Hydration Vest 101: How to choose a hydration vest

Author: Wildfire Sports & Trek  Date Posted: 19 December 2023

So you've seen people wearing hydration packs and you want to know more. Should I do get one, and what are they for? We run through the basics of when you need a hydration vest and how to choose the right one for you.

What on earth is a hydration vest?

Hydration vest – it’s all in the name. A vest that you can use when exercising to carry lots of water easily and stay hydrated.
These types of vests are made to wrap around you, staying put no matter how hard you're running or bouncing around.

  • Water on tap: they either have a water bladder or spots for bottles, so you can drink without missing a beat. Larger volume vests usually have both which means you can switch between water and electrolytes.
  • Lightweight: they won't hold you back, packing down all your gear close to your back where you'll barely notice it.
  • Carry your essentials: enough pockets and zips that you can carry all mandatory equipment that you need for an ultra or a few snacks and some water for a simple hike.
  • Stays cool: made with materials that breathe, so you're not getting a sauna on your back.

Where do you use a hydration vest?

  • Running and trail running: they’re especially popular among runners and trail runners due to the stable and comfortable design.
  • Hiking: for shorter hikes or when minimal gear is needed, hydration vests can be a lightweight alternative to traditional backpacks.
  • Cycling and adventure racing: some models are designed for cyclists or adventure racers, balancing hydration needs with the demands of these specific sports.
  • And more: just about any high-movement sport can benefit, especially if you’re exercising in warm weather where you need to keep your hydration topped up.

Do I need a hydration vest?

Hydration packs are game changers when you want to level up your run distance. They’re also really handy for taking on hikes where you don’t need much. We’ve put together our top reasons why we recommend a hydration vest:

  • Accessible hydration: it's like having a water bottle in your pocket, but better. You can drink hands-free without breaking stride or needing to stop.
  • Balance: these packs spread the load evenly which means you don’t get that lopsided feeling. Most vests have adjustable straps to ensure a close and comfortable fit for each body type. Since it hugs the body closely, your gear is stowed safely and stopped from jingling around or falling out of pockets. This is most helpful during running or when navigating uneven terrain.
  • Comfort: they are often designed with breathability in mind, featuring mesh panels or breathable materials to reduce overheating and manage sweat.
  • Stay hydrated, stay strong: regular sips keep you from drying out and mean that you can recover better afterwards.
  • Gear space: got snacks, keys, a phone, navigation tools, an extra layer, a first aid kit? Throw them in your pack. Most vests have multiple pockets so you know exactly where everything is for quick access.
  • More water: most packs comfortably hold 1.5 litres, others can take up to 3 litres. Add some bottles on the front and you’re set for your daily hydration needs. It definitely beats carrying a single or multiple bottles and accidentally leaving them somewhere.

How do you choose and fit a hydration vest?

This all comes down to what you’re doing:

  • Activity: you wouldn’t use the same shoes for squats and bouldering, right? Same with these packs – get one that suits your activity. Vests come in many different shapes, sizes and designs from ultra minimalist to army-level storage. Think about your game plan. Hitting the trails or going for a long bike ride? Your choice of pack's got to match that. Consider whether you need a ripstop fabric to protect the pack and items from sticks, dust and rain or a soft material if it will be sitting against your skin.
  • Features: look for packs that are easy to refill, have a solid bite valve, and won't make your back all sweaty. We suggest vests that have pockets with zips to keep your most essential items safe. If you’ll be carrying trekking poles, look for a vest with straps for holding these when you’re not using them.
  • Size matters: for a hydration pack, it's about how much water you need. If you're out there for hours, get a bigger one. For ultras, we recommend around a 12 litre capacity (that’s 12L of total storage, not just water). If you have a mandatory gear list, make sure you’ve got the space to carry it all.
  • Fit and comfort: this is key. You want a pack that fits like a glove. Check the length of your torso and adjust those straps so it sits just right. We're happy to help you fit yours in store, or check out the product manual or Youtube for guides.
  • Testing it out: load it up and give it a trial run. It should feel snug, not bouncing or squishing you too tightly.

Remember, finding the right hydration pack is like finding the right routine – it's personal and has to fit your style.

Now get out there and stay hydrated!

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