As we continue to dive deeper into the trail scene, it has become evident that runners are liking a variety of different styles of hydration packs. Like anything, everyone has their preferences. While out on long training runs or for those in the ultra scene, runners tend to want to carry more gear, have their hands free or have quicker access to their supplies. For this trail season we have brought in a range of packs we think will do the trick for any runner looking to go any distance.
There is grey area when it comes to the most efficient solution for your needs and it ultimately comes down to what you feel most comfortable using. For example, elite athletes may pack lighter than someone who will be longer between aid stations. Or if you’re planning to be in a climate with varying conditions, perhaps having space for more gear could work in your favor. This is our perspective on the baseline capabilities of the packs.
These packs are designed to carry very little gear. Mostly this will be for hands-free carrying of water with some just-in-case pockets. All these packs have 2 liters of storage capacity in stretchy pockets, and in the case of the Nathan, a backpack style compartment. The vests are designed to fit like a compression shirt, very snug with minimal bounce. Nathan designed these gender-specific packs to feel more like an adaptable backpack. This “yolk style”, as it’s called, makes for a seamless transition for a hiker transitioning to running or someone simply more comfortable carrying a water bladder pack instead of bottles. The Salomon pack uses very thin, stretchy fabric material for the pockets while the UD pack is entirely constructed with lightweight mesh. For added security of carrying larger items, the Tim Olsen vest has two zippered pockets that sit on the lower back. These compartments are more than large enough for any phone or an ultralight shell jacket. The zipper pocket on the Salomon pack is a bit more perfectly sized for a set of keys and an epi-pen. Both these packs are in this category because they are incredibly stripped down and don’t have the ability to carry what you’d need on an all-day adventure. However, this would be an excellent alternative to stashing water or a handheld bottle also for marathon training on the roads! There is more than enough space for a handful of gels and water for those longer training efforts.
As the distance or time of adventure increases, as does the possible need for more gear and fuel. As we go up in capacity we start to see more variance between the packs, though all of these boast between 5 and 7 liters of storage. The Salomon Sense Ultra 5 is designed nearly identical to the Sense vest with the addition of pockets under the arms and a larger compartment on the back for bladder use or gear storage. It is incredibly stripped down and without gear and use of the back pouch, the Sense Ultra 5 feels nearly identical to the Sense vest. The UD Jenny Ultra Vesta (and men’s UD SJ Ultra Vest 3.0) fit similarly snug to the body and gives the option for more storage space in the back, in addition to the front bottles, for use of a water bladder for longer and hotter adventures. The two UD packs are largely of mesh construction with hooks for hiking/trekking poles for mountain adventures and an external bungee cord for increasing the capacity.
When it comes to all-day adventure, you need a pack that gives you enough space to carry whatever you will need and then some extra compartments for those just-in-case items. The Salomon Skin Pro 10 Set is the largest pack we have and does come with a bladder. It’s a one side fits all pack that, on the body, looks like a tight-fitting backpack with some pockets up front for easy-access. When it comes to day hiking and carrying lunch for the family or even a short overnight trek, this could be a pack large enough to get the job done. The slight step down in size would be the women’s specific Ultimate Direction Jenny Adventure Vesta, which also focuses on keeping the large capacity close to the body. This pack offers front-loaded bottles and loads of easy-access pocket space both with and without zippers. Though it doesn’t come with a hydration bladder, there is designated space for one that is also fairly easy access. The Adventure Vesta also has special hooks and cords for trekking poles and carrying some gear on the outside of the pack and lots of adjustability for adaptable sizing. Nathan follows a similar trend with the Vapor Air (men’s) and Airess (women’s) as far as external capacity. A bungee cord allows you to attach in a jacket or even shoes once the pack is already full. This cord can also cinch up the pack if it isn’t full to prevent some bouncing from just a few items, making this functional even for the shorter endeavors. The removable water bladder gives you flexibility on how long you can be out, and the compressive fit helps you forget that you’re even wearing a pack.