Beginner’s Gear Guide: Best beginner hydration pack for trail runners

You may be thinking to yourself, “but Laura, you can’t even run a 10k. Why would you need a hydration pack?”

I already covered this last week. The short version is: because running is really hard and I like snacks.

I see a lot of runners, including my fiance, rocking Ultimate Direction packs. I tried them, but ultimately decided I didn’t actually like having my water on top of my boobs. I also was worried about having enough carrying capacity considering how much water I typically suck down when I huff and puff my way down the trail.

That led me to look at packs that you can fit a reservoir in. If you go down this path, you’ll have to deal with more sloshing noise while you run, but it has been six months and it hasn’t bothered me.

I recommend going somewhere like REI or a running store that sells a bunch of different models so you can try them all on, because what it really came down for me was boob comfort. I tried on the Ultimate Direction Jenny and Nathan’s Vaporess which were some of the top-rated packs for women, but neither fit me quite right.

EDIT OCTOBER 2018: REI no longer carries this specific vest from Camelbak, but you can still find it on Amazon here

Camelbak’s Circuit vest ended up being the most comfortable for me, even though it’s unisex. Or maybe because it’s unisex? I have small boobs and few curves, so who knows. The Circuit also lets you move the front buckles up and down to wherever is most comfortable, which is awesome because most packs only let you tighten or loosen.
Yes, that is Andrew Luck’s face and neard. You’re welcome.

However. I am not a fan of Camelbak’s reservoirs. Which I realize is weird because that’s, like, their thing. If you want to get into it, I wrote an entire blog comparing reservoirs, but the short version is that it doesn’t actually fit 1.5 liters and the tube is so stiff it just flops around on your shoulder and hits you in the face. Who cares if it ever breaks in when it’s that annoying to start?

The Camelbak Circuit pack comes with one of their reservoirs, but I use the one I already have, a Platypus 1.5-liter. It fits easily through all the loops for tube-keeping, and while the tube is a bit long, I just tuck it into the front chest straps and haven’t had any problems.


Another hit against Ultimate Direction is that I had to take the entire thing off to adjust the fit of the side straps – with the Camelbak Circuit you can adjust on the go. I’ve noticed the straps do get a little loose sometimes, but not consistently enough that it’s annoying (especially since you can adjust and run).

The Circuit has a phone pocket large enough for an iPhone 8 plus lots of pockets in various sizes so you can bring everything you need. I fit emergency allergy pills, chapstick, gummies, other snacks, my phone, car keys, and microspikes (in the winter) in the pack in addition to a 1.5-liter reservoir. If needed, you could store water bottles in the front and use the back for stashing extra layers.

Obviously running with something on your back is hotter than if you had nothing extra on, but this pack’s mesh straps are super breathable and soft enough that if I ever get the courage to run in just a sports bra, I wouldn’t worry about chafing.

Overall, this pack has been great for me. It fits comfortably, is easy to adjust, allows you to bring plenty of water and other supplies, and also doubles as a great option for short hiking.

Beginner disclaimer: As always, you DO NOT need expensive gear to get outdoors. I can’t say that enough. If you decide you do want to upgrade with some fancy gear or nicer clothes, I hope Outdoor Beginner will help you decide what might work for you with reviews from a beginner’s point of view. Now get out there and have fun!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Caitlin Bertenshaw says:

    Great review! I also just got this pack and found the fit excellent. I’m a pretty sturdy build, short and curvy and it fits exceptionally well over my 14DD boobs. Just like a little waistcoat 😀 so well done Camelbak on the fit and construction.


    1. Laura Cardon says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the review and found a pack you love! I’ve been really impressed with mine too. I hope you get lots of good miles out of yours!


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