This is a relatively new type of bag which is probably now the most popular type for single day runs and events. These are fitted and so usually come in a range of sizes. They sit high up around the chest and shoulders and have no waist strap; this prevents the movement of the hips from causing the bag to move up and down too much or from rubbing. Vest packs generally have a good amount of storage attached to the straps on the front of the body and this allows quick access to item such as trail food, headwear or even packable clothing layers.
One of the major features is that they can usually hold one or two drinks bottles at the front which allows for access to hydration on the move as bladders do. One major advantage of this system over a hydration bladder is that the bottles or soft flasks can be quickly and easily refilled at checkpoints without the need to remove the bag. Carrying some water and kit on the front of your body also helps to balance the weight on the body which is better for your running gait and posture. Vest packs are usually also compatible with a hydration bladder for when you need to carry more fluid.
Hard bottles vs Soft Flasks
If you decide to go with a vest pack with bottle holders then you will need some bottles or soft flasks, these are often included but can also be purchased separately. If you prefer to drink from a bottle in your hand then a hard bottle is the best option as this is suited to removing from the bottle holders and will easily slot back in while you’re running. Soft flasks are probably now the most popular option. Generally runners will leave them in the bottle holders and move their mouth to the valve at the top to drink while squeezing the flask. Soft flasks with straws are also available to make it easier to reach the valve.
The arrangement of the pockets is particularly important on a vest pack, it is worth trying it on to check which pockets you can reach and think about whether or not these pockets can accommodate the bits of kit you need to be at hand on your training runs or events. On the front small zipped or closable pockets for your keys are useful, these sometimes have a clip to keep them secure. Packs often also have a pocket for your phone. You are likely to want access to food so a few small to medium sized pockets on the front are probably necessary. Medium to large stretchy mesh pockets are perfect for packable layers, you might want to be able to access a windproof or waterproof which you can put on without removing the pack. Otherwise large mesh pockets on the back are great for quickly stuffing clothing into even if you do need to take the pack off.
Last but certainly not least is fit. If at all possible it is worth trying on a range of vest packs and backpacks to see which fit your body shape the best. As mentioned vest packs generally come in a range of sizes to help you get the right fit but you might find that the shape of the pack varies between brands so it is well worth trying a few of them. Always try on the packs with something in the pockets to simulate what you would carry when using it on a run. The fit will also affect the position of the pockets on your body and if it is wrong can make otherwise reachable pockets inaccessible.
To help you choose the vest pack or backpack which is right for you we have put together tables of information such as the price, number of pockets, hydration system and capacity. Click here to have a look and choose something which is perfect for your needs.