With Summer finally hitting us in Cape Town, we turn our thoughts to staying hydrated on the Mountains and in this article we give a rundown of the key considerations when looking for a hydration pack as well as reviewing 4 of the most popular pack brands:
- Ultimate Direction
Pack, Waist-belt or Handheld?
If you never intend to enter a trail race or run over 15k’s then a decent handheld is a great option. Lots of styles and sizes available these days with my personal favourite being from Fuelbelt. 3 clips for holding gels, a money / credit card pouch and with a soft bottle carrying up to 500ml this is a great option.
The key things to look for are how it ‘sticks’ to your hand when running, how it feels when only half full and if you mind running with this in your hand. I personally don’t mind but have friends who insist on a belt instead.
Waist-belts are a great option for those wanting to carry under a litre of water but to have enough room for a phone, some gels, money etc. The downside is they can put the weight on the lower back which is not always perfect when running but these are popular and there are some great options on the market from Salomon, Fuelbelt, Ultimate Direction and others. These are typically for distances of up to 21k.
- Storage. For anything under 21k, 1-5Litre capacity is recommended. 21-50k would be 5-8L and up to 100k would be in the 8-12L range. For distances above this with limited ‘checkpoints’ then greater capacity is needed. Average water consumption is 700ml per hour so water storage is also important and its recommended to have a pack that will carry both a bladder which sits in the back and they typically range from 1 to 3 litres as well as 2 x 500ml soft flasks in the front. Bladder in the back is great for carrying a larger amount but can be tricky when trying to judge how much water is left.
- Easy access. Important that you don’t need to take it off each time you want to grab something and so easy access pockets for your phone, gels, food is vital. The older Camelbacks had no pockets in the front and you had to constantly take the pack off each time you wanted something.
- Comfort. Most important of all is how comfy it feels. Non adjustable packs such as the Salomon vests are super comfy and designed to hug between the shoulder blades and fit snugly. I personally find them a huge winner. Downsides can be that they adapt less with more weight in and can sometimes shift with no adjustable straps.
The adjustable straps on packs can be a great option and allow you to adjust the pack based on body type, load carrying and other factors. The pack should ideally sit above the hips and not too high on the back for comfort and ensure it does not chafe the neck.
- Ventilation – a larger hiking pack can often provide little or no ventilation whilst the newer vest style packs allow great airflow and can even be warn without a top underneath for runners with 6 packs and Biceps!!
- Size – Make sure the fit is correct. The pack should sit snugly and not have too much movement when you run. The best way to ensure this is to go into your nearest running store and ensure expert advice and fitting.
- Activity – Lastly, the type and length of activity you do will have a huge bearing on the make, style and size of pack you will buy.
The Salomon skin is for my money the most snug, comfy and best fitting pack on the market. Expensive at 3000Rand + but this is the ultimate skin and available in 5, 8 and 12L versions. Plenty of storage pockets and comes with 2 x 500ml soft flasks that fit nicely in the front pockets.
The most popular hydration pack in South Africa for a reason. View Salomon pack
Ultimate Direction packs starting with a waist pack for water carrying and also designed the first female specific packs. Coming in a variety of sizes and styles for shorter and longer distances this is another one of my personal favourites that have faithfully seen me through many long races.
One of the great things is that these packs typically are styled on the vest fit but have some adjustable straps so you get the best of both worlds and have greater adjustment option with heavier loads. One of the best ventilated packs on the market and known for durability.
Found in 1974 in the USA and outsell all other packs in America combined. The Design and Build factories are side by side in Taiwan and these are possibly the best designed packs in the world, often going through over 100 design and build iterations before release. The key for me is the exceptional carrying room for its size, the brilliantly designed and fitted Bladder and the large front pockets for extra volume.
This pack sits high on the back which can feel unusual at first but one of the most popular packs around for all distances.
The low budget option. This is a terrific pack !
Slightly heavier than the options above, but for R1000 this pack has incredible ‘bang for buck’.
Plenty of space, pockets and bladder with 5, 10 and 15L options for the starter to trails this is a great option.