Water for the Journey

Photo by Kelly (seed-tree). Found on Flickr.

Photo by Kelly (seed-tree). Found on Flickr.

It’s summer and it’s hot! If I need to tell you about the importance of drinking water when running at all, but especially in the summer, you maybe need to revisit some of your elementary health class notes. It’s not a necessity on all runs, but if I’m running 13 miles or more, you can bet that I’m bringing some form of hydration. That depends on other factors too, such as humidity, heat, hills, and whether or not I will have some water stations to stop by on the run. On long runs, the question usually isn’t, “Do I need to bring water?” but “How do I bring water?” That’s what I hope to provide some insight into today.

Let’s meet our contestants!

Stock photo: hydration pack

Stock photo: hydration belt

Stock photo: hand held bottle

I want to just do a quick paragraph on each one and give you my thoughts and experiences:

Hydration pack: I recently bought a hydration backpack at Aldi for $15. Nothing much but it has a 2-liter bladder in it and I thought, “If I’m not sure I will like it, why pay so much more?” I’ve used it on a few 16-mile runs and I have some observations. First off, when I put it on, I definitely felt the weight on my upper back. I’m not used to that. Also, the straps on the model I have slip quite a bit, which requires constant tightening, and the multitude of straps could mean (but has not for me yet) chafing. All that being said, I found it to be quite nice for longer runs with no places to fill up my other water bottles. This run was basically an uninterrupted stop from Mason City, IA to Clear Lake, IA and it was really nice to have all the water with my I would need. On muggy days, when I need a lot of fluid, it’s nice to have it right there ready for you. Also, the fact that it’s a backpack means that it can also haul other things, such as phone, keys, food, and other clothes (if you’re commuting or need to take off a layer). Overall, not a bad experience, but the straps and the weight will take some getting used to.

Hydration belt: I have a Nathan Trail Mix 4 hydration belt that I used for my first marathon and periodically since then. It has 4 bottles, each carrying 10 ounces, which is a pretty good amount to have on you. Also, it has a pouch for carrying some nutrition, phone, keys, etc. It is well built and I have gotten some good use out of it. I have learned to rotate which bottle I drink out of so I don’t end up lopsided. Another nice thing to do with the bottles is, on loops or a race where you have someone watching, have 2 on your hips and 2 to exchange, which can mean a quicker water stop than you could get from using the race stations. My biggest complaint of it is that the bottles, especially in the back, have a tendency to mess with how my shorts sit on my hips, which means I’m either making sure they’re pulled up all the way or being smacked in the butt with each stride. A little annoying, but that’s the only drawback for me.

Hand held bottle: I have a few generic bottles and holsters that I use. Each one holds around 20 ounces of water and the holsters have pockets for some nutrition, but not much else. It’s a pretty basic set up: you put your hand into the holster, tighten it until it doesn’t wiggle, and run. No straps and no unnecessary chafing. I actually tend to use this method most often due to the fact that it doesn’t take much thought and care during the run. However, having 20 ounces of water in one hand can add strain to my shoulders if I’m not careful. For races, when I just need something to have for nutrition and extra water between water stations, I use this, as well as runs in cooler or less humid environments. They are very cheap (I think a holster costs $5 and the bottles can be found anywhere for pretty inexpensive), so if I leave one somewhere, I’m not out a lot of money either.

Overall: Each method has its use for me. On trail runs or long runs with no support, I’ll use the backpack. I’ll use the belt for long runs broken up into loops. And I’ll use the hand held bottle just about every other time. They each have their pros and cons, so it’s a matter of figuring out what I need to bring with me and how best to bring it.


Do you have a favorite mode of carrying water on a run? Any that I haven’t mentioned?

2 Comments on “Water for the Journey

  1. I use a handheld – but it’s a small 10 oz flask. I’ve tried the 20 oz but the weight bothered me. I HATE wearing belts. I have found that I spend 99.9% of my run fighting the stupid thing. Plus I have yet to find one that doesn’t leak all over me. With that being said, I (stupidly) decided to wear one in a marathon last year because I was trying to BQ and wanted to avoid any bog down at aid stations. Yea. The belt made it to mile 1 before I stuffed two flasks in my vest and tossed the belt with remaining flasks to a homeless man sipping out of a brown paper bag. I wonder what he used the belt for….

    Luckily, I run with a training group for long runs. We have water stations set up along our routes. So I can still stick with my handheld and be ok in the humidity. Not sure what I will do with my fall marathon. Weather permitting, I may just jam two flasks in my vest again and carry a third. Worked last time – I did BQ. 😉


    • Nice job on the BQ! I have a long way to go before I get to that point! Thanks for the input! I love the idea of the belt, but it has yet to work out in practice the way I’d like.


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