Over the last few years sales of Hydration Vests have sky rocketed. There are 3 primary reasons for this explosive growth:
1. Global Warming is a REAL thing, and the increased temperatures have made the importance of staying hydrated essential!
2. The growth of Trail Running, and it’s preference for running longer and further and most often in the middle of nowhere have made it a necessity to have a hydration vest. Further to that Trail races now have compulsory gear lists, and the Hydration pack is the ideal way to carry all these items items.
3. They’re kind of the new ‘cool thing to have’. Think about those guys you see running on the mountain with that flawless running form, and that incredibly impressive running vest on their back. Damn they look cool.
But not everyone needs one. And if you do need one, its not a straightforward transaction. We often spend as much time fitting a hydration vest as we would fitting a pair of shoes. It’s a very personal experience that is geared around what fits YOUR body best, and does it meet the requirements of what you are doing or planning on doing. And just like we would when you try on shoes, we often ask you to run on one of our in-store treadmills with the hydration pack on your back so you can get a proper feel for it.
The packs are all different. They vary in size, in fit, number of pockets, amount of fluid capacity etc etc etc. That doesn’t make one better than the other, it just means we’re all different types of runners and we need options to best suit our individual needs. The truth is hydration is kind of a big deal, and having the correct hydration packs with all the essential gear in it could literally save your life.
We asked our RUN staff members these key questions on hydrations vests:
Q: Whats the most common question you get asked relating to hydration vests?
A: The most common question we get asked about hydration is what is the difference between front bottles over a reservoir? Essentially, front bottles have a few benefits over the traditional reservoir in the back, (although they work well in tandem on longer runs) namely that, when you are running exclusively with a back reservoir, you cannot accurately monitor your fluid intake, and you never know how much you have left. Bottles gives you the versatility run with one filled with water and the other with an energy or electrolyte supplement. It also makes filling up with water at streams or aid stations much simpler and quicker or swapping bottles out along the way. the other benefit is spreading weight out, some on the front and some on the back to give you a more ‘balanced’ pack in terms of weight. – Grant
Q: What are the most important things to consider when buying a Hydration Vest?
A: Fit and space. The correct fit for a pack is absolutely crucial, the incorrect size can cause the pack to bounce up and down, as well as cause chaffing and irritation. Some packs are ‘one-size-fits-all, however if you are buying a decent pack, they should be available in different sizes, packs can also be gender specific and accommodate the differences between male and female athletes, and can make the world of difference in terms of fit. Don’t skimp on space, having sufficient space for all the required gear, hydration and nutrition on the day and in poor conditions can be the difference between a great day out, and possibly being stuck in terrible conditions. Enough space for first aid kits, safety blankets, waterproof jackets, are all compulsory gear and having a pack that fits with all the gear comfortably is crucial. – Grant
Q: How do hydration requirements differ between Road and Trail races?
A: Road races just use water for the most part. This is normally in plastic sachets making it easier for the runner to use. However some athletes do say that certain races don’t have enough water available or that it is not cold enough. For this reason some have resorted to carrying there own water in “Camelbak” style packs at some events of 21km or longer. This trait has spilled over into the mass road events like the Gun Run in Cape Town, where the aim of most of the participants is to finish the event rather than race. However, the general rule is that water is always available and road running events. While the advantage is that you don’t have to worry about water at the event, the disadvantages are that it is invariably only water (very few will also have coke) and you only have access to this at set distances, something most athletes don’t train for. Yes the Pro athletes at major events have access to a water bottle at these same points but they have the advantage of being able to have a bottle with a specific drink in for them and their needs.Trail running events on the other hand don’t necessarily have water points en-route. Event organizers are very pro active is pointing this out on the events website and at the various events. Unfortunately this has caught out a number of participants but most do have a hydration pack. While the disadvantage is that the athlete now has this extra weight on their backs to carry, the advantages are that they have access to either water or an energy drink at anytime. – Jono
Q: Is there a difference between Mens & Ladies requirements?
A: Hydration requirements differ from person to person regardless of their gender. Athletes need to be very careful when it comes to hydrating themselves. The general rule of thumb for athletes to follow is drink when you are thirsty. Yes dehydration does occur but there is no medical evidence that I know off that anyone has ever died from dehydration in a running event. Athletes who drink too much fluid risk the possibility of hypernatremia as a result – something that has fatal consequences. Also our advice is if you are going to be using an electrolyte drink in your pack, then you must train with it in order to find the right solution mix. – Jono
Q: What are the main features you personally look for in a hydration vest?
A: The things I look for most are pack accessibility. I want to be able to reach every inch of the pack whilst on the move without having to take it off. Secondly, I want easy to reach straps that can secure my pack as my luggage becomes less, and thereby minimising bounce. I also want pockets on the front and back for stowing my camera and nutrition. Mobility with the pack when it is fully loaded is also a really important consideration as I want to be able to still reach above my head when scrambling. – Dale
A: For me, it’a mainly about pack comfort. I want to be able to carry everything, but still feel super light. I prefer my packs to have soft, collapsable bottles so that I can store the empty bottles away when I’m not using them. Even when the bottles are half full, as a personal preference I still inflate them so that they fit better against my body and it makes them easier to take them in and out of the front bottle pouch(s). – Rory
A: My key requirements when choosing a pack is a snug fit that still allows a good range of motion whilst on the move. I also need a large amount of storage so I can easily eat and drink on the run. Finally I want easy access pockets for a waterproof/base layer, because the last thing I want to do is be clearing out my bag looking for a jacket when the weather unexpectedly and very quickly changes!. – Erin
A: For starters I don’t listen to what any of the men say about hydration packs because a women’s needs and requirements are completely different. I’m also a very light runner, so I tend to go for a lighter, faster pack as I tend to finish the trail races a lot quicker than some of my other colleagues (no names mentioned) ?. I therefore don’t need as much in storage and I tend to do without a reservoir because the bottles up front are usually enough hydration for me to get me between aid stations. Most importantly though, it must just be comfortable and snug almost as if its a part of my body and not a school satchel bouncing around on my back. – Tish
These are just some of the key things to consider and to think about when deciding which pack to go for. A correct fitting Hydration Vest is a critical piece of gear which could last you a good few years, and possibly even add a good few years to your life span! Remember, its about what works best for you. Hydration packs should compliment your next running adventure, they’re a really cool piece of gear, but the less you have to think about it whilst running, the better.