How to Choose the Best Race Vest

Whether you like to run marathons, trail races, ultra-running races, or other competitions, the rule is to keep it as light as possible. Still, you will need to be equipped with a race vest, if you are hoping to run a considerable distance. The tricky part, of course, is finding a race vest that is right for you.

Picture Brand Rating
Picture Brand Rating
Mountain Hardwear - ( Single Track 24 )

Mountain Hardwear Single Track

12-24 L / 732-1464 CI
Osprey - ( Duro 6 )

Osprey Duro

2-6 L / 92-366 CI

4.7

3 reviews
Osprey - ( Dyna 1.5 )

Osprey Dyna

2-15 L / 92-915 CI

5.0

4 reviews
Nathan - ( Fireball 7 )

Nathan Fireball

7 L / 427 CI
Ultimate Direction - ( Jurek FKT )

Ultimate Direction Jurek

12 L / 732 CI

3.8

35 reviews
Ultraspire - ( Alpha 3.0 )

Ultraspire Alpha

6 L / 340 CI

3.0

6 reviews
Nathan - ( Journey 25 )

Nathan Journey

25 L / 1526 CI
Patagonia - ( Fore Runner 10 )

Patagonia Fore Runner

10 L / 610 CI

4.8

8 reviews
Ultraspire - ( Velocity  )

Ultraspire Velocity

8 L / 488 CI
Nathan - ( FireStorm  )

Nathan FireStorm

6 L / 336 CI

4.5

2 reviews
Nathan - ( LightStreak  )

Nathan LightStreak

5.0

1 reviews
Camelbak - ( Ultra 10 )

Camelbak Ultra

8 L / 488 CI

4.1

10 reviews
Camelbak - ( Circuit  )

Camelbak Circuit

5 L / 305 CI

4.2

5 reviews
Salomon - ( Agile 2 )

Salomon Agile

3 L / 183 CI

2.9

16 reviews
Nathan - ( HPL  )

Nathan HPL

4.7

14 reviews
Nathan - ( Vaporair  )

Nathan Vaporair

4.9

8 reviews
Salomon - ( Skin 12 )

Salomon Skin

5-12 L / 305-732 CI

4.5

8 reviews
Salomon - ( Sense  )

Salomon Sense

8 L / 488 CI

5.0

7 reviews
Ultimate Direction - ( Adventure  )

Ultimate Direction Adventure

16 L / 976 CI

4.6

18 reviews
Ultimate Direction - ( SJ Ultra  )

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra

8 L / 488 CI

4.1

9 reviews
Ultimate Direction - ( TO  )

Ultimate Direction TO

5 L / 305 CI
Orange Mud - ( Endurance  )

Orange Mud Endurance

6 L / 366 CI
Ultimate Direction - ( Marathon  )

Ultimate Direction Marathon

3 L / 159 CI

There are actually a number of factors that you need to take into place, including your requirements and the length of the race. If you want to make this a less confusing process, you have come to the right place. Here, we tackle all of the components associated with finding the best possible race vest for you.

Finding the Right Race Vest for You (Buyers Guide)

There is no denying that you need a race vest with you if you want to run a race that is more than a mile long. In addition to requiring frequent hydration, you also need somewhere to store your most important belongings. Here are some of the things to consider if you are looking for this type of pack for a big race:

Race Vest vs. Hydration Pack

Race vests and hydration packs essentially fall under the category of running backpacks. Nonetheless, there are some differences that exist between them. For instance, hydration packs are almost solely to do with water bottles and hydration reservoirs. Their main purpose is to allow you to carry as much water as you would need for your journey or run.

Race vests, on the other hand, are a little more versatile. While they, too, are concerned with hydration, they also afford you a little more space. This way, you can carry a few more items with you. To put it simply, you can think of a race vest as a hybrid between a running backpack and a hydration pack.

Of course, this leads to the question of how to know if a race vest is right for you. While most hydration packs work well for short distances, they tend to be ill-equipped at handling longer races. This is where the race vests come in. These vests are built for endurance races where a lightweight pack with plenty of hydration and storage features are key to a better performance. So, if you trail running races or extreme marathons are your thing, you will need to be equipped with a race vest.

Best Race Vest

Race Vest Design

It is quite important to consider the design of a race vest as it will determine just how comfortable it will be during a big race. While this is dependent on the weight of the vest, it also has a lot to do with the overall design.

Perhaps the most significant element of the design is the fit. It is imperative that the vest fits your torso properly. It is only with the right fit that your body will be able to move naturally without chaffing or any restriction of movement. This is why you should check that the vest – in its entirety – sits well above your waist. This way, the movement of your hips will not be interrupted in any way while you are running.

Equally as important are the sternum and chest straps that ensure that the vest doesn’t move around while you are running. The actual number of straps changes between models and manufacturers. On average, though, there will be between one and three straps. For a close fit, these straps need to be adjustable so that they will be able to go around chests of varying widths. At the same time, the placement of the straps matter as well. They should be in areas that cause the least amount of friction and chafing.

Speaking of chafing, the best race vests will have flat locked seams. These seams are made as non-noticeable as possible so that they don’t rub against your skin while running. This is particularly important for people who prefer to wear minimal amounts of clothing or very light running gear.

Hydration Features

One of the most vital things about a race vest is its hydration features. After all, more than anything else, you need to make sure that you are properly hydrated throughout the race. Now, there are two types of hydration features with any race vest. They are as follows:

Hydration Bladder

This type or race vest allows you to carry a hydration bladder on your back, in the bag. To make it easier to get the water, it is usually attached to a drinking tube that is attached to the strap and has a sip tube at the end of it. These hydration bladders can often carry up to two liters of water. Of course, the main benefit to such a setup is the easy access to water. You don’t need to stop during your run to take a sip of water; the tube gives you hydration whenever you require it. Also, hydration bladders tend to be quite light so carrying one is quite easy to manage.
Where the bladders do fail is when it comes to the refills. It can be a little tricky to fill up a hydration bladder which can be a bit of disadvantage on a longer run when you are bound to finish your water. This can eat up precious time during the race. The bladders also tend to be quite frustrating to clean as well.

Bottle Holders

It is quite common to find race vests that have two pockets or bottle holders on the front of the vest. One of the advantages with bottle holders is that they are easy to access since they are right in front. Also if you need to fill up your bottle during the race, it only takes a few moments. Cleaning out this type of drinking bottle is also relatively simple. Not to mention, most people feel quite comfortable with water bottles since they are familiar with them. Bottles are also great for people who want a more durable option that they can use for longer.

However, what is most tiresome about bottles is their weight. Even at their lightest, they are often heavier than bladders. They also take up more room on your vest. Soft flasks, however, do help to eliminate the weight issue associated with bottles.

Race Vest Construction

When deciding what your race vest should be made of, you will first need to take the weather into consideration. You will need different materials for the winter and the summer for a safe and comfortable vest.

In the summer, it is all about materials that are lightweight and are breathable. This way, it will not become waterlogged with sweat. In the same vein, a race vest that is meant for warmer climes should consist of a considerable amount of mesh. This helps the air to circulate better, cutting down on how much you will perspire while running. Of course, in the winter, the opposite is true. You need a thicker material and as little mesh as possible. This way, you will be able to insulate yourself to a certain degree, with the help of your own body heat.

One thing that you should look for both types of race vests is moisture wicking material. This type of fabric moves the sweat away from your body and towards the surface of the material. This allows it to evaporate much faster. As you can imagine, this is quite useful in the summer. However, it is equally vital in colder months. If the sweat remains on your skin, it will cool, causing you to feel chillier than normal. Therefore, it is best for you if your sweat is allowed to evaporate.

Choosing a Vest Size That is Right for You

Another thing that you will need to consider is just how big that your race vest needs to be. You should be able to find race vests that can carry between 5 and 12 liters, although this does depend on the manufacturer and the design of the vest. To make this decision, there are a couple of things that you need to consider first:

  • The distance of the race: the more distance that you have to run, the greater the number of items that you have to carry with you. For instance, on a 5K you may not need to take snacks or a cellphone. However, with an ultra-running race, you probably will have to. Therefore, the latter runner requires a bigger backpack.
  • Mandatory gear or supplies: not all races are the same. While some don’t require any gear, others do – such as those that take place across rough terrain. So, if you need to carry gear, you will need to take a larger vest with you.
  • Purpose of competition: you will also need to think about what your personal objective is. Are you looking to cover a shorter distance as quickly as possible? If so, a smaller, lightweight vest is what you will need. On the other hand, if the race is all about endurance, you will need greater storage space.

Women Specific Race Vests

As with other types of backpacks, some race vests have been made specifically for women. These aren’t necessarily more attractive or have a lighter weight. Rather, they have been designed to fit a woman’s body better.

For one, the backpack portion of these race vests tends to look like inverted triangles rather than the traditional rectangular shape. This is to accommodate the wider hips that women have. These vests also tend to come in smaller sizes so that they can fit individuals with shorter torsos as well. Then there are the straps. With women specific race vests, the chest straps have to be positioned carefully. This is to make room for larger breasts and to avoid chaffing.

While not all women need to opt for women specific race vests, they may prove to be a better fit for some female runners.

These are all of the considerations that you will need to make when looking for a race vest for you. It is only by carefully examining your options that you will be able to arrive at the right decision.


Last updated on November 14, 2017

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