Best Trail Running Backpacks 2020 | Top 8 - Outdoors Magic

Outdoors Gear, Equipment, News, Reviews, Forums, Walking Routes and More at


Group Tests and Best Buys

Best Trail Running Backpacks 2020 | Top 8

Backpacks or vest for trail running need to be light, comfortable, stable and big enough to support the size of your adventure. Here are the best running options out there

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.

Related: Best Head Torches For Running

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.

Related: Best Backpacks For Backpacking

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

  • The OMM Phantom 20
  • Columbia Caldorado 7L
  • Alpkit Artlu 10
  • Montane Via Fang 5
  • Salomon Agile 6 Set
  • Thule Vital 6L
  • DynaFit Enduro 12
  • Osprey Duro 6


The OMM Phantom 20L

Price: £120
Weight: 315g

Suited to long-distance running, fastpacking and also cycling, the key feature on the OMM’s Phantom is its carrying harness and its impressive ability to provide a stable carry thanks to its unique suspension system and series of shock absorbers.

It utilises a v-shaped anchor or yoke that sits behind your neck where the two shoulder straps merge together and this gets rid of the problem that normal harnesses have where the full load of the rucksack is taken by each shoulder one at a time when you run. The weight is instead spread out across the anchor point to allow for a slightly more efficient movement of the shoulders.

To prevent the body of the pack from swinging side to side, a shock absorbing cord connects it to either side of the harness on the shoulders, and webbing straps pull in under the arms. All of these can be loosened or tightened for the right fit and feel while on the go.

The harness itself is based on a running vest design with flat and wide straps that follow the contours of your chest, moving with it without any constriction. So essentially you have a running vest on the front, and pack on the back.

Aside from this impressive carrying system, OMM have included a full bottle holder on the right hand shoulder strap and a smaller, stretchier phone/soft water bottle carrying pocket on the left side. Access to the main compartment is via the zip that spans across the top of the pack and there’s one smaller top pocket to keep smaller items such as power gels and a mobile phone.

All-in-all, this is a superb pack for day-long adventures into wild terrain, one that’s clearly made by runners, for runners.

Good load distribution and management, usual technical features for runners

Fabric is slightly the weak side

Full Specifications

20 Litre / Also in smaller and larger capacities / 30D nylon / 6mm EVA back padding / 2 stretch mesh front pockets / one zipped top pocket / Compression straps and customisable loops / emergency whistle / 44cm back length.

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2019 – Read our full OMM Phantom review.

Get the latest price at:

The North Face Chimera 18

Price: £100
Weight: 511g

The Chimera’s integrated ‘Dyno Cynch System’ is pretty darn handy, allowing you to minimise the pack’s volume, and thus create greater load stability, all while you’re on the go. It essentially involves bungees on each shoulder – one with a toggled cinch on it – which both link up and hook onto the stretch mesh stash pocket across the pack’s front. If you’ve ever been moving fast on the trails and been irritated by a half empty pack bouncing around behind you, this nifty addition is a great, highly efficient, way to rapidly nip such issues in the bud. Together with the sternum clip and light strap around the waist, it creates a pack that will stay right against you even over the most uneven of terrain.

Instead of one big zip going from side to side across the top as you normally find on running packs, this one actually has two main zips (one on each flank). One takes you into the main gut of the pack, while the other takes you to a smaller, secondary, storage compartment. The main benefit of this design is that it makes accessing your kit while on the move a hell of a lot easier. You can just just drop it off one shoulder, swing it round and dive right into the pack via its side.

The front mesh pocket is a good size and a useful place to store additional layers and snacks and there are two stretch pockets for, say energy gels, on the shoulder straps, plus two side pockets near your kidneys which are positioned to allow you to slip your water bottle in and out while on the go.

Stable load carrying and on-the-go adjustment, good storage options

Slightly on the heavy side for its size

Full Specifications

Also available in 24-litre size / integrated Dyno Cinch System / four pockets on harness / side stretch pockets / external bladder sleeve / front stash pocket / FlashDry foam back panel.

Selected for our Outdoor 100 product guide – Read our full North Face Chimera 18.

Get the latest price at:


Montane VIA Fang 5 (Best In Test)

Price: £110
Weight: 350g

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.

Full Specifications

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.

Get the latest price at:

Salomon Agile 6 Set

Price: £75
Weight: 300g

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.

Full Specifications

6 litre / 1 main compartment / 3D Air Mesh construction / 100D Nylon Mini Ripstop, Waterproof 500mm / 2 soft flasks.

Get the latest price at:

Alpkit Artlu 10

Price: £45
Weight: 410g

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.

Full Specifications

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.

Get the latest price at:

Thule Vital 6L

Price: £105
Weight: 520g

The Thule Vital 6L is actually a mountain biking pack, but there’s no reason at all this couldn’t be used for running. The main difference between this and the other running-specific packs is that the stiffness of the back. It means it doesn’t hug the back perfectly, but there’s still no bounce and the comfort levels don’t change. Nor are there any pockets on the front of the straps, but there are two mesh pockets where you can reach for gels and snacks. There is a hydration bladder with a nifty magnetic system that always keeps the hose out of the way.

There are two straps, one across the sternum and one across the waist. It would have benefited from an elasticated waistband to move with heavy breathing, rather than just loosening it. The main compartment zips open across the top and all the way down one side, allowing you to reach anything in there easily. There are a number of pockets in there to organise your kit.  Other nice touches are the soft-lined pocket on the back for a phone or sunglasses, and the light clip at the back.

Comes with a hydration bladder with a magnetised attachment.

Not running specific, heavy. Straps aren’t elasticated.

Full Specifications

6 litres / nylon / 2.5L HydraPak reservoir / fleece-lined sunglasses pocket.

Get the latest price at:


DynaFit Enduro 12 Backpack

Price: £80
Weight: 289g

The amazing thing about this trail running backpack is that while it is 12 litres, it doesn’t feel like it in any way. This could be partly down to a number of nifty expandable pockets and the like, plus it fits very snugly around the body, vest-like. It was developed with endurance athletes for longer runs and races when you’ll need 12 litres.

The main construction is an ‘Airmesh’ that hugs the body all the way around. There are two sizes – small and medium/large. It’s worth trying on first. There is only one elasticated cord that closes across the chest forming a ‘V’ shape. The clip is small and only attaches onto another cord, so it is a little fiddly until you get used to where it is.

On the front, you’ll find numerous pockets. Two mesh ones that will fit soft water bottles, a removable zipped phone-sized pocket, two more zipped pockets and an expandable cone-shaped pocket. The main compartment is accessed through one zip. We prefer the ones that open around a little further, but it’s not a huge deal. Inside there’s a secure pocket that is brightly coloured with emergency information. There’s another large zipped pocket that would be good for wet jackets and the like. The material is very water resistant. This is a superb race vest, that is very light, yet one that will carry all you need, and snugly against the body.

Very light weight, comfortable, lots of pocket options.

Fiddly closures.

Full Specifications

12 litre / 11 pockets / Airmesh construction / elasticated cord sternum strap / two sizes.

Get the latest price at:

Osprey Duro 6

Price: £90
Weight: 310g

The Californian brand really understands backpacks – it’s pretty much all they do. This new running pack is pretty much perfect straight out the gate. It’s a hugging vest-style pack that will hold water, snacks and essential clothing. There is no bounce whatsoever, especially once you’ve adjusted the little straps around the side. There are two sternum straps that are elasticated, so it leaves space for heavy breathing. There’s a clever clip system too, it just snaps in. Once you get used to it, it’s not too fiddly, but with cold hands, it took me a few seconds to get it right. Pulling it off is a very easy yank.

On the front, you’ll find two pockets, each with a 500ml soft water bottle, plus a long straw so you barely need to lift it to your mouth. It’s a really great system, the best on test. Underneath are two smaller mesh stash pockets.

The main pocket opens to about halfway down with a two-way zip and is easy enough to access, however, another mesh pocket is fastened with two straps that close over the zip access meaning you have to undo these to get to the main compartment. It also clips over a zipped pocket for phones and the like. It’s only a minor annoyance. Other features include two ‘Stow-on-the-Go’ loops for trekking.

I’ve also tried the larger Duro 15 which has additional pockets on the hipbelt. They’re both brilliant and only just pipped as Best in Test by the Montane VIA Fang 5.

Great hydration system. Super comfortable.

Slightly fiddly fastening, straps close over main compartment zip.

Full Specifications

6-litre / two soft flasks / mesh pockets / trekking pole attachment / reflective graphics / LED light attachment point.

Get the latest price at:

Columbia Caldorado Running Pack

Price: £70
Weight: 270g

The 7-litre Caldorado Running Pack by Columbia is a paired-back pack that is designed for long-ish trail runs. It’s noticeably lightweight too at only 270g. The pack is compatible with both a hydration pack and soft water bottles but doesn’t come with either. I did notice that with full bottles in the front pockets, it was very mildly obtrusive when swinging the arms.

The vest is attached with two straps that are easily clipped in. They are not elasticated like some, so may need a bit more adjustment when really pushing uphill. A neat touch is that the clips are different sizes so you won’t get them mixed up. The pack is adjustable at the sides for a snug fit. The main section opens across the top and down one side so everything is easy to access and there’s a stretchy stuff pocket on the back too.

As well as the two front pockets that could take a water bottle, there are two more pockets, one zipped, although it sits behind a lever on the sternum strap that helps adjust the height. It’s also only big enough for a gel pack. The only front pocket that is capable of holding a phone would be one of the waterbottle pockets. Despite a few niggles, this pack is an OK price, very lightweight and comfortable.

Lightweight, comfortable, easy back access and stuff pocket.

A few fiddly pockets, slight impeding with full water bottles in the front.

Full Specifications

7 litre / 3-litre hydration compatible / trekking pole attachments / adjustable hip belot / sternum strap with whistle / internal security pocket.

Get the latest price at:



You May Also Like:

Best Trail Shoes Reviewed

Best Lightweight Waterproof Jackets


Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.