A good hydration vest serves two essential functions for the run-commuter: something to carry your most essential stuff in as you run to and from work, and a way to drink water that’s mostly hands-free. Trail runners’ needs are slightly different, but we found a few vests that could work well for both. Since you don’t have the opportunity to try various vests to figure out which one is right for you, we did it for you.

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Some things to consider

Though what gear works best is largely a matter of personal preference, consider what you need to carry and exactly where it will go.

All the vests we tried felt very warm, and in hot weather it’s like adding a layer of clothing, so take that into consideration when planning what to wear underneath. (They are all made of lightweight fabrics designed to maximize breathability, but there’s no getting around the heat factor. For regular training runs in the heat, you may be better off with a belt or a handheld water bottle.) Black fabric hides the dirt better than lighter-coloured fabrics, but it also absorbs more heat.

If you’re run-commuting 20 kilometres in January in northern Alberta (and we know some who do), look for a vest with an insulated bladder hose.

We liked vests with multiple options for both hydration and storage. Our ideal combo was a vest with a decent-sized bladder, soft bottles in front, storage in back for an extra clothing layer, and extra zippered pockets on the front for your phone, keys and wallet. All of the vests we tried were adjustable at multiple points to ensure a snug, comfortable fit.

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The North Face Flight Trail Vest
1.5L hydration (not included)
$199.99

This is a very lightweight vest that will accommodate a 1.5L bladder, and there are lots of tiny, zippered pockets for your various doodads (keys, subway pass, credit card, phone). The front pockets are sized generously and are designed for 500 mL soft bottles (not included), but pretty much any kind of water bottle will fit. This was the only pack we tried whose front straps do not stretch, and it did feel a little restrictive when done up snugly.

Salomon ADV Skin 8 Set W
8L storage
1L hydration (included)
$190.00

This pack comes with 250 mL soft bottles with long tubes that worked quite well for a 14K run-commute, though we had some difficulty getting used to the long hoses on the bottles, which flapped annoyingly against the chin on one side. We liked the zigzag fastening system, the lightweight mesh of the front panels, and the roomy pockets at the back.

Salomon Agile 2
2.2 L storage
1 L hydration (included)
$120.00

This vest is best for short outings when you just want your hydration in a vest format rather than wearing a belt or carrying a bottle. It comes with two long, soft bottles and has one small, open pocket at the back, and one zippered pocket. (Note: do not lie down on the ground after a gruelling race with your car’s key fob in one of the unsecured front pockets.) The front straps are made of stretchy material so your breathing does not feel constricted when the vest is cinched tight. We did have an issue with chafing at the collarbone during a very warm 12K race with full bottles. In cooler weather with more clothing underneath, that wouldn’t likely be a problem.

Osprey Dyna 15
13 L storage
2.5 L hydration (included)
$200.00

If you like to go out for all-day adventures, or you are the runner who likes to have all the best gear, this is the pack for you. It has 13L of storage capacity, and an extra waist belt (with two zippered pockets) to distribute the load–possibly too much vest for an urban run-commute, but undeniably great to have when you need it. The bladder holds 2.5L of water, and the stretchy front pockets are designed to hold Osprey soft flasks (sold separately). The zippered pocket on the left panel is the perfect size for your phone, and there’s lots of cargo room in the back, and a system for cinching it tight against your back. We love the magnetic attachment system for the hose, and the stretchy front straps, so you can tighten it against your chest without constricting your breathing. There is even a tiny whistle on the right panel.

Nathan Trail Mix 7L
7L storage
1.5L hydration (included)
$150.00

We loved this vest for its comfort and overall usefulness. It comes with a 2L hydration bladder, which performed well on a 16K training run and a 14K trail race. There are lots of other pockets on the front and back (separate from the hydration pocket), and a daisy chain arrangement for stashing stuff on the back, plus a compression system for adjusting the load snugly against your back. The best feature might be the very helpful instructional Nathan videos on how to trim the hose, clean the bladder and suck the air out of the bladder to prevent sloshing. It’s also, at $150, pretty great value.

lululemon Enlite Hydraffinity
1.5 L hydration (not included)
$178

As much as we love lululemon apparel (and who doesn’t?), the vest is perplexing. Ostensibly designed for “dedicated distance runners and avid adventurers,” we frankly can’t see this vest taking you much further than the nearest Starbucks. The positives: it’s made for women, and for those who need maximum support, the vest functions like a second bra. Also, it can accommodate (but does not come with) a 1.5L bladder. (If you’re not using a bladder, you can stuff an extra layer into the back pocket.)

The negatives: there’s no system for hooking the mouthpiece to the vest front (the instructions suggest tucking it into the back pocket under the arm, which, if your hose is cut to the correct length, does not work). In desperation, I tucked the mouthpiece into one of the fabric loops on the front, which requires two hands, and is therefore not optimal. The pockets on the front are too small to hold anything bigger than a single key.

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