Hydration packs come in innumerable shapes — from ultra-lightweight racing vests to expedition packs — all offering varying amounts of storage and water-carrying capacity. When shopping for a pack carefully consider what type of running you will be mostly doing and what (and how much) you intend to carry with you. For example, do you need just enough space for some water, a soft shell jacket, your phone, car keys and perhaps a bar, or, are you planning on tackling a long-distance event such as the (upcoming K-Way Skyrun or RMB Ultratrail Cape Town) where you would be required to carry a minimum amount of compulsory gear and so need a bigger pack? Here, in no particular order is a carefully curated list of some of the best hydration packs for trail running currently available in South Africa.
USWE Outlander 2
Hydration capacity: 1.5l
The Outlander raced onto the South African market in spectacular fashion over the past two years when notable big name mountain-bikers made it cool to race with hydration packs again. Jordan Sarrou wore one on a few stages during his and Matt Beers’ winning Cape Epic campaign in 2021 and not long after many other riders throughout the field started sporting them (including Matt) on the longer stages. Thanks to its minimalist vest-style design the pack translates well from bike racing to trail running. It features a 4-point harness system that makes the pack 100% bounce-free, and the stretch support of the harness allows good freedom of movement. It doesn’t have pockets, straps or zips and carries just carries 1.5L of water in a single, zipped internal pocket. The same pocket has enough space for a thin jacket and your phone.
EVOC Hydro Pro 1.5.
Hydration capacity: 1.5l
EVOC has been a trusted name in packs for years and made a welcome return to South Africa through Omnico Pty Ltd in 2022. The Hydro Pro from the German brand is built in the same understated vest design of the USWE. It is made out of ultra-lightweight Aeroflex and 3D Airmesh fabrics and, according to EVOC weighs less than 300g empty. It features two small chest pockets for smaller items such as gels and bars. It tightens securely around your chest with two elastic straps, one of which is vertically adjustable.
Hydration capacity: 1.5l bladder + 2 soft flasks
CamelBak is one of the OG names in hydration packs and no list would be complete with at least one inclusion. Their range is extensive and features a variety of packs for all types of racers and runners including market-leading women’s specific models. When it comes to trail running hydration packs, the Circuit Vest is perhaps their most popular. It features their proprietary 1.5-litre CRUX reservoir as well as two front pockets designed to carry soft flasks. Its streamlined dual sternum strap is highly adjustable making it a one-size-fits-most (we also like that is has integrated reflectivity). Aside from the open pockets on the harness it also has a secure zippered pocket that fits most smartphones.
Salomon ADV SKIN 12 Set
Hydration capacity: 3l in various configurations
The Advance Skin 12 is the latest in a long line of race-pedigreed hydration packs from French company Salomon. The ADV SKIN 12 was designed for freedom and snugness and features all the essentials such as easy hydration as well as versatile storage options. “The pack is unisex, which is great if more than one family member wants to use it,” explains Ryno Griesel (pictured in the featured image with Ryan Sandes) who has used various versions (and sizes) of the Advance Skin on his endurance projects. “I prefer buying the bigger 12L volume, because of the stretch material, you don’t ‘feel’ the space you do not use – but its there if you need it,” he says, explaining that the pack can be used for shorter or longer adventures and races or is ideal for a race like Otter, “where they announce the risk level, and related required compulsory gear to carry – the evening before. With the versatile storage space, you can up or downscale what you will carry in the same pack.” The pack features two included soft flasks and a bladder-compatible pouch.” Ryno always uses poles and so has the option to add the separate pole carrying quiver or attach his poles with the elasticated loops at the back with different placement options.
First Ascent Stealth
Hydration capacity: 1.5L + soft bottles
The Stealth hydration pack from First Ascent is a great value option with a load of features. It comes equipped with a 1.5L hydration bladder as well enough space to store two soft bottles in the harness. In addition, the are reinforced mesh zipped pockets, to allow for increased storage and easy access to nutrition. The chest straps are made from adjustable stretch elastic for a secure, chafe-free fit, while the lightweight air mesh back panel makes it a great option for summer trail runs.
Check out some of our favourite trails in National Parks, here.