When making the transition from road running or shorter trails to endurance challenges, the need to carry essential kit and fuel becomes a key focus. Getting the best running backpack to meet your specific goals can pay enormous dividends, not only to how much you enjoy your training, but how safe you are out in the wilderness.
Like picking your ideal running shoe, there are a number of factors that come into play when choosing a backpack ‚Äď the most important being fit and comfort. As well as picking the right size pack you also need to ensure the shape and fit suit your body and running style.
Jump to the trail backpack you want:
- Best all-round trail backpacks
- Best vests for ultra running
- Best heavy-duty trail running backpacks
- Best lightweight trail running backpacks
- Best budget trail running backpacks
The bag you choose will depend entirely on how you plan to run. If you‚Äôre racing a marathon, for example, you‚Äôll want to look for something light and minimal but with a good hydration solution like a bladder.
- Just add water: The best hydration packs and vests
How many liters? 15l, 20l, 30l compared
For ultras up to 24 hours, capacity and flexibility are crucial. Soft flasks often trump heavier space-hungry bladders here, leaving you more space for food, waterproof clothes, dry socks and poles.
It‚Äôs also vital to have pockets where you can stash easily accessible food ‚Äď because tiredness makes you lazy. You also want a pack that‚Äôs breathable and won‚Äôt rub or wriggle.
Some running packs will only really serve for race and training runs while others might double as good options for commuting to the office. Choose wisely though. While versatility might good for the wallet, you won‚Äôt thank yourself for saving $20 when you‚Äôre 15 hours into a trail race and your bag problems are all that you can think about.
We‚Äôre constantly testing the latest running packs and vests to help find the products you should consider. Every one of the packs on this list has been selected for its combination of comfort, convenience, durability and adaptability.
Inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 2-in-1 Vest
Vest-style packs that hug your body, leaving your arms free to swing without annoying chafing, have become hugely popular and this clever 345g (0.8lbs) Inov-8 pack offers maximum versatility. Good for short training runs, ultra marathons and multi-day adventure races, its 2-in-1 design features a detachable 10-liter pocket, so you can beef up the storage capacity and use it as a pocketed race vest, or strip it down to a minimal vest.
It comes with two 500ml soft flasks, with an optional drink tube that can be worn higher up the body or stashed lower to the side. You also get a removable 2-liter bladder for runs where carrying water is more important than kit. Plus there‚Äôs a speed cup for the increasing number of races where you need to bring your own.
Adjustable straps make it easy to find a good fit and cut out unwanted bounce, while a breathable mesh back panel helps keep things cool-ish. There are side stretch-mesh pockets for stashing items you need within easy reach and moveable pole mounts make it easy to stash your sticks on the front or the back for easy access. It comes in two sizes, S/M and M/L.
Ultimate Performance Aire 2l
Better suited to longer training runs and ultra-distance trail races than fast marathons, the Ultimate Performance Aire sits somewhere between the minimal race vest and the multi-stage backpacks.
It‚Äôs made of 6000 Ripstop lightweight nylon fabric for great durability and comes with a 2-liter removable hydration pouch, hydration tube and bite valve. The latter has a cap to prevent leaky dribbles ‚Äď something that‚Äôs particularly irritating if you‚Äôve mixed your water with a carb powder of electrolytes.
There‚Äôs plenty of padding, with strips down the back to protect the shoulder blades from any awkward-shaped gear in the bag as well on the shoulder straps, so it sits well without rubbing. Adjustable chest and clippable shoulder straps also help create a comfortable fit and reduce bounce.
On the front, you get two zippered front pockets and two open pouches. These are big enough to fit a 500ml bottle or slot in soft flasks, however, these aren‚Äôt included with the vest.
Other neat touches include very handy large-loop zipper pulls that make it really easy to access secure pockets in gloves, with cold fingers or on the move. There‚Äôs also a headphone opening, so if you wear wired running headphones you can keep your smartphone safe and dry but stay listening to tunes. There‚Äôs no whistle but there are reflective details for added nighttime visibility.
Nathan Sports VaporKrar Running Vest
Named after Canadian ultra runner and former Leadville 100 winner, Rob Krar ‚Äď who collaborated on the design ‚Äď this 12-liter vest-style race pack has a 1.6-liter removable hydration bladder with an hourglass design that reduces irritating water sloshing. The bladder is insulated too, so water stays cooler for longer than in non-insulated pouches ‚Äď there‚Äôs little worse than drinking warm water during a hot trail run.
At 422g (0.9lbs) with the bladder, it‚Äôs not the lightest race vest but there are front pockets capable of taking two soft flasks if you prefer that method of carrying water. Two zippered water-resistant shoulder strap pockets with pull ties are also good for stashing essentials ‚Äď like your smartphone and race food ‚Äď for easy access. Meanwhile, a larger kangaroo pocket has plenty of storage for jackets, waterproofs and back up food.
There‚Äôs no front clip system for poles, which might put some runners off, but there‚Äôs reflectivity for better visibility on dark nights and a built-in safety whistle ‚Äď often a part of the obligatory kit on ultra races.
Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra Vest
Salomon pioneered the running vest pack and its S-LAB Ultra Vest range is about as minimal and lightweight as it gets. Weighing in at just under 200g (0.4lbs), coming in five sizes (XS up to XL) and three volumes (2-liter, 5-liter and 8-liter), the vest sits close to the body so it feels like you‚Äôre wearing another outer layer rather than a backpack.
It‚Äôs lightweight, breathable and has a surprising ability to fit in a lot of kit thanks to eight stretch mesh pockets ‚Äď two of which are zippable ‚Äď that expand to accommodate enough food, gels and other essentials for day-long runs. The fabric wraps to lock it all in place with no jiggle or jumping around, and the main compartment can happily take a set of hiking poles.
You also get two 500ml soft flasks with bite valve tops and wide openings that make refilling and pouring in electrolytes and race fuel powders easy-ish. To top it all off, there‚Äôs an integrated whistle and some reflective touches for added night safety.
The 2-liter option is great for shorter faster runs where you want to stay light and compact, like a marathon, while the 8-liter works best for those races where you know you‚Äôre in it for the long haul and might need to take additional waterproofs and other paraphernalia.
OMM Trailfire Vest
The most minimal ‚Äď and possibly the most well thought through ‚Äď pack on the list, this 125g (0.3lbs) vest strips things back to the basics. It‚Äôs perfect for when you need little gear and want to run super light, but is cleverly customisable for when you want to beef up capacity or cater for specific race needs such as hydration.
A great option for shorter trail races or for anyone who might want the security of carrying essentials during a city marathon, it features five stretch mesh pockets, with four smaller ones on the front and one large dump pouch on the back. The front pockets comfortably accommodate three or four gels, while the back will take a hydration bladder.
The capacity can be cleverly expanded thanks to a series of attachment points that let you add accessories such as a 5-liter ‚Äėcompressor pod‚Äô pack ($30.00).
When it comes to hydration, the front mesh pockets are designed to take two 500ml soft flasks while the back pouch happily handles a 3-liter pouch, with a slot to thread your hydration tube and bite valve through to the front.
There are adjustable cables on the chest and to the side of the vest that mean you can cinch the vest in to create a snug fit with very little movement.
Osprey Duro 6 Running Vest
Like the majority of vests on this list, the Duro 6 is designed to carry all of the essential kit you may need for trail running. At 6 liters, and with some smart packing, that's more than enough space to cover your safety items, a couple of spare pieces of clothing and ample fuel for most long-distance efforts.
When it comes to combining looks with performance features, Osprey is one of the best out there, offering a range of sleek designs and colorways that incorporate an impressive range of technical features.
In the front, there are two 500ml soft flasks that fit securely in the elasticated pockets, both of which include extension hoses that allow you to take a sip without needing to use your hands to adjust the flask ‚Äď saving you valuable seconds during an FKT attempt. There are also loops on the back of each shoulder strap to stow trail running poles.
Despite its minimal-looking design, there's also ample storage dotted across the pack, including a large stretch-mesh pocket on the outside that can be used to quickly stash clothing on the go whilst still keeping it firmly in place so items don't drop out mid-run, multiple zip pockets to store valuables on the front, back and hips, and additional mesh pockets for placing things you need quick access to.
One of the most notable aspects of the Duro 6 is a fit that manages to balance a high level of comfort with a secure, locked-down feel that keeps everything from bouncing around when leaping across the trails. The main reason for this is the elasticated sternum straps that pull the bag around the body without loosening over the course of a run ‚Äď but still allowing freedom and relaxed breathing.
Note: The Duro 6 is the men's version of the running vest. A women's version is available with the same features called the Dyna 6.
Dynafit Enduro 12 Backpack
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Enduro 12 is that, although it holds a fair amount of kit (12 liters), its snug design makes it feel like you're carrying a lot less. That's thanks to its ‚ÄėAirmesh‚Äô construction, which basically means that it'll hug your frame equally instead of the weight being disproportionate.
The other thing this rucksack has in abundance is pockets: A removable zipped smartphone pocket, a waterproof pocket, soft flask pockets and a selection of multi-use pockets of different sizes, all of which go to make it a great option for carefully organizing your gear for longer runs. In addition, it includes multiple fixing points for poles.
Other features include an elasticated cord for quickly strapping it tightly to your chest, a safety whistle and a sweat-wicking fabric design. It comes in two sizes: small and medium/large and weighs in at 289g (0.6lbs).
WAA MDS Backpack
At 20 liters, this bag is bigger than most of the race packs on this list but it‚Äôs ideal for multi-stage races where you need to be self-sufficient or carry a lot of kit. Designed for the Marathon Des Sables, a 270-degree zip opening makes it easy to access all your kit without unpacking and repacking, and a selection of accessories lets you customise the weight and capacity depending on your needs.
There‚Äôs a detachable and independent 4-liter front pack, two half-liter front waist pockets, a tiny back-sized foam sleeping mat ‚Äď though this is more useful as back padding during the run than it is for comfort in camp ‚Äď and a waterproof rain cover. It‚Äôs incredibly reflective for night run safety and there‚Äôs a built-in whistle. At its most pared-back, it weighs 450g (1lb), increasing up to 1,400g (3.1lbs) with all the accessories attached.
Decent sized padded shoulder straps make it comfortable to run with, even when you‚Äôve got 8-10kg (17-22lbs) on your back, and these also hold two removable bottle 750ml plastic bottles.
The bag is big enough to fit a 17-inch Macbook Pro and a change of clothes ‚Äď including shoes ‚Äď so it also doubles brilliantly as a day-to-day commuter running bag. And it's durable enough to withstand seven days in the Sahara and a year‚Äôs daily commuter use.
On the downside, there are a lot of straps, cords and fiddly bits and it takes a bit of time to learn how to make the most of all the add-ons, but once you‚Äôve customised this bag to your preferences it‚Äôs a very reliable pack.
Mubasel Gear Insulated Hydration Backpack
An incredibly versatile pack that far surpasses the ridiculously low price, the Mubasel Hydration Backpack has a whole heap of great features going for it that will delight any trail runner.
The main selling point is the insulated bladder compartment (2-liter bladder included) which means that you can fill it up with your favorite liquid and enjoy a nice cool drink for up to four hours into your run ‚Äď no more lukewarm water when you're sweating it out at the top of a mountain. You can also use it to keep food cool if you're planning on a nice fresh snack.
Storage options include three smaller compartments for things like clothes or your phone and front mesh pockets for quick access items.
The lightweight design of the backpack offers an excellent level of ventilation and comfort, with padded shoulder straps that allow for a high level of adjusting whether you're a man or a woman, and the range of colorways available is frankly mouth-watering.
Camelbak Zephyr Vest
In the early days of trail running's popularity, Camelbak was the go-to brand when it came to carrying hydration and essential kit on the go. Since then the brand has continued to develop and improve its products, maintaining its position as one of the best options out there today.
The Zephyr Vest is the ultimate workhorse for long-distance runners. Combining an impressive 11 liters of storage with two 500ml Quick Stow flasks (included) it offers a balanced option for runners that need a good amount of storage whilst still being lightweight.
The back and straps of the vest are made from a breathable mesh material that allows air to circulate and keep you cool and dry. That same fabric is treated with an anti-microbial formula to stop bacteria from forming as sweat builds up.
The vest comes packed with a surprising range of features to make running as easy as possible, including a secure cell phone pocket, trekking pole attachment, reflective elements, and a built-in safety whistle. There's also an ample selection of storage options dotted across the vest including a zipped pocket inside the main compartment and a large stash pocket on the back.
Whilst testing the Zephyr Vest we found that one area it excels in is fit. The adjustable straps at the front are easy to modify when running and provide a solid locked-down fit without loosening over the course of a run.
Columbia Caldorado Running Pack
The Caldorado is a great little backpack if you're looking for a light and compact option for shorter trail runs. It has all the features you'd expect from a larger pack apart from the amount of storage available.
At 7 liters, you're not going to be able to fit much more in this than the essentials for a few hours at most, but that does mean you don't have to lug around a bigger pack when you really don't need to. As well as space for a 3-liter hydration pack, you'll probably just have enough room for some fuel, your valuables, an extra layer or two and the necessary safety equipment.
One issue with the pack is that it does only come in one size which means that smaller or larger people will struggle with the average design that Columbia has focussed on. There is the ability to adjust using the straps to an extent, but there are limits to what you can achieve with this. If you are in the medium sizing category it's an impressively comfortable fit.
Additional features on the pack include stretch-woven side water bottle pockets, reflective detailing for running at night, an internal mesh security pocket, a safety whistle, trekking pole attachments and an adjustable hip belt.
Evadict Trail Running 5L Bag
Decathlon offers an impressive range of products for trail runners on a budget and the Kalenji Trail Running 5L Bag is a perfect example of a highly functional pack at a smaller price point.
Although the build and durability won't compete with some of the other options on the list, Kalenji's offering has a heap of features that mean this budget option is punching well above its weight.
Storage-wise, there are two front pockets ‚Äď one designed to hold a flask and the other large enough for a smartphone, three rear pockets and a 'kangaroo' pouch at the back to stow a running jacket.
The shoulder straps are felt-lined, which offer a surprising level of comfort, and are connected via two easy to fasten chest straps at the top and bottom of the torso. It's a system that provides an impressive level of comfort and support and the long back section of the bag distributes the weight very well.
At 140g it's a great option for those just entering the world of long-distance running or who might want a spare pack. It lacks some of the features a seasoned trail or ultra runner might need and at 5 liters it may not have the capacity for those spending the day on the trails. There is, however, a 10-liter option from Kalenji for long-distance training runs.