6 Best Running Vests & Packs 2019

Whether you’re a weekend jogger or a seasoned racer training for your next ultramarathon, you’ve probably noticed an explosion in the popularity and variety of running hydration vests. Some are muted and sleek, others are brightly colored and covered with pockets, loops, and straps, but they’re all designed to help runners of all skill levels stay happy, healthy, and hydrated on the trail.  

There are a lot of options on the market. That’s why we created this guide to help you find the perfect vest to meet your needs. Before we dive into the selections, here’s a list of the main things you’ll want to keep in mind as you’re making a selection.

And if you find this review helpful, then check out some of our other gear recommendations:

Critical Considerations

FLUID STORAGE - They’re called “hydration vests” for a reason. Whether you’re knocking out a 10-mile training run, or a 50-mile race, the ease, comfort, and capacity of your vest’s fluid storage system is a top consideration. Some runners (including your author) prefer to carry bottles stowed in front pockets, while others prefer a larger reservoir that fits into a sleeve in back. Bottles are more versatile, and they are easier to refill. A reservoir holds more water, and it’s hands-free. Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference. Every vest on this list is compatible with both options, but be warned: bottles and reservoirs aren’t always included in your purchase.

FIT - A running vest should fit snugly around your torso to minimize bounce. If the vest is too large or too loose, it will shift around during runs. At best, this is annoying, and, at worst, it can cause painful chafing. When selecting a vest, make sure to read the manufacturer’s sizing guidelines and pay special attention to the straps. Many vests include chest and under-arm straps that can be adjusted, removed or reconfigured. One final note: Your humble author is a man, but he has been told by several female runners that many women benefit from selecting a vest that is specifically designed for women. These vests typically have a roomier chest and narrower shoulders.

CAPACITY - The capacities of the vests on this list vary from just over 4 liters (the UD Marathon Vest) to more than 20 (UD’s Fastpack 15). The amount of storage space you need depends on the length and purpose of your run. Four liters of capacity might be sufficient for a 6-mile trail run, but if you’re run-commuting 6 miles to an office, then you’re probably going to need room for clothes, shoes, and electronics. We recommend choosing a vest that’s large enough to meet all of your needs, but remember that excess material can shift around during your runs.

POCKET CONFIGURATION - It’s not just how much your vest holds, it’s how easily you can access high-priority items like snacks, keys, and electronics. Most vests will have at least one front pocket large enough to hold a smartphone, but take the time to examine the arrangement of the pockets before making a choice.

ADDITIONAL FEATURES - Some runners want reflective and high-visibility materials, others want dedicated loops and straps for securing trekking poles. Read up on any additional features (safety whistles, waterproof pockets, specialized materials) so that you know exactly what you’re getting, and what you’re not.  


6 BEST RUNNING VESTS & PACKS


  • MSRP: $155.00

  • CAPACITY: 12L

  • WEIGHT: 13.05 oz

  • BEST FOR: Everyday Use

WHAT WE LIKE:

  • This was by far the most comfortable vest we tested. The 3D Air Mesh fabric is breathable and fast-drying. On two separate occasions, your author forgot to remove the vest after running and wore it around the house for several hours. It’s that comfy.

  • A unique chest strap system with multiple connection points lets you to easily adjust the fit without worrying about sliding rails or toggles.

  • Elastic loops keep the front water bottles secure

  • Intuitive and ample pocket configuring (8 within reach) with plenty of room for a smartphone. Two large zippered pockets on the chest straps keep larger items like keys, wallets, or snacks secure.

  • Adjustable shoulder straps help you control any unwanted bounce

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE:

  • Although breathable, this was the “hottest” vest we tested. On warm days, I found myself reaching for a lighter vest.

  • The water bottles can be difficult to stuff into the pockets while running. As you’ll see, this is a common problem, and probably the biggest drawback to using bottles rather than a reservoir.

  • The vest includes two 500 mL bottles but it does not come with a reservoir.

BOTTOM LINE: This is our top pick for comfort and ease of use.

Also Recommended: Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra


  • MSRP: $129.95

  • CAPACITY: 10L

  • WEIGHT: 7.27 oz weight (without bottles)/10.72 (with bottles)

  • BEST FOR: Trail runs

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Great balance of weight, storage capacity, and durability

  • This vest boasts 8 pockets on the chest straps alone. Some are breathable, some are water-resistance, some can be closed with zippers or velcro. Needless to say, there’s a place for pretty much anything you’d need to carry.

  • Tons of storage space in the back, including a large zippered main compartment, and an external cinch for securing a lightweight jacket or hat.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

  • It can be difficult to re-insert the bottles into the front pockets while running. The bottles use a locking closure system that takes some getting used to.

  • The hard plastic tops of the bottles can rub against your chest, causing bruising or chaffing on longer runs.

  • Buckle up because this one is difficult to explain, but important: Only the sides of the smaller pockets situated near the top of both chest straps are sewn to the vest. It’s possible — and, frankly, easy — to accidentally drop an item behind the pockets when you’re trying to place it inside of the pockets. When this happens, the items fall to the ground.

BOTTOM LINE: This is our top pick for beginners.

Also Recommended: Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest


  • MSRP: $129.00

  • CAPACITY: 10L

  • WEIGHT: 11 oz. including 2L bladder

  • BEST FOR: All-day outings and hybrid run-adventures that include hiking, biking, or skiing

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Surprisingly spacious top-loading main compartment made of water-resistant nylon

  • Polyurethane-coated nylon material is extremely durable.

  • Simple front pocket arrangement provides plenty of room for essentials

  • Comes with a 2-liter reservoir

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

  • Sizes run very small; we had to send our first one back (and we’ve heard similar stories from other buyers)

  • This was one of the only vests we tested without removable or repositionable chest straps. The chest straps can be tightened, of course, but if you want to move them higher or lower, you’re out of luck.

  • It’s difficult to fit a smartphone in the front pockets

  • Extra long straps needed to be trimmed or tucked away

  • Even though the main compartment is made of waterproof material, it’s doesn’t have a lid. Water-sensitive contents need to be stored in Ziplocs or dry sacks.

BOTTOM LINE: This is our top pick for durability.


  • MSRP: $79.95

  • CAPACITY: 4.1L

  • WEIGHT: 4.94 oz.

  • BEST FOR: Race day, short runs, training in the heat

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Extremely light and breathable. On days when the temperature climbed to 90°F or more, this is our go-to vest.

  • Adjustable sternum straps with toggles are easy to reposition.

  • High visibility design good for night runs and road runs

  • Zippered front pocket is large enough for a smartphone

  • This vest is as simple as they come. No extra pockets. No extra straps. No BS. If you like stripped-down gear with an ultralight flavor, this might be the right vest for you

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

  • The rear pocket is nearly impossible to reach without removing the vest.

  • When loaded with a full reservoir, this was one of the bouncier vests we tested.

BOTTOM LINE: This is our top pick for ultralight and minimalist runners.


  • MSRP: $119.95

  • CAPACITY: 21L total volume, 15L “secured” volume inside pack

  • WEIGHT: 17.5 oz.

  • BEST FOR: Run commuter and overnight trips

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Spacious, obviously — we were able to comfortably fit one iPad, one iPhone, a camp towel, shoes, pants, water, a lightweight hammock, and gels

  • A sliding rail system makes it easy to adjust the chest straps

  • Stretchy rear outer pockets are perfect for storing larger loose items like shoes

  • The main compartment can be accessed two ways: by a velcro roll-top closure, or by a vertical zipper that reaches nearly all the way to the bottom of the pack

  • It’s stylish enough to use as an everyday backpack

  • The pack overdelivers: despite its name, it actually carries more than 20 liters.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

  • The reservoir hose exits the main pack just behind the runner’s neck. Occasionally, the hose rubs or bumps against your neck during runs.

  • The “laptop pocket” inside the main compartment is just barely big enough to store a tablet. We were still able to store a laptop inside the bag, just not in the designed pocket.

BOTTOM LINE: This is our top pick for all-around value.


  • MSRP: $149.99

  • CAPACITY: 7L

  • WEIGHT: 14 oz.

  • BEST FOR: Road runs and night runs

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Over-the-shoulder load lifting hooks reduce bounce and keep the weight balanced even when the vest is fully loaded

  • High-visibility reflective strips and yellow accents ensure that runners will be seen by passing cars.

  • A nifty magnetic connection point for the reservoir hose keeps it easily within reach.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

  • The long elastic cords on the back of the vest needed to be trimmed.

  • Sizes tend to run small. That, combined was a tighter overall fit, might make this a poor choice for larger runners.

BOTTOM LINE: This is our top pick for urban runners.


MORE INFORMATION

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