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How We Tested Hydration Packs For Runnings

Monday July 13, 2020

To create the best hydration pack for running review possible, we researched countless models and consumer reviews, used our past experience, and consulted veteran runners to select an assortment of packs. We purchased them all from online retailers, filled them, strapped them on, and hit the trails. We covered hundreds of miles with the objective of learning the strengths and weaknesses of each — information we then pass on to you. Below are the criteria and performance metrics we used to rate each product.

Hydration packs for running are a key accessory for long runs in the mountains when food  water  a camera  map  and rain clothing are all required.
Hydration packs for running are a key accessory for long runs in the mountains when food, water, a camera, map, and rain clothing are all required.

Comfort


Over the trails and through the mountains to grandmother's house we go…

Yep, we loaded these packs up and headed out into the desert alpine of Arizona, the Sierra Nevada in California, and the Elk Mountains of Colorado. From cold nights to intensely hot days, we tried to tease out which packs were bouncy, chaffed, easily adjusted, soft to the touch, too tight, and so on. The only way to test comfort is to wear a pack and put in the miles while having an awareness of what the pack is doing and the extent of how adjustments can help. Having access to a huge pile of other vests for comparison helps in this hunt. After all, if you don't have anything to compare to, how would you know? Well, we had every advantage here and did all this work for you so you don't have to.

The Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set was ultimately the most comfortable vest we have tested. We could wear it all day  pouring sweat  and remain in relative comfort.
The Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set was ultimately the most comfortable vest we have tested. We could wear it all day, pouring sweat, and remain in relative comfort.

Features and Design


Each and every vest we tested for this review was unique. Each had its own take on what a hydration pack for running should be and what it should offer the runner. We found some different standards in the men's and women's vests, and we nitpicked and compared details. We tested each of the features described and gave scores for their user-friendliness and overall effectiveness. Some of the things we found in this category were light-reflective markings, whistles, trekking pole attachments, and bulk storage. The packs ranged from those that offered the very basic essentials to packs that had probably more features than we would actually utilize, like ice axe storage.

The expandability of the FKT is one of the most impressive attributes of the pack. It has the ability to cinch down and appear quite small when in reality it has the largest storage capacity of all packs tested.
The expandability of the FKT is one of the most impressive attributes of the pack. It has the ability to cinch down and appear quite small when in reality it has the largest storage capacity of all packs tested.

Hydration System


Rating and testing the hydration system of each product was a bit tricky, as all vests, even those with similar systems, are quite different. They all seem to have a niche where they would perform better than others. That being said, things like capacity, ease of filling, and leakage were all important factors that we examined. Other issues like hose management for packs with hydration reservoirs, and how difficult the soft flasks were to stuff was also considered in the overall hydration system rating and testing.

If you use the reservoir handle while filling  you need your other hand to keep the top open. If you're using a spigot that requires you leave a hand on the valve  you'll have to get creative  or grow another hand.
If you use the reservoir handle while filling, you need your other hand to keep the top open. If you're using a spigot that requires you leave a hand on the valve, you'll have to get creative, or grow another hand.

Volume to Weight Ratio


Here at GearLab, we generally prefer to save weight whenever possible. With this category, the packs we tested ranged in size so dramatically, that we first put each on a scale to record weight. We're used to putting everything we test on a scale and seeing how it compares to its competitors, and we don't take any manufacturer's word for it. We then gathered up a light but versatile kit of equipment to pack along for every run. We used the exact same kit for each one of the vests that we tested. We assessed the functionality of each packs storage capacity in the field and devised a grading criterion based on the ratio of volume of storage capacity to the weight of the pack. We don't want to be weighed down mile after mile, but we also know that features and additional storage can add weight. This grade reflects our efforts to level the playing field across varying pack sizes.

At 9.2 ounces  the UD Halo is comparably lightweight. The functionality and storage to weight ratio is quite high.
At 9.2 ounces, the UD Halo is comparably lightweight. The functionality and storage to weight ratio is quite high.

Pockets


Finally, we paid special attention to the placement, size, amount, closure systems, and overall volume of the pockets on each hydration pack. The score in this category is an amalgamation of these elements that ultimately shows how useful the pockets on the pack are. Some packs have tons of pockets but so much overlap in the space the pockets used they just weren't useful. As strictly giving higher scores for more pockets would be ridiculous, we scrutinized the efficiency of each pocket and asked the question, is this pocket necessary to help me accomplish my running goal?

Having quick access to a phone for route-finding mid-adventure saves time and frustration.
Having quick access to a phone for route-finding mid-adventure saves time and frustration.