Running vests: why we’re fans.
Trail running is admittedly a difficult thing to do. Harder than running on roads, it’s dynamic, cardio-intensive, and often damn hilly. But amid all that heavy breathing and rock-hopping, many trail runners find a good running vest makes a massive difference in comfort.
A running vest can literally open up worlds of possibilities in your running, as you can carry quite a bit of water, plus all the necessities that would make it possible for you to tackle longer or more interesting running routes. You can also trim aid station stops (at least some) off your race times, thanks to having water/snacks on board already.
Better yet, running vests are designed to hug your torso smoothly so they don’t bounce while you run. This spares you the misery of chafing, which is guaranteed to happen if you run in a regular hydration pack, whose fabric and straps will slowly rub your skin raw on your shoulders, side body, or back.
What’s so jazzy—and what to look for.
A vest is just a vest, right? Nah. Brilliant gear nerds have made running vests with smart features that open up even more possibilities for mileage, speed, safety, and comfort. (Now you have no excuse not to go on a 15-mile run, other than 15-mile runs being rather taxing.)
Like all things running related, lighter weight things help you go faster. Running vests are made with lots of weight-trimming touches, like featherlight fabrics, bungees instead of straps, and a trim cut. If you’re a super-duper weight weenie, you can find a vest under 200 grams, and of course they go up from there. Many vests incorporate breathable mesh that shaves weight and also lets a little airflow onto your skin.
Since the vest is supposed to be fitted, vests come in small, medium, and large sizes. Each brand posts a size chart on their site so you can make the best call. This means the shoulder width and torso length should be just right for you—no slip-sloshing around. You may also find a men-specific or women-specific pack will work better for your body type depending on your shoulder and chest measurements. Fit is everything!
Like most packs, running vests are measured by their carrying capacity. The size you need depends of course on your planned length of runs and how much extra stuff you want to be able to carry, such as layers and snacks. We find a five-liter vest is quite minimalist and will carry enough for a few hours, while a ten-liter vest should be enough for a half-day effort, and a 12-15 liter vest is enough for a great big day, layers/snacks/headlamp included. If you play it safe and err on the large side so your vest works for most running adventures, make sure it can cinch down and eliminate empty dead-air space that would let the pack’s contents bounce.
Many people have a strong preference for either hydration bladders (like a Camelback-style water carry) or water bottles. There are pros and cons to both, so see if a vest can easily carry your method of preference. You’ll also see “flask pockets” noted in vest features. They are not alluding to fun whiskey flasks (unless you’re a hardcore party runner and that’s your thang), but rather to squeeze-y water bottles you can tuck into your shoulder straps to easily access a sip.
Think about what you’d like to have most easily at hand (or organized) while you’re out. A super minimalist vest will have very few pockets (the fabric and zippers add grams!) but a more middle-of-the-road vest will have several dedicated pockets for small items like your phone, keys, lip balm, energy goo/bars, and headlamp. Make sure there’s at least one or two zip-shut pockets to hold things that can’t fall out like keys.
Trekking pole carry:
For long distances especially, many runners enjoy using trekking poles. Use them for either the up or the down or both, as you prefer. But for the time periods you don’t feel like using them, you need an easy stash system to stick them in or on your vest. It’s a huge bonus if it isn’t time-consuming to take poles off and on—ideally the folded-up pole tips just rest in a dedicated pocket and the upper part of your poles easily stay put with a loop or strap.
If you’re sold on the idea of a running vest (like we enthusiastically are), have a look on Geartrade to scoop up a nice UnNew one! Then, be sure to tell us how you like it and tag us in your trail pics!
Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.
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