Buying Guide to Hydration Packs
Written By: SportsShoes
Staying hydrated on long runs, and finding a way to carry water comfortably and securely can be a key problem for runners. Hydration packs help to overcome this problem by providing an easy-grab, easy-carry means of hydration without hindering or interrupting your run. Our guide highlights the key features to look for.
What is a hydration pack?
A hydration pack is a lightweight, functional backpack comprising of a bladder for fluid, and a tube with a mouthpiece, which passes over the shoulder to transport water to the runner's mouth. The runner grabs the mouthpiece to take on fluid while running, allowing for easy, fast, on-the-go hydration.
Hydration packs have varying capacity, and the capacity you choose will depend on your activity. The key thing to remember here is that extra weight will cost you energy and comfort, and ultimately impact on performance. So, while those out on a steady all day hike can happily carry a heavier pack, runners need to consider this trade off.
Endurance runners should consider the availability of water stops and fill up points, and plan accordingly, whereas if you're hitting local trails you'd be better off with a lower capacity and consequently lower weight. As a guide, runners should be looking at bladders with a volume of between 1 and 3 litres.
Hydration packs are designed to be form fitting and distribute weight evenly without putting strain on the spine. Your pack should fit securely on your body, without moving or bouncing – the worst thing on a long a run is unwanted irritation and rubbing from your backpack!
Most hydration packs feature padded shoulder straps, and straps across the chest and waist. These should be adjustable for a customised fit. Make sure you've tested and are happy with these adjustments before you run to avoid rubbing and fiddling with straps after you set off.
Your pack should be constructed from lightweight, yet strong fabric that will resist abrasion. Look for reinforced Ripstop fabric in key wear areas. Many packs also feature wicking mesh where the pack rests on your back for added ventilation and optimal airflow in this key heat area.
Although the purpose of a hydration pack is primarily to carry water , they also have the secondary function of storing key essentials, such as a phone, keys, fuel, sunscreen, waterproof jacket and other layers. Again, when choosing pack size, consider that less is more when it comes to performance, and aim to store only what you realistically need.
Look for features which help you organise your essentials for quick and easy access. Mesh fin outer pockets are great for carrying extra water bottles and items which you need to access quickly, while zip pockets and compartments allow secure storage of small essentials. Bungee cords allow for fast and easy stowing while shedding layers. Also look for added extras such as MP3 compatible features, reflectivity and for those of you venturing into the wilderness, whistles for added safety.
The pack's hydration features should be easy to use and easy to clean. Make sure you’re comfortable with the mouthpiece before heading out on your run. Avoid mould by cleaning and airing the bladder, hose and mouthpiece regularly. Filling and cleaning should be easy and simple – look for wide openings and hoses that are simple to disconnect.
Will I need to buy a Separate Bladder?
This depends on the pack so always check the product description before buying. Not all types of bladder are cross-compatible, so it's always important check the manufacturer's recommendation if you do need to buy a separate bladder. When replacing the bladder, always choose like for like.