Be ExtraOrdinary

Hydration Packs

If you have entered a trail race of more than 10 km or one that has a lot of altitude gain and loss then you will surely have come across the compulsory kit list. This is the first in a series of posts on compulsory kit, what it is, why you need it and the Mindful Runner choices of kit. Our recommendations are based on value comfort and range of application.

The first item of kit you will want to look at after your shoes is going to be a backpack. You can initially get away with that old MTB pack you have lying in the cupboard or a friends hand me down but you really want to get a pack designed and built for trail running, a pack that has been properly field tested by actual trail runners in actual trail races. There are a handful of brands that fit this criteria and many that very clearly don’t.

Considerations before choosing

  • How long between water refills?
  • How will I carry water?
  • How much protective gear will I need?
  • How much food will I carry?

How long between water refills?

It’s the time between refills that is more important than the actual distance. You must decide how much water you need to carry before you’ll be able to refill. Refilling will be from streams, water tables, aid stations and sometimes smelly pools of mucky water. The average runner uses about 1 liter of water an hour and that’s how much you should probably allow for. An example would be an event like Addo Trail race where the water tables are roughly 10-12km apart. The front runner would probably be ok allowing for a liter between aid stations but runners at the back of the pack might want to have 2 liters. In other words consider your running speed as well. Some events will have a compulsory minimum water capacity such as Skyrun which is 3 liters.

Always keep in mind that a liter of water weighs 1 kilogram. Over distance, each extra kilogram matters!

You will be able to drink directly from streams on many of the high and remote runs in South Africa.  Water tables and aid stations can be expected to have clean water but for all the other water sources you’re going to want to be sure to have a reliable means of cleaning your water whether its chemical or through a filtration system. Clean water is a non-negotiable

How will I carry water?

There a couple of options when it comes to carrying water.

  1. Carry no water. Use only natural water sources such as streams and pools. A useful item of equipment to carry is a collapsible cup on a bungy chord attached at the belt.
  2. Hand held water only. Carry water in a hand held water bottle. A simple water bottle will suffice but a good investment is to buy a bottle with a hand grip which allows the fingers to be relaxed whilst running. These hand grips often include a small pouch for keys and  some gels.
  3. Water in bottle/s in a backpack. Running belts and many running packs have secure spaces for bottle to be slotted into.
  4. An integrated water bladder. Most running packs will have an integrated water bladder option. Some are sold with the pack while others are optional and can be added after.
  5. A combination of bottles and bladder. This is probably the most versatile option. It allows you to carry multiple types of liquids in the various containers. For instance a pack with a 2 liter bladder and space for 3 x 750 ml gives you a capacity of a little over 4 liters, more importantly, it gives you the option of carrying a mix of hydration. For example 2 liters of water in the bladder, one bottle with energy drink, one bottle with protein shake and one bottle for mixing a variety of powders and potions you can carry dry.

How much protective gear?

Just how much protective gear will you be carrying and what falls under protective gear. Protective gear is that gear which is going to help you stay alive in extreme conditions or when the worst happens. You need to consider the conditions you’ll be running in before you can decide on this. Trail running requires a minimalist mind set and the more kit you carry the heavier your load. Fortunately most trail races we participate in have a prescribed minimum compulsory kit list.

The amount of protective gear is going to determine your minimum packing space which is measured in liters. Obviously when choosing protective gear like rain jackets, windbreakers, fleeces etc, you want to choose the smallest lightest kit that meets your budget. The smaller it packs down the more expensive it’s likely to be.

If you’re going out on a training run consider what will happen if you twist an ankle so badly that you have to wait for help to get to you (assuming you have a cellphone and signal) and the weather turns bad.  What will you need to stay alive until help gets to you. You have to stay warm, dry, hydrated and fed just long enough for a rescue to reach you – which is usually the criteria any race organiser is using when specifying compulsory gear. Thats how much capacity your pack will need.

How much food will I carry?

This is going to depend on how long you are between refills. You may need enough food for a fast pack Grand Traverse or simply enough space to pack a protein bar and a rehydrate. Equally important is how you intend eating. Do you want to be able to access your food easily while on the move? In which case you will want to consider gel pockets and bigger front/side pockets.

Choosing the pack

You’ve decided on how you’re going to carry your water. When choosing your pack check out just how easily the pack will suit your chosen strategy. If you’re carrying bottles on a belt or pack, how easy are they to access on the move? If you’re carrying water in a bladder how easy is it to refill? Is there insulation for the water containers so that your cold drinks will remain cold or your hot drinks warm? TipBlend ice in blender and mix it in with drinks and shakes and then pop them into a freezer overnight. The ice will help keep your drinks cold for longer and keep you from overheating.

You have chosen a pack that suits your hydration strategy. Next choice is carrying capacity. Pick a pack which will hold all your compulsory gear INSIDE the pack. If the pack is not waterproof then you’re going to need a dry bag in the event of rain or your warm clothes will get wet and be absolutely useless if you need them. Do not be tempted to get a pack with any more space than you actually need because you’ll be tempted to carry unnecessary stuff food and gear which you inevitably regret somewhere during your race.

Fueling on the move is an important consideration. Pick a pack which will allow you to access your food without having to stop moving. Ideally keep gels, nuts, protein bars etc, in multiple pockets on the front of the pack and larger food items such as sandwiches in easy to access space on the outside of your pack.

“Nice to haves” are a waterproof cellphone pouch, water proof pockets, integrated whistle, compression straps,  reflective patches, waterproof cover.


A running pack should fit snugly to your body and move with you. Water bottles shouldn’t slap you in the face when you run and the pack shouldn’t throw you off balance with every step. A good pack will last for years but keep in mind that you will probably have 2 or 3 different packs depending on the distance and type of event you’re participating in.

Avoid buying a pack without actually having fitted it. Don’t assume that if last year’s model fits you then next year’s model will as well.

The next post in this series will be on waterproof / wind proof jackets.

Happy hunting!