The Best Running Hydration Packs & Vests of 2023
We tested the best running hydration packs and vests of 2022, including top picks from Salomon, Nathan Sports, Arc’teryx, and more.
Calling all endurance athletes, this running vest is for you. Do you bike? Ski? Climb? Run? This running vest can hold everything you need.
Designed for long missions and exploring remote areas, the Patagonia Slope Runner Exploration is built on the design of Patagonia’s other running vests. But with 18 L of storage space, this pack can do more than just run.
There’s a gap in the gear world between fast-and-light backpacks and running vests. Many running vests are too small for unsupported long outings. But backpacks move too much for comfort. The Patagonia Slope Runner Exploration sits in the middle, fitting like a running vest but with the capacity of a backpack.
In short: We were excited to test the potential of the Patagonia Slope Runner Exploration vest ($179) and found it to have even more capability than initially advertised. It works for backcountry ski missions, alpine climbing, multipitch climbing, mountain biking pack, and, of course, long runs and mountain exploration.
With the same name as Patagonia’s 3L running vest, you would expect the Slope Runner Exploration to be a running vest. But the Slope Runner Endurance, the smaller model, is built very differently than the 18L Exploration. I’ve used both, and I love the 3L running vest for everything from runs around town to races. But the Slope Runner Exploration is up for a lot more.
Running vests sit high and close to your body so they don’t move while you run (aka bounce up and down). Backpacks sit lower and don’t conform to the shape of your body in the same way as a vest. When running, climbing, biking, or skiing, backpacks sometimes feel bulky and get in the way of movement.
Built as a hybrid running vest/pack, the Slope Runner Exploration sits high on your back, keeping weight well distributed. It has two chest straps and space for up to four soft flasks — more than most running vests. It includes one main back compartment accessible by a top cinch closure.
This vest/pack is a key piece of gear for anyone who spends full days traversing mountain ridges on foot. If you’re an endurance athlete and love to spend sunrise to sunset (or longer) outside, you need a pack that balances speed, safety, and comfort.
But one of my main reasons to test out the Slope Runner Endurance pack was for the rest of us. This pack might replace all of my daypacks for most outdoor activities. The running vest design makes it easy to keep on while moving, but the large capacity can hold layers, a camera, leftover pizza, water, and more.
I’ve tested out the Patagonia Slope Runner Exploration while running and mountain biking on my local trails, but I’m excited to put it to the test this winter as well. It easily fits my Backcountry Access collapsible probe and shovel, with room for layers and snacks. Plus, the external lash point allows you to attach a helmet.
This pack also has a unique ice-axe-carry design that I’ve never seen on a pack this size. The pick slides in on the outside below the main compartment, and an elastic loop holds the shaft in place.
For me, the best part of the Patagonia Slope Runner Endurance pack is its versatility. I plan to use it for backcountry skiing this winter and as a multipitch climbing pack. I’ve used it on backyard mountain bike rides and enjoyed having easy access to the soft flasks or a hydration reservoir while moving.
Unlike other backpack designs, the Slope Runner Endurance does not move while you run. The load-management system keeps the weight high on your back, and the dual sternum straps allow for adjustment. So far, I have not experienced any chafing while running with this pack.
The back panel is made out of a thicker mesh than Patagonia’s other running vests and includes a removable, perforated panel that adds structure if desired. I really like all the external lash spots that hold poles, an ice axe, and more. A 65cm ice axe was securely held in place during testing.
For the most part, this pack is really well-designed and works well for a variety of sports. But there are a few small features that I found cumbersome or slightly frustrating.
The front soft flask sleeves are slightly too small for the included flasks. When completely full, it’s challenging to get them to slide in and secure. Despite the elastic band that keeps them from falling out, I’ve struggled with them halfway through a run when they were mostly empty and falling out of the pockets.
This pack also works best when packed full. When half or mostly empty, it slides around a bit and doesn’t feel as secure to carry as when it’s fully packed. If you expect to use it mostly for small excursions where you don’t need the full capacity, Patagonia’s 3L running vest is probably a better option.
Overall, this is a great running pack that works well for a variety of sports. The Patagonia Slope Runner Exploration ($179) rides the line between vest and backpack, with a tight-fitting design that sits high on your back.
For endurance runners who spend a lot of time unsupported in the mountains, this is one of the best options out there. But it’s also a great option for someone looking for a do-it-all daypack for a variety of sports.
The quality seems like it will last for seasons to come, even with the natural abuse of mountain sports. The exterior waterproofing stood up to snow and light rain in testing, and the mesh pockets seem fairly durable.
I’ll be using this pack for long adventure runs, day hikes, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and multipitch climbing. It’s earned a top spot in my backpack rotation.
As someone who has lived in vans and small spaces throughout her life, I’m always looking for packs that can do it all. And the Patagonia Slope Runner Exploration can do even more than advertised.
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