Discussion and questions about hydration packs and bottles are common this time of year. Check out this guide to hydration packs, vests, belts, and bottles.
It’s high season for fall marathon training which just so happens to correspond with the height of summer. There are a ton of races approaching in the coming months. I’m in a bunch of different training groups on Facebook and by far the most common questions I see all pertain to hydration.
What do you drink?
When do you drink it?
I need more water than my handheld can carry, does anyone have any suggestions?
What are the differences of all these options?
I figured I’d answer these questions and dedicate today’s discussion to all things hydration.
I’ve answered several questions about hydration already in the Running Coaches’ Corner linkup — such as why you need to stay hydrated along with a few options to keep you hydrated. Today I’m going to show you a few ways to carry said hydration with you. Bear in mind there are a ton of hydration packs, vests, belts, handheld bottles, etc., on the market. There’s a variety of sizes, styles, colors, and brands to choose from. I’ve found, much like fueling, shoes and apparel, what works for one person does not work for the next.
What Hydration Option Should I Buy? A Runner’s Guide to Hydration Packs, Vests, Belts, and Bottles
The best thing to do is examine all your options available and determine what your needs are and what style of hydration suits you best.
1. Hydrapak Softflask
I use my Salomon Soft Flask for very short runs. It’s just the right size for short runs, plus since it’s collapsible my hand doesn’t cramp up like it does holding a rigid bottle. I also like it because I don’t necessarily have to bite down on the valve to get the water to flow. I can basically just squeeze it and I get just enough fluid to quench my thirst. It’s also the perfect size and shape to toss in the front of my larger pack, which I’ll show you below.
What it’s good for: shorter runs (3-5 miles)
Buying tips: find something easy to grip or with a strong hand wrap to keep the bottle snug while running. Some people really dig having pockets for fuel and keys as part of their handheld bottle setup.
2. Nathan Trail Mix Hydration Belt
I spent many a race in close quarters with my Nathan Trail Mix Hydration Belt. I love it… and kind of hate it… When I first got it, I did so because I frankly didn’t know any better. I knew that runners wore hydration belts, and I knew that I wanted to be in charge of my own hydration on race day and not rely on the aid stations. There are two flawed topics in that sentence. The first being that not all runners wear hydration belts (as you’ll soon see in the following bullets), but secondly, why not rely on the aid stations? It’s the training runs you need to worry about — not necessarily race day.
I’ve found for long runs, I don’t do well with a belt around my waist. The tightness around my intestines is just a recipe for disaster. I gave up wearing the hydration belt for a couple years. But I’ve started wearing it again because even though I can run for 6+ miles without water, my pup Trixie can’t. I fill one bottle up for her, put it on, and off we go on our run. When she gets thirsty I just have to squeeze the bottle and she’s happy. And yes, sometimes we share. 🙂
I have a love-hate relationship with my hydration belt. It’s gotten me through some mighty tough runs and I foresee myself wearing it a bunch more this summer. I’m glad I have it.
What it’s good for: running with a canine companion, shorter runs, long runs up to a full marathon in addition to aid stations.
Buying tips: Find a belt that fits snugly with little bounce. Don’t be nervous to test it out in a store by running around. Helpful hint: the bottles and belt become infinitely heavier when filled with liquid.
3. Orange Mud HydraQuiver Single Barrel
My friends know I’m slightly obsessed with my Orange Mud packs. If I had to choose a favorite OM item (which I won’t because I love them all — duh), it would be the HydraQuiver Single Barrel. It’s just the right size for a long run on a cool day. This vest has plenty of pockets for storage. I can fit my iPhone 6 in the shoulder pocket plus fuel in the other one. There’s a larger pocket for additional fuel or supplies, an audio port for earbuds in case you place your phone in the larger pocket, plus a key holder so you don’t lose your keys on the trail. All of Orange Mud’s packs are super easy to clean, too. They’re meant to get dirty and beat up. The HQ single is my go-to hydration option of choice.
What it’s good for: all distance runs in cooler temperatures. Up to 9-13 miles in warmer months depending on your hydration needs.
4. Orange Mud HydraQuiver Double Barrel
The HydraQuiver Double Barrel hydration pack is the same body style as the single. It has two bottle holsters and the back pocket is quite a bit larger. It also has bungees on the back for additional storage. I use the bungee when I shed layers in the summer. It’s easy to cinch a shirt or do-rag on and go. This is my go-to vest in the summer when I’m training and need a lot of fluid.
The very best part of the Orange Mud bottle system is the ease of cleaning of the bottles. (The vest, too, though.) My biggest complaint about the bladder system is how difficult it is to get it thoroughly cleaned. With bottles, all you do is unscrew, wash, and you’re done.
Another nice thing about the double barrel is the option to have water in one bottle and electrolytes in the other. With the single or a bladder, you only have one beverage choice.
What it’s good for: all distance runs.
5. Nathan VaporShape
My very first hydration vest was the Nathan VaporShape. I love it. It’s great for super long runs. It’s got a huge reservoir, tons of pockets, and fits snug as a bug. It definitely did it’s job when I needed it most. I wore it through some tough training runs for the 2015 Cleveland Marathon. Unfortunately the bladder system isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. I have a hard time with the bite valve. Now, having said that, I’m still madly in love with the backpack itself. I’ve used it on more than one occasion without the bladder for day hikes, canoeing trips, and even to an event in downtown Cleveland. There are a ton of pockets which is one of my all-time favorite features of the VaporShape. Plus it fits really well — like it was made for my body.
Oh, and remember the hydrapak soft flask? It fits perfectly in one of the front pockets.
What it’s good for: runs longer than 10 miles.
Note: the VaporShape is no longer available. Fortunately Nathan has a plethora of hydration packs that are similar and I’m sure just as comfortable.
Buying tips for vests and packs: determine if you’re a bladder/bite valve person or a water bottle person. Also consider the pockets and ease of accessibility while running. All important factors when choosing a hydration system.
Helpful hint: if you’re running with a hose and bite valve in the winter, blow back into the tube after you’re done drinking. This will help keep the valve free of ice back up.
Vests and hydration packs tend to get pretty pricey rather quickly. My suggestion is if you can borrow one from a friend to try before you buy, do it. If you can’t, head to your local running shop and see what you can find. In my experience, I haven’t found much I love in the brick-and-mortar store. I think more runner-friendly communities have a better selection. But if you’re like me and can’t find what you’re looking for in a store, look for a vest or pack from a reputable company that you’re able to return or exchange just in case it doesn’t work for you. There are tons of options available. It will take some trial and error to find what works for you.
I hope this post helped you if you’re struggling to determine which hydration option is best for you. Like I mentioned, it’s all really individual and personal preference. As you can see, I started with something that was so wrong for me and I tried several options before I finally found a pack I really like. It takes a minute. Be patient. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment below. I’m happy to guide you.
TALK TO ME!
So, which hydration packs or bottles stand out to you?
What’s your current favorite hydration option?
This post contains affiliate links.