A handy guide to choosing a Hydration Pack and some considerations to mull over before you splash your cash on a new running backpack.
The primary reasons are self-sufficiency and safety.
If you run on a track your bag will stay track-side.
For short runs of say less than one hour, you won’t need a pack either. A belt might be useful to carry some water or something to eat for longer runs or when running when it is particularly warm or cold.
More experienced trail runners should look for a 2 to 5 litre vest pack, this should be more than adequate to insure you stay hydrated.
Trail runners need to be self-sufficient.
It’s not just a question of keeping hydrated but you also need to be conscious of your own safety and/or occasionally support others in difficulty. You’ll need to take supplies with you that are appropriate for your surroundings and environment. Some races require a mandatory kit list of supplies and gear for safety reasons.
There are two main concepts when it comes to trail running packs: the
a. ‘vest pack’ or b. ‘a multi-activity backpack’.
Hydration VEST PACKS are specifically designed for running. You wear them high up on your back and they fit snugly to limit movement while running. You should look for a vest pack that fits your shape perfectly. Choose the right size and the most ergonomic fit for your build. Men’s and women’s specific versions are available but don’t get hung up on gender. Go for fit and comfort based on your body shape.
A classic MULTI-ACTIVITY backpack is more versatile as it can be used for several sports. It’s a good choice if you are just starting #trailrunning but these products tend to bounce around and move more than VEST PACKS which can quickly become irritating at best and lead to serious chaffing issues at worst.
In a good trail running pack you should be able to reach the majority of your kit without taking the pack off. If you want to be efficient on the trails, it also helps to be able to easily grab your food, water, an extra layer of clothing, poles etc.
Most packs include lots of handy stash pockets, it’s up to you what you put in them, but just make sure you don’t take anything that you won’t use.
It’s really useful to store soft flasks of water in pockets on the front straps of your pack for easy hydration. Many vests now have two dedicated flask pockets on the front of the pack for this purpose.
If you use a bladder (my preference), you must try and secure it well to reduce movement and sloshing. Many VEST PACKS have a bladder pocket with hanger and cinch straps to help reduce this extra movement. This particular useful when refilling your bladder on the trail from a tap in a churchyard or a with the consent of friendly publican.
Make sure to clean your bladder after each run, not add syrups, effervescent tablets /flavouring’s etc. to your water unless you prefer that - but know if you do; the life of your bladder will reduce. Bladders are hard to clean, so just keep fresh water in them – that makes them last longer.
Like most rules there is always an exception. I have one bladder I dedicate to long runs which is swapped in and out of different VEST and back packs. I use this Bladder to mix water and ‘Tailwind’ a powdered carbohydrate and electrolyte replacement product to help me sustain my performance over time.
You can try keeping all your bladders in the fridge between runs with water to reduce the onset of bacteria in the bladder, but the drinking tube and valves may suffer over time.
If you like to run with Nordic walking or trekking poles you should look for a pack which has a dedicated spot for securing them. A trekking pole quiver can also be used that attaches to some bags.
So, here’s a list of questions/points to consider before you spend your hard-earnt money:
1. Determine pack use
The size and style of the hydration pack should be largely determined by the intended activity. Before picking a pack, decide whether you will be running, cycling, hiking, Nordic skiing or backpacking.
2. Decide on reservoir size
Hydration requirements differ quite a bit depending on the person, the activity, and the weather. A runner can easily sweat a litre in one hour. Know your own body's needs and take into account how long you will be out for, and if you can refill along the way.
If you have to be self-sufficient for:
less than 1 hour: potentially consider a belt or a 1-litre vest pack
For 1 to 2 hours: 1.5 to 3 litres
3 hours plus: 3 to 10 litres
Ultra - trails, runs off the beaten track: 12 litres
3. Determine cargo requirements
What do you need to carry besides the water? A trail runner might just want to stash an energy bar, while someone on a long day hike might pack a veritable picnic or a full 18’ Domino’s Pizza, first aid, kit, map, phone charger, cables, sunglasses, hat, waterproofs, salt tablets, etc. Think about what you usually bring with you.
4. Consider Pack weight
When choosing water and cargo capacity, also take into account how much the pack will weigh when full. 1.5 litres or 100 fluid ounces of water weighs approx. 2.9kg or 6.5 pounds. That is a lot for a runner to carry on their back.
5. Choose insulated or non-insulated packs
An insulated bladder sleeve and foam insulation around the hose will help prevent freeze-up in winter. Conversely, the insulated sleeve also keeps cold water from heating up too rapidly in hot weather. These can be nice features, though they do add to the cost of the pack.
6. Waist belt
Any hydration pack that weighs six or more pounds when full should include a waist belt. This will keep the pack from flopping around too much when you run and jump.
7. Sternum straps
Always a good idea, a sternum strap keeps the shoulder straps in place, no matter the activity
In any event, pack smart and choose a vest you love.
After 17 years I have a range of vests and backpacks that I use for different distances. They are an investment. After all, hydration is not an option, you need to drink and you need to be self-sufficient.