Hydration Packs Explained

Hydration Packs

Hydration is an important component of training and recovery, but water fountains are not always readily available, especially out on the trail. For those extra long or hot runs when hydration is necessary, what can a runner do to ensure his or her needs are met? Enter the hydration packs. Available in numerous styles, there is a make and model that fits the need of each type of runner. Listed below is a comparison of the most popular styles.

Hand Held
Water bottles that are attached to hand straps are perhaps the most popular option for runners who live in especially warm climates or who have special hydration needs. The size of these bottles (typically 6 – 12 ounces) is perfect for a shorter run, but may need to be refilled for any run lasting more than an hour. The hand strap makes these bottles easy to carry, and most also have a zippered pouch that can hold phone, ID, and keys.

Advantages and Disadvantages
Hand held water bottles are great for shorter runs, but their limited capacity makes them impractical if planning to be gone for a long time without a chance to refill the bottle. Carrying a bottle in one hand while leaving the other hand empty can also throw off a person’s form, leading to imbalances and even potential injuries. If prone to tripping over tree roots or cracks in the side walk, having only one hand free can lead to particularly bad falls.

A second type of hydration pack is the backpack system, which contains a bladder situated inside a small pouch that is strapped to a runner’s back. A long flexible straw runs from the pack to the runner’s mouth for easy and continuous hydration. These packs are ideal for longer runs as they can hold up to 128 ounces.

Advantages and Disadvantages
The clear advantage here is that runners are able to keep their hands free and more evenly distribute the weight of the hydration pack across their bodies in comparison to a hand held device. The larger size of this pack makes it great for long trail runs or races. Additionally, most packs have additional storage space for holding nutrition, keys, trail maps, ID, and phone. Look for a pack that has a vacuum sealed bladder that will compress as water is consumed, otherwise sloshing will occur when the pack is no longer full. A common complaint among runners regarding hydration backpacks is that the bladder can be a hassle to clean, requiring rinses with vinegar to keep mold and mildew at bay. For people prone to chafing, the straps may also cause irritation.

Arm Band
For runners who would like the lightness of the hand held combined with the hands free convenience of the backpack, an arm band may be suitable. Arm band hydration packs attach to the arm in a similar manner as a phone or mp3 player while containing a small (typically 6 – 8 oz) bottle. These are perfect for a runner attempting a short run on a hot and humid day, or someone who would like to practice hydration during a workout. Two types of options are available – arm bands with removable bottles, and arm bands with a refillable bladder, like the kind found in a backpack.

Advantages and Disadvantages
Arm band hydration packs do not hold a lot of water, which leads to questions of their usefulness. While they eliminate the inconvenience of only having one hand free during the run (as is the case with a hand held bottle), they still can cause poor form, as one side of the body carries more weight. If using the type of arm band that has a removable bottle, grabbing the bottle during a run can be difficult, as one arm must completely cross over the body. The arm band hydration packs that contain a bladder with a short straw may be more convenient. Arm bands typically do not have additional space for storing small items, such as keys, so they may be additionally inconvenient for some runners.

Hydration Belt
For runners who prefer to drink from water bottles and have even weight distribution while keeping their hands free, a hydration belt may be the best bet. These belts loop around the waist and hold two or four 6 – 8 ounce water bottles. Water can be accessed conveniently, and there is no need to clean a bladder and line. Hydration belts are often seen during long trail races or ultra-marathons. Some models contain additional storage space for small items.

Advantages and Disadvantages
Finding the right belt is important as chafing and bouncing can be a major issue if the belt is not the proper fit. For people who wear hydration belts, the sound of water sloshing is not an annoyance, because it is unavoidable with these systems. Runners using hydration belts should be careful to drink from each bottle evenly, as carrying weight discrepancies on the hips can lead to alignment issues, especially among women or those with wider hips. In comparison to a hydration backpack, some runners find the belt preferable because it traps less heat on a person’s back and there are fewer straps to potentially cause chafing.

Fanny Pack
A final type of hydration pack that is common among runners is the fanny pack. Not to be confused with the hydration belt, a fanny pack is a smaller belt that sits on the waist and holds a single bottle that is ergonomically placed at an angle in the pack as opposed to vertically. Some fanny packs contain a bladder with a straw, similar to a backpack. Fanny packs can hold one 12 ounce bottle or a 60 ounce bladder.

Advantages and Disadvantages
The fanny pack is a great system for someone looking for hands free convenience as well as freedom from sloshing (if using the model with a bladder). This style is most customizable, as a wide range of fluid amounts can be carried. Fanny packs also allow for additional small item storage.

And finally the MedalMinder! This really has nothing to do with hydration packs but it is a great way to hang all your medals.



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