The trail running vest has been revolutionary. In the last five years, the emergence of these running backpacks that fit almost like a jacket has meant runners can go further, and much more comfortably. They are designed most specifically for mountain and trail running, where you’ll be out for a long time and you may encounter changes in weather. The idea is that you can fit water, snacks, a wind or waterproof, phone and a few other bits and bobs in a backpack that, and this is the key part, doesn’t bounce. The best trail running backpacks should fit, as we say, almost like a jacket. Most of the trail running backpacks and vests out there are around six litres, small, but perfect for runs longer than an hour when you’ll need to carry water
How To Choose A Trail Running Backpack Or Vest
Because these packs are a relatively new development, there is a lot of difference between them. We’ve mentioned in the review the good and bad points of each, but there are several things to bear in mind when buying one. Firstly is, of course, fit. They need to be very snug against the back, move freely with the body and, this may require jumping up and down in the shop, not bounce. You should be able to move your arms without your elbows hitting the pack.
Once you’re happy with the fit, make sure that the fastening is easy to attach. Bear in mind that what may only be a little fiddly when you’re trying it on, will become a more significant issue once when you’re tired and have cold fingers. The less straps the better too – they can flap around in the face on windy days.
Then consider the features. Are the pockets where you need them? There are usually pockets on the vest straps, including for soft water bottles, this is good for quick access but also helps balance the bag when wearing it. Consider what it would be like with full water bottles and a full bag. Hydration bladders and bottles do need some maintenance and will be the part that goes first, so they should be easy to replace if needed.
The main opening should be secure, fairly weather-resistant, and easy to access. Again, bear in mind what it would be like if you’re cold and tired.
Once you use your running vest on a run, you’ll soon understand just how great these backpacks are. Happy running!
Best Trail Running Backpacks Reviewed
- Columbia Caldorado 7L
- Alpkit Artlu 10
- Montane Via Fang 5 (Best in Test)
- Salomon Agile 6 Set
- Thule Vital 6L
- DynaFit Enduro 12
- Osprey Duro 6
Montane VIA Fang 5 (Best In Test)
The Montane VIA Fang 5 is an example of a backpack where everything just works. There are no superfluous extras, and there’s a clear reason for every element. The reason that it wins the ‘best in test’ however, is the fastening system. There are two straps, one across the chest and another across the belly, and they link with Velcro. Both are very easy to adjust and get just right. The elastication also means they keep tight as your breathing gets heavier. It’s a brilliant, simple system. The ‘Freelight Chassis’ is made from a mesh that is breathable and fast drying. We also love that it is treated with Polygiene, a permanent odour control.
As in all of these packs, there are plenty of pockets, including four stretch mesh pockets on the front of the ‘chassis’, one with a security zip. Two are designed to carry 500ml SoftFlask bottles that the bag comes with. These soft bottles can be compacted down when they’re finished, and you can also squeeze the air out of them so the water doesn’t slosh around. The Fang 5 is compatible with a hydration bladder too.
There are two stash pockets on either side of the pack harness for gels and the like. The main pocket is accessed through a zip, but it lies behind the external compression cord which means you need to undo the cord before you can open it up – a very minor niggle. There’s another smaller zipped pocket on the lower section.
Other features include an underarm pole attachment and another that allows the poles to be attached diagonally across the back. There’s also a whistle and reflective features. Overall, this is an excellent buy.
Excellent attachment system. Contains Polygiene odour control. Very comfortable. Includes water bottles.
Minor niggle, but the compression cord needs to be undone to access the main section.
5 litre / Polygiene permanent odour control / Front stretch hook and loop lower body adjustment / 2 x Montane SoftFlasks 500ml / 4 pockets on chassis / 2 main compartments / pole attachment.
Salomon Agile 6 Set
Salomon was among the first pioneers of the running vest. It’s a company with a deep understanding of trail running – their shoes are excellent. The early vests out of their innovative S/LAB programme were game-changing but not flawless. There were lots of straps and fiddly attachments, and they could flap in your face. Fast-forward a few years and many of these issues have been resolved.
The Agile 6 Set is a slightly simpler running or cycling pack that pairs back a lot of the extras (including the price – it was on offer for £45 when we last checked). It’s a mesh construction that is comfortable and dries quickly. Harness-wise, there are two elasticated straps across the front that clip in. These clips are bigger than they used to be, but I still found them a tad fiddly in the cold. The straps seemed quite long (I chopped a bit off!).
There is one main compartment with a zip that opens all the way around the bag. Not only does this mean that you can open the lot up and easily access what you need, but also the two-way zip means you can just open the bit you want anywhere.
There are mesh pockets on either side for two 500ml soft flask waterbottles that are supplied with the pack. These are positioned so it’s easy to drink from them through a straw without taking them out. A final feature to note is the attachment on the back for storing poles diagonally. This pack comes in 2-, 6- and 12-litre sizes.
Waterproof resistant, low weight, long zip with easy access.
Slightly fiddly chest straps. Would be better with two more pockets for gels/snacks/phone.
6 litre / 1 main compartment / 3D Air Mesh construction / 100D Nylon Mini Ripstop, Waterproof 500mm / 2 soft flasks.
Alpkit Artlu 10
Alpkit are known for making great gear at a very low price (largely because they sell direct). The Artlu is a 10-litre vest for running. It’s the largest backpack on test, and the one that feels most like a regular backpack. It was designed with the Fell Running Association minimum kit list requirements in mind, which include a spare thermal layer, emergency blanket, plus a waterproof jacket and trousers.
The fit is excellent, however, even fully loaded, the only thing to watch out for is if you can tighten the sternum strap enough. It’s certainly not the most minimalist, with a number of straps that need hiding away. Again, it may be worth attacking them with scissors once you’ve got them adjusted.
The main zipped section is compatible with a hydration bladder, but there’s also room for a soft water bottle in one of the front pockets that will balance the pack better. On the back, you’ll also find another zipped section and a large stretchy pocket for throwing in wet waterproofs. On the front there’s also a phone-sized zip pocket and two ‘envelope-style’ small pockets perfect for energy gels. Two stretchy side pockets are useful for throwing things into and there are loops for stashing poles that don’t require you to take the bag off.
Other features include reflective detailing, a light attachment loop and a whistle. If you need a larger pack for racing with a minimum list, this is an excellent option. While it’s not the snuggest one, it’s absolutely fine for those long races – especially for the super organised. And a great price.
Low price. Comfortable, spacious.
Lots of straps that need to be stowed away.
10 litre / zipped main pocket with hydration sleeve / large drawcord closure soft bottle pocket / secure zipped pocket for phone/GPS; 2 envelope style gel pockets; pole bungee loops / Nylon diamond ripstop fabric, water repellent, 1000 mm.