Guardian Rig Hydration Pack||70 oz||$$$|
Sometimes it’s tough to make a decision on a new pack, that’s why not only have we narrowed it down to the top 10 best, but we’ll also give you some final thoughts on exactly which pack might be right for you.
Traditional hydration packs. If you’re looking for a more conventional pack check out the Camelbak Lobo or Hydrobak, TETON Trailrunner, or Osprey Rev.
Race vests. All the Nathan packs and the Salomon Skin Pro are built more race vest style, which typically involves some extra pack storage along the straps for easy to get to gels, etc.
All the bells and whistles. The Ultimate Direction pack has a bit more storage and compartments than the rest of the packs, and is more easily converted from short runs to longer more grueling trail runs or races.
Get rugged. Geigerrig is well known for creating extremely durable packs that won’t break down under any condition. We were hard pressed not to put this pack higher up on the list.