Well, with summer fast approaching in Queensland, and a flurry of ultra distance trail races on the go, it seems that minds are turning to investing in a hydration pack to keep us kitted out on those longer, hotter runs. Whether you are a trail runner or just running longer on the road, a hydration pack is a handy piece of kit.
As someone who has had a (not so closet) love for trying out different hydration packs/vests over the last couple of years, here are a few of my top considerations for you if you’re thinking in investing…. And yes, they are quite an investment financially, but if you’re planning to race an ultra; run in a remote location or simply want to carry water (and snacks, or layers, or first aid kits or phones, cameras etc) on longer runs, I would 100% recommend going for it:
1. Fit: Getting the right fit is crucial to a comfortable pack. The beauty of hydration vests for me personally, is unlike a belt or a bulkier backpack, they almost form a second skin when fitting properly. A well fitted vest won’t budge at all when you’re running and as such, is a lot less likely to chafe… and nobody likes to chafe. Even with my 12 litre pack fully loaded with water; first aid supplies; layers; hiking poles and of course, snacks – I don’t feel it moving around on my body when I’m running.
To get the right fit, try packs on in store, or failing that, borrow from friends to check out how the pack fits you. All hydration vests that I have come across are size specific, and some are even gender specific. Take the time to find the right fit for you.
2. Function: What do you want to use your pack for? If you don’t need to carry much beyond water, there may be no need to go for anything beyond a 5 litre size pack. That being said, if you think you may want to carry more and run further, sizing up to a 12 litre pack doesn’t necessarily add that much extra bulk, but gives you the flexibility to extend its use.
Also consider how best you like to carry your water. Some smaller packs (like the Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 5) only have space for two soft flasks carried on the front; while others may also accommodate bladders in a rear pouch. Many packs will carry two flasks at the front and a bladder at the back – giving you versatility and potentially 3 litres (ish) of volume for fluids at once. As the size increases, so does the carrying capacity for your other gear.
3. Fabric: Any decent quality pack is designed to be as breathable as possible. Different designs will help with that too. Although the lightweight fabric of the Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra range is amazing, I personally don’t love it as I find that full flasks in the front bounce around alot more than other sturdier fabrics with less flex – like the Salomon Skin Pro and Ultimate Direction ultra and race vest range). That being said, the Nathan VaporHowe is a super soft fabric which feels great, and holds flasks in a more rigid (ie/. less bounce around) way.
4. Features: Pockets, pole holders, whistles, reflective details, mesh, zips, fasteners, bungee cords. There’s a myriad of options.
Unless you specifically need pole holders or other technical features, I would think first and foremost about how you want to use the pockets. I always like to have a zip pocket option for a key or cash or a card, and the rest for me is about ease of accessibility for my phone, my GoPro and yes – did I mention, snacks.
While I love the big kangaroo pocket on the back of many Salomon packs, I know for some people that reaching behind them with “Go Go Gadget” arms simply isn’t comfortable. If you’re one of those people then look for front stash pockets or be prepared to take your vest off to access the back.
I personally don’t like the “hassle”of having to take my pack off to access my gear, so I wouldn’t generally choose a pack which required most stuff to be stored in the back, via a zip pocket. For some people this extra faff doesn’t appear to be an issue and I would definitely make an exception for much longer runs or day outings where stopping to take my pack off and sort myself out isn’t such an issue (…and can be a welcome break).
5. Fun: Colour is the main “fun” point for packs, but the ease of use of some features – like, for example the really easy to use Ultimate Direction pole holder system, also add to the fun.
And Finally, while there are plenty of vest solutions out there, whatever your preferences, you can be sure that if you find the right one, it’ll be the perfect kit companion on many adventures to come…