Race Vests to Take You the Distance

Race vests are designed to give you quick and easy access to water and energy snacks, with enough cargo capacity for other essentials. Designed to be lightweight and stable, they have storage for multiple bottles of water or sports drink, or room for a hydration bladder. I've used a race vest for half marathons and for my longer training walks. I like having quick access to my phone and/or camera, as well as water and snacks. Compared to a backpack, a race vest usually has wide shoulder straps to spread out the load.


Camelbak Marathoner

Camelbak Marathoner Race Vest. © Camelbak

I prefer using a hydration bladder for long walks. It's just much easier for me to sip from the valve than to manipulate a water bottle. The Camelbak Marathoner comes with Camelbak's excellent two-liter/70 ounce Antidote reservoir. If you want to carry separate bottles of sports drink, you can use the two front pockets. But I use them for my phone and/or camera, energy snacks and other items I want immediate access to. In back, there is a mesh pocket that closes with a bungee cord. I use that to carry my extra layers and more. The vest has reflective striping all around. If you don't want to use the reservoir, that zip pocket then becomes a place for extra gear storage. I have one caveat, I didn't prep myself well enough with anti-chafing product before a Rock 'n' Roll half marathon, and you can see the resulting chafing. The Marathoner has been updated since that experience, and I just count it as a lesson learned - use lots of anti-chafing prep for any vest!


Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2

Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2
Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2. Wendy Bumgardner ©

This race vest places two water bottles high on your back, and the vest is shorter than many others.The big advantage for me is that the risk of chafing is reduced as I have my sports bra covering my back where the pack ends. While other vests tend to have open armpits, the straps of the HydraQuiver vest connect just beneath the armpit, which might feel restrictive or be a spot for chafing. It works great if you prefer to carry bottles rather than use a hydration reservoir. That's an advantage when you want to carry one bottle of water and one of sports drink. The bottle quivers are adjustable to fit different sizes of bottles, so you aren't restricted to the two included. In front you have a drop-in pocket on each side as well as stretchy pockets on the straps that close with hook-and-loop. That's four places to stash essential gear. There is no pocket on the back, but there is a great bungee cord between the quivers. It's perfect for lashing on your jacket or other layers. One drawback - the bottles tend to fall out when you take the vest off, such as when removing your jacket after you warm up and are ready to lash it to the back.


NATHAN Firecatcher Race Vest

Nathan Firecatcher Race Vest
Nathan Firecatcher Race Vest. NATHAN Sports

The Firecatcher is lightweight and highly breathable. All of the edges are lined with a soft fabric edging that should reduce the risk of chafing. It comes with two 10-ounce flasks carried in the two front pockets. That's a minimal amount of hydration capacity, but you can substitute larger water bottles. The large back pocket will hold a 1.5 liter hydration reservoir (sold separately or use one from another manufacturer). The back is only slightly padded in two strips that ride on either side of your backbone, so there isn't any insulation to keep your water from warming from body heat. There is a front zip pocket for phone or essentials, but it is barely big enough for my iPhone 4s, so unless redesigned it may not fit your larger phone. There is also a small "pill pocket" and a gel stash pocket. It has reflective stripes and comes in bright colors for safety. It doesn't have a bungee cord for more storage. But I like the soft design -- you can easily fold it up to carry or fit in a larger pack.


Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest

Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest 2.0
Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest 2.0. Courtesy of Pricegrabber

I've been a fan of Ultimate Direction water bottles and bottle-carrying packs for over 15 years. This race vest was designed by minimalist trail ultrarunner Anton Krupicka (hence the AK). It is very lightweight (only seven ounces without water) and with the 2.0 version they switched to Silnylon for better durability. The edges are all lined with Velvetex no-chafe fabric. In front, you get two excellent 20-ounce Ultimate Direction water bottles (my favorite). Or, you can add a 70-ounce hydration reservoir in the back pocket (sold separately). In front you also have two smart phone-compatible drop-in pouches and two essential pockets. In back you have the tall mesh pocket to use for gear or a hydration bladder, and a bungee cord system to secure more items (such as a jacket).


Camelbak Octane LR Race Vest

Camelbak Ultra LR Race Vest
Camelbak Ultra LR Race Vest. Camelbak

This race vest uses a 2 liter (70 ounce) lumbar hydration reservoir so the weight is lower on your back. You may find that a more stable configuration. Like the Camelbak Marathoner, it has a mesh stash pocket in back with a bungee, perfect for storing layers to take off or put on. It has the same drop-in pockets in front and a velcro-closed secure pocket. Dual sternum straps also allow you to adjust the fit.


Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest
Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest. Courtesy of Pricegrabber

This vest has a lot of cargo capacity. In back you have the outer bungee and loops for your trekking poles and ice axe. There is also an interior bungee in the tall pocket. It's compatible with an add-on 70-ounce hydration bladder (sold separately). But you might prefer to use the two included water bottles, held in the front pouches.  It's a no-sweaty-back design with Hex Mesh that doesn't absorb moisture. All of the edges are lined with Velvetex no-chafe binding, although I worry that the Hex Mesh itself might be scratchy. On the side, you have two pockets for more quick-access storage. Because the sides are more than just a strap, you buy this vest in small, medium, or large.


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