It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner runner logging a couple of miles before breakfast or a long-distance machine: Hydration vests are useful. Not only do these packs carry your water, most also have accessory pockets for sundries like lip balm, car keys, trail snacks and extra layers.
How to decide which hydration vest is right for you? We enlisted help from 15 REI Co-op members to test and rate the top running hydration vests currently available at the co-op. So, whether you want to stay hydrated on your next road run or you’re looking to tackle your first ultra, we’ve got the vest for you.
Find our quick recommendations here or read on for the full breakdown of our round-robin test of the best running hydration vests.
- Best Hydration Vest for All-Day Runners: Nathan Pinnacle 12L (Women's, Men's)
- Best Hydration Vest for Minimalist Runners: Salomon Advanced Skin 5 (Unisex)
- Best Hydration Vest for Ultrarunners: Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest/Vesta 5.0 (Women's, Men's)
- Best Hydration Vest for Runners Who Want Less Shoulder Weight: UltrAspire Momentum 2.0 (Unisex)
Other Top Performers:
Test Results: The “Holy Grail of running vests”—that’s what we’ve taken to calling the Nathan Pinnacle 12L for its unparalleled comfort, performance and capacity. Testers raved that this REI Co-op Editors' Choice Award winner feels light and carries weight well, making it perfect for big-mileage days. “I wore it on every run, logging anywhere from two to 10 miles per jaunt,” reported one tester after her first month in the Pinnacle. “It slips on like a T-shirt, even when I’m loaded down with bladders and layers.” Another perk: Tapered back panels help encourage moisture away from your skin. So while all the running vests we tried got sweaty, this one allowed the occasional breeze.
The Pinnacle is the only vest on our list that comes with an insulated bladder to help keep water cool on hot days. It holds 1.6 liters of liquid, but runners looking to go farther can also stash two additional 20-ounce soft flasks (not included) on the water-resistant chest straps. Eight exterior pockets include two kangaroo stash pockets on the back, one vertical pocket for trekking poles and one full-zip pocket with an angled entry for easy access on the move. Two smaller zippered pockets on the front stow small yet valuable items like car keys and cash. “I packed a bladder, snacks and a rain jacket with plenty of space left over,” says another tester.
Fit is noteworthy, too. The longer-than-average back panel helps disperse weight, reducing bouncing and chafing under heavy loads. But the vest also stayed put on shorter jaunts when testers carried nothing more than a set of car keys and a cellphone. Tradeoff: The longer cut sits lower in the front, especially on women with shorter torsos. Buy here.
Bottom Line: A breathable back panel and ample storage make the Nathan Pinnacle 12L a top pick for runners going any distance, but especially those heading out for several hours.
- Total distance: 125 miles
- Testing state: Colorado
- Best testing story: “I’m not the most graceful, especially when it comes to running,” explains one member-tester based in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. She spent an early spring morning picking through snow and debris on an area known as The Crown, only to catch a root and sprawl on the trail a mere 10 feet from her car. “Silver lining: At least the pack held onto everything!”
Test Results: Everything you need, but nothing extra—that’s the mantra behind the Salomon Advanced Skin 5 Vest, a sleek option for runners looking to move fast with minimal weight. A nylon-elastane construction contributes to a snug fit and helps reduce dreaded bouncing. “It didn’t matter how many layers I wore, or if I was in a tank top,” reports one tester. “It stayed put and never chafed.” The slim design also features bungee-cord-like chest straps that offer a more secure fit when compared with traditional clip straps. Tradeoff: Some felt the close fit rested too high on the back of their neck.
The Advanced Skin has six pockets plus the main compartment, fewer pockets than other vests on this list. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our testers reported ample stowage for runs lasting anywhere from 2 to 14 miles. That’s thanks to the careful design, which includes four front stretch pockets; one large, open-topped main back compartment with a smaller phone-sized pocket; and one kangaroo-style pocket on the lower back.
The pockets are easy to access. “I could reach back and stuff my windbreaker into the main compartment without breaking my stride,” reported one tester after a 13-mile day in Golden, Colorado. A compartment on the back can accommodate a 1.5-liter hydration bladder, which is not included. That said, two front pockets easily stash the included pair of 500-milliliter soft flasks, comfortably positioned to sip on the go. Buy here.
Bottom Line: A streamlined design on the Salomon Advanced Skin 5 yields a light-and-agile running vest for runners who want fewer bells and whistles and less weight.
- Total distance: 168 miles
- Testing state: Colorado
- Best testing story: During one tester’s 9-mile day on Colorado’s South Boulder and Bear Peaks, she encountered extremely windy conditions that nearly blew her off the ridge. Despite the weather woes, the day was a success thanks to “all the extra layers I crammed inside the pack!”
Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 5.0 Hydration Vest
Best Hydration Vest for UltrarunnersUnisex $164.95 Women's $164.95
- Score: 93
- Gear capacity: 13.4 liters (men's); 12.7 liters (women's)
- Reservoir: Not included; accepts up to 2-liter size
- Bottles: Included; accepts two 500-milliliter soft flasks
- Weight: 11.57 oz. (men's); 11.5 oz. (women's)
Test Results: Go long with the Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 5.0 (the women's version is called the Vesta), built specifically for endurance adventures that last all day, all night and into the next morning. A whopping 12 exterior pockets including one clamshell-type main pocket, two lateral pockets, and eight front pockets (one with a zipper), mean you can carry all you need for an ultra and access your gear on the go. “I packed in three liters of water plus the two soft flasks, a cellphone, two trail bars, car keys, and I cinched my jacket with the stretchy cord on the outside that held everything together while I ran,” reported one tester following a sustained effort in California’s High Sierra. “No bouncing and there was still room for more gear.”
While the Mountain Vest holds a two-liter bladder, it isn’t included with purchase. Ultimate Direction does include two 500-milliliter soft flasks that sit in the cinched pockets on the front chest straps. Our testers found them easy to locate but tricky to use: “They don’t come with a straw so you can’t really drink while running,” reports one tester. Our recommendation: Slow to a walk before trying to hydrate or swap in flasks with straws.
Two sliding sternum chest straps combine with the four-way stretch nylon fabric for a snug-yet-comfortable fit. But breathability received mixed reviews as one tester felt “grossly sweaty” by the end of a bluebird day with the sun beating down in California's San Bruno Mountain State and CountyPark. Buy here.
Bottom Line: With 12 pockets and the largest gear capacity in this test, the Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 5.0 is the best choice for ultrarunners looking to carry all the essentials.
- Total distance: 169 miles
- Testing states: California, Colorado
- Best testing story: “Truth: I’ve always disliked running in vests,” says a California tester who once tackled a 19-mile loop during a rainstorm in the Eastern Sierra with two handheld water bottles and nothing more. “The snug fit and minimal jostling on this vest has me heading out a lot more prepared because I actually don’t mind using it!”
Test Results: If the thought of carrying a vest makes your shoulders ache, the UltrAspire Momentum 2.0 may be for you. This vest ditches the hydration bladder in favor of two bottles positioned in a V-shape on your lower back—a game-changing innovation that shifts the water weight to your hips. Magnetic clasps in the pockets prevent the bottles from shaking out while you jitterbug on the trail. “I wondered when the bottles would pop out, but I never lost one,” reports one tester. “Fully loaded, it released tension on my back during longer runs.” The bottles are relatively easy to grab on the go, though the setup took some getting used to for testers used to running with a hydration bladder.
Testers agree the Momentum 2.0 is “supremely comfy,” thanks to its S-shape strap system with a wide fit at the neck and a taper in the mid-torso to help reduce underarm chafing. Nine pockets (including one shoulder pocket designed to fit a phone) swallow gear for any run under three hours. Going farther might be pushing it, though: Our New York-based tester wished for one more large, zippered pocket on a challenging self-supported long run.
The Momentum 2.0 is the only vest on our list that isn’t compatible with a bladder. It does hold four water bottles—two 550-milliliter hybrid bottles slide into the back holsters and two of the brand’s UltraFlask soft flasks can sit up front. (The brand recommends using its own flasks and we agree, as other soft flasks seemed to jostle out). None of the bottles are included, but we still think the Momentum is a killer value. Buy here.
Bottom Line: Combine a unique holster design with a generous fit and the UltrAspire Momentum 2.0 is a top pick for everyday runners who want less weight on their shoulders.
- Total distance: 147 miles
- Testing state: New York
- Best testing story: After a 9-mile run at New York’s Whiting Road Nature Preserve, one tester was so focused on the icy and slick trails that he forgot he was wearing a vest. “I got into the car and started the engine before I realized I was still wearing it,” he laughs. “Literally sitting on the bottles was the only thing that jarred me back to reality.”
Other Top Performers
Test Results: Weekend warriors who aren’t out to set a personal record should take a flyer on the REI Co-op Swiftland Hydro. Two adjustable sternum straps promote a snug, comfy fit that yields minimal sloshing, while six pockets combine with the main back compartment to allow ample storage. The vest comes with a A 1.5-liter bladder that tucks into the reservoir pocket, though runners can also use two 500-milliliter soft flasks in the front cinched pockets (not included but most flasks fit).
“It carried weight well,” says one Wisconsin-based tester. “It felt as comfortable at the end of the run as it did at the beginning.” There aren’t a ton of features—no trekking pole holsters or on-the-go access pockets—but the price point is lower than most of the other vests we tested. Another major perk: The Swiftland Hydro is the only vest on this list that comes in extended sizing—up to 3x in women’s and XXL in men’s. Buy here.
Test Results: Newer to running with a vest? The Osprey Dyna (or Duro for men) is a near-perfect trail companion. The Dyna features perks like a magnetic bladder tube that secures the bite valve to the sternum strap for minimal annoying swinging and a durable nylon exterior that stands up to big adventures. “My arms were destroyed with scratches but the vest didn’t show a snag,” one tester reported after picking her way through a brushy meadow.
Storage received high marks, too. The Dyna’s seven exterior pockets stow essentials without feeling bulky, while the main compartment comfortably houses a 1.5-liter bladder (included) and enough space to stash snacks and an extra layer. That said, runners who want to carry more gear should choose a larger size (like the women’s Dyna 6 or Dyna 15; or the men’s Duro 6 or Duro 15). Adjustable sternum straps led one tester to call the fit “just snug enough,” though some testers reported underarm chafing when wearing a tank top (longer sleeves fixed the issue). Buy here.
Important factors to consider when choosing a running hydration vest include gear capacity, fit, hydration delivery and additional features.
How much gear capacity do I need in a running hydration vest?
Decide how much space you need based on the type and distance of running you plan on doing. Any good hydration vest will accommodate water, snacks and extra layers. For runs lasting less than two hours, two liters of space (like in the Osprey Dyna/Duro 1.5 vest) should probably be plenty. For runs lasting up to three hours, you’ll want a gear capacity ranging from two to six liters, as seen on the Salomon Advanced Skin 5, UltrAspire Momentum 2.0 and the REI Co-op Swiftland Hydro 5. For runs lasting up to six hours, go for a vest with four to 12 liters of storage, like the Nathan Pinnacle 12L. And for outings lasting more than six hours, you’ll need six or more liters of space, as with the Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 5.0.
A snug fit prevents bouncing and chafing while running. Dress as you usually would for a run and measure the diameter of your torso (below your bust and/or at the top of your rib cage). Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to find the appropriate size for your measurement.
Should I use a hydration reservoir or bottles with my running vest?
Running vests carry water in a couple of ways: A hydration reservoir (also called a bladder) and/or bottles (sometimes called flasks). Bladders are usually one to two liters in size, and stow away in a compartment in the back of the vest. Bottles are usually around 500 milliliters in capacity and sit on the front chest straps. Bladders carry more water but bottles are easier to fill.
Regardless of the vessel, hydration delivery will always add to the overall cost of your purchase, so it’s a good idea to consider what’s included with your pack. The UltrAspire Momentum 2.0, for example, is one of the lower price points in this list but it doesn’t come with any bottles. The Nathan Pinnacle 12L hits a higher price point but it also includes an insulated 1.6-liter bladder. Take a look at what you may (or may not) have at home and choose a vest that includes the option that best meets your needs.
Which hydration vest features do I need?
Decide which features matter the most for your style of running. For everyday runners who aren’t looking to set a personal record, add-ons like an emergency whistle for safety are great to have on any run. However, if you’re an ultrarunner who prefers full or multiday adventures and ridgeline running, trekking pole keepers are an additional feature to consider. Trekking poles are commonly used on the uphills for technical trails, so having a stash point is crucial when you want to stow them away.
This spring, we asked 15 co-op members from around the country to test the hydration vests currently available at REI. Our testing crew ran and hiked and ran some more, all in an effort to log as many hours as possible. They sloshed through streams, summitted peaks, explored long-and-desolate desert pavement and even somersaulted down steep hillsides to put these vests through the paces.
When the sweat-fest was over, each tester used a 100-point scale to evaluate the running vests based on comfort, durability, features and gear capacity. The six vests in this guide received the highest average scores in test. The Nathan Pinnacle 12L received nearly perfect scores in all categories, earning our coveted REI Co-op Editors' Choice Award. The Salomon Advanced Skin 5, Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 5.0 and the UltrAspire Momentum 2.0 also took top spots with high scores in all categories. The REI Co-op Swiftland Hydro 5 and the Osprey Dyna 1.5 scored high in most of the categories, still hitting solid numbers in specific niches.
Article by Heather Balogh Rochfort. Heather is a freelance writer and author specializing in the outdoors and adventure travel, particularly as they apply to women and families. She is the co-founder of WildKind, an organization educating and empowering families to find their wild. As a lifelong Colorado resident, Heather loves Type-II fun above treeline where the sun is hot and the oxygen depleted. Things she does not like: rock climbing. REI member since 2008.
Photography by William M. Rochfort, Jr. Will is a freelance writer and photographer based in Carbondale, Colorado. His hobbies include backpacking, bikepacking and skiing with his wife and daughter, but he is mainly known for his rare ability to double-fist milkshakes prior to meals. REI member since 1998.