A hydration pack is a backpack specifically designed to store water in a convenient, easy-to-use, lightweight bladder that you can carry with you on the trail. The bladder is connected to a hose, which can be attached to the front part of the pack so that you can access it while you’re running. This way, you can keep your hands free, and still be able to drink while you’re running. We’re here to walk you through some of the reasons hydration backpacks for running should be an essential running gear.
Yes, it seems redundant to state that hydration backpacks are your best option for keeping yourself hydrated. That said, I really cannot reiterate this enough. Most packs carry 1.5L – 3L of water, whereas most water bottles only hold about a quart. So, for serious trail running, you might have to carry several water bottles with you, unless you have a planned stop where you can refill. And on most trails, that means carrying a portable filtration system, which adds weight to your pack, and is never as easy to use as the manufacturers say.
On top of that, hydration packs have a straw that allows you to drink on the go. It doesn’t sound like that much of a difference, but have you ever wanted to take a drink and thought, “I’ll just wait until the next curve so I don’t have to fight the water bottle out of my pack?” Or have you ever been disappointed with yourself because you feel like you should be able to go farther without having to stop for a drink? Both of those things have definitely happened to me, and once I stop, I have to psych myself up to get going again. Well, after a few miles of postponing every time you want to take a drink, it adds up. Having a hydration backpack can encourage you to drink more and to drink consistently.
Of course, if you’re going to be spending a lot of time on the trails, you also want to make sure you’re not adding a bunch of weight for no reason. The good news is, nearly all hydration packs have room for the basics that you’ll need to carry with you for a safe run. And, if you go for one of the vest-style packs available (like this one here), there is room in the front for your phone, a couple of snack bars, and a safety whistle – just in case. It also helps distribute the weight a little more evenly, so your back isn’t under so much pressure and you don’t feel like you’re limping along like a starship with no warp core.
Finding the perfect backpack can be especially difficult if you plan on running in different temperatures, especially when it comes to water. In hot weather, it’s difficult to keep water cold, and in cold weather, sometimes your regular water bottle will freeze. Since there are no microwaves on the trail, that can leave you without any way to hydrate. Thankfully, a hydration backpack solves this problem with insulation. Since the water bladder is usually stored between your back and the storage compartment, it makes it very easy to moderate the temperature. And since hoses have a tendency to freeze, the manufacturers also sell neoprene sleeves and insulated caps for the bite valves, which can help with temperatures at either extreme. Camelbak even used a body-armour style protection, to keep you warm, as well as your water!
Comfort and Fit
One of the biggest problems with most backpacks is the Bounce Factor. Especially when you’re carrying a couple of pounds of water on your back, it’s going to move around a bit with every step you take. Which means you have to take this into account when considering a hydration pack. Most hydration packs are more streamlined than regular backpacks, and thus, more comfortable to wear on a long run. One of my favorites is this one. It’s specifically designed to be as comfortable as possible, with almost no Bounce Factor whatsoever, and carries 2L of water.
They also have a women’s version designed for a smaller frame. The only downside is it doesn’t include a lot of space for extras, so it’s great for marathons or day trips, but maybe not for a full weekend of hiking and running, unless you have a base camp you can return to periodically.
Additionally, if you find yourself dealing with back pain after a run, there are several options now that have a special back panel that molds itself to the shape of your spine, making it even more comfortable to wear, and offering some degree of protection in case of a fall.
Ease of cleaning
Finally, you have to think about what you have to do with the pack after you get home. It’s not as fun as going on a mountain adventure with nothing but what you can carry, but it’s only common sense that if you’re going to trust your life to your kid on that mountain adventure, you want to make sure you’re taking care of it! One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about hydration backpacks in the past is how difficult they can be to clean. Especially if you use water supplements or drink anything sugary while you run, you want to make sure you’re washing out your water bladder after every use or two.
Well, the manufacturers listened to those complaints, and they’ve come up with some solutions. The first thing you want to look for is one with a bag that zips open on the top. This makes for convenient removal from the pack. And Geiggerig makes nearly all of their bladders dishwasher-safe. You can see a list of their available options here. This way, you don’t have to have a Sheldon Cooper level of determination, just to make sure your pack is still usable the next time you want to run!