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Osprey Dyna LT / Duro LT ($80)
Best for Short Runs
With just two 360-milliliter soft flasks up front and a rear mesh pocket big enough for a shell (no space for a reservoir) the Dyna/Duro is an ideal minimalist option for tempo runs or races. Still, there’s plenty of room for the essentials: up front, those two stretch mesh pockets fit flasks or snacks, and a vertical zippered pocket on the right lower chest strap secures your phone. The only difference between the Duro and the Dyna is in the fit: the latter has a shorter torso and narrower-set shoulder straps.
Deuter Ascender 7 ($130)
Best for Long Adventures
With a zippered compartment big enough to carry layers and even a stove, this seven-liter vest (Deuter’s first running model) looks like a daypack but fits snugly like a hydration vest. Load soft flasks and snacks into the three stretchy mesh front pockets and tuck your water reservoir in the back compartment. As your body temp fluctuates, stash (or grab) layers using the rear kangaroo pouch. A collapsible hip holster yields perhaps the most user-friendly pole carry we’ve ever seen (it tucks into itself when not in use).
The North Face Race Day Vest 8 ($149)
Best for Short Races
Weighing just over four ounces and made of thin, stretchy nylon mesh that yields a second-skin fit, this sleek vest is ideal for racing. On-the-go storage is dialed: four stretchy snack pockets and a zippered security compartment up front, and a rear horizontal pole carry. Hooks connect the base of the two soft flasks to a bungee cord at the bottom of each front pouch; pull down on the cord to get the bottles back into their pockets quickly. Even full, the Race Day sits flat on your body, though we found it most comfortable with smaller loads.
Black Diamond Distance 15 ($160)
Best for Multisport Use
The Distance 15’s 200-denier fabric is woven with a heavyweight polyethylene yarn that Black Diamond claims is stronger than steel relative to its weight. It held up admirably against sharp rocks and crampon snags on Colorado’s Longs Peak. Ice-ax holders and trekking-pole sleeves boost the pack’s versatility on trail, snow, and rock, while two flasks, a reservoir attachment, four front pockets, and a roomy main compartment support triple-digit mileage. Even half-full on a mellow 15-mile run, the Distance didn’t bounce.
USWE Pace Series 8 ($160)
Best for Fast Transitions
The Pace Series has all the elements we love: breathable mesh fabric, side bungees for quick fit adjustments, plentiful pockets (six stretchy, two zippered), and pole storage. But what sets it apart is the simple front closure. Easily release the single oversize sternum buckle with one hand when arriving at an aid station, and then click it back into place afterward. But it still rides just as smoothly as its dual-buckle peers, even with a full reservoir.
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 5.0 / Ultra Vest 5.0 ($140)
Best for Ultra Races
We love the Vesta 5.0 (and the men’s Vest 5.0, which has a slightly longer, wider back panel and larger arm openings) for its roomy rear compartment that zips open 180 degrees for easy access. In the back, two small zippered pockets hold valuables and a kangaroo pocket swallows your jacket, while five front pockets stash snacks, flasks, and a phone. Front and rear pole-carry loops are icing. Still, external bungees and a lumbar cinch system eliminate bounce no matter your load.