After a variety of outings, awarding the REI Swiftland Hydro with our Best Buy title was an easy decision. With three different sizes, all of which offer extensive fit adjustment, choosing the right size should be simple. Simplicity continues throughout the pack design, with user-friendly features and enough space to bring that extra layer or that paperback novel depending on your plans. This pack should be the clear choice for runners looking to push themselves a bit farther on the trail, and since it can carry a decent load, it has the added value of versatility too.Editor's Note: This review was updated on May 23, 2022, with info on the new version of this hydration vest, the REI Swiftland 5.
REI Swiftland Hydro Review
Cons: Lower quality bladder, minor pain points over longer distances
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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REI Swiftland Hydro
$99.95 at REI
|$92.93 at REI|
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|$69.70 at Amazon||$120 List||$58.47 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Ample storage, simple and successful design, approachable price||Versatile, comfortable, great storage capacity for how light it is||Comfortable, kangaroo pocket, pole carry||Lightweight, easily accessible pockets, great fit||Highly visible, simple, affordable|
|Cons||Lower quality bladder, minor pain points over longer distances||Hydration pockets are too small, chest straps finicky||Hydration system isn't ideal, soft flask positioning is challenging||Soft flasks bounce around, no pole carry||Uncomfortable, poor suspension|
|Bottom Line||An entry-level hydration pack for trail running with a great price and ample storage||Great for runners looking to carry extra gear on adventures, but for faster efforts and races, the pack has limitations||Close to perfect pockets, fit, and adjustability, but this pack still misses the mark in regards to the hydration system||There's room for layers, ample food, water, your phone, and then some in this featherweight vest||For runners who value visibility, this hydration vest is a great value|
|Rating Categories||REI Swiftland Hydro||Ultimate Direction...||CamelBak Ultra Pro||Raidlight Revolutiv...||Ultimate Direction...|
|Hydration System (15%)|
|Volume to Weight Ratio (15%)|
|Specs||REI Swiftland Hydro||Ultimate Direction...||CamelBak Ultra Pro||Raidlight Revolutiv...||Ultimate Direction...|
|Weight (with included hydration vessels)||13.7 oz||8.4 oz||8.7 oz||6.6 oz||8.5 oz|
|Included Liquid Capacity||1.5L||1L||1L||2L||2.6L|
|OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!)||0.37||1.01||0.69||0.45||0.64|
|External Storage?||Yes||Yes, mesh storage pockets, bungee||Yes, large rear pocket||Not included||Yes, back pouch pocket|
|Type of Water Storage||1.5L reservoir||Two 500mL||Two 500ml bottles||Two 600mL soft flasks||Two 300ml hard bottles|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Switftland Hydro offers a comfortable ride, more storage, and a competitive entry-level price. Simplicity is at the root of this pack's success, with a blitz access main pocket, external storage, and adequate adjustments for a smooth suspension.
Most hydration packs offer an adjustment across the chest and one on each side of the ribcage. In addition to these standards, the Swiftland Hydro has two adjustable shoulder straps that pull straight down over each collar bone. These straps are dual-purpose, securing up the pack's contents to prevent any bounce and tightening the external storage pouch.
Vertical rails along the trim of each shoulder strap enable the sternum buckles to move up and down. We could handily tweak the fit of the pack mid-stride if we drank a good bit of water. All tightening straps on this pack are intuitive and don't require craning of the elbow and neck. The shoulder straps pull straight down, and the straps along the flank pull towards the front, both natural movements.
Breathable, structured mesh lends form and comfort throughout the vest, and wider than normal shoulder straps add to the form fit feel that carries weight nicely. Pack shapes vary significantly, from longer elongated back designs that conform to the torso and around the ribcage to shorter stout packs that position above the taper of the ribcage. The Swiftland Hydro falls into the latter group, a design that reflects cheaper material choice and targets a more versatile than perfect fit. Hydration packs for runners that sit higher up on the back are more prone to bouncing, which we could feel with this pack in comparison to some of the stretchier, wrap-fit vests.
Features are only as great as they are intuitive. Again with the simplicity, we know, but it works! Both top clasps on the sternum strap of the Swiftland have channels for convenient hose management, positioning the bite valve a head tilt away from drinking. Both top pockets on the shoulder straps have cinch closures, keeping a phone secure or soft flasks snug.
We appreciate the long zipper across the top of the back, allowing for full access to the hydration bladder, making refilling a breeze. The main compartment features a blitz-style closure, quick access with no snaps or buckles to break. The external pocket can certainly accommodate collapsable trekking poles if you have them. Ample reflective stripes on the shoulder straps and back round out this pack's feature set. Notably missing is a whistle, but add it to your essential gear, and you're good to go.
A 1.5L Hydrapak reservoir comes included with this pack, though soft flasks work also. Our preference for this little pack stems from the intuitive functions and simple design. We were remiss to find that the included Hydrapak doesn't have an easy release valve where the hose connects to the bladder. While we can't imagine this feature adds much in the way of expenses, it makes refilling a bladder and hose management all the easier.
As mentioned above, a zipper opening up across the top of the pack makes for easy access to the hydration compartment. Removing a hydration bladder from a small pouch or pocket with a tired mind and cold hands can be a struggle. This system starts on the left side of the pack and continues all the way across the top, coming to a close with a small opening for the hose over the right shoulder. While this restricts the ability to route the hydration hose along the left shoulder, we don't imagine that preference to polarize users.
A hose clip is built into the top of the sternum strap and clasp, directing the hydration hose down before it u-turns back up to park right in the desired spot. Lastly, a twist-lock bite valve prevents the hydration hose from leaking. Some vests incorporate bladder systems effectively by providing additional storage on the back of the pack and opening up the chest pockets for more gear and heavier items to counter the weight of the bladder. The Swiftland Hydro succeeds at this, though as the hydration bladder empties throughout a run, the pack starts to ride up the back more.
Volume to Weight Ratio
This category intentionally favors packs that can carry more, as the reasoning for running with a hydration pack in the first place is to bring enough food, water, and the essential gear to go farther. Compared with larger volume packs oriented toward experienced ultramarathon runners, the Swiftland Hydro scores poorly, but it competes alongside other introductory hydration packs that we tested.
As an introductory running vest, the Swiftland Hydro doesn't limit you to small afternoon outings. With more accessible volume in the front pockets, the large main compartment, and the exterior storage, we were able to fit sunglasses, sunscreen, an iPhone 10, Garmin inReach, 1,000 calories, a spare 500mL soft flask, and our baseline race kit comprised of: tights, a space blanket, headlamp, medical tape, gloves, waterproof gloves, a buff, winter hat, waterproof pants, and waterproof jacket.
On the flip side, if you are just looking for a lower risk 5-mile jaunt, the straps and pack tighten down in a low profile close to the back, eliminating any bounce or jostling. When we used it for these shorter, quick hit runs, we preferred using soft flasks in place of the bladder, but that is mainly because we have forty soft flasks from years of testing.
Compared to our previous Best Buy winner, the Swiftland Hydro really outshines by having more and better pockets, with little added weight or significant change in comfort. Although it features no zippered pocket, there is a key clip to hold valuables secure and two mesh pockets within the larger blitz pocket in the back.
When we loaded the rear blitz pocket with all of our gear and a full bladder for a big day out, we felt some pressure on the upper pack, as the shorter pack shape doesn't distribute weight as well. However, for most of our runs, we weren't carrying an additional outfit and baseline race kit and didn't have this issue. The blitz closure on the rear pocket may be the fastest access system we tested, shortening stop times if you need to grab a layer. An external pouch also has plenty of storage for a rain layer.
Each shoulder strap features two pockets, one that works with soft flasks and can store an iPhone X, and a lower pocket that can hold gloves or snacks. The lower small pocket works best when the upper pocket is stuffed pretty full. Since the lower pocket doesn't have a cinch strap, a single gel packet easily falls out on more dynamic trails.
The Swiftland Hydro excels at simplicity and can carry enough gear for a significant outing. We are confident that this vest will be a great choice for runners looking for an affordable hydration pack with extensive fit adjustments. Months or years down the line, we also know that it will stand up to longer 50-mile ultras. We recommend getting a couple soft flasks if you don't own any, as these will add versatility and extend the range of the pack.
If you are looking for a hydration pack for running your first 50K that also works well for mountain biking and as a light day pack to bring on bigger camping adventures, look no further. Utility and function are key to gear that goes into the backcountry, and the REI Swiftland Hydro performs with its simple, user-friendly design. We admire that REI sourced materials that carry the Bluesign approval, something we encourage all users to look into when buying products. Paired with its affordability, this pack keeps the cost of running low and the potential for adventure high.
— Jeff Colt
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