Be ahead of the pack. If you spend any time running or hiking outdoors, it’s time to get a real hydration pack. Whether it’s a quick, three-mile loop or 13-mile out-and-back trek, hydration packs eliminate the baggage and fuss of holding water bottles, gear, and snacks (or a shot of whiskey to enjoy at the end).
These five Manual-tested rigs fit great, carry smart, look damn good, and are the best hydration packs on the market. Each pack is the result of insights from high-profile endurance athlete and multiple design iterations. Proven to perform for 100-mile runs through the desert, they’ll work great for your recreational adventures. We even wear them cycling … and around the house on Sundays during football season so we don’t have to get up from the couch. It’s all about balance.
Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0, $155
The first hydration pack we fell in love with was the Ultimate Direction AK Mountain. AK are the initials of world-famous ultra runner Anton Krupicka, who collaborated with this Boulder-based company that specializes only in hydration packs. The newest breed Krupicka’s vest, the AK Mountain Vest 3.0, features storage arrangements on the front pockets that allow better access to all your essentials on-the-go and a large compartment pack that fits bigger items, like a down jacket (you won’t find that on many hydration vests) — not to mention an iPhone pocket and double ice axe loops. It’s hard to put your finger on the true magic of the AK Mountain 3.0. It could be Ultimate Directions’s blend of mesh and Silicone-Impregnated 30D nylon fabric, Anton’s design, or the Goldilocks effect of this pack fitting just enough. No matter what it is, it will make you go longer and farther.
Top perk: Goldilocks-level storage provides just enough space.
Salomon S/LAB Sense Ultra 5 Set, $140
Minimalist yet packable, the S/LAB Sense Ultra 5 Set is for the chipmunk who needs to stow Chapstick, trail mix, GPS, phone, tissues, snacks, car keys, sunglasses, rain jacket — you get the idea. Designed for performance, the vest sits tight against your body and boasts MotionFit fabric that ensures comfort for you and security for your items. It’s truly a packing ace, yet somehow manages to accomplish this without a big pocket on the back. Instead, Salomon gives you side-by-side pockets that work as bounce-free carrying compartments. Really, we mean no freakin’ bounce. For your hydration needs, two (big) soft flasks are included in the front-facing water bottle pockets.
Top perk: You’ll forget you’re wearing it.
UltrAspire Alpha 3.0, $125
You probably haven’t heard of UltrAspire. That’s because the brand is the best-kept secret of the ultra running and endurance community, created by a mammoth name in the industry: Bryce Thatcher. Thatcher helped found Ultimate Direction, where he served as the president for 18 years. He also worked at Nathan for six years before launching his own hydration pack company. UltrAspire’s most dominating pack continues to be the Alpha 3.0, which is both award-winning and customer-converting. We wore it during a leisurely group 10k and got exactly three compliments (one dude even asked to try it on, which we agreed to since the sweat-free fabric hardly held any perspiration). The pack also comes with two hard plastic bottles.
Top perk: This is the best-kept secret of ultra athletes.
Osprey Duro 6 With 1.5 L Reservoir, $110
From traditional pack company Osprey comes a light-weight hydration vest, the Duro 6, that forms to your torso like a second layer of pure muscle. The vest fit offers bounce-free stability and was built for sweet speed. There’s also plenty of room for gear and trekking pole storage. While the front panel, zippered slash pocket, and mesh compression pocket are a new sight for Osprey clients, the back of the pack is the classic design we’ve come to know, love, and trust during our most epic and lengthy outdoor adventures. This pack makes us feel confident in pushing another couple miles before turning back. The Duro 6 is compatible with soft flasks, but it’s made for your 1.5 liter reserve bladder.
Top perk: It’s built for speed.
Nathan VaporKrar 4L Race Vest, $150
The word that comes to mind for Nathan’s VaporKrar, a product winner at the 2017-18 ISPO trade show, is sophisticated. Among the details we absolutely love are chest buckle clips, side cinches for adjustability, extended straw tubes for easy sippage, and the lightweight, breathable fabric. (See those little holes in the back and sides? Those are keeping you cool). One reason why these features seem wildly perfect is because professional ultra runner Rob Krar helped design this vest. He’s an absolute legend in the field and helped shape this model specifically for the male torso. The VaporKrar 4L Race Vest also includes two 12 oz soft flasks, as well as a 1.5 liter bladder pocket in the back in case you’re really going the distance.
Top perk: The shape was built for the male torso.