5 Convenient Ways to Carry Water While Running

Every year I look forward to the time when spring transitions to summer. Finally, it’s warm enough to dig out the shorts and tank tops from the bottom of my running drawer! A sunny trail run on a warm day is like medicine for my soul.

But the warmer weather means something else too: it’s time to start carrying water while running! Unless you know where to find every drinking fountain in your neighborhood, any run longer than a few miles is going to require some portable hydration.

If you’re wondering how to carry water while running in a way that’s comfortable and doesn’t slow you down, this post is for you. Running gear manufacturers are all over this problem, and we’ve come a long way from old-school days of carrying syrup bottles by the handle. (Ok fine, I’m too young to remember that personally, but I’ve heard the stories!)

Related: How to Carry Your Phone While Running?

Holding my favorite way to carry water while running, the Camelbak Quick Grip Chill bottle, on a short trail run in the hills.

Hand-Held Running Bottles

Price range: low
Amount of water: small to medium
Comfort: high to moderate
Finding the right fit: easy
Also holds a smartphone: sometimes

A hand-held water bottle is my favorite way to carry water on short to medium runs. You don’t have to worry about dialing in the fit of a pack or belt, and it’s nice to enjoy the freedom of not running with something strapped to your hips or shoulders. They’re also quick and easy to fill up at aid stations, if you’re racing.

Another benefit: bottles are the cheapest way to carry water during a run. Of course, you could literally just hold a water bottle in your hand like they used to back in the good old days, which would be even cheaper. But these days there are lots of running-specific bottles with a hand strap, allowing you to mostly or completely relax your hand without dropping the bottle.

Hand-held running bottles range in size from around 10oz up to 24oz, and you can carry one in each hand to double your capacity. Usually they’re designed so that you simply point them near your mouth, squeeze the bottle, and out comes the water (try not to squirt yourself in the face). Some hand-held running bottles have a pocket big enough to carry a smartphone, or at least some keys and a gel.

There are some drawbacks to bottles: larger capacity bottles can tire out your arms on long runs, running with a bottle on only one side can impact your running form (tip: switch hands regularly), and carrying two bottles at once leaves no hands free for snacking or adjusting zippers.

Here are two of my favorite hand-held running bottles.

CamelBak Quick Grip Chill

The 17 oz CamelBak Quick Grip Chill is my go-to bottle for runs between 1-2 hours. The twist-open squirt nozzle is easy to use and the insulated bottle keeps water cool a bit longer. The pocket is large enough to fit many smartphones, and I like that the bottle can be removed from the strap for use in other contexts (it’s a good bike bottle too).

My only complaint: my older model uses a 21 oz bottle is on the large and heavy side, so small runners may find it a bit cumbersome (or looking on the bright side, it’s an opportunity to work those biceps while you run!).

Nathan SpeedShot Plus

The Nathan SpeedShot Plus is my go-to bottle for runs up to one hour. The 14 oz bottle is lightly insulated and easy to hold without needing to grip much at all. The pocket is large enough to fit many smartphones. As a smaller runner, I find the SpeedShot’s smaller capacity and lighter weight much less noticeable than the CamelBak bottle above. If you want a bit more capacity check out the similar SpeedDraw Plus, which holds 18 oz.

Hand-Held Soft Flasks

Price range: low
Amount of water: small to medium
Comfort: high to moderate
Finding the right fit: easy
Also holds a smartphone: rarely

Hand-held soft flasks are a variation on bottles, except the bottle itself is made of flexible material. This can make them more comfortable to hold, they’re easy to stow away in a pocket or pack once empty, and it cleverly eliminates that annoying sloshing you get with a half-empty hard bottle.

They tend not to be as effectively insulated, so your water will get warm, but honestly that happens eventually with insulated hard bottles anyway. Otherwise, soft flask hand-helds have all the same pros and cons of stiff bottles mentioned above.

Here are my stand-out soft flask recommendations.

CamelBack Nano Handheld 17oz Quick Stow Flask

The CamelBak Nano Quick Stow Flask is a 17oz soft flask with small pocket large enough for keys or credit card. The criss-cross hand strap is designed to be secure while still allowing the bottle to be held in either hand. Some people report it’s a bit fiddly and floppy to hold, but others don’t seem to mind.

Nathan ExoShot Handheld Flask

The Nathan ExoShot Handheld Flask is well designed and gets better reviews than many of its peers. The 12 oz bottle is on the small side so best suited for shorter runs, but this also makes it easier to hold. An “integrated spine” seems to solve the floppiness problem associated with some other soft flasks.

Hydration Belt / Waist Pack

Price range: medium
Amount of water: medium
Comfort: moderate to low, depending on fit
Finding the right fit: medium to difficult
Also holds a smartphone: usually

Hydration waist belts are a classic among long-distance runners, and still quite popular. The two most common designs are either a single bottle angled diagonally across the lower back, or two side holsters for smaller flask-shaped bottles.

Belts and waist packs are a nice way to carry water on the run because your hands are free, and they don’t cause that restricted sweaty-back feeling that a hydration vest or pack can. They also tend to have other pockets for carrying a phone and more snacks than can usually fit in hand-held bottle pockets.

However, a major drawback is that they tend to bounce. Though some people swear by them, I have yet to find a hydration belt that doesn’t ride up from my hips to my waist and then bounce uncomfortably. I’m sure it depends on the shape of the wearer’s body; I suspect (but am happy to be proven wrong) that more men than women prefer running with waist packs.

In terms of price they are mid-range between hand-held bottles and most vests and backpacks, making them worth a try if you’re looking for a hands-free way to carry water while running.

Here are two of the most popular models.

Nathan Peak Hydration Waist Pack

The Nathan Peak Waist Pack holds a single 18 oz bottle and includes pockets large enough for a phone, snacks, and keys. It’s adjustable through a wide range of sizes and even petite runners report that it adjusts to fit them. If it’s hot out and you’d like to keep your water cooler a bit longer, substitute an insulated SpeedDraw bottle.

Nathan Trail Mix Plus Hydration Belt

The Nathan Trail Mix Plus is a running hydration belt with two small 10oz bottles (total 20oz capacity) on either side of a large pocket. One advantage of the two bottle design: you can put electrolyte drink in one and plain water in the other.

Hydration Vests and Packs

Price range: medium to high
Amount of water: medium to large
Comfort: moderate to low, depending on fit
Finding the right fit: medium to difficult
Also holds a smartphone: usually

When your runs start stretching to a couple hours or more, the capacity of most hand-held bottles and waist packs just won’t cut it. For those longer, hotter, or more remote runs, I use a hydration pack or vest. They range from minimalist torso-hugging vests that carry little more than water to full-on backpacks ready for long days in the mountains. I’ve found that it can take a bit of trial and error to find the right fit, but once I have a hydration pack I like, I don’t mind running with it.

A well designed and properly fitted running pack can be surprisingly comfortable, with minimal bouncing or chafing. But finding that fit can be tough, and hydration packs can be pretty pricey. It’s best to try them on in person, or at least buy one that can be returned. A poorly fitting pack can really put a damper on an otherwise great run. They can also be a bit fiddly to fill up quickly at aid stations if you’re racing.

Bonus running tip: some minor chafing can be solved with BodyGlide or similar. If this is new to you, welcome to the world of long-distance running. 🙂

Running with my original Nathan hydration vest in Moab, Utah

Most hydration packs have space for a hydration bladder in the back compartment that holds between 1.5 to 2 liters. Some add extra capacity with bottles – usually the soft kind these days – in holders on the front. Hydration packs often come in women’s and men’s versions, and this is one case where the difference goes further than just color scheme. Many women find that female-specific design and sizing are key for a comfy and curve-friendly fit.

Packs can’t be beat for convenience; most have a creative array of pockets and compartments for your phone and snacks. Capacity in the pack itself varies from minimal to 10 liters or more, making them essentially a small day pack capable of storing warm layers, sunscreen, a trail map, and whatever else you need for wherever your adventure takes you. A few even have loops for stashing trekking poles.

When choosing a hydration pack, be sure you know the difference between water capacity and gear capacity. The water capacity is usually mentioned in terms of what containers the pack holds – a 1.5 liter bladder for example, or two 500ml bottles. The gear or storage capacity is usually mentioned as it would be for a hiking pack, for example, “this is a 10 liter pack” or “5 liters of storage capacity.” This does NOT mean the pack will carry 5 or 10 liters of water! That space is for snacks, a jacket, headlamp, etc.

There are a ton of options out there these days since hydration packs have become so popular. The fanciest ones can set you back $150 or more, but there are plenty of more affordable options too. Here are some well-regarded models from high quality brands.

Nathan QuickStart Hydration Pack

The Nathan QuickStart is well-loved and affordable, perfect for those looking to try running with a hydration pack for the first time. The pack holds a 1.5 liter hydration bladder and an optional 22 oz flask, and is surprisingly stable with minimal bounce. The zippered front phone pocket is a nice touch. The 4 liter storage capacity is just right if all you need are some snacks and maybe a light layer.

Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta / Vest

The Ultra Vesta (women) / Ultra Vest (men) is the second-smallest of Ultimate Direction’s line of four trail running focused packs. The pack has space for a 1.5 – 2 liter reservoir in back and two 500ml bottles in front, plus 10.8 liters of gear space, and nice touches like trekking pole loops and safety whistle. Those looking for more capacity should also check out the Mountain Vest(a) and Adventure Vest(a), while those wanting something more minimalist with less capacity should look at the Race Vest(a).

Salomon Advanced Skin 5 Set Hydration Vest

The Salomon Advanced Skin 5 is a sleek running pack with room for a 1.5 liter hydration bladder and two 500ml front soft flasks. It’s known for its close and comfy fit and high quality materials. The five liter gear capacity is enough for carrying an extra layer and snacks; those looking for more capacity for longer or more remote runs should look into the Skin 12.

Osprey Dyna / Duro 1.5

Osprey, a respected maker of quality hiking packs, is breaking into the running pack market with the Osprey Dyna (women) and Duro (men) 1.5 hydration vest. The sleek and affordable pack holds 1.5 liters of water and a few essentials. For those needing more gear capacity, check out the 6 liter version as well.

Some hydration packs come with a bladder and hose, but if yours doesn’t, I recommend the Platypus 2 Liter Big Zip. It’s durable, easy to drink from, and easy to fill up in a hurry.

Other Creative Options

At this point, the most common ways to carry water while running are pretty well established. Bottles, belts, and backpacks are generally the most popular option because, well, they work best.

But innovation is a good thing, and a few small gear companies are always hustling to come up with the next creative solution. If you’re looking for an especially creative solution, here are some less common ways to carry water during a run:

  • Orange Mud HydraQuiver: the only hydration pack I’ve seen that combines the bottle holster design with a backpack-type harness. Some people swear by it!
  • Simple Hydration waistband bottle: an updated version of the old-school ultrarunner classic: just tuck a bottle in the back of your waistband and head for the hills. I’ve tried this bottle and I like it, but you need to have a pretty snug and secure waistband or it will bounce uncomfortably. It doesn’t work well with flimsy running shorts, at least not on a small runner.

Budget Running Hydration Options

These days pretty much anything can be found for cheap on Amazon. You might wonder why you should drop $80 or more on a running pack when you could snag this one for $24.

I haven’t tried that pack, but I will say this: I’m usually big fan of promoting good budget gear, and I’m the first to say that sometimes it performs as well as the expensive stuff. But a word of warning: be careful with budget running packs and belts. The bounciness of running means design and fit are absolutely critical, and I personally have not seen a budget running pack that dials this in as well as the running-specific brands do.

You may find that some budget packs are well reviewed on Amazon, but look closely. Do most reviewers mention that it works great for hiking, cycling, or walking the dog? It may indeed work great for those lower-impact activities, while making your long run a living hell due to bouncing and chafing.

That said, if you know of a good budget option for carrying water on your runs, please let us know in the comments below!

Bonus: Filter Water On The Run

For trail runners or others who do long runs in less populated areas, you may be able to replenish your water supply on the go from natural sources. To protect yourself from nasty waterborne illnesses, you’ll want to bring along a filter or purifier.

For runners with limited space, the two options I recommend most are:

  • Chlorine dioxide tablets: very small and light, but require at least 30 minutes wait time (more for cryptosporidium, making them impractical in higher risk areas)
  • Sawyer micro water filter: appropriate for most backcountry sources in developed countries, but lacking virus protection needed for heavily polluted urban or recreational sources

For more detail on how to use these and other options, check out this post on water filtration for hikers and backpackers.

Hydration Tips For Runners

Now that you can carry plenty of water on your runs, here are a few guidelines for how to manage your running hydration.

When do I need to carry water while running?

Unless it’s really hot out, you probably don’t need water if your run is under 30-45 minutes. For anything longer than that, consider bringing at least a small handheld bottle. In really hot climates you may want to bring along some water for runs of any length.

How much water should I drink while running?

This depends a lot on your individual body (how much you sweat), and the weather you’re running in. It’s easy to over-complicate this, but the best basic advice is to drink when you’re thirsty. In moderate temperatures this could mean a few big swallows (maybe 5-10 oz) every 15 minutes or so. In hot weather you’ll naturally want to drink more.

What about electrolytes?

Your sweat isn’t just water; it also contains important electrolytes like sodium and potassium which are critical to your body and brain function. If running for longer than an hour in hot weather, replace the lost electrolytes with a sports drink, electrolyte tablets, salt pills, or salty snacks.

How do I know if I’m dehydrated?

The early signs are obvious: you’ll feel thirsty and tired. If you keep going, you may get a headache, muscle cramps, or start to feel nauseous.

If you notice your urine is a darker color than normal, either during or after your run, it definitely means you need haven’t been hydrating enough to make up for the water lost through sweat.

Even when drinking properly, it’s normal to end up a bit dehydrated at the end of a run on a warm day. Make sure to drink a few glasses of water once you’re back home to get your body back to a balanced state after your run.

Is it possible to drink TOO much water while running?

Yes, overhydration (hyponatremia) is possible. Though it’s typically only a factor for endurance athletes running in fairly extreme conditions, it’s actually very dangerous, so it’s worth a mention. To prevent overhydration, focus on drinking to thirst (there’s no need to overdrink even in hot weather), and be sure to use an electrolyte replacement product or eat salty snacks.

If you’ve been drinking plenty and are feeling nauseous, extra tired, or have a headache, you may have actually been drinking too much. It can be hard to know the difference between overhydrating and underhydrating since the symptoms are similar. Check your hands and fingers: if they’re puffy, you may have been drinking too much.

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking the Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and countless shorter amazing trails throughout the US and abroad. I love solitude, big views, and a good lightweight gear setup. Learn more here.

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