So you’re in the market for your first running backpack, but not quite sure where to start? No worries, we got you covered.
We’ve been in the same position as you and after going through a ton of running packs know exactly what features you need to be looking for and exactly what to avoid.
First, let’s talk about the what people mean when they use the term “running pack.” There are 5 main styles that we commonly refer to:
- Running backpacks. These are your more traditional “outdoor” backpacks. They can usually be used interchangeable for day hikes or running, but lately there have been some packs designed specifically for running. They tend to have the most storage of all the packs and can be used for lots of other activities like vacation trips, school, etc.
- Hydration backpacks. The quintessential hydration pack is pretty much anything by Camelbak. It’s usually a lot slimmer than a traditional backpack, with a slot for your bladder, and a few small storage pockets. The primary purpose is, you guessed it, hydration.
- Waist packs. There are really two types of waist packs: 1) hydration belts, and 2) running belts. The only difference is the latter doesn’t have any holsters for water bottles.
- Race vests. These are kind of a mix between running backpacks and hydration backpacks. They’re extremely lightweight, but usually have more storage on the front straps and actually look more like vests.
- Handheld hydration packs. Think bottle carrier.
Okay, now you’ve got the basics of what pack does what. Now, let’s look at what criteria you need to focus on.
Packs for Guys, Packs for Girls
We’d like to assume this step is pretty obvious, but when we see guys running around town with a Pink CamelBak Annadel strapped to him we started to wonder….
So, step one, decide if you need a pack for a man or a woman.
Determine Pack Use
All packs are not created equal. Whether you run a few miles each day, enjoy half-marathons, triathlons, or trail running, it all matters.
The main thing you want to determine here is size and style. If you’re going to be gone on a trail run for the entire day you’ll likely need a larger bag for hydration and snacks, whereas a half-marathon runner may be able to get away with a minimalist pack.
Weight, weight, weight. Weight is a very important determining factor. If you’re going to doing different activities, for example, street races and trail running, then you’ll want two different packs. Don’t try to save money at the expense of everything else. Just get the two packs and be done with it.
Now that you’ve determined what you’ll be using the pack for you can make a good decision on what kind of straps you’ll need.
Are you trying to reduce bounce and movement? You may want to look into Nathan’s propulsion harness which allows the pack to move, but naturally with your stride.
Are you going to be carrying a lot of weight? You’ll want to go with waist straps if your pack is going to weight over 6 pounds; these will help with stability as well as weight.
Make sure all straps are adjustable. All packs have a little bit of break in period where you’ll need to adjust the straps for the best fit.
For many people this is one of the primary reasons for grabbing a running backpack
Hot climate? Make sure you get an insulated bladder or you’ll be drinking warm water.
Don’t drink a lot of water or need much? Maybe you’re just jogging to work. If that’s the case you can probably save a little money by just getting a pack with a water bottle instead of a hydration bladder.
What size reservoir do you need? Here’s a quick guide:
- 34-50 ounces (1L or 1.5L) = minimalists, kids, short distance, commuters
- 68 ounces (2L) = most popular, balance between reasonable weight and bulk, half-marathon
- 102 ounces (3L) =full marathon or trail runners
Note: 1L water = 2 pounds of weight
This is typically the other primary reason for purchasing a running backpack. You already determined what you’ll be using your pack for above, so that should dictate how much storage you need.
Also keep in mind that you may want some storage to be accessible during the run, so having all pockets on the back of the pack or in an unreachable area may not be ideal.
For some people the material will make or break it for them.
Hot climate? Make sure you get a breathable pack, which usually means a pack made with a lot of strong mesh material.
Cold climate? You may want to stay away from the mesh and towards a solid material for a little bit of insulation.
Last, but not least, is safety. We save safety for last because most packs have reflective strips or material built into the pack. The only situation that may require a little extra consideration is running at night. If you happen to run when it’s dark out then you’ll definitely want to ensure your pack has a good portion of reflective material on it.
Safety whistle anyone? Many packs will come with an emergency whistle, or you can just buy one and tie it to your straps.
Are you sure you need a running backpack?
After you’ve gone through the quick checklist above be sure you check out our following guides:
Either of the above may be a better fit for what you’ll be doing. Just because your friend uses a certain running back pack doesn’t mean you should.