9 best running backpacks for every type of route, from commuting to ultramarathons
We've put the miles in to find you lightweight carriers that keep your kit secure
Running backpacks are brilliant pieces of kit and come in many shapes and sizes. They're suited for everything from commuting to the office, right through to multi-day ultramarathons over hundreds of kilometres.
There of course isn’t one backpack to suit each of these scenarios – sure, there are more versatile options, however, it is useful to have in mind what you’re likely to be using the pack for when making your choice. So, what should you consider when choosing yours? The following are the main things to look out for:
Running backpacks commonly come in two or three different sizes (S/M/L). So measure your chest to get the best fitting one to avoid it being too tight or too loose – both leading to an uncomfortable run.
Generally speaking, the more adjustable the backpack the more customisable and comfortable you’ll be able to make it. Some options will have as little as two front (sternum) straps, whereas others will have up to seven or eight located around different contact points on the body. Backpacks with more adjustability usually come at a higher price.
Storage varies with running backpacks – some will be as little as 2l, others can happily go north of 20l. Typically, the sweet spot will tend to be between 5-15l.
Consider what kind of storage you need – do you want to be able to keep your phone upfront to grab it as you run, or perhaps store a sleeping bag in the rear? Also keep an eye on material type as some storage is stretchy, meaning it’s more adaptable and can stash more if you need to.
We tested a range of different backpacks in a multitude of scenarios to find carriers that will suit all runners’ needs. Here are our findings.
Inov-8 race ultra pro 5 vest: £130, Inov-8
This is one of those rare backpacks that feels right the moment you put it on. Perfectly cut around the neck, it has sufficient room below the armpits not to obstruct, but hugs the body nicely. A very well thought out and nicely proportioned carrier, it’s a great shape and fits really well (it weighs 345g so perhaps not ultra-light).
The two 500ml soft flasks can, rather uniquely, be positioned lower down on each side with long straws to drink from, or alternatively they can be placed in the more commonly seen higher up position by your chest.
The pack also comes with a super soft and collapsible lightweight 200ml cup which is a really nice touch. There are an additional six pockets towards the front, all of them useful, one of which will actually fit your smartphone even if in a bulky case, as well as two large stretchy stash pockets on the sides.
The largest pocket is towards the rear, a 5l main stretch nylon fabric compartment, plus there’s a further two smaller pockets, one Velcro and one zippered.
You also have the option to store your poles vertically on the front, or horizontally across the back. The sternum straps on the front offer perfect adjustability, and there’s no chance for them to slack during the course of the day as your chosen setting is kept secure in place. This is a super impressive pack.
Ultimate Direction mountain vest 4.0: £97.95, Wiggle
This collaboration with ultra running legend Anton Krupicka is a really comfortable body-hugging option, weighing just 262g. It doesn’t sit too high around your neck and fits perfectly on your body with premium-feeling trim around all the edges.
There’s a generous amount of storage here – a total of 13l. To the rear there is one main zip compartment pocket which is separated by a stretch fabric wall; you can slide your water bladder into one side (up to 2l) and use the other for general storage.
There is also an outer stretch fabric pouch running the entire height of the pack, with an additional stretchy chord zig zag over the top, meaning additional or oversized items can be stashed. Towards the front, the storage is nicely sized and configured.
There’s room for two 500ml soft bottles (included), and then a range of other pockets – stretch, zippered, Velcro – as well as trekking pole fixers (one on each side), albeit we did struggle to fit an iPhone into any of them.
It’s super comfortable with dual sternum straps which are adjustable and can be slid all the way up and down the front length of the pack. Rather than having adjustable straps on the side, this has a cool “cinch” system to tailor how much the pack grips your body. It comes in three sizes, so measure yourself to get the one that fits you best.
OMM phantom 20: £120, OMM
This is a lightweight (315g) pack for those looking for performance and generous storage, made from durable ripstop waterproof material. Fit is also a big focus here, with its seven-point adjustability. Rather than using the two conventional shoulder straps to secure the pack on your back, there is a narrow single padded section called “the yoke” that runs from the centre of the backpack – coming round your neck as opposed to round your shoulders.
This makes your shoulders feel a lot freer and places the weight centrally on your spine as well as removing some of the left to right jiggle commonly seen with running packs.
With a whopping 20l capacity via a single no-nonsense pocket to the rear, there’s no shortage of space to stash supplies.
Towards the front you’re not spoilt for choice with just four pockets – two larger ones to house water bottles (the right hand one housing a rigid 750ml bottle, and the left a soft 500ml flask, or phone) and then two other smaller stretchy pockets for a gel or two. The sides are open with V-shaped straps which hold the pack in place very well.
Camelbak ultra pro vest: £99.99, Camelbak
This offering from Camelbak is an ideal option if you’re looking for a more minimal lightweight pack (it certainly is that at just 160g) that has good water carrying capacity. With a gear capacity of 6l – comprised of a single stretchy open compartment to the rear with side access – it’s on the smaller end of the scale, but there’s a separate compartment for a water bladder of up to 1.5l.
On the side panels, there are some elasticated quick stow pockets which are handy for on-the-go storage, and at the front are two soft 500ml flasks and three additional good sized pockets for extra bits, albeit the advertised phone pocket seems on the small side.
There are two chest straps on the front which can be re-located along the full height of the straps. It comes in small, medium and large and feels comfortable and secure. The inside material – in contact with the body – is nicely padded (the most of any pack in our roundup) which adds to the level of comfort.
Montane VIA geko vest: £70, Montane
At 200g with storage of 2l, there’s no doubt this is an exceptionally lightweight and minimal backpack, intended for race days or shorter runs. With three adjustable elasticated chest straps, everyone will be able to find a comfortable setting.
It has a really nice pocket configuration – to the rear, there is just a single large pocket which can house supplies such as an additional top, and on the sides there are stretchy quick access pockets which you can pack a surprising amount into.
On the front, there are two large pockets suitable for 500ml soft flasks, two additional smaller pockets up top, and pole securing loops too. It also features odour control which is a nice touch. Overall, this is a solidly constructed, minimal and comfortable option at a reasonable price.
Arc’Teryx norvan 7 hydration vest: £150, Arc’Teryx
From premium brand Arc’Teryx, this backpack – the most expensive in the lineup – is great if you’re wanting big water carrying capacity in a snug well-fitted pack. It has a 2l water bladder securely stowed in the back (included), plus enough room for two 450ml soft flasks in the front (not included).
Storage for gear is on the smaller side, but still ample and with a nice 1.75l water-resistant pouch in the rear, plus additional mesh stretch pockets. To the front are six pockets, including zipped options, and adjustability is via two sternum straps and chords on the side. A great fitting, sturdily built pack that sits very securely in place.
Salomon agile nocturne 2 set: £81.55, Salomon
This would be an ideal option for running commuters in winter when the nights are long as it’s adorned with numerous highly reflective stripes on both front and back. It has two front pockets for two 500ml soft flasks and just one further small zip pocket for valuables.
The sides are open (other than the adjustable strapping) and towards the rear is one stash pocket made of expandable fabric – it’s open so you can easily grab and stow items as you run, and is on the smaller side, ideal for stashing a waterproof jacket and cap.
Columbia caldoardo running pack: £70, Columbia
In terms of storage, this is on the lower end at 7l, but there’s storage for a water bladder (albeit with no top hook to hang this from), a large zip pocket with an easy stash stretch pocket on the exterior, plus toggles for securing trekking poles. It’s a smaller backpack compared with others, and sits really high up, which probably isn’t to everybody’s taste.
To the front, it has two pockets for 500ml flexi bottles, and smaller pockets sufficient for an energy gel or two, but they wouldn’t fit a phone. It features two straps on the front (the sternum one being adjustable) and adjustable straps on the side, and there’s a bit of stretch to the material so it fits quite snug.
It comes in two sizes and feels like a well made and put together pack – certainly for its lower price – and you’ll get good use from it.
Adidas terrex agravic backpack large: £109.95, Adidas
This pack has a generously sized main storage pocket to the rear (it’s not specified, but we would say it’s approximately 10l), and is divided into two parts: one section for a water bladder and one section for lots of gear.
There is also a stretchy stash pocket over the top and an additional smaller zip pocket. The sides are open with adjustable straps, and to the front there are two 450ml soft flasks (included) and a further four pockets for gels.
If you’re slight of build – even when the top sternum chest strap is pulled tight – you might find it a little loose around your chest, however, if you’re filling the pack with loads of gear, that’ll take up the excess space.
The verdict: Running backpacks
Our top pick is the Inov-8 backpack. It’s a fantastic all rounder and every detail has been well thought out. For shorter runs, we’d recommend the Montane and for more challenging trips that need more kit and supplies, the Ultimate Direction and OMM backpacks are fantastic options.
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