5 Convenient Ways to Carry Water While Running

5 Convenient Ways to Carry Water While Running

Every year I look forward to the time when spring transitions to summer. Finally, it’s warm enough to dig out the shorts and tank tops from the bottom of my running drawer! A sunny trail run on a warm day is like medicine for my soul.

But the warmer weather means something else too: it’s time to start carrying water while running! Unless you know where to find every drinking fountain in your neighborhood, any run longer than a few miles is going to require some portable running hydration.

If you’re wondering how to carry water while running in a way that’s comfortable and doesn’t slow you down, this post is for you. Running gear manufacturers are all over this problem, and we’ve come a long way from old-school days of carrying syrup bottles by the handle.

Related: How to Carry Your Phone While Running?

Hand-Held Running Bottles

Price range: low
Amount of water: small to medium
Comfort: high to moderate
Finding the right fit: easy
Also holds a smartphone: sometimes

A hand-held water bottle is a very convenient way to carry water on short to medium runs. You don’t have to worry about dialing in the fit of a pack or belt, and it’s nice to enjoy the freedom of not running with something strapped to your hips or shoulders. They’re also quick and easy to fill up at aid stations, if you’re racing.

Another benefit: bottles are the cheapest way to carry water during a run. Of course, you could literally just hold a water bottle in your hand like they used to back in the good old days, which would be even cheaper. But these days there are lots of running-specific bottles with a hand strap, allowing you to mostly or completely relax your hand without dropping the bottle.

Hand-held running bottles range in size from around 10oz up to 24oz, and you can carry one in each hand to double your capacity. Usually they’re designed so that you simply point them near your mouth, squeeze the bottle, and out comes the water (try not to squirt yourself in the face). Some hand-held running bottles have a pocket big enough to carry a smartphone, or at least some keys and a gel.

There are some drawbacks to bottles: larger capacity bottles can tire out your arms on long runs, running with a bottle on only one side can impact your running form (tip: switch hands regularly), and carrying two bottles at once leaves no hands free for snacking or adjusting zippers.

Here are two of my favorite hand-held running bottles.

CamelBak Quick Grip Chill

Nathan SpeedShot Plus

Hand-Held Soft Flasks

Price range: low
Amount of water: small to medium
Comfort: high to moderate
Finding the right fit: easy
Also holds a smartphone: rarely

Hand-held soft flasks are a variation on bottles, except the bottle itself is made of flexible material. This can make them more comfortable to hold, they’re easy to stow away in a pocket or pack once empty, and it cleverly eliminates that annoying sloshing you get with a half-empty hard bottle.

They tend not to be as effectively insulated, so your water will get warm, but honestly that happens eventually with insulated hard bottles anyway. Otherwise, soft flask hand-helds have all the same pros and cons of stiff bottles mentioned above.

Here are some stand-out soft flask recommendations.

CamelBack Nano Handheld 17oz Quick Stow Flask

Nathan ExoShot Handheld Flask

Hydration Belt / Waist Pack

Price range: medium
Amount of water: medium
Comfort: moderate to low, depending on fit
Finding the right fit: medium to difficult
Also holds a smartphone: usually

Hydration waist belts are a classic among long-distance runners, and still quite popular. The two most common designs are either a single bottle angled diagonally across the lower back, or two side holsters for smaller flask-shaped bottles.

Belts and waist packs are a nice way to carry water on the run because your hands are free, and they don’t cause that restricted sweaty-back feeling that a hydration vest or pack can. They also tend to have other pockets for carrying a phone and more snacks than can usually fit in hand-held bottle pockets.

However, a major drawback is that they tend to bounce. Though some people swear by them, I have yet to find a hydration belt that doesn’t ride up from my hips to my waist and then bounce uncomfortably. I’m sure it depends on the shape of the wearer’s body; I suspect (but am happy to be proven wrong) that more men than women prefer running with waist packs.

In terms of price they are mid-range between hand-held bottles and most vests and backpacks, making them worth a try if you’re looking for a hands-free way to carry water while running.

Here are two of the most popular models.

Nathan Peak Hydration Waist Pack

Nathan Trail Mix Plus Hydration Belt

Hydration Vests and Packs

Price range: medium to high
Amount of water: medium to large
Comfort: moderate to low, depending on fit
Finding the right fit: medium to difficult
Also holds a smartphone: usually

When your runs start stretching to a couple hours or more, the capacity of most hand-held bottles and waist packs just won’t cut it. For those longer, hotter, or more remote runs, consider shelling out for a hydration pack or vest. They range from minimalist torso-hugging vests that carry little more than water to full-on backpacks ready for long days in the mountains.

A well designed and properly fitted running pack can be surprisingly comfortable, with minimal bouncing or chafing. But finding that fit can be tough, and hydration packs can be pretty pricey. It’s best to try them on in person, or at least buy one that can be returned. A poorly fitting pack can really put a damper on an otherwise great run. They can also be a bit fiddly to fill up quickly at aid stations if you’re racing.

Bonus running tip: some minor chafing can be solved with BodyGlide or similar. If this is new to you, welcome to the world of long-distance running. 🙂

Most hydration packs have space for a hydration bladder in the back compartment that holds between 1.5 to 2 liters. Some add extra capacity with bottles – usually the soft kind these days – in holders on the front. Hydration packs often come in women’s and men’s versions, and this is one case where the difference goes further than just color scheme. Many women find that female-specific design and sizing are key for a comfy and curve-friendly fit.

Packs can’t be beat for convenience; most have a creative array of pockets and compartments for your phone and snacks. Capacity in the pack itself varies from minimal to 10 liters or more, making them essentially a small day pack capable of storing warm layers, sunscreen, a trail map, and whatever else you need for wherever your adventure takes you. A few even have loops for stashing trekking poles.

When choosing a hydration pack, be sure you know the difference between water capacity and gear capacity. The water capacity is usually mentioned in terms of what containers the pack holds – a 1.5 liter bladder for example, or two 500ml bottles. The gear or storage capacity is usually mentioned as it would be for a hiking pack, for example, “this is a 10 liter pack” or “5 liters of storage capacity.” This does NOT mean the pack will carry 5 or 10 liters of water! That space is for snacks, a jacket, headlamp, etc.

There are a ton of options out there these days since hydration packs have become so popular. The fanciest ones can set you back $150 or more, but there are plenty of more affordable options too. Here are some well-regarded models from high quality brands.

Nathan QuickStart Hydration Pack

Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta / Vest

Salomon Advanced Skin 5 Set Hydration Vest

Osprey Dyna / Duro 1.5

Some hydration packs come with a bladder and hose, but if yours doesn’t, I recommend the Platypus 2 Liter Big Zip. It’s durable, easy to drink from, and easy to fill up in a hurry.

Other Creative Options

At this point, the most common ways to carry water while running are pretty well established. Bottles, belts, and backpacks are generally the most popular option because, well, they work best.

But innovation is a good thing, and a few small gear companies are always hustling to come up with the next creative solution. If you’re looking for an especially creative solution, here are some less common ways to carry water during a run:

  • Orange Mud HydraQuiver: the only hydration pack I’ve seen that combines the bottle holster design with a backpack-type harness. Some people swear by it!
  • Simple Hydration waistband bottle: an updated version of the old-school ultrarunner classic: just tuck a bottle in the back of your waistband and head for the hills. I’ve tried this bottle and I like it, but you need to have a pretty snug and secure waistband or it will bounce uncomfortably. It doesn’t work well with flimsy running shorts, at least not on a small runner.

Budget Running Hydration Options

These days pretty much anything can be found for cheap on Amazon. You might wonder why you should drop $80 or more on a running pack when you could snag this one for $24.

I haven’t tried that pack, but I will say this: I’m usually big fan of promoting good budget gear, and I’m the first to say that sometimes it performs as well as the expensive stuff. But a word of warning: be careful with budget running packs and belts. The bounciness of running means design and fit are absolutely critical, and I personally have not seen a budget running pack that dials this in as well as the running-specific brands do.

You may find that some budget packs are well reviewed on Amazon, but look closely. Do most reviewers mention that it works great for hiking, cycling, or walking the dog? It may indeed work great for those lower-impact activities, while making your long run a living hell due to bouncing and chafing.

That said, if you know of a good budget option for carrying water on your runs, please let us know in the comments below!

Bonus: Filter Water On The Run

For trail runners or others who do long runs in less populated areas, you may be able to replenish your water supply on the go from natural sources. To protect yourself from nasty waterborne illnesses, you’ll want to bring along a filter or purifier.

For runners with limited space, the two options I recommend most are:

  • Chlorine dioxide tablets: very small and light, but require at least 30 minutes wait time (more for cryptosporidium, making them impractical in higher risk areas)
  • Sawyer micro water filter: appropriate for most backcountry sources in developed countries, but lacking virus protection needed for heavily polluted urban or recreational sources

For more detail on how to use these and other options, check out this post on water filtration for hikers and backpackers.

Hydration Tips For Runners

Now that you can carry plenty of water on your runs, here are a few guidelines for how to manage your running hydration.

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