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

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

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

I now own two hydration vests, which is totally not necessary when you’re just starting out. My very first vest was a Camelbak Circuit, which unfortunately isn’t still made by Camelbak. You can still get them on Amazon here as of January 2019. Even though you can’t buy my exact pack, I’ll walk you through my shopping trials and errors to help you narrow down a brand you might like.

For my very first vest, I didn’t feel like I needed one until I was run-hiking longer than a 5k in the summertime. I prioritized the ability to store a 1.5-liter reservoir of water plus carry my phone and car keys. Since I mostly ran in the summer, I didn’t need to worry about storing layers. And, since I wasn’t out for more than an hour or two, I didn’t need to be able to store a ton of food, just a sleeve of gummies at most.

I immediately had to rule out the Nathan Vaporess. This is a SUPER popular option, but it’s not adjustable and the smallest size is too big for me. The fabric is super stretchy and soft, but I needed something with more adjustability (I don’t think that’s actually a word but I’m going for it).

The next vest I had heard was SUPER popular was Ultimate Direction. Initially, this didn’t work for me either because I didn’t like how you had to store little water bottles on top of your boobs. I also didn’t like that you couldn’t adjust the size without taking it off. Since 2017, when I was initially shopping, Ultimate Direction has redesigned both of these features to be much better.

All of their vests now have a bungee in the small of your back that you can pull tighter or loosen. The water bottle storage directly on top of my boobs still took some getting used to, but seems less claustrophobic now. However, I have small boobs and am generally not curvy, so this may not be the same for everyone. How many times can I say boobs in one blog post?

At first, I liked the new Ultimate Direction vest. But the storage system was totally different than my Camelbak. There wasn’t a phone pocket on the front, and I didn’t like having to jam it into a pocket on the side of my rib cage. I kept thinking I would just get used to the new system, and the wait would be worth it to have a vest that I could store hiking/trekking poles in. Ultimate Direction is definitely the best at that.

But, a month had gone by and I still wasn’t used to how I had to organize my snacks and stuff. I loved the way my Camelbak had fit and tons of pockets were easy to access right up front. I was hesitant to sacrifice the extra room and the best pole storage I’d seen on any vest, but ultimately I just didn’t like how Ultimate Direction worked. I ended up returning the Ultimate Direction vest for an Osprey Dyna 6.

Osprey was less expensive than Ultimate Direction, you can fit a reservoir in them, and they have rib cage adjustment that you can do without taking off the pack. Plus, like Camelbak, Osprey’s vests are also made out of this really soft, mesh-like material that has been very comfortable in the summer and stays pretty cool.

If you do opt for a Camelbak, I will warn you that their reservoirs are kind of awful. Which is weird, because isn’t that like their thing? I wrote an entire blog comparing reservoirs, but the short version is that Camelbak’s model doesn’t actually fit 1.5 liters and the tube is so awkwardly thick and stiff. I use the Platypus reservoir I already had, and it fits perfectly fine into a different brand’s vest.

Some people don’t like using a reservoir at all in a running vest because of the sloshing sound it can make. This has never bothered me, and again comes down to personal preference when you’re thinking about what type of vest to get. Bottles do have the advantage of enabling you to bring two different types of drinks on your run. For example, one bottle of electrolytes and one of plain water.

Regardless of your preference, most packs come with a reservoir or bottles, so if you don’t already have anything, don’t worry about having to buy anything in addition to your vest.

Overall, the Camelbak Circuit vest has been a great beginner running vest for me and Osprey is another nice option if you prefer to carry a reservoir. Ultimate Direction has great bigger pack options, but I honestly prefer the storage layout of Camelbak. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. No pack is going to be perfect, so decide what are your dealbreakers and find the most comfortable vest from there!

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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