Hot-weather training: Running with a hydration pack

Would this hydration pack be a livesaver or a boat anchor during a 99-degree trail run? The results were surprising.

The good side of summer in the southern plains is what when it comes to training, all those long, bright and sunny days give you a tremendous nudge to get outside.

The bad side: Heat. Not desert southwest heat, but still the kind of temps (100s and up) that zaps you before you can really get any work done.

The fall race schedule is looming, and there are still a few Rocky Mountain peaks I’d like to bag before winter sets in. But I can’t achieve these goals doing what I did last summer.

At the time, I relied on pre-hydrating before my runs and hoping for the best as the miles went by.

It didn’t work. We had record-setting heat last summer, with somewhere around 40 to 50 100-degree days. My schedule precluded me from early morning or dusk runs. Similar heat and schedule issues are true now. What to do?

Various methods of in-training hydration are out there, and no, I’m not talking about park drinking fountains.

Some people carry water bottles. Others go with hydration belt packs. And then there’s the hydration backpack.

At first glance, none of these sounds appealing. Holding a bottle in my hand is a no-go, even with a bottle grip device. The belt sounds intriguing, provided the gear doesn’t get on my nerves. The backpack, even a small one, makes me worry about comfort and weight.

But I have to do something. I can’t just keep cashing it in short of my training goals and expect to make any sort of progress.

This week, I tried one of the three listed here: a lightweight, bare-bones hydration backpack made by CamelBak.

The pack itself is a stripped down version of other hydration packs made by CamelBak. The pack is big enough for a 1.5 liter water bladder and little else. There is a small, zippered pocket where you could stash your keys and a phone, or maybe a couple of packages of Gu. But that’s it. There’s a chest strap for stability, but no hip belt.

It’s tailor-made for biking and ultralight hiking, but running?

PROS

It’s light. Since there’s almost nothing to it, most of the weight is going to be from the water, and you don’t have to fill the entire bladder of weight is a major concern. There was no discomfort in wearing it during a 3-mile trail run on, at times, technical terrain. The pack was remarkably stable, too. I didn’t feel it shifting around too much at all. Getting a quick sip via the bite valve was fine whether I was stopped or on the move. And it served its purpose. Staying hydrated as I ran improved my performance considerably. I could have run much, much further that night, despite the 99-degree temperature.

CONS

The sloshing. Over time, I wonder if the imbalances caused by shifting water would have affected my run. But in the short-term, the noise was just annoying. But really, that was about the only negative I found. If the run were really long, I’m sure chafing would be an issues where the shoulder straps are. But short of that, there was no issue.

Thanks to a pretty great Twitter friend, @DavidECreech, there is a solution to the sloshing problem. He suggested that after filling it, turn it upside-down, then suck all the air out of the bladder. This should eliminate that water movement. I’ll definitely try that.

OVERALL

Aside from breaking down and buying a waist pack with water bottles, I think this is a winner for me. Anytime I can extend my training time and mileage (not to mention adding in a little hot weather safety), I’ve got to take advantage of that.

What method of hydration do you prefer? How do you stay hydrated on your runs, hikes and bike rides? Let me know here!

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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14 thoughts on “Hot-weather training: Running with a hydration pack

  1. I actually use a heavier CamelBak than your on my trail runs. I’ve just gotten so used to it, I don’t even feel it there anymore. I will say that I never fill it up completely…I won’t need a full 70-100 oz on my runs and I don’t want to carry the extra weight. I also like to have the extra room to pick up trail trash when I find it.

    The sloshing will go away once you get used to sucking the air out before you run. As you get more accustomed to it and start doing more intense runs, you might look in to the GeigerRig pack. It’s pressurized so you can hose yourself down mid run without stopping and you don’t have to suck on the tube to get a drink. It’s kinda handy.

    As you get out doing longer runs, you’ll like having a small pack to toss a snack in and a UL first aid kit.

    • Those are excellent tips, man. If I ever do ultras, that is something I’ll have to consider. And you’re right about the water levels. I had almost as much water in that thing as I take on my summit hikes and climbs, and those are 7-8 hour deals! So I could have put in much less water for sure. Live and learn!

  2. I have the same problem especially since I get thirsty really quick on my runs. I do have a hydration belt but it sometimes impede my breathing and looks horrible… I have been tempted to get a camel back for a while. I do wonder though about finding a lady’s version. The ones I usually find are too large for my back and end up bothering me.

    • You and I have similar issues. I can’t seem to drink enough beforehand, and on my harder workouts it usually means withering performance as the miles stack up. Last summer was hitting 110+, which meant I was usually 2.5 miles in and done. Not acceptable.

      The pack pictured on the blog should work for you, or something similar to it. It’s quite small on the back, and the chest strap comes up pretty high so it shouldn’t mess with your breathing or constrict your chest uncomfortably. Remarkably stable, too. But I think it’s inevitable that there will be an adjustment period. Having something strapped to your back when you’re accustomed to running free of such an encumbrance takes some getting used to.

      • Thanks for all the advice. And I’m glad to know I’m not the only one that struggles in the heat..
        We have a lot of outdoor shops around here so I will probably go and have look, see if they have it in stock.
        I always like having advice from fellow runners since most of the hydration packs seem to be geared towards bikers.
        And I loved the tip about emptying the air beforehand to avoid sloshing

      • That would be a total credit to David Creech. He knows quite a bit about hydration, hydration gear, etc. Great follow on Twitter; @DavidECreech.

        Try em all on to see what works for you. A full-on backpack, even a small one, with a hydration sleeve is too loose for me, so that’s why I went with the pack I posted in the blog. That sucker may yet work for me. Let me know how it goes!

  3. I was just thinking about this yesterday! I like the idea of having the water, but am not sure about the weight on my back. Probably would just take a little getting used to. Thanks for a great post!

  4. I have always used the hip belt with a standard liter water bottle. I did last Saturday for a 15 mile run and it works fine. I have been doing this for more than 10 years and have adjusted to it. I like to freeze my water bottle overnight so that the water stays cold. After reading your post, I may need to try a CamelBak someday.

    • Maybe. If your hydration system is working for you I don’t suggest changing it for change’s sake. I took less water with me Saturday, but found that the shoulder straps irritated me more than on my previous trail run. But Saturday’s run was sort of a train wreck anyway, so I guess it was par for the course. Nice job on getting 15!

  5. I have tried a Camelbak in the past and didn’t like it. I just got a FuelBelt Trail Runner which comes with a zippered pocket and 2 spots for gu. It’s perfect for me. It holds up to 28 oz. of fluid total. This works for me for a 13 mile run. The most I’ll be doing over the next several months is 16 miles, and I should have a chance to fuel up at waterstops at that run (since I run with a group on Saturdays). What I do is I drink 7 oz gatorade, eat a gu, drink 7 oz Nuun, drink 7 oz gatorade, eat a gu, drink 7 oz nuun. Having the belt on doesn’t bother me at all although it was different carrying it all filled up. It will also hold my ipod in the zippered pocket, so I literally don’t have to carry anything. It didn’t leave any marks on my body and it is adjustable with velcro. It’s definitely something that I’ll use many, many times. I probably won’t go back to a Camelbak unless I have to in order to carry more oz. of fluid… like maybe for a marathon? Right now I’m doing halves.

    • Man, that sounds great! I think more than anything, you have to use what works for you. And it sounds like you did just that. I’m thinking about the belt, but for now, at least during the heat, I’ve been doing the CamelBak. Not the best solution, but a whole lot better than crashing. Thanks for your take!

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