Running Hydration Packs: For Runners and Walkers

Hydration packs have become all the rage among all manner of athletes. These devices allow the athlete to carry water with them as they engage in their sport and drink as they go. More often than not, when one refers to a hydration pack, they mean a backpack that carries a bladder or reservoir of water. The bladder is connected to a hose that runs out of the bag to the athlete’s mouth. At the other end a bite valve that allows the user to start and stop the flow of water using only their mouth, leaving their hands free to do other things and allowing a drink without stopping.

Hydration packs first became popular with mountain bikers and motocross riders because it allowed them to drink without stopping or taking their hands off the bars. This offered the racer with a hydration pack a tangible advantage over those who had to stop to drink from more traditional water battles. Soon the idea took off and now hydration packs become standard in almost all sports that require the participant to carry water with them, especially since most hydration packs specifically designed to allow the user to carry considerably more water with them than would otherwise be practical. From hikers to cross country skiers, hydration packs are now considered essential gear for many participants in endurance sports.

Obviously the ability to be able to drink without stopping offers a competitive advantage to runners and competitive speed walkers as well. However, most hydration packs are designed as backpacks which is not particular advantageous for people on their feet. The weight is carried on the shoulders which puts pressure on the lower back, even with waist and chest straps. Further most runners only need to bring a small amount of water and do not necessarily need to carry all the equipment and resources that participants in other sports may need to carry with them. This means that most hydration packs are not particular well suited for runners and walkers, but the obvious advantages of such systems remains appealing to runners and walkers.

Running hydo packs take these concerns into consideration and are specifically designed to accommodate athletes that perform on their feet. Generally speaking most running hydro packs are waist packs that allow the weight to be carried at the center of gravity, which works much better and places no additional strain on the lower back. These come in two general varieties, the side pack or the fanny pack / bum bag. The side bag holds the water on either side of the runner, allowing him or her to carry the weight on their hips. The fanny pack or bum bags typically hold the water behind, with the weight resting on the upper buttocks.

Both of these methods of carrying water were in use among runners and competitive walkers long before the hydration pack was introduced, carrying water bottles. Since using your hands is not essential for most running or walking, it was easy enough to remove the water bottle and drink from it while still moving. Nevertheless, this took some coordination and frequently resulted in the athlete at least slowing down.

The running hydration packs used the same basic hose and bite valve technology as was employed in the backpack style hydration packs, which meant as long as the hose was readily available, all the runner had to do was pop it in their mouth and the rest could be done without stopping or slowing down at all. While this ability may not matter for many runners and walkers, it can make a significant difference for those frontrunners striving to keep a couple paces ahead of the next runner behind them.

Today, most of the major manufacturers of hydro packs make specially designed packs for runners. These are primarily waist packs, though there are a few slim backpack models that contain a solid reservoir, an option that keeps the back straight and offers the option of carrying considerably more water while the waist and chest straps keep much of the pressure off the lower back. Since most running hydration packs tend to be smaller and use less material, they are also less expensive than the larger models designed for other sports.

Camelbak Incorporated, the world leader in hydration pack technology offers about eight different models of running hydro packs. These include both bottle carriers and full hose fed hydration systems. The Stamina I and II and Delaney series are all bottle carriers, designed evenly distribute the weight and allow the runner easy access to the water bottles without them getting in the way or falling away. Other Camelbak systems like the Montara and the Flashflo are full hydration systems carried on the waist and accessible by tube with a bite valve. Camelbak offers several models that are gender specific, for men and women respectively.

Other producers of hydration packs also have specially designed running hydration packs, like the Bantum offered by Camelbak’s primary rival, Hydrapak. The Bantum is a full hydration system using the hose and bite valve technology. Bottle carriers specifically designed for runners and walkers are much more common, but as is always the case, you generally what you pay for.