Best Running Hydration Pack for Women of 2021
|Price||$124.95 at REI|
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|$89.99 at Backcountry|
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|Check Price at REI|
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|$150 List||$90 List|
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|Pros||Lightweight, great features, well-designed pockets, good compression system||Breathable, water resistant, lightweight||Incredibly comfortable, great pockets, breathable||Comfortable, functional hydration system, minimalist||Simple, compact, easily navigated pockets, affordable|
|Cons||Basic hydration system, mesh could be softer||Less comfortable, hard to use hydration system||Strange hydration straws, average storage capacity||Low carrying capacity, complicated sizing||Poor volume to weight ratio, less comfortable|
|Bottom Line||For its lower-than-average price, this vest offers well-designed and placed pockets with a great compression system||A breathable and weather-resistant hydration pack that offers basic gear-hauling for a reasonable price||A storage-oriented hydration vest that wears like a silky-smooth second skin and packs all of the essentials with ease||The snug fit and intelligent pocket placement on this vest make it great for daily runs when you just need to carry the essentials||This is a rugged and affordable pack that can stash all of your goodies for shorter mountain excursions|
|Rating Categories||Ultimate Direction...||CamelBak Ultra Pro...||Salomon ADV Skin 8 Set||Naked High Capacity...||REI Swiftland Hydro 5L|
|Hydration System (15%)|
|Volume To Weight Ratio (15%)|
|Specs||Ultimate Direction...||CamelBak Ultra Pro...||Salomon ADV Skin 8 Set||Naked High Capacity...||REI Swiftland Hydro 5L|
|Weight (without hydration system)||5.26 oz||5.33 oz||10.16 oz||5.11 oz||8.57 oz|
|Carrying Capacity (liters)||5L||6L||8L||3+L||5L|
|Included Liquid Capacity (liters)||1L||1L||1L||1L||1.5L|
|OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!)||0.95||1.12||0.79||0.59||0.58|
|External Storage||Bungees, easy access to front left pocket||Pole holding loops, underarm mesh pockets, front nutrition pouches||Many bungees and one kangaroo-esque pocket||Pole holding loops, pockets atop the hydration pockets, back section is a kangaroo pouch||Back flap, mesh pockets|
|Type of Water Storage||2 500ml soft bottles||2 soft 500mL bottles||2 soft 500mL bottles||2 soft 500mL bottles||1.5L reservoir|
Best Overall Running Hydration Vest for Women
Nathan Pinnacle 12L - Women's
The Nathan Pinnacle 12L is one of the most comfortable hydration packs available on the market today. Its abundant size options, contour-hugging female-specific fit, and ample storage capacity make it one of our favorites. This hydration pack for running has more pockets than you ever think you'd need (15!), which makes it an exceptional choice for your longest, neediest days in the backcountry. You'll find yourself wanting to get out and run with the Pinnacle on your team.
The only drawback to the Pinnacle is its hefty price tag. Ultimately, the sheer number of features and comfortable assets makes the price worth it, but we totally understand that it's a lot of money to cough up upfront. Still, if you are on the hunt for a long-lasting, high-capacity vest with a cozy profile, we think the investment is well worth it. Endurance runners of all kinds will find the Pinnacle to be the perfect attribute to their running ensemble.
Read review: Nathan Pinnacle 12L
Best Bang for the Buck
Nathan TrailMix 7L - Women's
The Nathan TrailMix 7 is a lightweight but rugged, trail-specific hydration pack for more minimally-minded trail runners. We love the burly yet breathable backing, especially because it is surprisingly comfortable. The TrailMix has well-placed pockets to stash quick-draw items, like nutrition and your phone, and offers ample back-pocket storage for lesser-used items. The ruggedness of this pack makes it awesome for heavily wooded areas — the fabric won't snag on stray tree branches as you bound through the forest at top speed.
The TrailMix didn't score as highly across the board as other hydration vests we tested, but it held its own for sure. The 7-liter storage capacity is smaller than some but still plentiful enough that we could stash everything we needed for a day in the mountains. If you are looking to go on ultra-long adventures, you might like a vest that offers a few liters more of storage. However, if you are a daily trail runner looking for a hearty pack that won't break the bank, we can't recommend the TrailMix enough.
Read review: Nathan TrailMix 7L
Best for Race Day
Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 12L
Nathan-made hydration packs for running are some of our favorites, and the VaporHowe 2.0 12L is no exception. We love nearly everything about the updated version of this pack. With its excellent 12-liter storage capacity, intentionally designed pockets, and silken body, this vest is chock full of features we adore. It's our favorite pick for race day because of its mindfully placed pocket structure. The pockets, especially the front pockets, are easily accessible so you can grab your gear without breaking pace. The VaporHowe's capacity to schlep your necessities without weighing you down (i.e., weight distribution) is top shelf. The insulated hydration bladder keeps your water cool, which we've found to be a major treat when high atop alpine peaks.
The VaporHowe 2.0 is on the more expensive side, but again, we believe this to be well worth it because of the features it offers. The main component lacking here, in our opinion, is the lack of pole holders. We don't often run with poles, but we want a seamless place to stow them when we do. However, if you are looking for a hydration pack to accompany you on race day, the VaporHowe is a great choice. Aside from its lack of pole holders, this pack boasts a high-quality design and everything you need for long days on sprawling trails or city streets.
Read review: Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 12L
Best for Training
Salomon ADV Skin 8 Set
The Salomon ADV Skin 8 caught us off guard time and time again during the course of our testing — in a good way. This vest is incredibly comfortable, even when stuffed to the gills. It offers good water storage capacity with plenty of room to stash the rest of your essentials. The pocket design is unlike any other hydration vest we tested; Salomon seemingly broke the mold by creating this pack. We chose it as our favorite for training because it carries a few liters less gear than our super haulers. We think that lightening your load on training runs is well worth it. The unique bungee closures offer a customizable fit and prevent the pack's pressure from resting on your breasts. The ADV Skin 8 offers all of the techy components of a pricier vest at a slightly lower cost, which is obviously a huge benefit.
We don't really take issue with the moderate weight of the ADV Skin 8 since it wears like a well-fitting second skin. Our main complaint is the sheer oddness of the hydration straws. The breast panels offer loops to keep the straws in check, but we just never really were able to have the straws exactly where we wanted them. Ultimately, we want to share this information with prospective buyers, but we still plan to run with this kit every day. Tall straws aside, Salomon makes excellent soft flasks that can be easily maneuvered while on the go. If you are looking for a comfortable and well-designed trail sidekick, this is the pack for you. You'll have plenty of space for gear, accommodations for a hydration bladder, and all of the loops and bungees to secure your haul to your body.
Read review: Salomon ADV Skin 8 Set
Why You Should Trust Us
Our women's hydration packs for running review is led by Ally Arcuri, an exercise specialist and experienced ultramarathoner. Ally remembers buying a CamelBak made for children back in the mid-2000s to satisfy her trail running needs in Lake Tahoe, CA. Since then, she has run her way across the beaches of Southern California and Mexico, the Rockies in Colorado and Wyoming, the deserts of Utah, the streets of Chicago and New York City, and most recently, the forests of the Pacific Northwest. According to her loved ones, Ally drinks more water than humanly possible, so, of course, she is an authority on testing hydration packs for running. Ally earned her Bachelor's degree in Kinesiology and has her 200-hour Yoga Teaching Certificate, so she has a keen eye for proper posture and biomechanics. When she isn't traveling and searching for places to run, you can find her teaching yoga or learning how to AquaSkip in San Luis Obispo, CA.
We couldn't wait to get running immediately upon receiving a box full of hydration vests designed specifically for women. In addition to rotating through the vests to ensure equal time on the trails with each, we wore them around our homes and gardens to get to know them all a little better. We specifically loaded each pack up with the same amount of gear and voice-dictated notes into our smartphones while we ran, hiked, and even post-holed through the snow. A few of the hydration packs in our roundup were uncomfortable immediately. Still, we toughed it out and allowed our skin to chafe so that you can be certain that you're receiving unbiased, authentic, and exhaustive evaluations.
Analysis and Test Results
To ensure a fair trial for each hydration pack we chose to test, we ran a ton. We usually run a lot, but with these packs on our backs, we ran even more. We spent months testing, retesting, and evaluating each one. We bagged peaks, ran through dense forests, and surveyed each vest individually before bringing them together in a head-to-head competition. After we exhaustively tested each pack, we compared them to each other over a variety of metrics. We analyzed the comfort and fit, the intelligence and functionality of the hydration system, available features, and ease of use. We weighed each vest and assessed their maximum storage capacities, and you know we explored the depths of each pocket. We awarded each contender a specific, numerical score in each metric. Still, we encourage you to read on to determine which female-specific hydration pack for running has the potential to be your everyday sidekick.
It's not a secret that hydration vests can often cost a pretty penny and then some. We chose to test some of the most expensive hydration vests available and some on the more affordable end of the spectrum. While many of the pricier vests offer a more comfortable fit, more features, and more moisture-wicking material, we did not find this true across the board. We were certainly surprised by how durable and rugged some of the lower-priced options are. We were pleased to find that the divergent prices don't necessarily mean you're getting a lower quality or lower-performing hydration pack.
The Nathan TrailMix 7 offers the best balance between comfort and affordability. The TrailMix is a well-engineered and comfortable running pack with smart pockets and a thoughtful hydration system. We also love the value of the Ultimate Direction Race Vesta 5.0 as well. If you are looking for a relatively affordable and durable vest that allows you to bring the essentials without over-packing, the Race Vesta will make an excellent match for you. Additionally, we really love the Osprey Dyna 6. It came in just behind the TrailMix and the Race Vesta in our tests but still has a lot to offer for a very fair price. The durability of the Dyna increases its value by a lot.
If you don't mind spending a few extra shillings for an even more comfortable ride, it's worth it to invest in the Nathan Pinnacle 12L, the Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 12L, or the Salomon ADV Skin 8. All three of these choices are supple and breathable with anti-chafe technology and a whole lot of storage space. They will serve you well over the long haul, which is also a solid way to approach value.
Comfort is one of the most valuable components for assessing wear that is intended to be worn for long periods of time at once. We measured comfort by running in all of the hydration packs, of course! Even for those of us who love to run, running is hard. We wanted to evaluate each vest's ability to remain comfortable even when the terrain and mileage are grueling. To ensure each hydration pack got a fair trial on the trails, we spent months testing through myriad weather patterns. We assessed each packs' comfort on cold days with long-sleeved layers, on rainy days atop our favorite running jackets, and on hot days in tank tops with the packs against our skin. Even the more rigid and toughly-constructed packs were generally quite comfortable, which is a huge win for female-specific running vests as a whole. We tried each pack on with different hairstyles to see if any vest pieces had an appetite for human hair (unsurprisingly, Velcro LOVES to get all wrapped up with long hair). Furthermore, we even made sure to test each vest with a small necklace on to see if that interfered with its comfort at all.
We noticed a trend amongst the hydration packs that scored well in this heavily weighted metric. Our top three contenders are all made of supple and forgiving yet contour-hugging textiles that wick away moisture and stay in place. Even though most hydration packs for running are frameless, some offer more boning and ribbing than others. Across the board, the more comfortable the vest, the less structure it has.
We love the softness and comfortable fit of the Salomon ADV Skin 8. This aptly named pack never piped up even while our legs and lungs were on fire. Breathability is a huge part of what makes a comfortable vest. After all, a swampy upper body usually leads to general discomfort. Its exceptional breathability is another thing we love about the ADV Skin 8.
The Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 and the Nathan Pinnacle are two of our other top scorers when it comes to comfort. In addition to their snug, apparel-like fit, they are breathable with little to no structure. Both the VaporHowe and the Pinnacle max out with 12-liters of gear — which is a lot. Weight distribution weighs into a vest's comfort greatly. Both of these vests by Nathan, as well as the Salomon ADV Skin 8, offer balanced weight distribution when stuffed full of your favorite running goodies.
The Naked High Capacity (or HC) is unlike any other hydration pack we tested. It offers great comfort with a more streamlined and tight fit. Instead of wearing your hydration vest over your clothes, the Naked vest is essentially worn as an additional garment, hence the name. Choose your size wisely if you opt for this svelte running vest. You'll love its softness and the way it offers extra breast support when it is zipped up.
Features is a catch-all type metric that we use to define all of the bells and whistles included with a particular hydration pack for running. We tested this initially by exploring what each vest offers in specific storage accessories and safety features. We took each vest and its features out into the field and engaged them in a side-by-side comparison. We evaluated the features promoted by each pack's manufacturer and tried them out in various ways.
We love that most of the vests have added safety features. In particular, our favorite component is the safety whistle. We tend to pack a lot of safety gear when we trek into the mountains, so it is a real treat to have a whistle included. We blew each whistle with all our might and found the one included on the Osprey Dyna 6 to be the loudest and most reliable. Furthermore, the Nathan Pinnacle and the Nathan VaporHowe include covertly stashed, loud whistles that could attract attention deep in the trails if you find yourself in a pinch.
We evaluated each hydration pack's trekking pole holding system. Overall, we discovered that the more secure the pole holders, the better we felt running with our poles — no big surprise there. The customizable loop system on the Salomon ADV Skin 8 is great for adhering accessories to your pack, but it doesn't offer the snuggest pole storage. We like the pole storage of the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 5.0, the Osprey Dyna 6, and the Nathan Pinnacle All offer a secure and designated space to stash your poles. Our testers test with a particularly large and clunky pair of poles but ultimately found this to be an attribute. We strung our poles up in different ways to find the most comfortable way to haul them.
We observed that many of the packs have reflective elements to ensure visibility while running in dark or hazy conditions. The rise of adventure races and overnight ultras makes small details like this vital to staying safe in the backcountry.
Some runners love soft flasks while running; other runners prefer a hydration bladder. No matter your preference, we can all agree on one thing-- hydration matters! Some hydration packs for running come with soft bottles, and others come with bladders. Most notably, each and every hydration pack in our roundup offers the option to run with bottles, a bladder, or both. We love to see most hydration bladders being made with a fold-over closure system. This style of closure is better at preventing leaks. The slide-across clips all have holes to secure Velcro loops through to maintain the thinnest fit possible against your back.
While assessing hydration systems, we were ruthless in our observations. We are serious runners, and a leaky bottle could truly lead to our unraveling while deep in desolation; running out of water is a run ruiner. To allow each hydration system a fair shake, we ran with each pack as intended to begin. After each maiden voyage, we ran with our hydration bladders half full without extra gear to assess the sloshing of each system. We never encountered any sloshing with the soft flasks, though they are definitely not created equal. Nathan employed hourglass-shaped, insulated bladders in the Pinnacle 12L and the VaporHowe 2.0 12L. In both cases, we found that we adore this bladder style when we have gear stowed in the back of the pack, but without gear, this shape tends to lead to a bit of sloshing. The Osprey Dyna 6 comes equipped with a smart hydration system. The bladder has shallow fins running vertically down the bladder, which truly helps prevent sloshing.
Some hydration packs for running thoughtfully include a magnet system. There will be a small magnetic clip on the hose and a corresponding one on the chest strap or ribbing. This addition helps place your hose, whether you want it looped up towards your mouth or hanging down across your chest. Options with this magnet included earned higher marks due to their sheer convenience.
The biggest observation we had about soft bottles is that they have to be placed just so to be functional while running. Unlike a hose, which can essentially be grabbed and placed in your mouth without even looking down, the bottles require a bit more attention. We found that some bottles didn't seal well and leaked and that others had to be fully removed to drink from them. In the case of the Salomon ADV Skin 8, the straws are always at mouth height but occasionally crossed the line into being obnoxious. The best soft bottle system we found is on the Ultimate Direction Halo. This bottle configuration worked so well because the vest sits high on the body. The bottles ride securely fastened, so all you need to do is turn your head slightly to find your bottle's mouthpiece is ready for action.
We also liked the hydration system included in the Naked HC vest. Because of how tight-fitting the vest is, the soft flasks have minimal opportunities for bouncing. Since this pack rides higher than average, similar to the Ultimate Direction Halo but without any of the discomfort, the mouthpieces are always just within reach.
Volume to Weight Ratio
We used a volume to weight ratio to fairly measure each hydration pack's storage capacity relative to its weight. Since hydration vests tend to be made of different textiles and components, we use this equation to assess each gear-hauling capacity accurately. We divide the carrying capacity (liters) by the weight (ounces) to calculate this.
Our hands-down winner in the metric is the Ultimate Direction Halo. This 10-liter pack weighs a mere 4.94 oz — incredible. Our next runner-up is the VaporHowe at 12-liters and 7.1 oz. Though other packs might have lower weigh-ins, the carrying capacity of the VaporHowe is at the top of its class. Even though the Halo has a better score for this ratio, the pack is not nearly as comfortable.
The Pinnacle has a ratio similar to the VaporHowe; however, it weighs in about a tenth of an ounce higher. It may sound like we are splitting hairs, and in truth, we are, in an attempt to separate the good from the great. In this case, both the Pinnacle and the VaporHowe surpassed our expectations and left us wondering how such lightweight materials can comfortably support such epic carrying capacities.
Another element we noted while assessing the volume to weight ratio is the weight distribution of each pack. Some hydration packs for running fit like mini backpacks with pockets on the front straps. Others fit more snugly like a vest. Overall, we found that the apparel-like, vest-structured vests had better weight distribution for running. To measure this, we stuffed each vest full of more gear than we could need for a day on the trails. As we ran, we noted any bouncing, joint aches, or changes in gait patterns caused by wonky weight dispensation. Even with their exceptional carrying capacities, the Nathan Pinnacle and the Nathan VaporHowe were the clear winners. Each vest seamlessly distributed its 12 liters of gear in such a way that we never felt weighed down or off-balance.
Pockets are important, and we love evaluating them. We went far beyond simply counting the pockets of each hydration pack, though we did that too. We utilized each pocket for different items as we ran, making sure to switch up our systems every so often. We analyzed how accessible each pocket is on the move, which are safe for stashing your valuables, and which are best for providing easy access to outer layers when the weather turns.
Our most pocket-full vest is the Nathan Pinnacle 12L, which boasts an impressive 15 total pockets. As is the case with the Pinnacle, we discovered that vests with well-dispersed pockets generally offer better weight distribution throughout the vest, ultimately leading to better comfort. We also love the number of pockets on the Pinnacle because it helps us keep our belongings organized. Having a pocket dedicated to gels, one for electrolyte tablets, one for our handkerchief, and one for our phone upfront makes grabbing and going easy.
We voted the VaporHowe 2.0 as our pick for race day due to the accessibility of its pockets. While running in this vest, we found that our items were easily accessible due to the precise placement of each pocket. Being able to snag your necessary gear quickly allows you to stay ahead of the pack without compromising your needs.
The Salomon ADV Skin 8 is another hydration vest for running with notable pockets. The elastic-y and soft material allows for an expanded capacity if you're set on stashing items in certain locations. The ADV's pockets are also mentionable because of their even dispensation around the body of the vest. As mentioned above, even pocket distribution makes for an ultra-comfy ride. While these pockets are less easily navigated than others we tested, the number of stretchy, available options is certainly worth noting.
Finally, we appreciate the solid pocket design on the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 5.0 and Race Vesta 5.0. The Ultra's pockets are strategically placed and stretchy enough to provide some great versatility. There's also a lot of them (11 to be precise), so you should have no problem finding a perfect place for each piece of your kit. The Race Vesta doesn't have as many pockets, but the ones it does have are well-executed. They are accessible with solid closures and layered in a way that worked well for us.
Many day hikers are moving away from using small backpacks and are dipping their toes into the world of the more form-fitting hydrations vests like those we tested. Hydration vests, especially those made specifically for female runners, offer svelte profiles and plenty of mobility for the gnarliest adventures. While we assessed each vest through the lens of an adventure runner, we whole-heartedly believe that anyone looking to log miles comfortably will find a hydration vest made for them. For minimalist styles to those that can carry everything but the kitchen sink, we love watching hydration pack technology expand upon itself. We tracked each mile, nagging detail, and sip of water to bring you the most relevant and reliable information about some of the most popular women's hydration packs for running on the market.
— Ally Arcuri
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