When you’re heading out on a long run on the trail, or training for an ultramarathon, a hydration pack is essential to carry not only all the water you’ll need but also the fuel and gear required for the conditions you’ll encounter. Today’s packs vary in features and are designed with different purposes in mind—from minimal, ultralight vests for shorter runs to high-capacity backpacks for multiday efforts.
Take a look below at quick info on five of the top performers from our test, then read further for helpful buying advice and deeper reviews of these and other packs.
The Best Hydration Packs of 2022
Flight Race Day Vest 8
The North Face
Sense Pro 10
ADV Skin 12
VaporHowe Hydration Vest 12L
CamelBak Ultra Pro W 6L Hydration Vest
Choosing the Right Type
Hydration packs generally come in two flavors. The first is a minimal vest that can carry water and not much more, designed to be as light as possible. If you’re looking for a race-ready pack that’s nimble, or just need to carry fuel for short trail outings, this is the pack you’ll want to consider first.
The second is for more adventurous outings; think high-mileage trail runs or ultramarathons that require you to bring along certain supplies (though we advise against running an ultra or a race—if you could even find one—in these days of social distancing). But when the timing is right again, you’ll need a larger pack with greater carrying capacity. These adventure packs typically have a sleeve for a hydration bladder, but also extra pockets to let you haul jackets, additional layers of clothing, trekking poles, and more.
In both cases, the packs will have pockets on the shoulder straps for gels, a phone, and other small items. And some have larger pockets capable of holding water bottles and soft flasks up front for easy access without the mess—and bounce—of a bladder.
Current packs have a sport-specific (and even gender-specific) construction to boost comfort. Adjustable straps help you tweak the fit so the pack hugs your torso and won’t move or bounce as you dash down the trail, while vented panels and lightweight fabrics stretch and allow sweat to evaporate instead of build up.
Women should look at one of the new women-specific packs offered, which have bags and straps that better fit the female torso, as well as adjustable closures and strategically positioned pockets for all-day comfort.
Bladder or Bottles?
It’s important to keep in mind how you prefer to carry your water, and match your pack to suit. Some of the options below can be used with a hydration bladder in the main compartment, so you can carry a couple of liters of water and sip through a bite valve and hose cinched down on the shoulder strap. Others have storage space for water bottles in pockets on the straps. These are typically easier to fill trail side and quicker if you’re looking to save time at an aid station. Some packs can accommodate both. But consider that some might not come with either and will require you to buy them separately.
How We Tested
Every pack here has been thoroughly evaluated and put through the paces by our team of editors and local test staff. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers, and draw from our own experience wearing and running with these backpacks to determine the best options. We called in testing samples and ran with them on trails near the Runner’s World office in eastern Pennsylvania. Only the models with the best value, technical features, comfort, looks, and ability to haul all your stuff without bouncing made the cut.
The North Face Flight Race Day 8
Compared to the previous version, the new design sheds loads of weight, and softens the pack significantly. It comes with two half-liter soft flasks up front, and has a neat hook and pull cable feature that helps you get the flasks down into the pockets quickly when your pack is loaded. Lower dump pockets are angled to push food and gear to the side to evenly distribute weight around your rib cage and reduce bouncing, and a rear pass-through pocket is great for stashing a jacket or headlamp quickly. The new material breathes super well, and is so stretchy you’ll have no issues getting everything you need to fit.
Salomon Sense Pro 10
The Sense Pro 10 is one of the best women-specific race options we’ve seen. The two front flask pockets are positioned lower to fit around a woman’s chest, and the included flasks have straws to make drinking easy without pulling them out of the pockets. The design also features six additional pockets for quickly accessing essentials, including two zippered pockets for securely holding a phone or other gear. A rear pass-through pocket, a main zippered compartment, and a top-loading pouch provide tons of organization that make it capable for holding everything you’d need for races up to 200+ miles. A unisex model is also available.
Salomon ADV Skin 12
The ADV Skin 12L adds a new top rear pocket for 2022, making it easier to quickly grab (or stash) extra layers without having to remove the pack on the run. They’ve also adjusted the fit wider around the neck and made the padding softer to reduce the risk of chafing. The ADV Skin 12 is almost a do-it-all pack that can use both included soft flasks, or use a hydration bladder in the rear, and is super lightweight for its large capacity
The women’s VaporHowe and men’s VaporKrar vests are great for longer runs and racing, where you might need extra layers and gear. They have pockets all over for quick access to essentials—even pockets inside other pockets, so we’re still finding new places to store our stuff. The front of the vest has weather-resistant chest pockets to fit smartphones (and yeah, they’re actually big enough). The vests come with an insulated 1.6-liter bladder and feature soft-flask compatible front pockets.
Buy VaporKrar Buy VaporHowe
CamelBak Ultra Pro W
The CamelBak Ultra Pro W gives women a tailor-fit version of the popular Ultra Pro vest. A six-liter capacity means this vest can carry enough for long races and big trail days while keeping a slim profile. Stretch pockets on the front, side, and rear hold all of your fuel and gear, and they’re easily reachable mid-run. For runners who use trekking poles, two bungee cords act as a minimalist quiver system to attach the poles to the back. You can also untie the bungee cords and switch them to sling poles over your preferred shoulder.
The Nano lives up to its name with a truly minimalist design. Breathable mesh with large holes helps keep you cooler and makes the vest barely noticeable as you’re wearing it. The Nano can carry two soft flasks on the front, and it has dedicated key and phone pockets. Side pockets allow storage for food and other gear, and the back essentially acts as a quiver for trekking poles, with a small pocket and two loops on the shoulder straps.
Black Diamond Distance 4
Black Diamond went all in on trail running in 2020, adapting features from the Distance 15 pack (below) into a running vest for racing. Thin breathable mesh all over allowed heat to escape better than with most vests and stretched a ton to hold jackets, food, and water. A zippered rear pocket provided some weather resistance to protect gear. Two removable straps form a lightweight, stow-able system for carrying trekking poles across our back, though some models—like Leki’s—were too narrow and slipped out.
Designed with input from pro ultrarunner Amanda Basham, this pack is designed to carry enough water and fuel for races while keeping a small profile and breathing well during hot events like Western States.
While it doesn’t look like much, the stretchiness of all the pockets on this pack make it very capable It’s really easy to stuff loads of gels into the front pouches, and the right chest pocket can fit most smartphones, which, while they will stick out the top, are secured by a bungee cord over top. The sternum straps have a lot of stretch to provide a secure, but non-restrictive, fit.
The rear of the pack features an insulated pouch for an included UltraFlask bottle that’s softer than hard bottles for comfort but firm enough that you don’t have to fight to get it in. On top of that pouch is a very stretchy pocket for jackets or headlamps, plus a main compartment with a magnetic enclosure to keep extra layers or a second bottle.
The budget-friendly Duro (men’s) and Dyna (women’s) don’t skimp on features. They’re well-designed to be lightweight and breathable. You can stash soft flasks in the two front pockets, with another two easy-access lower pockets for your fuel. Front and rear zippered compartments hold all your other small necessities. Testers did note, however, that the sternum straps were a bit too short.
Buy Duro Buy Dyna
Ultimate Direction Race Vest 6.0
Ultimate Direction’s Race Vest 6.0 uses a cinch system to provide a bit more adjustability than other vest-style race packs. The latest version of this stripped down pack also adds a mesh layer to improve airflow and reduce chafing across the lower back, where the cinch system comes together. While the Race Vest 6.0 is compatible with hydration bladders, there’s no longer a loop across the shoulder to help wrangle the hose. Up front, the pockets were stripped down to just two dump pockets beneath the flasks, and a water-resistant cellphone pocket that actually does fit smartphones like the iPhone 11 Pro. We like that the soft flask pockets have wide openings, making getting flasks in and out a breeze, though the wide opening also contributes to some bouncing, and doesn’t provide a snug fit with third-party flasks.
Adventure Vests and Packs
CamelBak Octane 18
It’s a hiking pack with a running problem. The Octane 18 provides loads of storage and a 2-liter bladder for day hikes, winter running (think puffy jacket), and even commuting. The winged back-panel design hugs your waist to reduce shifting of cargo while moving fast, and the lofty knit material provides extra airflow so you don’t overheat.
USWE Hajker 18
While it’s bigger and bulkier than packs we usually reach for, that’s what makes the Hajker 18 great for run commuting or carrying big loads. Testers were able to fit a 15-inch Macbook Pro and a change of clothes inside for jogs to the office. Even with that heavy laptop inside, the pack just doesn’t bounce. The shoulder straps are thin and breathable for a pack of this size, but the waistbelt is massive to stabilize a full pack. We like the removable dry bag in the Hajker, large enough to make the entire main compartment waterproof, but it’s also great to roll up sweaty clothes after a lunch run so they don’t get other items wet on the trip home.