It comes as no surprise that there’s nothing we can do about the weather – we can only control the controllables. Being as prepared as possible for your long(er) run and having the right equipment at any time of the year can make or break your experience. You’ll need to take food and water, as well as other equipment such as phone, waterproofs, extra layers, first aid kit, etc. Enter the ‘Running Hydration Vest’ which is going to allow you to carry all you need to cover most eventualities.

Having water on a long run is important and especially in summer as this article discusses. Now you know what you’ll need for for hydration purposes, the main focus of this article is to discuss how to carry it (plus all the other things you’ll need on your long run). Some people opt to carry handheld water bottles – you know the ones with the hand holes in them but personally I’d find this annoying, the water would slosh in the bottle (aargh!!) and also get quite warm as you’re holding it. It may also cause an imbalance in the way you run, and you might need to carry slightly more stuff with you rather than just water (e.g. nutrition, electrolyte tablets, etc). You’re therefore going to need something call a running hydration vest (yay, more kit!!).

What exactly is a running hydration vest?

Basically, it is a small close-fitting backpack that has various pockets that can hold soft water bottles and larger water bladders. In addition they have space and pockets for extra layers, waterproofs, hat / gloves, nutrition, first aid kit and other items of compulsory kit required by organised events, so they’re not just for summer but are a year-round essential item.

Like any piece of kit, there are a huge number of different brands and price points out there and the following is based purely on my personal experiences and views.

Sue with running hydration vest

Those of you who run regularly with me will have seen me in mine – it’s an older version of this: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta (I may be tempted by the black one!). [update: I’ve recently purchased the Harrier Kinder 10l Race Vest and I am loving it!].

It’s actually the only one I’ve ever owned [update: until recently!] and I bought it based on the recommendation of an experienced ultra runner friend. It cost about £100 around 6 years ago and it has certainly done a few kms with me – excellent value for money. It gets relatively little care and attention and just seems to work perfectly all year round.

It has a capacity of about 10 litres (total volume, not 10 litres of water!) and for longer runs I would carry two 500ml soft water bottles in the two front pockets – one bottle with electrolyte, the other with plain water.

It did also come with a 1 litre water bladder (camel back type thing) that goes in the back pocket but I don’t use it as it’s difficult to fill and stow neatly, it’s prone to sloshing (aargh again!) and just a bit of a faff. It also gets very hot against your back. My front bottles carry 1 litre of fluid in total and most longer runs I’ve done have pit stops / places to refill water bottles so I’ve personally not needed more than 1 litre at a time.

In addition to the water bottles, the 10 litre pack gives me plenty of pockets for my phone, my glasses, keys, waterproofs, a long sleeve top, some sandwiches, snack bars, first aid kit, compass, etc. I can also carry my swimming kit when I’m on a (shorter) run-swim. When packed carefully, it’s amazing what you can get in! There are larger vests (e.g. 15 litres) available but these – to me – look a little too big for what I need and might be more suited to multi-day events.

Doesn’t it bounce up and down / rub and generally be a bit annoying?

Not at all! I was sceptical as first, but if you measure yourself correctly and order the right size, and then take the time to get the straps correctly adjusted depending on how full it is, it really does just sit perfectly – I don’t really notice that I’ve got it on. Honestly. It’s also a female-specific design which I would recommend, though I know some of the popular brands offer unisex versions which seem to work fine.

Which brands are good?

There are plenty of hydration vest brands out there and here are some that I know are good (purely based on my own views!):

Ultimate Direction – the brand I [update: used to] wear! (the link takes you to the main US site, but they are sold on various UK sports sites, e.g. They certainly specialise in ultra vests of various sizes – just don’t confuse the model number with the actual volume! They have specific versions for men (‘vest’) and women (‘vesta’).

Salomon – generally always good for running related kit, you always see a lot of Salomon vests out and about.

Decathlon – at the cheaper end of the spectrum but they seem good value for money and are certainly popular.

Harrier Trail Running – I’ve no personal experience of these [update: I do now – they’re great!], but they are designed in the Peak District, are very reasonably priced and I’ve heard good reviews.

Nathan Sports – again, I’ve no personal experience of these but you see a lot of ultra runners using them!

What about shorter runs where you don’t need so much stuff?

For shorter runs (less than 10k when it is really hot), I sometimes feel that my ultra vest is a bit ‘much’ and I want something simpler. You can get 5 litre versions of most running vests, but this to me seems a bit pointless – if I’m going to wear a vest, I might as well take my 10 litre version. So I’m going to try the Salomon Active belt, which has space for minor essentials (phone, keys) and a 600ml water bottle. I’m a bit concerned it may bounce around but I have one on order and I’ll report back! [update: it’s OK but not great, I use it rather reluctantly]. My preference was for the Baslow waistbag from Harrier Trail Running which I’m thinking of trying this summer (they were out of stock last year).

Some running vest top tips:

  • Adjust the straps over the course of a few runs to make them fit perfectly. You may have to adjust them again depending on how much stuff you’re carrying. Don’t put up with bouncing or rubbing though – readjust to make it fit! A slight niggle at 5km will certainly turn into a nasty bit of chafing further down the road.
  • Take time to pack your things neatly in the pockets. Aside the discomfort if not packed neatly, these vests have a surprising number of pockets so using the same pockets for the same items on all runs will mean you’ll know where everything is and will have whatever you need quickly to hand when you’re tired on a long run.
  • Store your soft water bottles in the freezer when not in use – it stops them from going mouldy! (Some people use Milton’s fluid to clean them, but I’ve never bothered).
  • Put one (or both!) of your full water bottles in the freezer the night before a long run in the summer – the ice will certainly cool you down at least for a bit and it should have melted sufficiently by the time you need a drink.
  • Fill one (or both!) of your water bottles with warm water in the winter – it will be like a little hot water bottle until you warm up through running.
  • Make sure you get rid of the air in the soft bottles (basically suck on them whilst gently squeezing the water upwards!) so that they don’t slosh whilst running. Did I mention how I don’t like sloshing??
  • My long-suffering ultra vest gets very little attention, it goes out in absolutely all weathers. However, I always dry it in the sun / on a radiator after a run (yes they get soggy with sweat / rain / both!). Other than that, it gets dunked in a bucket of water every now and again…

Running hydration vests are not just for summer!

Running Hydration Vest Summary

A running hydration vest will serve you well on your long runs and will become an essential part of your kit. Despite its name, it’s not just for hydration but for carrying a whole range of items such as food, phone, waterproofs, extra layers, first aid kit, loo roll…anything you need on a long run. Most long distance off-road events require you to carry certain items of compulsory kit so it’s worth making the investment and getting used to your vest beforehand.

In summary, a running hydration vest is a worthwhile investment and in my opinion an essential item of kit to ensure you have all your options covered whatever the run or the weather throws at you. I’ve been running with a vest for so many years now that I find it odd not to wear it – it’s become my comfort blanket!