Running Gear 101 – Hydration Vests – What To Look For


If you, like me, hate holding anything while running, you may want to look into a hydration vest. They aren’t just for ultrarunners. If you like your hands free, and you like to run with water, a hydration vest will be your best friend.

That being said, not all vest are made the same. The following tips will help you find the best hydration fit for you.

I used a hydration vest I got for free. I used it for quite a while. It worked fine, but it bounced around on my back. It chafed my neckline if I was wearing a tank top. It was a very uncomfortable experience. One I got a vest that fit properly, it was a life-changing experience.

Your vest should feel good. Don’t settle for anything less.

Good fit – Each hydration vest fits everyone differently. To get a real feel for how a vest will fit you, you should try it on before you buy. I would also suggest jumping around in it or running around a bit–even if it looks silly! It should fit snug on your back and not bounce around when you move.

Plenty of pockets – Look for a vest that has the number of pockets you will need. Can you stash your phone, keys, gels, etc. in the vest? Are there pockets in the front? Trust me; you will love having front pockets. You do not want to have to stop and take your vest off everytime you need a gel.

Water capacity – Look for a vest that has the right water capacity for you. My suggestion would be to go a little bigger than you think you need. You can always fill it with less water, but you can never make the bladder bigger.

Breathability – Does the vest offer breathable material? Are the shoulder areas meshed to allow for ventilation? Wearing a vest will make you sweatier than you think – look for one that will keep you as cool as possible.

Women-specific vests – If you are a woman, look for a vest made for women. The bust area will have more room, and the shoulder area will be more narrow, thus creating a much more comfortable fit.

Cost – Hydration vests are not cheap. While there are quality vests on the market that are less than $100, you want to make sure you try them out first to make sure they are what you need.

Chafing – This can be a real issue with hydration vests. Trust me! During Hood to Coast last year, I had bloody shoulders from my old vest. I had neglected to wear the right shirt. This was the point when I realized I needed to upgrade my free vest. Look for a vest with soft shoulder fabric and wide shoulder to displace the weight of the vest.

Bladder Included? – Some vests do not include the bladder or hose, so make sure you purchase both of these if that is the case. You will also want to purchase a bladder cleaning kit. The last thing you want is a moldy bladder.

Optional bottles – If you are going to be training for a marathon or ultra, you may want a vest that has a spot for extra water bottles in the front. This is a great way to hold extra water, and they are easier to fill quickly than a bladder. You won’t need to take your vest apart to fill them.

When it comes to hydration vests, the brand name doesn’t matter too much. There are some really great vests out there for less than $100, and they are a worthy investment for a distance runner.


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Liz Ward

Liz Ward is a running fanatic, avid reader, and amateur farmer. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband, three kids, and a small herd of animals.

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