Stay hydrated and fuelled-up on the trails with a handy hydration pack or vest. The perfect companion for off-piste adventures, keeping safe when going it alone, and endurace activities. If you don’t already have a hydro pack in your arsenal, it’s high time to invest and gift yourself more freedom to explore.
How does a hydration pack work?
A hydration vest keeps you hydrated and fuelled on the trails by way of portable bladders or soft flask bottles, which can be slotted into custom-made pockets for easy-access on the fly. In addition to this, the pack should also come with ample pocket space for stashing gels and bars, as well as secure zip-pockets for valuables. Particularly handy are front pockets that are easy to reach when on the move, with any larger back pockets only really serving to stuff unwanted kit until post-session.
You’ll likely be reaching for your hydration pack in hotter temperatures, which is why a pack made with breathability and sweat-wicking in mind is essential. Other key features to keep you cool are ventilated back sections, with waffle or porus material, and lighter colours which won’t absorb the heat as much.
In terms of fit, you want your pack to feel like a second skin to avoid any chafing and annoying bouncing, as well as sore pressure points. To help with this, look for dual or multiple sternum straps, or draw-string attachments points, and under-arm and shoulder adjustible straps.
Best hydration packs for triathletes
A hydration pack is a great tool for longer runs, especially off-road, with the extra storage, fuel and hydration capacity enabling you to go for longer while remaining safe and healthy on the trail. They’re also handy during a hike or off-piste ride. During testing, we analysed each pack’s adjustability and comfort, including breathability. We also looked at storage, accessibility and security of pockets, and functionality of the hydration systems that come with the product. Lastly, we took a holistic look at the packs, analysing overall quality and value for money.
Osprey Dyna 6
With the largest storage capacity on test at 6l, you’d be forgiven for assuming the Dyna 6 would feel bulky, but Osprey has done a brilliant job of designing this women-specific pack (the men’s version is the Duro) to feel compact and fit securely when in motion. Three back compartments, easy-access side pockets and front stretch pockets with bottle compartments are your storage options, with the front zip pocket a nice touch for valuables. Meanwhile, the Dyna’s light mesh breathes well and aids comfort. We found the vest sat higher on the torso than others, but this doesn’t affect function and we soon got used to it. Two 500ml soft flasks with straws come with the pack and are effectively secured in front pockets by elastic loops. The bottles create a vacuum when drunk out of, which means no loud sloshing of water like other packs on test. If you’re looking for a pack that’ll go the distance, the stylish Dyna would be our first pick.
Verdict: A great fitting pack with lots of storage and quality craftsmanship, 92%
Ultimate Performance Arrow 3 Race Vest Pack
Ultimate Performance (UP) claims the Arrow 3 is perfect for racing and events, but we’d be more likely to don this for a training amble if we’re honest, as it felt cumbersome and wasn’t quite as flexible as others on test. Despite having the single sternum strap fully tightened, the bottles stored on the straps sat quite wide when on, creating a wider profile and a bulky feel. Effectively secured with a drawstring, the two front 500ml flexi flasks come with straws, which is a plus, but we still had to stoop our necks to drink from them. The water also sloshed around noisily due to the flasks not creating a vacuum when used, which isn’t the case with our samples from Osprey, Montane and Salomon. Having said that, the zip pockets on the front are secure and sizable, making them ideal for cramming in nutrition, and we had no complaints in terms of comfort and fit, with the waffle fabric providing ample airflow.
Verdict: Secure storage options but somewhat cumbersome when on, 70%
Salomon Sense Pro 5
Available both in a unisex and women’s version, the Sense Pro 5 is designed to be comfortable and eliminate friction points, with elastic cord taking the place of sternum straps. When on, we admittedly felt no uncomfortable pressure points, which happily translated to no chafing after a long run. We were surprised to discover just how much storage this vest offers, with two large, easily accessible front pockets sitting on top of the bottle compartments. The main back compartment stretches round the sides and has multiple access points, while two front zip pockets provide ample room for a phone and keys. The front pockets for the bottles worked well, though we’d have preferred the flasks to be all soft, rather than having a hard plastic part along the bottom. The mesh back offered reasonable breathability, but didn’t dry as quickly as some others on test, while the reflective detailing and whistle were great safety features.
Verdict: A thoughtfully designed vest with ample storage options, 90%
Montane Gecko Ultra V+
The Gecko Ultra V+ has a different look and feel to other packs on test. Due to its body-hugging fit, picking the right size (our UK8 tester had a small) means smallerchested runners could comfortably wear this as a sports bra or running crop top. This is in part thanks to the zonal stability construction and silicone hemline. Meanwhile, the uber thin, four-way stretch material feels light and breathable when on. Admittedly, the vest has less storage capacity than others on test, though the built-in side and front pockets provided ample space for gels and bars. The two 360ml HydraPak soft flasks were easy to fill and drink out of thanks to the self-sealing nozzle, though the lack of straw means you need to lean down to reach them. The main niggle with this is the placement of the bottles which, although comfortable, felt like an extension of the bust and looked a little awkward when on. This may not be a problem for men, though.
Verdict: A race-ready vest that best suited for up to half-marathon distances, 85%
Camelbak Circuit Vest
The Circuit Vest is the only pack on test that comes with a back reservoir (1.5l) instead of front soft flasks, so it may suit those after a more classic set-up. Side straps and dual sternum straps provide ample adjustment and can be placed at any point along the length of the bag for a more personal fit. There’s plenty of easy-access front storage in the form of two drawstring pockets, which are large enough for phones, bars or soft flasks, and these are easy to tighten securely with one hand. Meanwhile, a smaller zip pocket can fit keys and a card without being too big that they moved around as we ran. The BPAfree reservoir is designed to deliver 20% more water per sip, which worked well when it was full, but the water sloshed around loudly when it wasn’t, as it didn’t create a vacuum like other bottles. The reservoir’s large screw lid made it easy to fill up and clean, but we found it a little fiddly to tighten securely.
Verdict: A traditional pack that does its job, but seems a littel dated
Inov-8 Venturelite 4 Vest
The Venturelite’s one-size-fits-all design allows for a lot of adjustability, which meant this UK8 tester was able to tighten the pack enough for it to sit comfortably and securely with no bounce. Like the Salomon and Camelbak, the dual sternum straps can be adjusted for a more personalised fit, which should be especially useful for women to reduce pressure points over different bust sizes. Storage-wise, the vest has two front pockets which can easily fit several bars and a phone, with a small lip along the top helping to keep the contents secure on the move. Two 500ml soft flasks (sold separately; £22 per flask) can fit behind these, with an elastic loop keeping them in place. Meanwhile, the waffle mesh along the back did a great job of keeping us cool on the run and was quick-drying. Inov-8 claims this is a perfect introductory hydration vest and we agree that it covers the basics well, without trying to do too much like others on test.
Verdict: A basic but cracking pack for a first-time purchase, though flasks aren’t included, 83%
Inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 5 Vest
That sinking feeling when you’re out for a long run and your gear starts to pinch is one we know well, so Inov-8’s claims of a comfortable and fully-adaptable hydration vest had us intrigued. The vest is marketed as a lightweight do-everything pack that can take you from long-distance training runs to ultra-marathons, extreme triathlons and, in this Covid-19 world of limited aid stations, the final leg of many triathlons going forward.
The Race Ultra isn’t short of pockets: there are six on the front for flasks, nutrition and phone, two on the sides, and a bigger five-litre compartment on the back for emergency kit. This vest can hold the gear you’ll need for all but the most demanding of ultra long-distance runs, without being too cumbersome.
The option to place the two 500ml flasks down on the hips with long straws, rather than up on the chest like most other vests, is a great feature. We found the vest extremely comfortable and it feels like it’s been designed for a variety of body shapes, while having the bottles in a lower position on the body helped us maintain balance when running over uneven terrain. Also included is a re-usable Speedcup for races that require one as mandatory kit.
At £130 and weighing 370g with the (empty) bottles included, this vest isn’t the cheapest or lightest on test here. But, for the price and weight, you’re getting the great design and functionality that we’ve come to expect from the Cumbrian trail brand.
Verdict: Versatile, comfy and adaptable: a great all-rounder vest pack, 90%
Montane VIA Gecko Vest
You can buy the Gecko Vest for £75 and add extras (500ml flask £15; 250ml flask £13; straw £10) depending on what you prefer. And our preference are separate squishy bottles over one large bladder. Situated on the side, the 500ml bottles feel easier to carry, are simple to access (more so if you add the £10 straw) and refill, and slosh about less. The number of zippy pocket and back stash pockets are roomy enough for all your essentials without being cumbersome, plus the stretchy mesh ensures nothing bounces around. The vest fits well (two sizes are available) and those versatile front toggles are a touch of genius on this unisex pack, as for women it means you can move and position them comfortably around your bust! Plus, you get a safety whistle.
Verdict: Not the cheapest with add-ons, but a superior pack with great features and comfort 92%
Salomon Advanced Skin 12 Set
‘You get what you pay for’ rings true with the Salomon Adv Skin and it’s instantly apparent that this is a quality construction on par with the Inov-8 and Montane in terms of comfort, design and usability. The 277g weight is lean and achieves that barely-there feel on the run (even with the duo of 500ml soft flasks full), with the positioning of the vessels meaning there’s minimal bounce. The 12L storage volume is effective and there’s an insulated sleeve if you want to add a reservoir for an extra £32. Yet we’re currently content with the flasks, although the lack of extension straws does mean it looks like you’re trying to chew your armpit when taking a swig. The construction and durability appear strong and, if we had the stamina, we’d happily run all day in this.
Verdict: A high price but all-day comfort and smart features abound, 88%
Evadict Hydration Bag 5L
Given this pack from Decathlon includes a water reservoir, that RRP is insanely good value and draws favourable comparisons with the Montane (and the grey version is currently £13!). Both have comfy vest-style designs, which avoids weight pulling too much in one area, and both have many pockets for stashing essentials. Here, hydration is a single 1L back reservoir, which is fiddly to fill but does the job. We prefer the side flasks of the Montane when running, but the Evadict wasn’t uncomfy. One large back pocket sorts out valuables, while front stretchy pockets can handle a jacket or fuel. It chafed a little on our shoulders, but broader athletes should have no troubles. The chest straps feel secure and can be moved up or down, and a whistle is included.
Verdict: An insanely good price, and everything you need to get started! 83%
Ultimate Performance Aire 2L Race
The Evadict above shows that smart design can overcome budgetary constraints. And the £54 Aire? Sadly not. Much of our frustrations revolve around the sheer mess created by the strapping system, the excess of which flap around after any kind of oscillation, while the solo chest strap just isn’t enough to secure the bag in place without excess bounce. The 2L reservoir is also flawed due to being difficult to clean and boasting a cheap-feeling bite valve system that’s unnecessarily convoluted and requires plenty of suction. The above points are a shame, as there’s a decent enough main bag here with ample storage options, a helmet mesh and padded areas to make it adequate as a commuting or walking bag, but that’s really not what this test is about.
Verdict: Will do the job for pottering, but too many flaws for a serious run contender, 58%
Osprey Duro 6
Osprey’s cycling packs come highly recommended, but their debut run offering, the Duro 6 (litre) – also available as a women’s Dyna or smaller Duro 15 – is a hit and miss affair. The hits are the straw extensions, which makes it easier to swig when on the move, and the sheer array of pockets; some zipped, some cavernous, but all secure, durable and neatly positioned (there’s even an attachment for a helmet, although we’re not sure how much we’d use this). And the misses? It’s the words that no-one wants to read when assessing a hydration pack… the bounce. We (and running pals) just couldn’t get the two 500ml flasks to stop moving up and down when containing liquid, something that may be due to the flasks being located more centrally than Osprey and Montane.
Verdict: Top flasks, fine storage but just two much bounce when on the move, 76%