Running Hydration – Handheld vs Pack vs Waistbelt

I wanted to write a post to incite some discussion on reader’s preferences for running hydration.  Do you use anything while running?  If so, do you like a handheld bottle?  A bladder style pack?  A waistbelt?

Up until this year, the only time I ever carried hydration was on longer training runs, and I used a waist belt with 2 small flasks.  I found this was enough fluid, but never really got comfortable with the belt.

This past winter I picked up a handheld bottle that was on sale thinking it might come in handy this summer.  At the time I couldn’t really imagine running with something as heavy as a full water bottle in my hand.  I found that I really liked the handheld for certain running situations – medium to long runs where I was aiming for a slower, moderate pace.  I liked that it reminded me to drink and gave me somewhere handy to keep a car key and gel.

I also tried running with two different styles of packs in the past couple of months (see my Gear Reviews for my feedback on the 2 Salomon packs I have tested).  Again, at first I really couldn’t imagine running with a pack.  I expected it to be very uncomfortable, and thought it would make a normal stride difficult, especially with a litre or more of water in it.  I gave it a try and found it to be quite comfortable.  Of course, this was also on long runs where I wasn’t planning on setting a super high pace.  I have even used my larger pack to run to work with my lunch and a few other things on my back and found it to be quite manageable.

Looking comfortable in my hydration pack!

I am comfortable with both a handheld and a pack, and use both interchangeably.  On shorter trail runs I will bring the handheld, while for longer runs I use the pack.  I definitely prefer both of these to the waistbelt flask carrier that I have used, although I’m interested in trying some of the newer brands to see what they are like.

My advice to people that don’t currently use anything, or are new to trail running, would be to try and get your hands on a couple of options and see what you like.  You might be surprised with just how comfortable these things are.  I know I was.

How about you – what do you prefer?  Do you use the same hydration in training and racing?  I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section.


10 responses to “Running Hydration – Handheld vs Pack vs Waistbelt

  1. I just switched over from hand held (I could never do the belt – they chafe too much) to a camel bak 1.5L and I love it! There is no chafing and if I run in just my sports bra it actually cools my core temperature down while resting against back. I don’t like the packs with all the strappy things and clasps etc.
    I highly recommend this product!

    • Michelle, isnt it amazing that carrying 1.5 L of water can actually be comfortable!? Simpler the better, but I do like to have pockets for my longer runs.

    • Yes, if you have access to water (fountains, etc) that’s definitely much more efficient than carrying your own! Thanks for the feedback!

  2. I have all three. I started with a belt (but not the one with little bottles, search for “CamelBak Delaney” to see mine). Then I got a sweet Nathan HPL #020. Unlike most backs, it’s more of a gentle hug instead of a weight on your shoulders. Even though it’s my favorite, I only take it on longer runs. Just recently I got a hand held. I also couldn’t imagine carrying it during a run, the idea of carrying anything during a run just seemed awkward. But I’ve actually gotten used to it. After the first mile or two I don’t even think about it much. Still given the choice, I’ll take the HPL back over the belt or handheld any day.

  3. I’ve used all three. I stick with my Nathan pack for long trail runs since it can hold up to 70 oz of fluid, but I’ve been using my handheld for long runs. Although it’s a little awkward, the added bonus of the handhelds is it’s an upper body workout! I just switch hands every mile. I just moved and my new city doesn’t have water fountains, so I’m going to need to find new hydration sources. I might take my Nathan pack for super long runs, but I’m also considering buying a waist pack for runs less than 3 hours. I’ve heard they’ve improved a lot over the years in their design.

    • Thanks for the feedback FL. I agree, some of the newer belts look good. UltrAspire makes some cool looking options. I found another good use of handhelds is to keep your hands safe when you trip over a root and wipe out on the trails!

  4. I’ve been using a Camelbak for a year. I like the convenience of having water readily available and having somewhere to store things like raincoat. But it doesn’t allow easy access to food or sports drinks. I’m considering buying a handheld bottle to see what it’s like … maybe to use it in combination with the hydropack to carry sports drink.

    I don’t think belts will work for me because my ITB flares up if I put pressure on my hips when I run (even a waist belt for a pack can set it off); I don’t seem to have problems with the ITB when I just wear a pack *shrugs*

    PS: Love your blog. Just discovered it today.

    • Thanks for the feedback on the post and the blog Andrew. I checked out your blog and really like your spirit and outlook on the sports you do.

      I could see the waistbelts being an issue – I found they affected my stride when I used them. I am really starting to favour the pack which seems surprising when it is much heavier with more water!

      Today I ran with water in the pack bladder, and then mixed a heavier than normal concentrated electrolyte drink in a soft flask (made by Salomon). I stuffed the soft flask in an accessible pocket on the pack and it worked really well. I figure I’ll keep trying different things until I find what works best.

      Thanks for reading – come back anytime!

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