What Type of Running Backpack Is Right For You?

Going for a run is often an escape, a chance to get outside, move your body, and clear your mind. There’s something liberating about dashing along trails, breathing clean air, and taking in the sights away from traffic and screens. 

But when you are miles deep in the woods or scrambling up a steep path, having the right gear matters. Small annoyances like a water bottle that leaks or a pack that bounces can drag you down and damper your experience. 

Specifically, the right running backpack can make all the difference in your enjoyment and performance. A modern running vest is high-tech, light, and streamlined. But with dozens of sizes, features, and functions available, how do you even start to choose the best one? 

Determining what you need to carry, the distances you will cover, and personal fit preferences all factor in. After thorough testing and comparison, this guide will walk you through which type of running backpack is right for your individual running needs. 

What to Look for in a Running Backpack

There are seven main elements to evaluate when deciding on a running pack:

1. Storage Capacity

A spacious backpack means you can bring everything you want. But for compact runners, unnecessary space results in unwanted weight swinging around. Deciding how many liters of gear you need to stash will help narrow your search. Ask yourself: 

What are your essentials? Things like cell phone, cash/credit cards, keys should go on every run. Also consider basics such as: 

• Extra layers for unpredictable weather 

• Safety necessities – whistle, mirror, pepper spray if on remote trails 

• Fuel and hydration – whether water bottles, bladders, or snacks 

• Tools – knife, headlamp, tape, maps 

• Wet/dry gear bags to separate out sweaty clothes 

• Anything specific to your sport – trekking poles, climbing rope, helmet 

How long will you be out? Short hour jaunts need less than ultra-distance runs across mountain ranges. 

Where are you running? Backcountry trails, races, desert highways and wooded lanes all have unique demands. 

Do you need to pack work or emergency goods? Some runners commute ready to head to the office after. Compile a list, then assess your volume and variety of essential gear. This helps determine ideal backpack capacity. A basic breakdown:

2. Comfort and Fit

You depend on your running vest to move with you smoothly for miles on end without discomfort. An improper technical fit leads to rubbing, instability and overall hindered pace and form. Key elements that determine comfort include: 

Back Panel and Suspension Design 

This is what sits against your back providing stabilization and weight distribution. Advanced venting, rigid sheets and padded fabrics promote airflow to keep you cool even in heat. Women-specific models account for shorter torsos and different hip angles as well. Features to evaluate: 

Padded Shoulder Straps: Soft, breathable fabrics with cushioning make carrying weight comfortable on shoulders 

Sternum Strap: Adjustable horizontal strap across your chest prevents shoulder straps from pulling in; helps stabilize 

Stabilizer Straps: Connecting straps between backpack and hip belt prevent side-to-side swing 

Hip Belts: Belts that wrap just above hip bones securely transfer pack weight from shoulders to core muscles 

Adjustment System: Customizes backpack height/width to dial-in ideal fit for your torso; easy-to-use straps/Velcro give precision 

Ventilation Channels: Strategic cut-outs and mesh lining allow air circulation against back to prevent sticky sweat buildup 

Frame Type: Metal or plastic rods give structure to backpacks for stabilizing heavy loads. Lightweight but durable. 

Getting an accurate torso measurement then trying on multiple sizes of a given backpack is key to finding optimum technical fit. Pack it with weight, walk around and adjust until it feels stable, with even weight distribution. If possible, run a mile or more and assess for any rubbing, slips or bounces. 

Accessibility & Storage Organization 

The last thing you want is to stop your awesome pace to dig around inside overloaded compartments. Being able to grab gear, snacks and water easily mid-run makes your outing more pleasant. Carefully placed pockets, color-coded openings and quick-access zipper pulls all lend handiness. 

Think through what you need access to on the move – phone, cash, gels, directions. Then examine potential packs to see if those frequently used items have fast front stash pockets or hip belt access. Organization and volume also come down to personal preference. Maybe you like lots of tiny pockets or fewer cavernous spaces. 

If carrying trekking poles or ice axes, specialized bungee attachments or straps help. For ultra-distances, you’ll want capacity for extra layers, gear and first aid access. Adventure racing requires getting to navigation tools and gear (harnesses, ropes, helmets) quickly. Plan where everything ideally rides for your sport then match to optimal pocket placement.

3. Weight

Running packs need to be light enough that they don’t throw off your velocity or fatigue your body prematurely. New technical fabrics like ripstop nylon adequately stabilize gear in featherweight form. Brands advertise empty pack weights then load bearing capacity. Aim for these ranges depending on volume: 

• 5-15 liters = 0.5-1.5 lbs 

• 20 liters = Under 2.5 lbs 

• 30+ liters = Under 3.5 lbs 

The pack needs to feel light and tightly bound enough to your body that you barely notice it bounding down the trail. That comes down to both overall ounces and technical adjustments to disperse weight properly. Test packs fully loaded, running hard to determine what still allows you to float. 

4. Weather Resistance

Spring cloudbursts, unexpected mountain storms or water crossings happen. You need both waterproof fabrics and specialized pockets to shield gear in soggy conditions. Key features that combat wetness include: 

Durable Water Resistant (DWR) Fabric: Lightweight coatings that cause moisture to bead up and run off rather than soak through 

Waterproof Zippers: Special seals keep seeping moisture out so gear stays dry inside 

Integrated Rain Cover: Pull out hard-shell covers from a hidden compartment for heavy weather. Fits perfectly over pack. 

Wet/Dry Storage: Specialized pockets let you quickly separate soaked gear from electronics and layers that need to say dry. Some have ventilation too. 

Hard-shell Fabric: Entire backpack made of completely waterproof fabric though more expensive 

Water Drainage System: Strategic shaping, lining and valves drain out moisture efficiently. Keeps pack from getting bogged down. 

Ideally your backpack for running has some combination of these features to battle the wet so you can focus on mileage rather than waterlogged supplies.

5. Hydration Bladder Compatibility

Long summer runs and mountain climbs demand ample on-the-go fluids. Hydration bladders (also called reservoirs) are bags you fill with water or electrolyte sports drinks. An attached hose with a bite valve allows you to sip easily hands-free on the move. 

Many running packs integrate a sleeve specifically contoured to stabilize a filled bladder plus insulation to keep liquids cool for hours. Without this hydration-specific space, the weight of water will throw you off. Look for additional functionality too: 

Hang or Prop System: Makes filling bladder and closing cap easier when it’s inside the pack 

Protective Sleeve: Stops sharp gear from poking holes 

Integrated Hose Ports: Special openings threaded through shoulder straps/top lid give hands-free drinking access without getting caught on limbs and gear 

Magnetic Clip: Secures loose hose to shoulder strap when not sipping 

Insulation: Radiant barriers, foams or linings maintain cool temps for hours, even on hot days 

Easy Cleaning: Slide out for dishwasher or have tubes and drinking valve simply disassemble

6. Reflective Elements & Safety Features

Logging miles before sunrise or out on remote trails suddenly bathed in darkness both require adequate visibility. Reflective hits draw the eye and illuminate in headlights so drivers can spot you. 

Integrated red safety belts also alert vehicles to your presence from afar. Getting injured or lost are realities you must prepare for too. A whistle on your sternum strap serves as an emergency alert system. 

Mini safety blankets provide warmth if injured. Stashing essential first aid like gauze, bandages, tape or emergency blanket offers reassurance in dicey situations. 

7. Durability & Quality Materials

Through endless miles and exposure to the elements, your running vest or pack needs to hold up over years. Ripstop nylon stands up to being scraped across jagged rocks without tearing while advanced synthetics, called Cordura, are abrasion resistant too. Sturdy zippers, reinforced seams and weatherproof fabrics also lend resilience. 

Seeking out brands with strong warranties often correlates to usage longevity too. And antimicrobial tech cuts down on bacteria and stink buildup so you can go far and wide confident your gear stays intact for the haul.

Types of Running Backpacks

There are four main specialized types, each catered towards certain running needs:

Race Vests / Ultralight Running Packs

light race vest

There are four main specialized types, each catered towards certain running needs:

Ideal For: Races, speed work, running without much weight 


• Super lightweight and flexible streamlined to your body 

• Multiple angled front soft flask pockets allow easy fluid/gel/fuel access 

• Mesh shoulder straps enhance breathability 

• Special hydration slot stabilizes water 


• Very limited gear storage capacity (2-10 liters) 

• Less stabilization technology for heavy loads 

Basic Backpacks for Jogging

basic backpack

Ideal For: Daily 5-mile training runs with some extra supplies 


• Contoured shoulder straps prevent friction 

• Simple stabilization features – modest frame sheet, foam back panel 

• Zippered hip belt pockets for smaller items 

• External attachment points for trekking poles, ice axe, etc. 

• Ventilated mesh against back prevents sticky sweat buildup 


• Less robust suspension system can’t handle heavy loads 

• Only 10-15 liters capacity for minimal extras 

• Fewer pockets than premium packs 

All-In-One Adventure Vests

all in one running vest

Ideal For: All-day excursions, multi-day trips, thru-hikes demanding extensive gear 


• Advanced load hauling capacity for peak bag weights even while running 

• Suspension systems akin to backpacking packs with metal frames for heavy loads 

• Women’s-specific models available 

• Hydration system compatible 

• Extensive carefully divided storage pockets 


• Bulkier and heavier even when empty compared to minimal vests 

• Overkill storage volume for basic runs

Full-Featured Ultra-Distance Running Packs

full featured running vest

Ideal For: Ultramarathons, multi-day unsupported races and mountain climbs 


• Built for hardcore usage with waterproof zippers and ripstop fabrics 

• Trail-specific attachments – ice axe loops, ski loops, shock cords 

• Suspension systems distribute incredibly heavy loads while still allowing you to run 

• Super technical – hiking pole integration, emergency whistle, safety belts 


• Very expensive given R&D costs 

• Overbuilt for a basic 5 miler

Running Backpack Brands To Consider

With specialization in outdoor sports gear, companies that create exceptional technical running packs include: 

Salomon: Considered the pioneer of running vests back in 2015, their designs excel at balancing minimalism with customized storage needs for mountain racing. Breathable fabrics that move with you characterize their Sensifit technology. 

Ultimate Direction: Focused on featherlight, body-conforming race vests with pockets strategically placed for easy access on high velocity days. Osprey: Known for ultra-comfort suspension systems on their backpacking packs, they translate that load bearing technology for fast-paced mountain runs too. Plus, lifetime guarantee. 

CamelBak: Hydration gear experts, their running sets allow easy drinking with well-integrated reservoirs and magnetic clips to secure hoses. 

Patagonia: Eco-conscious company making weatherproof running packs built to last years from durable fabrics that shed rain, snow and dust while protecting your gear. 

There are other great companies like Nathan Sports and Deuter specializing in bounce-free customized fit. Test out outdoor brands with reputations for making gear that endures sun, sweat and summit bids without fail.

A Final Recap

Selecting the right running vest is crucial for enhancing your overall running experience. Here are the key takeaways:

Gear Matters: The right gear can enhance your performance and enjoyment of running, especially when you’re tackling challenging terrains or long distances.

Consider Your Needs: Factors such as the duration of your run, the essential items you need to carry, and the environment you’ll be running in should guide your choice.

Evaluate Capacity: Determine how much gear you need to carry and choose a backpack with an appropriate capacity, ranging from micro to large sizes.

Prioritize Comfort and Fit: A properly fitting backpack is essential for preventing discomfort and ensuring stability during your run. Consider features such as padded shoulder straps, sternum straps, and adjustable hip belts.

Accessibility and Organization: Opt for a backpack with convenient storage options and easy access to frequently used items to avoid interruptions during your run.

Weight and Weather Resistance: Look for lightweight yet durable materials and consider weather-resistant features to protect your gear from the elements.

Hydration and Safety: Choose a backpack with hydration bladder compatibility and reflective elements for safety during low-light conditions.

Durability and Quality: Invest in a high-quality backpack made from durable materials to ensure longevity, especially if you’re planning for long-term usage.

Ultimately, the right running backpack should seamlessly integrate into your running routine, providing comfort, stability, and convenience throughout your journey. So, prioritize features that align with your individual needs and preferences to find the perfect fit.

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