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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.
Quick Picks for Running Vests
Check out this quick list of our favorites if you’re in a hurry, or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.
Sometimes difficult to store water bottles while running
Does not come with a reservoir
The Salomon ADV Skin 12 Hydration Vest is our top pick for comfort and ease of use. 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. Although breathable, this was the “hottest” vest we tested. On warm days, I found myself reaching for a lighter vest. It features a unique chest strap system with multiple connection points that lets you easily adjust the fit without worrying about sliding rails or toggles. Elastic loops keep the front water bottles secure, although, at times 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 Salomon ADV Skin 12 features intuitive and ample pocket configuring (8 pockets 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. It also has adjustable shoulder straps help you control any unwanted bounce. The vest includes two 500 mL bottles but it does not come with a reservoir.
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 6.0
Best balance of weight, storage capacity & durability
Weight: 7.9 oz. (without bottles) / 10.72 (with bottles)
Good balance of weight, storage capacity & durability
Plenty of pockets
Ample storage space
Sometimes difficult to store water bottles while running
Tops of plastic bottles can chafe or bruise on longer runs
Possible to drop items*
The Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 6.0 is our top pick for beginners, it has a great balance of weight, storage capacity, and durability. This vest boasts 8 pockets on the chest straps alone. Some pockets are breathable, some are water-resistant, and some can be closed with zippers or velcro. Needless to say, there’s a place for pretty much anything you’d need to carry, including tons of storage space in the back, with a large zippered main compartment, and an external cinch for securing a lightweight jacket or hat. 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. Additionally, 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 it’s 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.
Reservoir hose occasionally bumps against the runner's neck
"Laptop pocket" only fits a tablet
The Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 is our top pick for all-around value. It’s spacious, obviously, we were able to comfortably fit one iPad, one iPhone, a camp towel, shoes, pants, water, a lightweight hammock, and gels. It’s so spacious, in fact, that the pack over-delivers; despite its name, it actually carries more than 20 liters. The “laptop pocket” inside the main compartment is just barely big enough to store a tablet, but we were still able to store a laptop inside the bag, just not in the designed pocket. A sliding rail system makes it easy to adjust the chest straps. 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. Stretchy rear outer pockets are perfect for storing larger loose items like shoes. It’s even stylish enough to use as an everyday backpack.
Nathan Vaporair 3.0
Running vest with high-visibility colors & reflective features
The Nathan Vaporair 3.0 is our top pick for urban runners. It features high-visibility reflective strips and yellow accents to ensure that runners will be seen by passing cars. Over-the-shoulder load lifting hooks reduce bounce and keep the weight balanced even when the vest is fully loaded, and a nifty magnetic connection point for the reservoir hose keeps it easily within reach. The long elastic cords on the back of the vest needed to be trimmed. Sizes tend to run small, which, combined with a tighter overall fit, might make this a poor choice for larger runners.
Critical Running Vest Considerations
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.
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.
The capacities of the vests on this list vary from just over 4 liters to more than 20. 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.
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.
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.
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