Stretchy Mesh Running Hydration Backpack Options
Looking for a new stretchy and stuffable mesh running backpack to hold your energy gels, bars and hydration mixes and other race required items for your next ultra marathon race?
We've seen a few stretchy stuffable running backpacks about and even one of our larger hiking backpacks has a very large stuff mesh section on it and we have found it incredible handy and a versatile addition to the backpack.
So why not look for a new backpack for hiking, running and the outdoors which you can stuff all of your items in to and which is mostly or completely elasticated and stretchy? This is exactly what we've spent the last few weeks researching and looking in to ourselve's so we thought we'd share what we have found.
Looking For Sports Supplements And Outdoor Foods
When looking in to what foods you should bring with you and pack in to your hydration vest, check out the food discovery tool we have built which has over 700 outdoor and sports foods to filter, sort and compare to your hearts content.
Why A Stretchy Elastic Mesh Backpack
We have found that on our runs and adventures out, whether it be a short 10-20km, we might only need to bring some hydration powder drink and food with us. Our current range of running backpacks we have are just far too bulky, pockets, zips and compartments everywhere just not being utilised and this makes the fit of them uncomfortable when we aren't carrying much in them.
The same goes for longer runs over mountainous terrain and ultra races where there are aid stations and help along the route, you only really need your phone, some food, drink and an extra layer of clothing.
Using a smaller bag 5-10L backpack could work, but you'll still end up with a lot of unused space.
You will also find with stretchy mesh type backpacks that there are more access points. This means that you can fill your main compartment with your required gear such as waterproofs, map, phone, of which you might not use unless there is an emergency. Then around this you can fill and use the entry points with specific items.
For instance, on your lower back to your right you might have spare gels which sits ontop and around a waterproof jacket. On your left lower back you might have your spare soft flasks which already contain their energy powders and they're ready to pull out and fill at an aid station. You then put in the two empty water bottles you had on your shoulder straps in that space taken by the pre-prepared bottles.
However you fill your backpack, you can work out a way to have access to nearly everything because there is more than one way to get in and nothing will ever be stuck at the bottom of a compartment with other items sat on top of and in the way of for when you need it.
Stretchy Elastic Backpacks Are Small Until They're Not
Thats right, it might sound confusing at first, but they are a minimalist backpack, until you stuff them full of what you need.
That is why we have looked in to stretchy backpacks. They are minimal in design, take up less space, weigh less and have the practical offerings of a larger bag, but when empty only feel like you're wearing a small vest and in some cases, like you're wearing nothing at all.
This is perfect if you are tight on space at home or already have a few other bags for running. If you find you are travelling abroad for a race or running and being outdoors, you can save space your luggage with a mesh style backpack vest.
The main comparisons here are the material used when making the backpacks and how the items stay within their areas when you pack things in to them.
One thing with a non stretchy zipped compartment that a lot of bags use is that once a compartment is full, it's full. A stretchy mesh and stuffable running backpack allows for small items like gels and bars to be pushed in to gaps all the way around the bag and on top of what is already being held.
Grabbing Items On The Go
If you want a running backpack you can access its pockets without taking it off, look no further than a mesh stretchy running backpack.
If you have a zip on the back of your backpack, there is noway you are going to be able to access that compartment and space, unless you take the bag off.
The best approach we have found to this is wearing a backpack which has a separate waist strap and doesn't loop under your armpits. You can take off the shoulder straps of the bag, leave the waist section connected and spin the bag around to your front and take out what you need, this is not ideal but a workaround we have found with one of our bags we have for ultras.
With a stuffable and stretchy running vest, you can literally grab anything, from any section of the bag, even whilst running and this includes things on your back.
Zero Or Less Zips
Not that we hate zips, but we have found that outdoor adventures and mother nature can ruin zips. Either by rusting them or breaking them on falls or by using them the wrong way.
We've all been there, you're trying to close an important zip so your keys or phone don't go flying out on the side of a mountain and you've caught the fabric, broken the zip and ruined that section of your backpack.
With a stretchy mesh backpack you have nothing but fabric which expands when you use it and contracts when you're not using it.
Less Bouncing Of Gear
We have put some very weirdly shaped gear in our backpacks, from collapsible dog bowls, through to camera gimbals and everything in-between.
If you have compartment space, with zips, and you don't fill it you may find that even with a well fitting backpack, the gear inside might move around and even bounce at the bottom of your bag.
We have put the same amount of gear and individual items in to the stretchy sections of the backpacks we already own and they have faired much better out on long runs. When we're bouncing about, no matter what we add to them, they'll all feel like they're being held in place nicely.
We've run and cycled on mountain bike trails with drinks up front in our shoulder straps and packed the following items in to the stretchy area of the back with zero problems.
Thin fleece and extra clothing layers. Even with larger items such as jackets we've had no problem packing them in whilst on the run and knowing they won't fall out as the stretchy sections wrap themselve's over the clothing which is rolled up into a ball.
We usually put a camera gimbal in the large section of our backpack compartments. With a stretchy section on one of ours, we can literally shove it in horizontally and feel safe that it won't fall out and won't wobble or bounce about on our backs. We do also add a very thin foam sheet which stops the gimbal or any other weirdly shaped items sticking in to our back.
Dog Running Gear
Treats, bottled water, poo bags and a dog bowl are all completely different shaped items and on fast recce runs or races we have put the water and dog bowl on the edges of the stretch material and mesh areas and can grab both items in seconds, have our little furry friend drinking some well needed water and have everything packed away in about 20 seconds in the same spot we got it from. All without having to remove the bag, move it around our waist. The great thing is fitting in weird shaped items, with zip pockets this just can't be done because even though these two items are small, they are oddly shaped.
Why Else Should You Consider A Stretch Vest
- Stretch hydration vest have better chance of fitting more people because it's like wearing a garment.
- It's very comfortable and light and feels just like wearing an extra thin top layer but the added bonus of being able to fit things in to it
- The stretch pockets really do stretch and you can push the limits of their storage capacities by simply stuffing and filling it with all your required food and gear
Negatives To A Stretchy Mesh Backpack
It isn't all great news with the mesh style running backpacks, there are some downsides to them as well, which we'll go through here.
They aren't weatherproof, so if it rains, your backpack and it's contents will get wet. Because all of them are porous and you can see through their mesh, they will let in and absorb water.
The only hydration vest on this list which has some weatherproofing is the Nathan VaporKrar which has a weatherproof and water sealed phone pocket which sits behind a water bottle and on your chest strap.
What you'll have to do if weatherproofing is a concern is choose one from the list which has a zippered compartment, which you'll find some of them do.
Another option is to use thin waterproof stuff sacks, place your items in them and then put that in to any one of your elasticated pockets.
Where To Put Your Poles
Because there is less to the packs, they're mostly vests that have extra material on them in which to stuff things between the material on you and the outer material. It means that you'll struggle to place your poles on them.
A couple in the list will attach poles in various positions but the Aonijie do not have this feature. So if you're in to your poles on long runs or hiking, take a look at the other options.
Stretchy Backpack Options
Now we've looked in to how to use them and why they're so practical, what elastic mesh running bags are there out there to choose from?
In this section we look at stretchy hydration vests from 2.5L in size, all the way up to to 12L in size. There are different sizes depending on what you need to carry and there are now a handful of brands manufacturing these types of vest packs for you to choose from.
Comparison and Similarities
Fully Stretchy Hydration Vest
The Salomon S-Lab Sense is similar to the Nathan Vaporkrar and the Aonijie Gale 5L.
Half Stretchy Hydration Vest
The Salomon Advanced Skin and the Aonijie Gale 10L have a lot of stretchy pockets on them and both have a large rear compartment you access through a zip.
Other Stretchy Mesh Backpacks
The Inov-8 the Aonijie Gale 2.5L, Salomon Agile 2 and the Asics 5L are still fantastic options, if you want something small look in to these three. If you want to expand, then the Inov-8 is two bags in one as you can attach a larger compartment to the back. The Aonijie 2.5L, Salomon Agile 2 and Asics are for fast race days out of for when you don't need to carry much as you have aid stations on route where you can resupply.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra
A full mesh style running hydration pack by Salomon, it's had a couple of variations to it's build and is a fully elasticated mesh style stretchy running backpack.
It's not very big, coming in at 5L pack capacity, so you'd struggle to use this for multi-day running or hikes and even ultra races which have a bigger mandatory kit list.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Storage Pockets
This running hydration pack has 'pockets' everywhere. Even though it's a stretch based material, there are pockets for everything you could need.
You have a total of 6 pockets just on the front shoulder section straps: 2 upper pockets, 2 long drinks bottle pockets and 2 stuffable front pockets beneath the other four.
There are two side pockets, one has a zip and a main compartment stretch pocket on your back which you can put even bigger items in and below that a lower back horizontal pocket.
Every single pocket on the S-Lab Sense Ultra stretches and is accessible.
Without anything in it, the pack weighs just 127grams dry, thats 4.5oz.
So with all that goodness of this pack, what problems does it have?
It's not the cheapest, but you're paying for a brand that are trying new things with running and outdoor gear.
As well as this, if you overload the pack, the pack itself might bounce. This is because the entire vest is made of elasticated material. So when you fill it, and fill it some more, you're actually adding weight to the pack which is growing away from your body so will have more reason to bounce. The closer you can keep your gear to you as you pack your bag, the less bounce you will find.
Salomon Advanced Skin Hydration Pack
The Salomon Advanced Skin hydration pack is a half mesh pack, so not fully elasticated but has some good stretchy pockets and a larger non stretchy compartment area on the back which you access with a zip.
The salomon advanced skin weighs in at 337grams, quite a bit more than the S-Lab Sense Ultra which is a true stretchy mesh running vest. But with this option you do get the options of a large zipped compartment which is made of a stiffer material than the mesh sections.
This backpack option is not a full stretch option but does have up to 12L carrying capacity so could work well with longer ultra marathons or even overnight hiking trips.
Aonijie Gale 10L Mesh Running Vest
One of the cheapest running vests in this list, the Aonijie Gale 10L running vest is a fully stretching and simple running vest with plenty of pockets, stuff space and is affordable.
If you are looking for a elasticated mesh hydration running vest that doesn't break the bank, look no further. This vest is half the price and in some cases, a third of the price of other running backpacks.
The Aonijie Gale comes in three different colours, red, mint green and black. There are two different sizes, so make sure to check which size you need when you look in to buying one.
This pack weighs 170grams and is one of the lightest in this list, with only the S-Lab Sense by Salomon coming in lower at 120g, but you can only carry half the gear with 5L capacity.
Pockets On The Aonijie Gale 10L
There are two front bottle pockets on the Aonijie, this is perfect for the 500ml soft flasks by Aonijie which are one of the cheapest on the market.
As well as these there are two larger pockets sat below the bottle pockets and one zipped pocket higher up on the shoulder which are all stretchy. The best feature of this bag are the very large stretch pockets which sit on your chest. They are larger than any on the 2.5L and 5L versions of this backpack so you can carry more up front with this stretchy hydration vest.
On the back it's very simple, there is one large stretch section which can be accessed from the side which has a zip, this is the main compartment. Below this is a section of stretch material which you can access without a zip from the sides. It goes half way up from the bottom and gives you access to whatever you pack away whilst still running and without having to take the bag off.
It's a very simple solution, practical and useful as you get many stretch pockets which are accessible and one large pocket which you can zip away your gear.
If 10L is too large for you, Aonijie also do this hydration vest in a 5L and a 2.5L, so if you are after even smaller options for races and only to hold a few small items, you have other choices. The 5L version has the same capacity as the S-Lab Sense by Salomon but is much cheaper.
Aonijie Gale 5L Running Backpack
Although with the same name as the 10L and 2.5L versions, this backpack is made a little different to the other two.
Other than it's total volume available, the most notable difference is the addition of side hip pockets which sit underneath your armpits. The section that connects your back to your front shoulder straps which goes under your arm and around you has two stretchy mesh pockets which gives you more reachable and usable pockets compared to that of the 10L.
The 10L in this space has two tightening straps to make sure the backpack fits you from front to back so misses on on these pockets.
A smaller difference which you may not see at first glance is that of the tightening straps on the front that go over your chest.
On the 5L you have two clips which connect in the middle, a male and female click on each side. But what is very interesting about this setup is that you can move the clips up and down the entire height of the backpack on toggles. So you could choose to remove it and use one toggle or use both provided and find where is best for you.
Aonijie Gale 2.5L Hydration Vest
This is much more of a running hydration vest than a backpack like the other suggestions, the entire top half of your back is mesh which simply supports the rest of the vest.
You get a small rear pocket at the bottom which you access via a zip and then the usual pockets up front for water bottles, snacks and phone.
Asics 5L Hydration Vest
Asics has one of the simplest looking hydration vest designs, no fancy logos or names splattered over their backpack and this comes in grey or black with no other markings.
It's a stretchy mesh running backpack and completely no fuss. If you want something for smaller runs or even mountain biking, this is perfect as it works with a hydration bladder so you can drink hands free with it.
The actual hydration vest looks like body armor but we love the design and it's simplicity.
Pockets On The Asics 5L Hydration Vest
This running backpack has the least amount of pockets compared to the others in this list and you will have to take the backpack off if you want to access the main back compartment.
This section has a zip, so taking it off is neccessary as you have to unzip it to get inside and it only being on one side means it's not that easy to get in to.
There is a back kangaroo pouch which is pretty large and can hold drinks, clothing or other equipment.
On the front of your shoulders are two small pockets, they aren't big enough for large drink bottles, which is a shame, we love to run with our drinks up front, but you can use a bladder in this setup if you want. If this isn't something you like, then you'll have to look at the other options.
All these points make it perfect for mountain biking or long day hikes where you want to wear something with a minimal design.
Inov-8 All Terrain Pro Vest
One of the most versatile packs in this list, a small stretchy hydration running backpack for races and small runs which can be turned in to a 15L running backpack for the fastpackers out there who need to carry a bit more for longer days out and overnighters.
You get 8 accessible pockets with the Inov-8 in race mode and 11 when you add the extra large pocket for longer days out.
What we really love about this pack are the underpit side pockets. We wished that more running backpacks would utilize stretch pockets in this area.
Nathan Vaporkrar 4L & 12L Stretch Hydration Vest
The Nathan Vaporkrar comes in two sizes and is a fully stretch mesh hydration option for ultra runners.
Nathan are a big manufacturer of ultra running gear and get great reviews.
The Nathan is a similar concept and design to the S-Lab Sense and the Aonijie Gale 5L running backpacks.
It is only 4L but there is a larger 12L version that you can get too if you need a bigger option. Both of these sizes can fit the 1.5L hydration bladder for hands free hydration.
Just like others in this design, all pockets are accesible whilst on the run and you don't need to take it off to access running equipment, bars, gels and drinks.
The 12L version weighs in around 300grams without the bladder, which makes it the heaviest full stretch backpack but it can hold more than twice the S-Lab Sense.
With this backpack you can carry a phone in a weather proof and water resistant phone pocket which sits on your chest. No others in this range and list offer this feature.
Salomon Agile 2 Backpack
An offering very similar to the Aonijie Gale 2.5L hydration vest, this backpack has some great accessible front stretch pockets for soft flask water bottles or small plastic drinking bottles as well as 2 other pockets for gels, more food or other small pieces of gear.
The final pocket sits behind the front 2 stretch pockets which has a zip, so you can keep your keys safe or some other small valuable.
You can't use a hydration bladder with this vest, similar to the Aonijie 2.5L but what it does offer you is a comfortable, stylish and very simple running pack which you can use for ultra marathon races which has plenty of aid stations so you only need to carry a minimal amount of kit.
What we love about this running backpack is that you can access every pocket whilst running or skiing or mountain biking and you don't have to remove it to get to the back stretch kangaroo pocket or the front 4 elasticated pockets.
This hydration vest only weighs 122grams which makes it one of the lightest in the list.
If you wan't a stretchy mesh and elasticated backpack, look no further, this definitive list has some great options.
There are many reasons for you to choose such a backpack and hydration vest and we may have not even covered it.
A few of our main reasons for looking in to them was access to each pocket without taking the backpack off, being lightweight and less cumbersome and being more practical.
Hydration Vests You Can Access Every Pocket
Without having to take the backpack off, you can access every single pocket of the Salomon Agile 2 hydration vest, Aonijie 5L is accessible whilst still on the move Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra and the Nathan VaporKrar.
This includes even the back compartment and larger pockets and some of these even have under arm and hip stretch pockets.
This doesn't make the others bad choices, you may have another reason to look in to them and most only have one pocket which has a zip on it meaning you can't access it on the run but they still have multiple other stretchy pockets which are accessible on the go.