Since I’ve started trail running and training for ultra events, I’ve been obsessed with running gear and the benefits it offers. Those planning on running or walking an Ultramarathon event will probably have seen running guides use terms race vest, pack, backpack, & hydration system. Sometimes the word ultra is thrown in the mix.

Many guides use each term interchangeably when they are talking about the same product or type of product. Whereas in reality, running vests, packs or backpacks are different. Each one has a specific use, and each one will be suitable for particular needs.

Running Vests & Backpacks Guide 2021 Table Of Content

In this guide, we’ll take a look at all three and explain what each one is, why you would need one, why you wouldn’t and how they can help for a specific run, event or outdoor experience.

In our guide, we’ll be working with the following 3 categories.

  • Running Vests
  • Running Vest-Packs
  • Running Backpacks

Types Of Running Vests, Packs & Backpacks

Even though running Vests, Packs & Backpacks are different – I think this difference is subtler when talking about Vests & Packs. Many products will crossover into both categories, or at the very least, there are sub-categories for running vest/pack.

You can have a Vest that allows you to pack only small items like water, snacks, keys and not much else. Whilst you can also get a running vest that has plenty of storage space.

I see running backpacks are very distinct and probably more suited to running to and from work when you need to carry a laptop, clothes and work gear. They have a much bigger capacity in the rear of the pack. It’s pretty hard to run continuously in these. I wouldn’t suggest using one for an Ultra event or general trail running. Far better for power hikers who might jog/run the odd section of a trail route.

What Are Running Vests, Packs & Backpacks?

Running Vest, Running Packs And Backpacks

I’m going to work with the three following categories definitions for each type;

Running Vests: A running vest that can hold water supplies, snacks, and other small items yet does not provide sufficient storage for more significant items

Running Vest-Packs: The structure and how you wear the pack is the same as a vest, and it looks like a vest. However, you have much more storage space for running gear, such as a rain jacket, poles, spare socks, first aid kit etc.

Running Backpack: The biggest capacity of all three – offers ample storage for bigger items. Less suited to running on trails and more for hiking at pace and the occasional section of running. Ideal for running to and from work as they allow you to carry laptops, clothes, documents etc.

My Experiences Of Getting Pack Selection Wrong In Ultra Events

In this section, I will tell you about some experiences I’ve had with packs. These experiences were from a couple of ultra events I did in 2019 and from trail running in general. I’ll share with you my take-away from those experiences so you can get your pack selection right.

Using A Standard Rucksack For The Peak District 100KM 2019

I got it completely wrong in my first 100km event in 2019. I got what I thought was a small rucksack from TKMAXX. It was way too big and useless; the pack’s size encouraged me to carry extra gear – which I never used.

Overpacking meant for the full 100Km; I was probably carrying around 2 or 3 lb of unnecessary weight – that takes its toll on your body over a long distance.

Due to its size, the damn thing was swinging around on my back and digging into my shoulders. I shouldn’t blame the rucksack, and I don’t; for a general walk or hike, it would have been fine.

Using A Small Daypack On The North Downs 50Km 2019

North Downs 50K Ultra - Backpack

A few weeks after, I upgraded to a Lowe-Alpine backpack which was more suitable. At this time, I was more into power hiking and only running individual sections of the course, so this small daypack was sufficient for the North Downs 50Km, which took place later in the year.

It has holders for my hiking poles and a chest strap to hold it securely to my body. This vest did bounce around a bit; however, I was probably never running longer than 2K at any one time, and the event was shorter, so it was fine.

When I started running more in lockdown, I tried taking out this daypack on a long run – again; this pack just wasn’t right for what I needed it to do. After a few miles, it was getting so uncomfortable. The straps were rubbing on my shoulder, and even though it had a ventilated frame, I was overheating and not enjoying the run.

Picking A Running Vest For A 50KM Virtual Race 2020

50K Virtual Ultra In Lockdown 2020 - Use The Agile 2 Running Vest

I’ve learned from my mistakes and upgraded to a Salomon Agile Vest – like this one, which we’ll cover later in the guide. It was perfect for longer runs – like a 50K virtual race I did during the lockdown. I filled up both flasks (1 Litre) and popped some trek bars in the pockets. At 30K, I made a pitstop at a local co-op and topped them up again.

The difference between using a vest made for running and a general outdoor pack is like night and day. The Vest almost becomes part of your body; the flasks’ pockets were elasticated, compressing them down as the water depleted. There were zero bounce and absolutely no rubbing around the shoulder or back areas.

What I Learned About Running Vests & Packs

I share these little stories, so those new to Ultrarunning and trail running who have aspirations to run an Ultra event can learn from my mistakes. Even if you have no intention of running in an organised event, they bring so many benefits for your longer easy runs.

Even though I managed fine during my North Down 50Km event, I now know a running pack (more significant than a vest) would have been a better choice. It would be more comfortable, better fitted, lighter and still offer the space for my jacket, snacks, jacket, hiking poles, spare socks etc.

Invest in a proper vest or vest-pack, especially if the event you’re entering has specific mandatory kit requirements. You’ll find a race vest or pack much more comfortable and useful than muddling through with a small daypack.

Why You Need A Running Vest, Pack Or Backpack?

  • Carry all your running essentials – like water, food, jacket and more.
  • They are designed to be used by runners and are sports specific.
  • Better fitting than a general daypack
  • Lightweight and breathable
  • Pockets are in easy to access areas you don’t break your stride.

Problems When Not Using Running Pack

  • Uncomfortable to run-in and very distracting. Impractical for more extended running.
  • Straps and rub on your shoulders can be extremely painful and annoying.
  • General outdoor packs are bulky and weigh more; running or even walking long distances is challenging enough. You don’t need the hindrance of unnecessary weight. Extra weight will sap your energy reserves, and you risk spoiling your experience.
  • Standard packs will bounce and move around, especially on uneven terrain where your body is continuously changing levels.

Best Running Vests, Vest-Packs & Backpacks

In the next section, where we’ll cover some recommendations, please remember the following categories we’ll be using.

  • 1. Running Vests
  • 2. Running Vest-Packs
  • 3. Running Backpacks

Best Running Vests

Salomon Agile 2 Set Unisex Hydration Vest 2L

This is the was the running vest I was talking about earlier and what I used for my 50KM virtual run. The Salomon Agile 2 is extremly comfortable and it comes with 2 X Soft Flasks that are stored in two chest compartments This mesh surrounding the compartments is strecthy, so as you drink your water, the flask compress and stay secure.

You can adjust the fit at the front of the vest using the elasticate straps. This is very easy to do and can be adjusted without needing to stop.

The outside of the flask compartments have additional pockets to use. Perfect for storing energy bars and small snacks.  There is acompart at the back, which is big enough for a packable rain jacket and other small items.

On the fabric and the Salomon logo, you’ll find High-Viz sccsent which is a really nice touch if you go running at night. 

 

Salomon Agile 2 Set Unisex Hydration Vest 2L Trail Running Hiking

I’ve noticed some websites have said this vest is compatible with a 1.5L hydration bladder. This is false, there is no compartment to hold a external bladder in place and the official Salomon description makesno such claim.

I think the confussion, is that Salomon once had a Agile 2 vest for cyclits which could hold a bladder at the back,but didnt hold any flasks at the front.

For solo trail runs in the countryside and shorter ultra races (25-50K), the Agile 2 is a great choice. Check with your event organiser though regarding mandatory kit. If the kit list requires you to carry more items or a specific amount of water – this vest won’t be enough.

Salomon Agile 2 Vest PROS & CONS

  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable fit
  • Perfect for trail running and shorter distances
  • Well made
  • Limited storage space

Compare Salomon Agile Running Vests

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Camelbak Ultra Pro Vest

Camelbak built its name on hydration systems, and the term Camelbak is used by many in the same way hoover is used for vacuum cleaners or sellotape for sticky tape. The Camelback Ultra Pro comes with 2 high-quality 500ml soft flasks located on the chest area and plentiful pockets.

The Camelbak Pro is a nice product with lots of space for things you’ll need for longer runs. A 1.5L reservoir can be fitted, with the hydration tube slotting through the fabric to the front.

Overall it’s very lightweight thanks to the mesh design, yet comfortable with more full fabric sections on the sides.

One slight issue is that the compartment at the back does not compress. Consequently, as you drink your water, the reservoir can begin to move around and little and cause the pack to sway. I don’t particularly like using a reservoir on a pack. I prefer to top up my flasks when I can.

Camelbak Ultra Pro Vest PROS & CONS

  • High quality brand
  • Very Lightweight
  • Extra padding on the beck and shoulder area
  • Sealed storage compartment at the rear
 
  • Expensive

UTOBEST Running Vest 5.5L - Budget Friendly

The UTOBEST running vest is a nice little budget-friendly option for you. The vest’s total capacity is 5.5 litres, including the back’s compartment, holding a 1.5L hydration system (not included in the set). Comes with a whistle at the front and zipper pockets for your keys, money and phone.

If you choose not to bother with a hydration system, the back compartment has ample space for storing your trail gear. Be aware, however, doing so will limit you to the 2 x 350ml flasks, so you’ll only have 700ml of water with you at any one time.

I’ve not personally used this vest or tried it on. It is a top-rated product and is, at the time of writing this guide, Amazons best-selling running hydration vest.

UTOBEST Running Backpacks Lightweight Hydration Pack Functional Running Vest 5.5L(Blue)

The UTOBEST running vest has received positive reviews, with comments indicating its suitability for longer trail runs and praising it for being lightweight, easy to access and having plenty of room.

On the negative side, a few reviewers experienced design flaws, with straps or cords breaking. To put that in context, it was only a handful of reviews from over 1170 reviewers.

Overall, this seems like a handy and highly-recommended vest for runners on a budget. It would be best to have sensible expectations and factor in the price. It’s not realistic to expect the same durability and build quality from a running vest costing a 1/3 of the price compared to a Salomon, Inov8 or Nathan vest.

UTOBEST Vest PROS & CONS

  • High-recommended from users
  • Lightweight
  • Good value for money
  • Can hold a hydration system at the back if required
 
  • The odd durability issue
  • Front pockets can only hold smaller flasks

Compare UTOBEST Running Vests

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Lixada 5L Running Hydration Vest

Lixada is a brand I am familiar with; I own a number of their 2-in-1 running shorts (probably six pairs) and find that their products are made to a high standard, are fit for purpose and excellent value.

If you’ve looked at the more specialised vest from Salomon and Camelbak, and are a little put off by the price. The Lixada is another good value for money option. It is light, features so many pockets, and users have commented that it does not bounce around on your back. The Lixada comes with a 2L hydration bladder, adding to the overall value.

Lixada Hydration Backpack 5L Running Backpack Lightweight Breathable Water Bladder Bag for Running Hiking Mountaineering Marathoner Walking

I think the appearance is a tad flimsy in parts, but for general long-distance trail running and the odd ultra where you’re be doing a mix of hiking, jogging and running, it’ll work just fine.

If you are a regular person doing a little bit of jogging/running and having fun on the trails – you can do a lot worse than the Lixada hydration vest.

Lixada Running Hydration Vest PROS & CONS

  • Positive user reviews
  • Excellent value for money
  • Inlcudes a 2L hydration system
 
  • Not a specialised running vest

Best Running Vest-Packs For Trail & Ultra

This section will focus  on the Running Vest-Packs category and is where mosting running packs fall into. These packs tend to have a similar style to the running vests shown above. The main difference is storage space and the rear comparts. These packs are better suited to longer runs and ultra events where you’ll need to carry more gear.

Inov8 Race Ultra Pro 5 Running Pack - Premium

This vest is sold as a lightweight do-everything pack that can take you from long-distance training runs to ultra-marathons. The Inov8 Race Ultra Pro 5, used by Damien Hall at UTMB, has it’s ultramarathon credentials backed up. Extraordinarily comfortable and designed for various body shapes and tested by ultra elites running 24 hours plus at a time.

The option to fix two 500ml flasks down towards the hips with long straws rather than the chest is a wonderful feature. Having these flasks in a lower position on the body helps you keep balance when running over rugged terrain. Also incorporated is a re-usable Speedcup for races that require one as a mandatory kit.

Inov8 Race Ultra Pro 5 Running Pack - SS21 - Large/X Large

If you love pockets, the Ultra Pro 5 has 15 pockets. Some pockets have zippers; some don’t, many feature stretchy material. You will find six on the front for flasks, snacks and your phone, two on the sides, and a larger compartment on the back for other kit requirements.

This Inov8 vest can hold the gear you’ll need without being too cumbersome. For those of your that carry running poles, you can decide how to stow them. With the capability to store them vertically or horizontally on the vest’s front and back.

Inov8 Race Ultra Pro 5 PROS & CONS

  • Top level construction and design
  • Tested at the elite level by ultra runners
  • Customisable in so many ways, frompockets,topole storage and where you position your flasks
  • Perfect for 100 Mile ultra races and shorter distances
 
  • Very Expensive
  • Over kill for the average trail runner

Compare Inov8 Running Vests-Packs

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Salomon Adv Skin 5 Unisex Vest

The Salomon ADV Skin 6 Vest is a more race-style vest akin to the Ultra Pro 5 by Inov8. It is a racing vest-pack designed to meet endurance runners’ demands; the series provides more personalisation in both fit and functionality. An updated SENSEFIT and closing system make this pack more comfortable than previous versions for your unique body shape. The picture above is the ADV Skin 5; however, it is also available in other sizes, and we’ll list those below.

If you choose to buy the Salomon ADV Skin running vest, you’ll have the ability to adjust the fit and carry hiking poles and other key accessories. As with the other Salomon vests included in this guide, you’ll be able to tighten up the front straps, keep your gear and water compressed as the water levels go down.

The fabric on either side of the main compartment is stretchy that coupled with the elasticated cords on either side, allows more modest loads to be held down in the pack. This means they won’t be moving around when running with a smaller load in your pack.

Salomon ADV Skin 5 Vest PROS & CONS

  • Race-specific running vest
  • Can carry poles
  • A hydration bladder can be fitted
  • Fitting and packing can be adjusted.
  • Available in different capacities
  • A large number of positive reviews and high ratings
 
  • Very Expensive

Compare Salomon ADV Skin Running Vests-Packs

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Salomon ADV Hydra Vest 4 Unisex

At only 144 grams (without flasks), this vest-pack won’t feel cumbersome as you’re working your way through that long run or ultra event.

The front mesh pockets are easily accessed from above or front the side, suitable for quick access/storing of kit like snacks, gels which are stretchy and hold your things nicely in place. It’s zipped pocket is ideal for a mobile phone and will fit a Samsung or iPhone easily. Again, these pockets are stretchy and holds the phone and other items in place.

Salomon ADV Hydra Vest 4 Unisex Hydration Vest 4L 2x Soft Flasks Incl. Trail Running Hiking

It comes with 2 x 500ml water bottles, or you can pop a 1.5l reservoir for the back pocket. The reservoir fits nicely into the back compartment, secured by a special tie. The vest has an elasticated tie for the tubing at the front, but it could do with one further at the top because some users have noted that it can rub on the neck. Rubbing is only an issue if you are using a hydration bladder at the back. On the negative side, I think it could benefit from being able to stow poles properly. There are some small hooks on the back. However, I don’t feel these are adequate.

Overall, very well made and feels very secure, thanks to the Salomon SenseFit design. Others a snug fit without feeling over constrictive, easy to adjust on the fly if you need to. The drawstring at the front is great. It is well balanced and secures the vest properly.

Salomon ADV Hydra Vest 4 Unisex PROS & CONS

  • A good blend of race features and general trail running practicality
  • Lightweight – only 144 grams, so it won’t weigh you down.
  • There is also a bigger size available.
 
  • Limited ability to stow poles properly

Compare Salomon ADV Hydra Vests/Packs

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Salomon Active Skin 8 Running Vest-Pack

We covered this pack in much more detail in our Salomon Active 8 Running Vest-Pack Review and don’t want to re-post the same stuff here. To summarise, we are very impressed with this setup. The Active 8 others the best of both worlds for long-distance trail runners and those looking to compete in ultra events.

Salomon Active Skin 8 Set Unisex Hydration Vest 8L Trail 2x Soft Flasks Incl. Running Hiking

You get 2 x 500ml Salomon soft flaks with this vest-pack and these are well placdon the chest area. There are additionalpockets for other snacks and essentails and a larger compartment at the rear. I really like the cords running across the back of the pack. If you end up removing a few items at once like a running jacket, headtorch and leggings – you can draw the cords and compress the remaining items down.

Salomon Active Skin 8 PROS & CONS

  • Comfortable and light fit to the pack
  • More affordable than the Inov8 Ultra Pro 5
  • Includes 2 Salomon soft flasks
  • Extra space in the rear compartment for kit
  • Compression cords at the back to ensure your gear does not move around.
  • Offers premium features and functionality at a more affordable price
 
  • I can’t really think of any. I like this running vest. It’s a good compromise between a race-specific vest and a general trail running vest.

Compare Salomon Active Skin Running Vests/Packs

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Salomon Agile 6 Set Unisex Vest-Pack

The Agile 6 is a bigger version of the Salomon Agile 2 Set we covered in the running vest section. It is part of the same range, so the soft flask system works in the same way. The big difference will be your ability to carry more gear in the rear compartment. You just need to decide if you really need this extra room. You can add a 1.5L hydration system to the rear of the pack – give you 2.5L of water when to include the 2 X 500ml flasks.

You’ll be buying a high quality running vest-pack that is comfortable and well-fitting due to your ability to tighten or loosen the straps easily. It is 4L bigger than the Agile 2, yet the price difference is not that big. Don’t buy extra space for the sake of it, though. If you need 6L, then great, go for this model. However, if the rear compartment won’t get used, you’re carrying a bigger vest on your back for no reason.

Salomon Agile 6 Set Unisex Hydration Vest 6L Trail Running Hiking

The Agile 6 is not race fitting the vest; that doesn’t mean you can’t race in an ultra event in it, though. For most running in an Ultra event, this will be perfect. It really is only the top 5% of runners who might gain anything significant from a race vest. This not only applies to this vest, but others mentioned in this guide.

Trail running and Ultra events should not be about who has the flashiest kit. If you can get 95% of the performance features out of a vest that costs 30% less, go for the 30% less option.  The finishing times between the top 10 can be 20+ minutes. Going back through the field, it will be hours. No vest is going to help you gain that much more time. It might make you a few per cent more comfortable and if that’s important to you, then all good. Yet trust me, when you hit the 60K mark of your first 100K event, you’ll be feeling uncomfortable anyway.

Salomon Agile 6 Set PROS & CONS

  • Light fit
  • Good levelof padding around the shoulders
  • Easy access to the hydration flasks
  • Durable construction
  • Good for a range of acitivities, not just running
 
  • Not a specialised running vest (does that matter toyou?)

Running Backpacks

Running backpacks are more suited for running commutes, such as to and from work. Not really suitable if you are planning to run an ultramarathon or long trail run because even though the bounce will be less than a regular backpack, they’ll still move around to some degree. You can get 10L running backpacks that are better for running longer distances – yet they lack the practical features you’ll get with the running vest-packs covered in the previous section.

Salomon Trailblazer Running Backpacks

The Salomon Trailblazer comes in 3 sizes 10, 20 and 30 Litres. The Trailblazer design is pretty simple, and these packs are actually lower in price than the trail-specific Salomon vests and vest-packs. Their main purpose is to transport larger items rather than being crammed full of long-distance running features. The 10L version could definitely be used for running on trails. However, you would have to use a hydration system because it does not feature chest pockets for water flasks.

Comfortable and lightweight at only 414 grams for the 20L version (by backpack standards). 100% more suited for shorter runs, where you need to carry a larger load. Ideal for hikers and walkers, and other outdoor activities. The pack is compatible with a hydration bladder and has one zip pocket on top of the large rear compartment.

This backpack has an extended back support in a square design that can easily accommodate a laptop, tablet and other items in the 20/30L versions. The Trailblazer features one main compartment with two mesh external side pockets, which will allow you to store your water bottles. Unlike race and trail vests, they are not located on the chest straps; consequently, they are not easily accessible. Need a backpack for running to work? This is what you want – far better than using a regular backpack.

Salomon Trailblazer Backpacks PROS & CONS

  • Perfect for travelling to work
  • Huge amount of storage space for large singular items
  • Sleeve for your tablet or laptop
  • Easy for running to work than a regular old backpack
 
  • The 20L and 30L versions are only suitable for shoter distances