Trail running backpack, hydration vest, running vest, ultramarathon running backpack… they are all pretty much one and the same. Whatever you call it, a trail running backpack is the most efficient way to carry everything you need on your longer runs. In fact, we have found that some runners won’t leave home without one, even for the shortest distances.

We tend to  use ours on  hotter days or when we are running more than 12 miles, when for us, hydration starts to become an issue. But what should you be looking for when it comes to choosing a train running backpack? It really does depend on the kit you will be carrying.

Most Events Have a Mandatory Kit List

Most ultra marathon events now insist on entrants being completely self-sufficient with kit for all eventualities. The last ultra that we had booked (which was cancelled of course) was a 30 mile Dartmoor adventure which had very strict requirements on kit. This included waterproof trousers and jackets with taped seams (which  take up a fair bit of room). We also needed a map, map cover, whistle, snacks, water, our phones, the obligatory change of socks. Then there’s the weather to consider – are you going to be too hot and need to remove items of clothing, or will you need to carry kit in case it rains or gets cold?

Usually these bulkier items are stored in a pouch on the back, that’s if you aren’t using a water bladder. That’s a whole different article in itself – whether to choose water bottles or a hydration bladder! We put it down to personal preference and really hating the taste that comes through that tube – stay tuned for top tips below on how to get rid of the taste though.

Storage Space vs Balance & Comfort

Larger trail running backpacks should include lots of storage room but also a balance of weight between the front and back of the vest to allow you to move comfortably. It should also be lightweight so that you aren’t carrying too much weight. When you are choosing a trail running backpack, it can be tricky to know how it will fit. That’s why it is important to choose one with adjustable straps. Look at the design and material of the shoulder straps and check out reviews from others that have purchased the same.

One of the big mistakes that people make is buying a backpack that is ill-fitting and then experiencing chaffing or a backpack that bounces up and down when you run. One of the issues I found with the first one I purchased is that unless I weighed it down with 2 water bottles, I would get a rubbing against the neck from the movement. It is worth spending a little bit more on a better design with straps that you can tighten. Like most shopping now, you don’t have the option to try things on so research the products first.

Consider the Kit You Will Need

There are all sorts of things to take into account when choosing a trail running backpack.  However, the crux of it lies in the kit you will be carrying. Regardless of whether you are running 10 miles on your local trails or a 50 mile off road event, there is a list of items you must take with you. This will often be mandatory if participating in an organised event however, for a trot on your local trails, you need to be mindful of the things you might need:

Water – highly recommended if it is a hot day or for any distance where hydration starts to become an issue for you personally – remember, always better to start drinking before you become thirsty!  Hydration vests often include 2 x 500ml water bottles and are a popular choice among ultra-runners, although some prefer to take a hydration vest with a 2.0l bladder. It is probably the main function of a trail running backpack.

Whistle – some running vests, such as the Salomon S-Lab include a whistle. This is often a mandatory item of kit at events and could become vital  if you like running in more far flung places. We hope you never need it!

Waterproofs – taped seam waterproof trousers and jackets are required for most ultramarathon events nowadays. You don’t want to be injured and stranded on a remote part of the course without them if the weather happens to be bad.

Snacks – we all have different preferences when it comes to ultramarathon snacks. We don’t like gels and tend to favour solid foods such as vegetarian sausage rolls, malt loaf or Clif Shot Blocks. It really does depend on the distance we are covering. It’s advisable to have some snacks packed just in case you do find yourself stranded and waiting for assistance.

Phone – My phone is an iPhone 11 and is pretty cumbersome. However, I don’t go anywhere without it for a  number of reasons.

  1. So the kids can get hold of me
  2. If I am in trouble
  3. For taking pretty pictures.
  4. It is also great for using apps like what 3 words or OS maps to determine location etc. If you have a larger phone, make sure that there is a secure pocket for easy access.

Keys, debit card and emergency tenner – I have actually used the emergency tenner pre-Covid days when we needed sweets. Pick and Mix never tasted so good as one Saturday morning in Cheddar when we had run further than anticipated without snacks. We also carry money for Ice-cream – that too has been known!

Plasters – until recently I had never needed a plaster, but it turns out that after running thousands of miles in all manner of trainers, I can still get an unexplained blister now and again. Compeed really are the best – but  remove from the packet or the rattle will annoy your running buddy! This can also be said for water bottles – suck the air out of them or the water sploshing will annoy you (and them).

Kitchen Roll – we’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating. It is well worth taking some kitchen roll or a packet of Andrex wipes with you on your run (and a dog poo bag). We will leave that to your imagination!!!!

Salomon running backpack

The Salomon S/LAB is a popular choice and can hold a lot of kit while offering comfort and support.

Wild Camping

One area that we haven’t mentioned, largely because we haven’t tried it, is wild camping. This appears to be one of the next big growth areas in our sport and is where you carry all the equipment you need to survive one or more overnight stays after a day’s running. It even has it’s own name – Fastpacking!

By definition, you camp in the wild away from organised camp sites. Obviously you will need to carry a sleeping bag and either a bivvy bag or light weight tent, some food and something to cook it on.

Just the size of this equipment means that you’re going to need more than a lightweight hydration pack to carry it all, so make sure you factor this into your choice of pack.

Be careful, as wild camping is not allowed in certain areas, so best to check before departing. Also it goes without saying that you must always leave any camping spot as you found it, with no litter etc – but as responsible runners you knew that anyway.

And finally…

We  promised  you advice on how to get rid of the taste of plastic from those water bottles and hydration bladders. So here’s our top tip for today:

Top Tip

Combine several tablespoons of baking soda in some cups of water and pour it into the hydration bladder (or water bottles). Next, add the same amount of lime juice or lemon juice. You will notice some bubbling (not as bad as mentos in a bottle of coke though). Let it sit  overnight and then thoroughly rinse with warm water.

There are many different trail running backpacks to choose from. Salomon, Camelbak, Inov-8 and Ultimate Performance are brands that lead the way in most popular. You can check out a selection here and find something that meets your needs and fits into your budget.

Disclaimer: Many of our posts may contain affiliate links. We may earn commissions if you shop through the links on this page although we only ever recommend products that we genuinely believe will enhance your trail running experience.