A blog by runners. For runners.

Fill ‘er up: Water bottle and hydration system basics


All runners agree it’s important to stay hydrated on the run. But the best way to carry water and other fluids is up for debate.

There are lots of water bottles and other types of portable hydration systems available on the market, some of which are designed specifically for running. When shopping for a hydration system, there are several factors to consider: comfort, size, how easy it is to use, how easy it is to clean, and price.

Unfortunately, it’s a little tricky to tell which hydration system works best for you without properly testing it out. For instance, that fuel belt may have felt great when you wore it around the store, but it may take a 5 mile run on a humid day to learn it causes chafing.

Finding the perfect hydration system takes trial and error, and what works for one person won’t for another. But knowing the basics can help you narrow your options.

Handheld water bottles

You can just carry any old water bottle in your hand on a run. Or you could purchase a special water bottle with a strap attached. The strap is molded and adjustable and fits around your hand, so you won’t have to worry about holding onto the bottle tightly.

  • Pros: Affordable, widely-available, and the bottle itself is usually easy-to-clean and dishwasher safe. Some models of the handheld straps come with a compartment to store your keys.
  • Cons: You have to hold on to the bottle for the entire run. The bottle can feel heavy, especially when you start getting fatigued. Most bottles aren’t a good option for long runs – unless you have a place to refill them — since they can only hold 12- 24 oz. of liquid.

Belts and waist packs

There are several different belts and waist packs on the market. Waist packs hold one large water bottle, while belts hold 2 to 6 smaller bottles.

  • Pros: Your hands are free when you’re not drinking. Most belts also have compartments to store keys, fuel, and money. Many models are light and fit well — some runners even say they forget they’re wearing them.
  • Cons: Belts and waist packs can be heavy and may cause chafing. The bottle(s) may bounce and feel uncomfortable — and sometimes bottles fall out of their holders. Certain packs are notorious for riding up constantly. It can also be tricky to get the bottle(s) back into the belt once you remove them.


Hydration backpacks are much smaller and sleeker than traditional backpacks. Water is stored in a soft bladder inside the pack. A long tube (or “bladder hose”) is connected to the bladder, and the tip where you drink from clips to your shoulder or chest.

  • Pros: Your hands are completely free for the whole run — you don’t need to use your hands to drink from the bladder hose. Some experts say that since drinking from a pack is so convenient, people who run with a backpack tend to drink more and stay better hydrated than other runners. Backpacks usually offer the most volume — some come with a two-liter hydration bladder, plus extra compartments for storage.
  • Cons: Backpacks can cause chafing, feel heavy and bulky, sound noisy during a run, and be difficult to clean. They are also the priciest hydration system option.

How do you stay hydrated during runs?

Written by Jen Matz

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