An important consideration for anyone who likes to run long distances off-road is hydration and kit. For this, you will need a reliable ultra marathon running backpack as part of your trail gear. Before you start researching the best one for you, let’s think about what sort of use it will get. If you intend to go off running epic distances over multiple days then you are going to need a running backpack with a larger capacity that is perfect for commuting. If you are planning on running your first trail ultra marathon or want to run longer (but not ultra distances), you can look at something smaller. You can find some great options from Backpacks Global that will suit your needs.
What Sort of Distances Will You Do?
Consider the sort of races you will enter. If there are likely to be plenty of water stations on the route, you will need to carry less than if you are self-navigating and self-supporting. You also need to think about whether you just want to try some longer-distance running. If you discover it’s not for you, you don’t want to spend a fortune on a fancy hydration backpack but instead can find something that fits your budget and your requirement.
Comfort is Important
Aside from the capacity of the running vest, you need to look at the straps. You should choose an ultra marathon running backpack that has shoulder, chest, and waist straps (adjustable) for maximum comfort when you run, Padded straps will help you to avoid chaffing on the shoulder, they also need to be wide enough to distribute weight evenly. The chest strap needs to be able to move up and down too. This is a particularly important feature for women.
Remember, whatever you pack in your ultra marathon running backpack, you have to carry, so the lighter the better! Let’s take a look at a few that we have either tested ourselves or that come highly recommended, Beginning with entry-level options for beginners.
Do Your Research
We have used a fair few of the below hydration vests. Currently the favourite is the Salomon S LAB. In addition to features of the vests, we also look at reviews. How have other runners found them and what do they have to say? Something with an average of 4 stars or above is what you are looking for. Take some time to read the comments too.
Hydration Vests for Beginners / Shorter Distances
Ultimate Performance Tarn 1.5 Litre Hydration Backpack
Made with durable Rip Stop Nylon, the Ultimate Performance Tarn 1.5 litre hydration backpack is a great introductory purchase for those that don’t want to spend a fortune. perhaps you are looking for something for those longer runs or for your first off road race?
The shoulder straps are made from padded wicking to prevent rubbing offering both breathability and comfort. Store up to 1.5 litres of water in the hydration bladder which has a bite valve to prevent leaking while on the run.
Other features include:
- Headphone port and inner pocket
- Zipped easy access front pocket
- Reflective strips
- Adjustable chest fastenings
Aonijie Hydration Backpack
This one is perfect for those on a budget and one that we can personally vouch for. Having used this for for long training runs and shorter distance ultras, the Aonijie Hydration Backpack is everything you need. A water bottle pocket on the front for a 500ml bottle, a pocket on the back large enough for a either a bladder or jacket and more, plus lots of pockets for storing keys, gels, snacks, cash etc.
The beauty of this is that it washes really well too. Several times now this has been through the wash. We don’t use a hydration bladder so this gives plenty of space to carry enough for 30 miles. If you’re looking for something for your training runs then this is perfect. For longer distances and big races, you may want to look at alternative, larger capacity ultra marathon hydration vests.
In fact, we love this so much that we have been using it for over 3 years. You can find a full and frank review here.
Custom Sports Backpack
Backpacks are generally designed around the shoulder and back in accordance with the natural curve of the human body. This reduces the pressure on the shoulders from the straps. The bag has a waterproof layer to separate dry and wet gear. One side can house the clothes after sports separately, and the other side can be used for sports equipment, not just for running but things such as rackets, gloves and knee pads. A visit to the sports field, outdoor cycling, gyms and other places, requires a backpack.
If you want a sports backpack style that is more beautiful and novel than some, try customising your own special sports backpack on www.backpacks.co. Custom backpacks mean you won’t get mixed up with others’ bags. Customised products are so much more memorable too.
Built for Speed
Salomon Adv Skin 5
If you want a vest that is built for speed then the Salomon Adv Skin 5 is a great choice. Popular with pro runners, it is comfortable, snug fitting and easy to run with. No bounce, no chafing and lots of space for everything you need on the run the elastic lace fastening is secure and easy to undo. The vest comes with 2 x 500ml soft flasks, longer and thinner than some of the others you might have tried.
Inov-8 Race Elite Vest
The inov-8 Race Elite Vest is designed to hold 3 litres of fluid or 4 litres of kit.
Th straps on this running backpack are easily adjustable. While its probably not the vest for the longer ultra races, it’s certainly a great introductory vest for those events or training runs where you don’t need to carry too much.
The 2 pockets on the front hold water bottles which are included with the vest.
It also features stretchy pockets for when you need to get stuff on the go or you have cold hands.
Discover more about the Race Elite Vest
Backpacks for the Everyday
Salomon Active Skin 8
Great for those who are new to the trails and looking for a hydration vest, the Salomon Active Skin 8 offers freedom and performance on the low to mid-session runs (less than 10 hours)
With easy access pockets, there is room at the front for 2 x 500ml soft flasks (included) which compress as they empty. Storage includes 2 expandable front pockets. If you prefer a hydration bladder, the best is compatible with all the Salomon bladders.
The Quick Link sternum straps allow for quick adjustment and easy breathing. The Sensifit construction comfortably conforms to the body so the vest doesn’t bounce as you run.
Camelbak Circuit Hydration Vest
The Camelbak Circuit Hydration Vest includes a 1.5 litres crux reservoir that delivers 20 percent more water per sip than its predecessor. It still offers all of the features that make it a favourite for bonk-free races and long runs: Front storage pockets for gels and fuel, a secure zippered pocket that fits most phones and reflectivity to keep you visible when you are on the move. The two fully adjustable sternum straps guarantee a snug, bounce-free fit that would not constrict your breathing when you are panting through a hilly workout. Two expandable pockets on the front perfect for soft flask water bottles (not included)
Available in 3 colours.
Longer Distances – 30 Miles+
Inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 2in1 Vest
Sticking with the inov-8 range for now, on the other end of the budget spectrum for a running backpack is the
Race Ultra Pro 2in1 Vest.
This highly Adaptable 2in1 Race Vest features a functional design which allows you to attach or remove a 10 litre pocket. Perfect for all eventualities. Take it off for shorter, summer runs and attach it for those longer ultra marathons. Include a 2 litre bladder in the pack’s hanger or just use the 2 x 500ml ultra flasks which are included wit the best along with a Speed Cup.
This hydration vest for ultra marathons is trusted by Damian Hall who used it on his 171km UTMB. With multiple storage options for bottles, poles and kit, it will see you through everything, from short training runs, ultra marathons and multi-day adventure races.
Available in 2 sizes
S/M: Fit chest size 75-105cm / 29.5-41.3″
L/XL: Fit chest size 90-120cm / 35.4-47.2″
Salomon Hydra Vest 4
Another one that we have personally tried and tested and plenty big enough for those 50 mile races is the Salomon Hydra Vest 4 ultra marathon hydration vest.
Two 500ml water bottle pouches on the front mean your water is easily accessible and you don’t have to drink through a straw. You’ll want to use this on a race where you can fill up at a water station. It comes in 5 different sizes ranged from XS to XL there’s a rear compartment plus expandable pockets on the front. Adjustable straps and mesh ventilation provide flexible movement.
Soft flasks included.
Salomon S/LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Running Vest
The Salomon SLAB Sense Ultra 8 is billed as the ultimate gear stowing solution and definitely the solution for those that are more serious about ultra running. Weighing in at just 190g, all the excess baggage (pardon the pun) has been trimmed to provide a lightweight solution to your long distance storage solutions.
This running vest is made with anti-odour stretch mesh which allows it breathe and evacuate moisture. This keeps it comfortable through your run. What we really love is that all potential chafing zones have been revisited and made smooth for an irritation-free fit. Chafing really can destroy a good run!
Pockets and compartments:
- Chest mobile zipped pocket
- 2 x front soft hydration elastic pockets
- 2 x side zipped pockets
- Back kangaroo L pocket with silicone grip
- Back main compartment with silicone grip
- Chest stretch pocket with silicone grip
- 2 x front stretch L pockets
- 2 x side kangaroo pockets with silicone grip
It even comes with a safety whistle for emergencies plus a reflective logo which increases your visibility to passing vehicles.
Volume 8 litres – 2 x soft flasks Speed included *2 (500ml / 16oz)
There Are Many to Consider
Each hydration vest has its pros and cons. We have tried a few from the above list and highly recommend both the Gelia for entry level ultra runners and the Salomon for those that have got the bug and want to get more into ultra marathon running. The others have been used by fellow runners and come highly recommended.
There are many more available on both sites like Sportsshoes.com and Amazon (a few of which you can see below)
In addition to discovering the best running backpack for you, you may also need accessories. These will mainly be soft water flasks or perhaps a water reservoir. It is also handy to have a collapsible cup that you can use at checkpoints during races if you prefer not to carry too much liquid or you fancy something other than water when you get to there.
Collapsible Water Cup
Which ultra-marathon running backpack do you use? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links that may provide a small commission to me at no cost to you. The products we recommend are either those that we’ve used or that our fellow runners have used.