Which Type Of Hydration System Do You Need?
As the weather warms up, it’s time to increase the fluid intake, particularly during your runs. There are a variety of hydration systems available to runners, so which is best for what situations? Do you need a handheld water bottle for 5-miler? Or is a waist belt the way to go for a half marathon?
Of course, you can stash a water bottle along your running route or circle back to your house for a water break, but if you don’t want to do endless loops, you’ll need a way to efficiently carry your water comfortably. Bottle, belt or backpack— the best advice is to test what hydration system works for you, but here are some recommendations on what hydration system works best in different situations.
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Handheld Water Bottle
Most people initially say they don’t like the feel of something in their hands when they run, but eventually they come around to not noticing a handheld water bottle— especially if it’s one that’s comfortable.
These days, adjustable hand straps and contoured bottles mean a better fit in the palm of your hand so you can run easier with the bottle. Most of these bottles have a carrying capacity that range from 7 ounces to 20 ounces.
Because of the smaller nature of these handhelds, pockets are usually tight. You’ll probably be able to fit a key or a gel inside most of these. In the larger ones, you might be able to fit a phone, but be advised that will weigh down your bottle and make carrying the bottle a little more uncomfortable.
If you’re OK with carrying something in your hand (and possibly switching the bottle to the opposite hand to balance the work), you might try a handheld. It’s a small and simple option for runners.
Ultimate Direction Fastdraw 600, $28.95
Author’s test: The Fastdraw is super comfortable to carry and big enough to hold a lot of water without being bulky. The pocket is also large enough to store an iPhone 7, but I didn’t want to weigh it down. When I need a quick way to stay hydrated on shorter runs, this is the one I reach for.
If you’re running closer to an hour or 90 minutes, you might want to consider a waistbelt. There are so many options for hydration belts— some have just one bottle (we’ll get into those below). Others can carry between two to four bottles.
For this hydration system, you’ll want to be OK with having something around your waist. For some runners, they really dislike that feeling, but for others, the hands-free feeling is worth running with a waistbelt. Many say they don’t even notice it.
Many of these belts carry 7 ounce to 10 ounce bottles in holsters around your waist. There are also usually small pockets on the belts for gels and keys or doggie bags (if you’re four-legged friend puts in mileage with you).
What you’ll want to look for in a hydration belt is a system that sits comfortably on your waist and back and doesn’t ride up or slide down. You don’t want to have to tug on it while running. These should also feel relatively light around your waist even when your bottles are filled with water. You shouldn’t feel weighed down.
Try a hydration belt if you’re putting in longer mileage or training in hotter conditions than usual.
FuelBelt H20 Helium Hydration Belt, $25 and up
Author’s test: This is my favorite hydration system to take when I’m running long. It’s lightweight and comfortable. It doesn’t bounce and it carries 14 ounces between the two bottles.
Single Bottle Waist Pack
Like the hydration waist pack with multiple smaller bottles, the single bottle waist pack differs in that, like its name says, it only carries one bottle. The challenge with these packs is finding one that doesn’t bounce around your waist and back. The benefit it that they can easily carry a lot of fluid— between 16 to 26 ounces— and are a great choice for shorter runs where you don’t want to fill up multiple flasks.
Look for one that contours to your waist and balances well around your back even as you drink from it and the water level changes. The placement of water bottles varies from waist pack to waist pack so it might take some trial and error to find the best one for you.
Author’s test: I like the ease of use of this waist pack. I can just fill it and go, but I had trouble getting it stop bouncing after a few miles. I may need to work with the straps or find another waist pack that fits better.
If you want more storage and more water, you might want to try a race vest. Beloved by trail runners and endurance racers, a race vest is a smaller option than a traditional hydration backpack. These will usually have a pair of 12 ounces soft flasks in the front pockets and a main pocket in the back where you can stash a bladder usually between 2 to 12 liters, depending on your race.
The great thing about race vests is they are typically lighter and fit snug across the chest and back. They also boast tons of storage so you can easily carry your phone, nutrition, keys and other necessary items. And because most are made for trail warriors, they’re breathable too, so you’ll find that many will not irritate your skin when you’re grinding out those long miles.
If you’re stepping up your training or jumping into trail running, splurge for a race vest.
Author’s test: This is a snug, but great vest I’ve started working into my longer runs just because it’s that comfortable. It’s lightweight enough that it doesn’t feel like I’m wearing an extra piece of gear, but it’s perfect for storing my water, fuel, phone and keys.
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta, $134.95
Author’s test: I really felt like I could take this one out for a long trail run. It felt rugged and sturdy, but comfortable as well. With plenty of storage space and plenty of water carrying capacity, this will be a fast favorite of trail runners.
When you’re ready to take on an ultramarathon or multi-day running events, you’ll need a hydration backpack. This is the hydration system of all hydration systems. Most of these will carry more than 29 liters.
These are also meant to carry any of your other gear, such as nutrition, an extra jacket, etc. If you’re serious about running adventures, particularly ultramarathons, you’ll want to look into hydration backpacks as they offer both the maximum capacity water and storage you can carry on your back while running.
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 25, $164.95
Do you have a favorite that suits your needs? Add it below!