How do you trust running gear on the market, gear that you have never tried and don’t know anyone personally who’s tried it? Online reviews are one way to gain trust in a product. The other way: look at what the pros are wearing.
Whether or not it’s their intention, professional runners advertise gear simply by wearing it. Non-professionals look to the pros as a trusted source– why on Earth would they be wearing or using this gear if it wasn’t good? Running is their profession, and they require the best tools to reach the heights many of us cannot fathom reaching.
It makes nonprofessionals feel like perhaps they, too, can reach those heights if they use said gear. Or at least increase their own performance levels.
And this isn’t a bad thing– the running community, especially the trail running community, are both small and easily accessible communities. The innate camaraderie within these communities is what makes professionals so trustworthy. Aside from the Olympics and World Championships, everyone starts on the same starting line.
That’s something many sports cannot match.
With all of that being said, I’ve done my research to find the best hydration packs– the ones the pros know, love, and perhaps even helped develop. Check out the list below to find out what the professionals use to stay hydrated (and, perhaps, the perfect pack for you).
Stephanie Howe and Robert Krar – Nathan Sports
The VaporHowe 2.0 and the VaporKrar 2.0
Howe and Krar are both Western States 100 winners, alongside many other accolades under their belts to solidify them as some of the best ultra runners in the country. They’re consistently ranked high in the ultra runner rankings, including Ultra Runner Magazine and International Trail Running Association’s rankings.
So it should be no surprise that their sponsor, Nathan Sports, collaborated with both Howe and Krar and utilized their experience, knowledge, and talent to develop a new hydration pack with their namesake.
“Our design team worked closely with Rob Krar and Stephanie Howe to make sure these vests are everything you need and nothing you don’t…”
Roberto Gutierrez, director of brand marketing for United Sports Brands— the conglomerate of sports brands that includes Nathan Sports– said of the VaporHowe and VaporKrar.
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“They are a compression fit, meaning you wear them like you’d wear performance apparel, this reduces both bouncing and the chance of chafing. They come with an insulated, hourglass shaped hydration bladder. There are hidden pockets for phone, safety devices, and even a built-in safety whistle.”
The difference between the two? The VaporHowe is designed to fit females, while the VaporKrar is designed to fit males. This ensures a comfortable fit for everyone who uses the pack, and is a great choice for anyone who often finds themselves running (or hiking) on any kind of trail.
Krissy Moehl and Jason Schlarb – Ultimate Direction
Adventure Vesta 4.0 and the Halo Vest
Krissy Moehl is considered an icon in the ultraunning world, with 55 female wins and 2 outright wins in her entire 17-year career. In an Ultimate Direction blog post, Moehl reviews the Adventure Vesta 4.0, hailing it as her “committed companion on nearly every run this winter.”
The great thing about this vest, along with the Halo Vest, is the option to utilize either soft bottles or a reservoir for hydration. Moehl says she will use the reservoir when she needs more upfront space, and that the storage goes beyond hydration. Snacks, light outer layers, your phone, and more have their place in this pack.
We asked Krissy for a comment and she said…
“I love the Adventure Vesta by Ultimate Direction. I like that it fits like another layer of clothing and provides space for run needs of different durations (2 hrs to 8).”
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Jason Schlarb, professional runner and winner of Colorado’s Run Rabbit Run 100 miler, used the then-unavailable Halo Vest during his Run Rabbit Run win (on top of using it during many, many other race wins). This vest features a lightweight breathable material and a redesigned trekking pole holder to minimize bounce as you run.
The adjustability was redesigned to be more comfortable and minimal, making long treks more manageable and allowing the runner to put more focus on the task at hand, rather than worrying about their vest.
Courtney Dauwalter and Kilian Jornet – Salomon
S/LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set trail running hydration packs
If you haven’t heard, Courtney Dauwalter and Kilian Jornet are kind of big deals. Dauwalter recently won the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), of the most prestigious ultra marathons.
On top of winning many ultra marathons in her career (including one in which she became temporarily and mysteriously blind in the last 12 miles of the Run Rabbit Run 100 in 2017), she is also known for her unconventional approach to ultra running – wearing long, basketball-esque shorts, eating what she feels like, and running however far she wants to on any given day.
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Another force on the Salomon team is Kilian Jornet, a Catalan refugee from the Pyreneese mountains, who’s won the Zegama-Aizkorri Mountain Marathon nine times, the UTMB three times, and is a vertical KM world champion. When he’s not racing in the summer, he’s ski mountaineering in the winter. And for both Dauwalter and Jornet, they utilize the S/LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set vest on their runs.
This vest features two soft flask compartments, chafe-free power mesh material, a whistle, reflective detailing, and plenty of pockets for storage. The wide-fabric layout, in lieu of straps, means that comfort is guaranteed when you wear this hydration vest.
Xavier Thevenard and YiOu Wang – CamelBak
Men’s Zephyr Vest (coming spring 2020) and the Women’s Circuit Vest
Xavier Thevenard is a natural endurance running talent. He literally won the CCC, called “the little sister of the UTMB” and one of the most prestigious ultra races in the world, with no formal training. In his debut attempts at Europe’s coveted “Triple Crown” (victories at the UTMB, CCC, and TDS), he won.
However, in all of my research, there isn’t much information on what hydration packs he prefers.
But that didn’t stop me.
A PR representative for CamelBak’s domestic PR agency, Kelsey McGrew, said that many male Camelback athletes are wearing the Men’s Zephyr Vest, to be released this spring. The product description mentions the vests’ “body mapping for optimal ventilation.”
In addition, “there’s a secure cell phone pocket, built-in safety whistle, and attachment point for your trekking poles. Hydration at the ready with two Quick Stow™ flasks at the front of your vest for easy access.” On top of all that, the fabric is antimicrobial. Keep this one on your list come spring!
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YiOu Wang’s credentials aren’t only in the ultra running world. She is also a 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Qualifier. Her rage translated to a win at the 2017 50km National Trail Championships and two wins at the Lake Sonoma 50 mile. YiOu has been seen on her social media rocking the Women’s Circuit Vest, a solid and more affordable choice for any woman wanting to go the distance.
This vest has 50oz of storage and can either hold a reservoir for easy hydration, or two soft bottles up front if you need more storage for gear or snacks. The storage is customizable, meaning each compartment isn’t designed for specific gear– anything can go anywhere! There’s side compression that fits most comfortably, reflectivity, and secure zippered pockets.
Hillary Gerardi and Joe Grant – Black Diamond
The Distance 8 Backpack
A 12 lb. leg of prosciutto won during her first European trail race was where Hillary Gerardi decided that “the sport was for her.” She’s since become a talented and credentialed “skyrunner,” in which she won three of the most challenging skyraces– the Tromso Skyrace, the Trofeo Kima, and the Glencoe Skyline– all in 2018.
In promotional and social media photos, she’s seen wearing the Distance 8 pack, which I will discuss more below.
Joe Grant is not only a highly respected ultrarunner and alpinist, holding the fastest known time for the Tour de 14ers (linking all of Colorado’s peaks over 14,000 feet) and doing it entirely self-supported, he also helped develop the Distance series packs for Black Diamond.
“I wanted to have a pack that would accompany me in the mountains and that pack didn’t exist…. We were trying to… bridge that gap between trail running and alpine climbing,” Grant said of the Distance backpack in a promotional video for the Distance series backpacks:
What separates this pack from others is that, in essence, Black Diamond cut out the straps from their traditional pack and attached running-style straps, complete with soft bottle holders, trekking pole holders, and even a place to hold your pickaxe for more serious alpine adventures. This is the pack that really, truly goes the distance, and is best suited for the athlete who does it all.
How do you dry a trail running hydration pack tube and reservoir?
This is an important step in cleaning out your hydration pack. Without drying the tube and reservoir, they become susceptible to mold due to the lack of ventilation (this is because they’re specifically designed to keep water in unless you’re taking a drink– so this is a good thing!).
Once you’ve cleaned your hydration pack tube and reservoir, remove the mouthpiece and shake out as much water as you can. Blow into the tube to remove more water that you couldn’t previously shake out. Use a pipe cleaner or a cotton ball tied to a fishing line to clean the tube, running either tool through the entire tube multiple times until it’s dry.
Once you’ve done that, take a paper towel and dry the inside of the reservoir. Place the tube and mouthpiece inside of the reservoir and set in a well-ventilated, breezy area.
To better dry your reservoir, lightly ball up some paper towels and place them inside of the reservoir while they dry in a well-ventilated area. Make sure to remove these paper towels once the reservoir is properly dry!
Above all, ensure everything is entirely dry before storing it away. If you’re still unsure, repeat the above steps– sweep the reservoir with a paper towel, run a dry pipe cleaner or cotton ball tied to a cotton string through the tube, let it air dry in a breezy place. It’s far better to be safe than sorry here.
How do I choose a trail running hydration pack?
The first thing to consider is what activity you do on a regular basis. The second thing to consider is the packs versatility. If you run every day, not more than 10 miles at a time, and are looking for a hydration vest for your first marathon, choose a vest that only holds your hydration and maybe a few Gu packs. You won’t need that extra storage or Black Diamonds’ ice axe holder.
However, if you’re that same person, but you also spend much of your time going on long hikes, then a more technical hydration pack that features more storage is right for you.
Ask yourself what you need on your most daunting, singular trek. Then, ask yourself what you need on a day-to-day basis. Chances are, your needs are going to be very different in those scenarios. The great thing about many hydration packs is that they are naturally versatile– you don’t have to hold a soft bottle in those compartments.
Maybe you need a place to hold your hat and a pair of gloves in that compartment, maybe a granola bar. Research these brands above, research a few more, and see which pack checks off most of your needs from your daunting trek to your day-to-day needs.
What hydration pack do you swear by on your runs? Let me know in the comments! Happy running!
Featured image: courtesy Nathan Sports (featuring Stephanie Howe)
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