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Vest In Show

Trail Runner's top hydration-vest picks for your 2019 racing kit. From barely noticeable to full of features, there is a vest for every type of race.

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It’s time to welcome the racing hydration vest to the cool-kids club. Long gone are the days of Jerry rigging with cut-up strips of wetsuit, rubber bands and shoe goo. The latest technology translates to lighter, more comfortable vests that are able to handily carry everything you’ll need from poles to smartphones to triple-decker breakfast burritos.

We rounded up vests from several leading brands on the market and landed on these seven for your 2019 racing calendar. Some are best for your first 10-miler while some will take you through the year, ready to run 200-plus miles in the Moab 240 or Big’s Backyard Ultra next fall.

The North Face
Flight Trail Vest
Weight: 7.1 oz
Bladder compatible: Yes
Sizes: XS-XL
Price: $150
Best features: Comfort and weight
Distance: All distances

The Flight is the first of its kind for the North Face, and a sexy debut it is. It’s sleek, simple and to the point. A dual-entry pocket sits below an open back drop (the large rear-storage area), and reviewers reported easy handling; the vest didn’t need to come off to reach items. Front and side pockets include two zip chest pockets, two dump pockets and two zip side pockets in addition to the flask pockets.

The Flight gets highest marks for the comfortable four-way stretch fabric, light weight and overall accessibility. 1,000ml of water can be stored up front, with additional room in the back for extra. The Flight has limited soft-flask compatibility (no-straw bottles are best).

Race Ultra Pro 5
Weight: 9.7 oz
Bladder compatible: No
Sizes: S/M, L/XL
Price: $165
Best features: Front storage and tons of features.
Distance: 100K to 100M

The Inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 5 wins the features award. A plethora of pockets that can store flasks, nutrition, clothing, phones, etc. are well placed and easily accessed. The included flasks have the longest straws on the market (not shown here) and are meant to sit low, making this a comfortable style for women. As shown, shorter-strawed flasks can sit in upper pockets.

Poles can be secured on the front, side or back and a water-resistant pocket will fit a smartphone. The back drop uses a Velcro closure and is simple to access without maneuvering. The Race Ultra Pro 5 may not be as breathable as other vests and it sizes slightly large. A reusable water cup is included for plastic-less races.

Race Vest 8L
Weight: 12.1 oz
Bladder compatible: Yes
Sizes: XXS-XL
Price: $250
Best features: Storage and comfort.
Distance: All distances.

Unleashing its first racing vest, HOKA ONE ONE partnered with tried-and-true vest brand, Nathan. The Race Vest 8L comes in men’s- and women’s-specific styles, is soft, comfortable and can hold eight liters of gear. Tons of front pockets separate clothing and nutrition from trash and the rear dual-entry pocket is easily accessed below the open-top back drop. Three 530ml insulated HydraPak flasks keep liquids cool for long runs.

A zippered pocket in the middle of the back drop keeps gear secure and somewhat dry, yet is tough to access while running. The vest is pole compatible, though reviewers noted some difficulty getting to them.

VIA Gecko
Weight: 7.0 oz
Bladder compatible: No
Sizes: S/M, M/L
Price: $95
Best features: Fit, price point.
Distance: Marathon to 50K.

Treated with polygiene odor control, the new Gecko is best for those prioritizing a lightweight, custom fit. Three movable sternum straps translate to limited bounce and adjustability on the fly. The Gecko carries one 500ml flask in a zippered front pocket and the other in a standard flask pocket—a unique feature for water storage that could be a blessing or a curse.

The back drop is open, and two rear pockets are elastic mesh for accessories. Pole accessibility is somewhat difficult to navigate while running. Water storage is limited to 1,000ml at a time, making it best for races with plenty of aid. Also look for the latest update to the women’s Snap 4, which is similar to the Gecko and features new pockets and polygiene treatment ($120).

Women’s Ultra Pro
Weight: 5.0 oz
Bladder compatible: Yes
Sizes: XS-L
Price: $120
Best features: Lightweight, well rounded.
Distance: Marathon to 50K.

With seven liters of gear storage and one liter of water storage, the women’s Ultra Pro is a comfortable, intuitive design that covers all the bases. While still able to hold plenty of gear (including a protected smartphone), water and nutrition, the five-ounce vest has multiple flask locations, moveable sternum straps, open-mesh side pockets and a fold-over back drop that is water resistant.

Poles attach diagonally across the back and are accessible with slight contortion on the fly. The only sizing adjustability on this pack is with the sternum straps so make sure it fits before you purchase.

Zygos 4.0
Weight: 16.0 oz
Bladder compatible: Yes
Sizes: XXS-L
Price: $175
Best features: Insulated back drop, suited for the long haul.
Distance: 100 miles and beyond.

The Zygos 4.0 weighs in heavier than other vests here, and fits more like a backpack in order to carry a full 14 liters of kit. This update has added adjustable shock cords, re-designed lower-sternum hooks and added ripstop mesh to the shoulder straps. Tons of zippered pockets, loop-and-anchors and cinches mean there is likely a place to store whatever you need without thinking hard.

The back drop is insulated to keep fluids colder longer and secured with a top zipper, meaning the pack likely needs to come off to access the pocket. Likewise, the poles are accessible only with some maneuvering. Reviewers reported gear and water feeling very secure.

Revolutiv 3L
Weight: 2.3 oz
Bladder compatible: No
Sizes: S, M, L
Price: $150
Best features: Lightweight.
Distance: 50K and under.

The 3L Revolutiv is allegedly the lightest racing vest on the market. To achieve this featherweight, Raidlight sacrificed some rear storage, but not all. The front and side pockets can hold a surprising amount secured by easily managed zippers and rear, slitted pockets offer access to storage in the back, equalling one liter of rear storage, one liter of side zippered storage and two front pockets for 500ml bottles.

Poles are easily attached and accessed while racing. The 3L is comfortable and light for shorter races that don’t require the kitchen sink. Be sure to check out the new Revolutiv 12L as well, which features a flip-able, magnetic-clasped pouch, making a large storage compartment quickly accessible on the fly.

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