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Carrying water is an unglamorous but essential part of going out for a run. Even if you’re lucky enough to have access to running parks where water fountains are available, you still need a back-up bottle just in case something comes up.
In this article, you will be introduced to different products that make it easier to carry water during a run or a race. The pros and cons of each ‘water carrier’ will be discussed, so that you may be able to choose the right one that fits your needs and preferences.
The Importance of Hydrating When Running
First things first. Whether you’re a professional runner or someone who just likes to clear his/her head by jogging at night, it is important that you stay hydrated for the duration of your run.
According to famous marathon runner Karl Gruber, who writes in the Jogger to Runner Book, there can be dire consequences when you get dehydrated in the middle of a run.
Water is essential in maintaining the healthy flow of blood into the muscles, lungs, and heart. Without enough water, your blood can thicken, making it more difficult for the heart to pump it to the body parts that need it.
Your body also needs to recover the liquids it will lose as you sweat profusely while running. If not, you will feel fatigue more easily.
This could be detrimental if you’re running competitively, or even if you’re running as part of a workout. It’s especially important when running long-distance.
The bottom line is that you cannot expect your body to give a good performance when it lacks water, the most basic thing we humans cannot survive without.
Types of Water Carriers
When you’re running for leisure, you could get away with simply holding a normal bottle of water while running. For workout and race purposes though, doing this might mess with your running efficiency especially since it’s difficult to get a good grip on generic water bottles. Luckily, there are a range of products that can help you get the most out of your run while keeping hydrated.
Here are your best options for carrying water while running:
1- Handheld Bottles
In lieu of regular water bottles that put a strain on your hand when held for prolonged periods of time, handheld bottles made for running, like these ones, are molded to fit exactly the shape of one’s hand. You also won’t have to hold tightly to it, since these are secured to your wrists, usually by a velcro band.
You may also opt for handheld soft flasks like these, which are mostly made from stretchable polyurethane. As you consume the water contents, the polyurethane compresses, making the whole thing slimmer and easier to carry.
- Gives you the easiest access to water since the water bottle is already strapped to your hands
- Typically, the most affordable type of water carrier
- Contributes to bad running form by throwing off your weight and balance, especially if the other hand is unweighted or not carrying anything
- Sloshing of water around the container could mess up the rhythm of your run
2- Waist Carriers
Lumbar packs and waist belts are very popular with professional runners. These adjustable waist bands, like the ones here, offer more space than handheld bottles. You can stow up to two bottles on most waist carriers, which makes it a better option for marathons and long trail runs.
- Has enough room to carry other essentials such as keys, cards, cash, or even small post-run snacks
- Does not interfere with your balance, form, and running technique as long as it is fitted snugly
- Highly adjustable and can fit any body type
- Carrying weight around the waist takes a bit of getting used to, since we don’t normally carry anything this way
- When it slides too low, the bouncing action may interfere with the movement of your legs, slowing down your run
These are water carriers that are wrapped from the back all the way across the chest. Most running vests, like these ones, will let you carry two bottles at a time in two opposite pockets, so you have an option to pack an electrolyte drink along with your water. Although rarer, there are vests that have a single water bladder in front instead of pockets for water bottles.
The tricky part about shopping for vests is finding one that’s appropriate for running. These are usually made from lighter material than vests made for hiking and climbing.
- Water weight is evenly distributed in the body
- Like waist carriers, vests with pockets can carry all your running essentials.
- Can carry more hydration options
- You may encounter chafing issues since vests are worn very close to the body
- Getting and returning bottles on a vest takes up quite a lot of time and effort
4- Running Backpacks
For longer runs, it doesn’t really get better than hydration backpacks like these ones. Instead of lugging along two to three bottles of water, backpacks will let you carry up to 3 liters of water on a water bladder. This is your best bet when running an offside trail where water refilling options are limited. Featuring a hose and a bite valve, you won’t even have to stop and fumble with bottles when you use hydration backpacks. It’s like having a water jug — a container whose only purpose is to keep you hydrated — only this time, you get to carry it on the strongest part of your body.
- Best water capacity than any other type of water carrier
- Very easy to use and get used to, since we are accustomed to carrying backpacks
- Water weight is evenly distributed across the surface of your back
- Hands-free hydration allows you to focus on form and performance
- Not advisable for sprints and short runs since wearing a backpack could be difficult for the back and could slow you down
- Multiple contact points with the body means more chances of chafing
- Can cause discomfort in the chest area for women
5- Thigh Holsters
Thigh holsters are slowly gaining popularity especially among younger triathletes, since some of the newer models can also double as bike holsters. This is only recommended for short runs though, since carrying weight on one leg can throw off your entire form. Besides, it can be cumbersome to reach as far down as your thighs just to get your water bottle.
- Can act as weights, which will help tone your legs as you run
- This type of water carrier will make you feel the ‘sloshing’ of water the least since it is connected to your body’s most stable part
- Quite uncomfortable to carry something on your thighs
- Chafing is almost guaranteed especially for those who have wide-set thighs
Choosing the right carrier for you
Now that you know the advantages and disadvantages of the different water carriers available in the market, the only thing left to do is choose which one is the best for you.
In order to come up with the right decision, here are some purchase considerations you have to keep in mind:
- The distance you’re running
The distance you usually cover when you run will give you a pretty good idea of how much capacity you need. If you exclusively do short runs or sprint events, then you have no use for a 3-liter hydration backpack. You can simply go for the handheld bottle or the waist carrier if that is the case
- How much you sweat
Generally, you want your body to recover roughly the same amount of water it will lose when you run. Some people are heavy sweaters, so they need a bigger capacity water carrier. However, if it is hard for you to work up a sweat no matter how hard you work out, then you could get away with a low-capacity water holder.
- Your refilling options
If you like running long trails but you have a lot of refilling options along the way, then you might not need a backpack. On the other hand, when there are no water fountains where you’re running next, then a backpack becomes indispensable.
- Comfort level
All of the products mentioned above basically just have the same purpose. In the end, it all boils down on your comfort and preference. If you are not used to carrying anything around the waist, then you have to expect some discomfort at first. If you don’t have enough time to get accustomed to it before your next big run, then you might have to go with a different carrier that does not feel too alien in your body.
Chafing is a big deal as it affects your performance magnanimously, so you have to make sure your chosen carrier fits snugly in your body without excess pressure or chafing points.
Of course, choose a product that will not get in the way of your running technique.
- Value-added features
To remain competitive, most products offer value-added features. When it comes to these, there is no one metric to determine which features are better than others. It’s all up to you and what you will need for your run. If you know you have a lot of essentials to pack, choose a carrier that can accommodate all of it. If you know your weight fluctuates a lot, then choose ones that can be adjusted as your body changes.
Ultimately, the goal is to make it easier for you to carry much-needed water on your runs. Choose according to your situation, budget and the distance of your runs.