I only sling on a hydration pack when I know that water and nutrition will be required and sparse. For me, its not a hydration vest, its a life vest. Not only am I carrying water/sports drink and food, but other items such as jacket, beanie, gloves and cell phone (I always carry a cell phone when I run —- for Bigfoot sightings – duh!).
Next to race entries and running shoes, hydration packs are one of the biggest expenses one can have for our endurance sport. The pack you pick needs to have everything you need and nothing you don’t. It also needs be a good fit for your body and the things that matter to YOU most.
* Unfortunately, Salomon sent us a size XS/S. Too small for this guy to wear and give a fair review. Should Salomon send us the proper size I will re-calibrate the review. I omitted Salomon from some of the review segments below.
- The Camelbak Ultra LR was the biggest surprise for me. It had the least amount of bounce of the bunch. Because the bladder is centered at the lower back it has straps that cross over the belly. This caused some discomfort for me, as the straps and and buckle caused chaffing. Other than the strap, it was a comfortable fit.
- Nathan Sports Vapor Wrap was really comfortable on my body. No chaffing, minimal bladder bounce and no rubbing to report.
- The North Face Enduro Plus was the most disappointing for me. The pack felt too high on my back, straps chaffed and storage compartments at the waist twisted around my midsection. This pack features the Boa lacing system which offers dial to tighten the bladder against the pack. This really reduced bouncing.
- Salomon Advanced Skin 5 – too small to review. Dang it!!
- UltrAspire Titan felt like it wasn’t there, the least complicated of the bunch. Minimal bounce and no chaffing or rubbing issues.
Nathan and Ultraspire both walk away from this on top, both had a comfortable fit, minimal bounce and no chaffing or rubbing to report. Happy to have either on my body for 20+ miles.
I wanted to be able to carry two Gu’s, Honey Stinger gels, headlamp, beanie, gloves, iPhone 5 (in Otter Box case) and handheld water bottle full of electro-lite – things that I would want during a run that starts before the sun rises or after the run sets. Let’s see how they stack up…
FRONT: Camelbak has two large mesh pockets to carry water bottles and two small velcro tabbed pockets for gel packets and salt capsules.
BACK: Camelbak has one external compartment, main bladder compartment with a internal zippered pocket for those important items, like I.D. and key.
FRONT: Nathan has two mesh pocket water bottle holders, long mesh zippered compartment for gels, small pocket with magnetic tab for salt capsules and a removable zippered compartment with internal elastic pouch. There are also two large expandable pockets at the waist.
BACK: Main bladder compartment has a thin nylon divider giving me a generous amount of room for clothing. In addition to the main compartment there are two zippered external compartments – an additional main compartment and small compartment at the top. There is an elastic cord to strap on your favorite jacket.
FRONT: North Face offers two waist compartments, one mesh and one nylon. Easy access for items. No compartments on the should straps.
BACK: Main bladder compartment is zippered with a nylon divider, large storage capacity. External zippered compartment with a nylon divider and key clip. Lower external mesh pocket with elastic opening, big enough to store a bottle or layer.
FRONT: For Salomon, on the right shoulder strap – water bottle holder, gel pouch and zippered compartment big enough for two gels. On the left should strap – water bottle holder and mesh pocket for one gel. Two side mesh zippered compartments.
BACK: Main bladder compartment is less roomy than they other packs, but you can still fit what you need. Internal magnetic tabbed compartment half the size of the main compartment. External zippered mesh compartment utilizing the entire area. It also came with a loose zippered pouch with velcro backing. I could not find where it was supposed to attach.
FRONT: Ultraspire has two mesh pouches for water bottles and two mesh pouches with elastic rip cords for securing goodies.
BACK: Bladder compartment is separate from the main compartment. Main compartment is top-loading, offering generous extra storage and closes with nylon cord and fastener. Internal zippered pouch offers room for smartphone, key and other small valuables. Large external compartment with compression straps for added security and less bounce.
Nathan and Ultraspire again come out on top. Nathan wins for making so many compartments available while running. The side pockets won me over. Ultraspire nails it for its storage capacity to light weight ratio.
Bladders and Valves
I have a love hate relationship with valves, tubes and bladders. Drinking H20 shouldn’t be a fight, tubes should stay secure while running and bladders should be easy to open, fill and close. Let see how it went….
- Camelbak bite vale has a twist shut off.
- Nathan bite vale has a twist shut off.
- The North Face bite valve has a twist shut off.
- Salomon bite vale has a twist shut off
- Ultraspire bite valve pulls open and has no twist shut off.
SIP TUBE SECURITY:
- Camelbak tube is secured with two plastic clips on the front shoulder strap. Most secure.
- Nathan tube has a large magnet that attaches at the sternum.
- The North Face tube has a magnet that attaches at the sternum.
- Salomon tube is secured by running through a series of loops. Very secure.
- Ultraspire tube was secured by running it between my body and sternum straps. Least secure.
|Camelbak||Nathan||The North Face||Salomon||Ultraspire|
|2 liters||2 liters||2 liters||1.5 liters||2 liters|
- Camelbak’s bladder was the easiest to open and close, but because of its location at the lumbar it is also the most awkward to access. The sip tube is quick release from the bladder, easy for disassemble for cleaning.
- Nathan bladder is straight forward with clip for sealing. Sip tube was difficult to detach from bladder. Comes a with an insulation sleeve for your bladder to keep your liquids colder longer.
- The North Face bladder is also straight forward, clip for sealing and tube is difficult to detach.
- Salomon bladder seals with clip. Sip tube has quick release from bladder and is covered by neoprene for keeping liquid cold. Bladder also slides into an insulation sleeve.
- Ultraspire bladder closes with a clip and detaches from bladder with quick release.
Salomon wins this one for having the twist shut off, security, keeping liquid cold and the sip tube quick release. Great job!
|The North Face|
Camelbak wins this one for being the lowest cost, but for an additional $24 go with Ultraspire. You’ll get a lighter weight vest, more storage and carry more liquid.
|Camelbak||Nathan||The North Face||Salomon||Ultraspire|
|24 oz||23 oz.||13 oz||20.8||16.8|
Northface wins this one, destroying the competition.
I like that all of these packs offer a little something extra or were innovative; putting a lot of thought into your experience on the trail.
Here are some of the things I liked:
- Camelbak’s bladder placement at the lumbar was a comfortable location and put less stress on my back.
- Nathan printed instructions on the bladder sleeve to properly fit the vest to your body, using color coded straps.
- The North Face Boa lacing system was innovative, reducing bladder bounce is as easy as clicking a dial.
- Salomon’s insulation sleeve and neoprene tube cover to keep liquids colder longer can make a huge difference on a hot day.
- Ultraspire is incredibly light weight!!
Picking an overall winner is not easy. It comes down to the Nathan Vapor Wrap and Ultraspire Titan. I would pick each one for different reasons.
If I need a pack for a multi-stage race, UTMB or self supported run, I would definitely go with the Nathan Vapor Wrap. It is well crafted, durable, intelligently designed and you can carry everything.
The Vapor Wrap might be overkill for a long training run, in which case I would prefer to have the Ultraspire Titan for being minimal, light weight, comfortable and having the storage I need.
For the things that matter to me most and what I am most likely to run, the win goes to Ultraspire.
CamelbakCamelbak Ultra LR Reviewhydration vests reviewNathan Performance GearNathan Vapor Wrap ReviewsalomonSalomon Advanced Skin Reviewthe north faceThe North Face Enduro Plus ReviewUltraspireUltraspire Titan Review
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Written by eric schranz
I host and manage ultrarunnerpodcast.com, a site devoted to the Mountain/Ultra/Trail running world. We interview a wide range of athletes, conduct honest and extensive product reviews, and report on the daily happenings of the MUT scene.
Not sure where to start when it comes to selecting a vest pack for trail running? This advice from Find Your Feet, an Ultra168 Partner is here to support your decision making. Massive thanks to Hanny and Graham at Find Your Feet for putting this together. It’s an excellent resource and I’m sure many of our readers will find it useful as training starts for some of the big ultras in the first half of 2017. As a little reminder, Ultra168 Supporters can get 20% discount with Find Your Feet, which when you’re considering buying a vest pack, can make quite a bit difference in the cost. For more info about Ultra168 Supporters, click here. To check out the range of packs from Find Your Feet, click here.
How to choose a Vest Pack
When choosing your vest pack, it is essential to keep in mind a number of factors:
- The distance of your event
- How much mandatory gear or storage is required for your event
- The hydration capacity required to complete your run
Whether you prefer soft flasks or bladders/reservoirs, the comparison chart put together by Find Your Feet can help you select your Vest Pack:
- What race distance they are suitable for
- The hydration capacity of the vest pack
- What we feel are their best features
The list is ranked by mandatory gear storage size of the vest pack, from the LARGEST storage size to the SMALLEST storage size. Please note, storage size is not a reflection of fluid carrying capacity, but rather a reflection of how much gear the vest pack can hold.
|ITEM||SUITABILITY||HYDRATION OPTIONS||BEST FEATURES|
|Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30L||This is NOT a race appropriate pack. A vest pack most suited to longer adventures such as multi-day missions. Storage capacity – 30L||Uses 2x590ml bottles but requires you to purchase these separately. Can also add an Ultimate Direction 2-3L Reservoir. Total Capacity – approx. 4L.||Largest volume vest pack on the market|
|Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L||This is NOT a race appropriate pack. A vest pack most suited to longer adventures such as long single day or very light multi-day missions. Storage capacity – 20L||Uses 2x590ml bottles but requires you to purchase these separately. Can also add an Ultimate Direction 2-3L Reservoir. Total Capacity – approx. 4L.||Large volume vest pack for personal missions.|
|Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin3 12 Set||Largest pack available for racing. Ideal for 80km – 100 miler distances which have larger mandatory gear requirements. Storage capacity- 12L||Comes with 2x 500ml Salomon Soft Flasks (1L total) and 1.5L Salomon Soft Reservoir. Total capacity is 2.5L||Ideal size for longer races and the fabric is soft against skin.|
|Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest||Ideal for 80km – 100 miler distances which have larger mandatory gear requirements. Storage capacity- 11.5L||Comes with 2x 500ml Ultimate Direction Body Bottles (1L total) and the ability to carry an Ultimate Direction 2-3L Reservoir. Total Capacity – up to 4L||Perfect pack size for longer distance races. Easily accessed storage of bulky items and large fluid capacity. Plenty of pockets on the front of the pack.|
|Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta (Women’s Specific)||Ideal for 80km – 100 miler distances which have larger mandatory gear requirements. Storage capacity- 11.2L||Comes with 2x 500ml Ultimate Direction Body Bottles (1L total) and the ability to carry an Ultimate Direction 2-3L Reservoir. Total Capacity – up to 4L||One of the only women’s specific trail running race vest packs on the market. Ultimate Direction have used softer fabrics and tailored to the women’s body shape.|
|Ultimate Direction PB Adventure 3.0||This pack holds 10L of storage so will easily fit all your mandatory gear in it for the longer ultra distance races.||Comes with 2x 500ml Ultimate Direction Body Bottles (1L total) and the ability to carry an Ultimate Direction 2L Reservoir. Total Capacity – 3L||Perfect pack size for longer races when you stil want to keep things to a minimum. Plenty of pockets and softer seams next to your skin.|
|CamelBak Ultra 10||Large pack suited to 80km – 100 miler distances or races with large mandatory gear requirements. Storage capacity- 10L||CamelBak Antidote Reservoir only (2L). Total capacity – 2L||Highly versatile pack. Setup would be ideal for mountain biking too. Very durable fabrics (makes it a little heavier though).|
|Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra 3.0||For light weight 100km events or events such as the Ultra Trail Australia 50km which have larger mandatory gear requirements. Storage capacity – 6.25L||Comes with 2x 500ml Ultimate Direction Body Bottles (1L total) and the ability to carry an Ultimate Direction 2-3L Reservoir. Total Capacity – up to 4L||This vest pack has a soft and flexible mesh harness, phone compatible pockets and on the go trekking pole holders.|
|Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 3.0 (Women’s Specific)||For light weight 100km events or events such as the Ultra Trail Australia 50km which have larger mandatory gear requirements. Storage capacity – 7.2L||This vest pack is lighter weight, uses softer fabrics, has a phone compatible pocket and adequate front-of-body storage for race fuel & valuables.|
|Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin3 5 Set||Very light-weight pack for racing. Ideal for 50km distances or races which do not require large amounts of mandatory gear. Storage capacity- 5L||Comes with 2x 500ml Salomon Soft Flasks (1L total) and 1.5L Salomon Soft Reservoir. Total capacity is 2.5L||Really great, less-abrasive fabrics. Light weight. Easy to clean in the washing machine.|
|CamelBak Ultra 4||Small pack carrying a 2L bladder and 2L volume for gear. Ideal for short trail races up to 40km where minimal gear is required. Storage capacity – 2L + 2L||CamelBak Antidote Reservoir only (2L). Total capacity – 2L||Ideal as a multi-use vest pack such as utilizing it for mountain biking too.|
|Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Set||Super light pack ideal for short races up to 50km where minimal mandatory gear is required. Storage capacity – 3L||2x 500ml Salomon Soft Flasks only. Total capacity – 1L||Most versatile pack for moving light. Feels like just another item of clothing. Can wash in the washing machine.|
|Salomon S-Lab Sense Set||Lightest pack on the market. Designed for races where no mandatory gear is required. Idea for road race and short trail races where no mandatory gear is required. Storage capacity – 1L (in pockets on chest area)||2x 500ml Salomon Soft Flasks only. Total capacity – 1L||Ideal for marathons and events where you just need to carry fluids, nutrition or personal essentials such as, keys & phone.|
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.