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Battle of the packs – 8 hydration packs and vests reviewed


Last updated: 24-Oct-18

By Alice Morrison

If you are going to be spending more than an hour or two out on the trail, you will almost certainly need to carry some kind of hydration pack or system.

Over the past several months, we have been sending out the RunUltra team in a wide variety of models to test them for you.

Here is what the team thought of the hydration packs under review. If, by any chance a newer version has come out, we point you to that as well.


Photo credit: Grivel.com.

Grivel Mountain Runner Comp 5L Pack

This is a well-constructed pack that survives through brush and briars.

The bottles are easy to access. The bottle holders can accommodate a variety of bottle styles, and both a standard water bottle and also an Amphipod style handheld bottle are good fits. 

It comes with a variety of pockets making kit organisation and retrieval easy. The fit across the body is good and highly adjustable.

On the con side, when worn against the skin (no shirt), there was a bit of chafing on the shoulder and you have to balance your water distribution to avoid bounce.

Score: 7.5/10

Reviewer’s Conclusion
This is a great vest for those interested in solid construction, lots of organisational pockets, enough room to pack survival gear for a day in the mountains, and want a value for your money.

I would recommend it for someone who likes to carry extra food, kit, and supplies but is not concerned about weight or speed.

However, if you are looking for a minimalistic vest capable of carrying a few gel packs and some water, this isn’t the pack for you.

Read the full review here.


Photo credit: Orangemud.co.uk.

Orange Mud Endurance Pack 4L - V2.0

The Orange Mud Endurance Pack is a solid piece of kit that is well made and durable. It has a good system of pockets and the bladder is particularly well made and easy to use. In addition, there are two holders for bottles that take either firm or soft.

The pack was able to hold a fleece and a jacket as well, and the shoulder pockets were absolutely safe for an iPhone. 

The arms were cut quite small which meant no bounce but a tight fit if you have boobs. This jacket scored highly on its capacity for liquid and its high quality finish.

Score: 8.25/10

Reviewer’s conclusion
This is a really solid, well-made pack with lots of well-thought-out features and an excellent finish. It screams good quality and is built to last.

The basic hydration capacity is very good and the bladder is particularly easy to use. It is good also for organisation and secure storage.

Read the full review here.

RUNULTRA_Ronhill Pioneer review

Photo credit: Ronhill.com.

The Ronhill Pioneer 8L Vest

This is a nice roomy pack of quite simple but effective design. It carries a bladder and front bottles (not supplied).

A good choice for a longer time out on the hill as the main pocket is quite large and can be stuffed full. There are side pockets to take some of the smaller items but these were a bit tricky to get to.

There was no bounce of chafing with the vest.

Score: 7.5/10

Reviewer’s conclusion
A good practical vest. I liked the Pioneer because it gave me more features and therefore more options. I found it a very good vest for a long day out.

Read the full review here.

RUNULTRA_Ronhill Nano review

Photo credit: Ronhill.com.

The Ronhill Nano 3L Vest

The Ronhill Nano 3L Vest is designed for runners who want minimal weight but a safe place to carry the bare essentials. It really is stripped down and weighs in nice and light at 195g.

It is very simple and unlike some vests, it takes you about three minutes to get to know it. The stretch fit and panels and adjustable panels work and there was no chafing or discomfort.

It is a very simple vest, though, so if you prefer more pockets and features, this wouldn’t be your first choice.

Score: 7/10
Reviewer’s conclusion
Good for a fast day out and has all the basics but no extras. If you want light and easy, this is the one. If you want more features, then consider a different pack.

Read the full review here.

RUNULTRA_Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta review

Photo credit: Ultimatedirection.com. 

Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta review

The Ultra Vesta is part of Ultimate Direction’s Jenny Collection which is designed by women for women under the direction of lead designer, Jenny Jurek. That means the fit is really good for female runners and there are absolutely no issues around the shoulder area (too big) or the arm cut (too small) which can inhibit the unisex vest.

The vest is small and very light but can pack a good amount of water in the bladder and two front bottles – soft bottles.

It is ideal for racing and a medium day out and wears well even though it is not overly strong. It may not have enough capacity if you are out for a very long day or in conditions where you need to pack quite a few light layers.

The side pockets are well placed for whipping out your phone to take pix.

Score: 8.75/10

Reviewer’s conclusion
This is a very well-designed pack that does an excellent job. I found it a great fit and good to wear. In fact, once you put it on you can basically forget about it, which is exactly what you want.

I could tell that it was designed for women by women as all the things that can be difficult with unisex bags were resolved. It has plenty of space for kit and food. Definitely one I would recommend to my female running friends.

Read the full review here.

RUNULTRA_Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek vest review

Photo credit: Ultimatedirection.com.

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultravest 3.0

Mr Jurek did the entirety of the Appalachian Trail in 46 Days wearing this model and it has the hallmark of a racing snake all over it. It comes in at 242 grams for a medium. 

One of the standout things about this vest is that it holds really well to you and has no bounce when loaded sensibly. Being so light, it also breathes very well, so even in hot weather it feels quite cool.

In terms of features – well, it has every feature you would expect of a vest with this heritage: bladder, pockets, bungees and front bottle holders. 

However, the lack of weight means that it isn’t big, and be warned that the rear pocket is fiddly to open whilst on the move and running poles were a bit ungainly when loaded up.

Score: 8/10
Reviewer’s conclusion
This is an accomplished bit of kit that reeks of racing pedigree. If weight and speed were important, I would undoubtedly use the UD SJ Ultravest 3.0.

Read the full review here.

RUNULTRA_Montane VIA Fang review

Photo credit: Montane.co.uk.

Montane VIA Fang 5

Out of the box, the Fang 5 looks different as it is made of a non-stretchy material that is very strong and it has an elasticated Velcro waist belt that means it fits.

When it is on, the Fang holds weight and volume well, whilst not feeling bulky and the elasticated waist strap gives room for diaphragm expansion and can be easily adjusted.

One odd thing was the pocket positioning. You can keep one of the soft flasks in your left-hand, lower-zippered pocket, which works really well, but the pouch that holds the soft flask that you are using is low, resting just above the waistband.

This means that when you want to drink from it you have to either bend right over and lift the bottle at the same time, or lift it out of the pouch.

Score: 9/10

Reviewer’s conclusion
As an everyday running vest, I would use the Montane Fang 5 as it is really comfortable and durable.

Read the full review here.

RUNULTRA_Nathan Vaporair review

Photo credit: Nathansports.com.

Nathan VaporAir Hydration Backpack

The VaporAir vest has great features. It has load-lifter straps to make sure that the vest sits well on your shoulders. It has an electrolyte pocket with a flap that is very neat which lets you access your salt caps quickly at feed stations.

It has stretchy side pockets (x2) that are big and can easily pack items such gloves or a light layer, and two more pockets in front of the water bottles to take smaller stuff like gels etc.

It also has some great details like the whistle that is on an elasticated holder clipped at lip height for easy access and – my favourite - a magnetic clip for the water reservoir pipe so it is always where you left it.

Score: 8/10

Reviewer’s Conclusion
If I was planning to be out on the trails for a long time, I would take the Nathan VaporAir 7 because of its huge capacity for all my “just in case” gear.

Read the full review here.

All the scores in detail

  Design Features Performance Value Total
Grivel Mountain Runner Comp 5L 7 8 7 8 7.5
Orange Mud Endurance 4L 9 8 8 8 8.25
Ronhill Pioneer Vest 8L 7 8 8 7 7.5
Ronhill Nano Vest 3L 6 7 8 7 7
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 9 9 9 8 8.75
Ultimate Direction SJ Ultravest 8 7 9 6 7.5
Montane VIA Fang 5 9 8 8 10 8.75
Nathan VaporAir 8 10 8 7 8.25

Have you used these packs? Don’t agree with this review? What’s your opinion? Add your own comment to this review and share your experience and passion for running with others.

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Product Rating


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“This jacket scored highly on its capacity for liquid and its high quality finish”

Where to buy

Nathan VaporAir race vest for men View deal
Nathan VaporAir race vest for women View deal
Montane Via Fang 5 hydration pack View deal
Montane Via Fang 5 hydration pack View deal
Montane Fang 5 hydration pack View deal
Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Ultravest 3.0 View deal
Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek 3.0 hydration pack View deal
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta hydration pack for women View deal
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 pack for women View deal
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta v4 for women View deal
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta v4 for women View deal
Ronhill Nano 3L hydration vest View deal
Rohnill Nano 3L pack View deal
Ronhill Pioneer 8L hydration vest View deal
Ronhill Pioneer 8L pack View deal
Grivel Mountain Runner Comp 5L pack View deal

Review Battle of the packs – 8 hydration packs and vests reviewed

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