Best running backpacks for ultras, training and commuting

From marathon training to multi-stage ultras, here are the best running bags for when you're on the move
Running backpacks tried and tested

The running backpack is back in focus now that runners are frequently taking on longer challenges. Whether you're tackling ultras, run commuting with a change of clothes or spending a weekend on the trails, when you run further you start to need extra kit, food and water – and that means a running pack.

Picking your ideal bag is a bit like picking your ideal running shoe – it's about fit and comfort. The selection of packs is vast, ranging from smaller capacity vests to 20L packs that are more in line with a rucksack style. The bag you choose will depend entirely on how you plan to run. If you’re racing a marathon, for example, you’ll want to look for something light and minimal but with a good hydration solution like a bladder.

How many litres? 15l, 20l, 30l compared

For ultras up to 24 hours, capacity and flexibility is crucial. Soft flasks often trump heavier space-hungry bladders here, leaving you more space for food, waterproof clothes, dry socks and poles. It’s also vital to have pockets where you can stash easily accessible food because tiredness makes you lazy. And you want a pack that’s breathable and won’t 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’t thank yourself for saving $20 when you’re 15 hours into a trail race and your bag problems are all that you can think about.

We’re constantly testing the latest running packs and vests to help find the products you should seriously consider. Every one of the packs on this list has been selected for its combination of comfort, convenience, durability and adaptability. We’d highly recommend trying these on for size before you commit though – because, you know, humans come in different shapes and sizes and a pack that plays nice on the shoulders of one runner might jiggle another to distraction.

Best all-rounder: Inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 2-in-1 Vest

Buy now: | $185

Best running backpacks for racing and training

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-litre 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 – which can be worn higher up the body or stashed lower to the side. You also get a removable 2-litre bladder for runs where carrying water is more important than kit. Plus there’s 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.

Nathan Sports VaporKrar

Buy now: Runnerinn (UK) / Nathan Sports (US) | $199.99

Best running backpacks for racing, training and commuting

Named after Canadian ultra runner and former Leadville 100 winner, Rob Krar, who collaborated on the design, this 12-litre vest-style race pack has a 1.6-litre 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 – there’s little worse than drinking warm water.

At 422g (0.9lbs) with the bladder, it’s 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 – like your smartphone and race food – for easy access. Meanwhile a larger kangaroo pocket has plenty of storage for jackets, waterproofs and back up food.

There’s no front clip system for poles, which might put some runners off, but there’s reflectivity for better visibility on dark nights and a built-in safety whistle – often a part of the obligatory kit on ultra races.

Adidas Terrex Agravic Backpack

Buy now: adidas (UK) | £109.95

Best running backpacks for racing, training and commuting

A long-standing part of the Adidas mountain-taming Terrex range of gear, the Agravic is built for moving fast and light on the trails. Two front pouches for 400ml soft flasks – that’s slightly less than you’ll find in the Salomon and 200ml under the normal 1-litre obligatory water carrying requirements of many ultras, though you can add a bladder up to 2 litres and use the designed-in tube routing.

There’s a mesh back that offers a decent level of breathability and the wide shoulder straps make for a comfortable run, however, there is more pack here than you’ll find with a more minimal race vest. One open and one zippered shoulder strap pocket are good for stashing important stuff while the 13L back pouch offers more than ample room for other kit. You also get 100% nylon ripstop for great protection durability and there’s a built-in safety whistle.

Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra Vest

Buy now: Salomon (UK) / Salomon (US) / Amazon | From $130

Best running backpacks for racing and training

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-litre, 5-litre and 8-litre), the vest sits close to the body so it feels like you’re wearing another outer layer rather than a backpack.

It’s lightweight, breathable and has a surprising ability to fit in a lot of kit thanks to eight stretch mesh pockets – two of which are zippable – 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’s an integrated whistle and some reflective touches for added night safety.

The 2-litre option is great for shorter faster runs where you want to stay light and compact, like a marathon, while the 8-litre works best for those races where you know you’re in it for the long haul and might need to take additional waterproofs and other paraphernalia.

Ultimate Performance Aire 2l

Buy now: Amazon | $54.90

Best running backpacks for racing and training

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’s made of 6000 Ripstop lightweight nylon fabric for great durability and comes with a 2-litre removable hydration pouch, hydration tube and bite valve. The latter has a cap to prevent leaky dribbles – something that’s particularly irritating if you’ve mixed your water with a carb powder of electrolytes.

There’s 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 help create a comfortable fit and reduce bounce, though if you fill the pack’s three internal compartments, this jiggles more than something like the Salomon vest.

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’t 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’s 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’s no whistle but there are reflective details for added nighttime visibility.

The North Face Flight MT

Buy now: The North Face (UK) / Amazon | £115

Best running backpacks for racing and training

A versatile vest-pack hybrid, the Flight MT is lightweight (297g/ 0.7lbs), compact and runs like a minimal pack even though it boasts a surprising 12-litre capacity. In part this is because, aside from two 500ml soft flasks with bite valves at the end of mini hydration tubes, there’s nothing else on the front of the pack.

While that’s nicely freeing, there is a trade off because it’s quite hard to reach any race essentials on the move. The three tiny stretch mesh side pouches sit quite far back on the body making them trickier to access, plus they don’t hold as much as other bags. The two stretch mesh bottle pockets could be used to stash gels, food and other essentials if you didn’t need the full litre of fluid, though you need to stuff them quite full to ensure nothing falls out.

In the main zippered pack you get three internal compartments, one of which is a small mesh zipper pocket. This makes it easy to organise your gear, and the bag comfortably holds a set of waterproof trousers and a jacket.

There are two adjustable front straps at the chest and slightly lower down for a snug fit, though you can’t adjust the shoulders. The breathable mesh pack and shoulder panels also make for a comfortable run, helping to reduce the effect of the sweaty heat. There’s also an integrated whistle for safety.

OMM Trailfire Vest

Buy now: OMM (UK) / Amazon | $51

Best running backpacks for racing and training

The most minimal – and possibly the most well thought through – pack on the list, this 125g (0.3lbs) vest strips things back to the basics. It’s 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 accommodates 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-litre ‘compressor pod’ 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 litre 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.

WAA MDS Backpack

Buy now: | $197.98

Best running backpacks for racing and training

At 20 litres, this bag is bigger than most of the race packs on this list but it’s 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 let you customise the weight and capacity depending on your needs.

There’s a detachable and independent 4 litre front pack, two half-litre front waste pockets, a tiny back-sized foam sleeping mat – though this is more use as back padding during the run than it is for comfort in camp – and a waterproof rain cover. It’s incredibly reflective for night run safety and there’s 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’ve 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 – including shoes – 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’s 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’ve customised this bag to your preferences it’s a very reliable pack.

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