A Buyer's Guide for Finding the Perfect Backpack for Both Hiking and Trail Running
BD Distance 15 in action: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada - Photo Credit: Allison Edgerton
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Taking up a new outdoor sport can be expensive - it is way too easy to get caught up in the gear hype. If you’re a hiker - and/or a runner - and are looking to give trail running a go, it can be hard to know the difference between the specialized running packs and gadgets you need to have versus the gear that would be nice to have.
When it comes to packs, ones made specifically for running do have many advantages, but maybe you’re not ready to drop the cash on something so particular. Although you can technically run with any backpack, all the bouncing, jostling, and chafing you will endure while running with an ill-fitted hiking pack may not leave you as enamored with trail running as you otherwise could be.
So, whether you’re looking for your first trail running pack, or are already an avid hiker and trail runner, we found the best multi-purpose packs that perform well on hikes, trail runs, scrambles, and beyond.
Trail Running with a Buddy in the Canadian Rockies - Photo Credit: Steve Edgerton
Hiking Packs vs. Trail Running Packs: What’s the Difference?
Running creates far more movement and momentum than hiking does. Trail running-specific packs tend to be smaller and more form-fitting than “normal” backpacks to prevent this excess bouncing and jostling. They will often utilize vest-like shoulder straps to distribute weight evenly across your back, shoulders, and chest.
Of course, you can run with whatever hiking pack you have, but most of these are designed with slower speeds and higher volumes in mind. Hiking backs tend to be larger and fit more loosely. They often use a waist buckle to distribute weight onto the hips. Hip belts work well for hiking with heavier loads, but can impede your natural running form.
Skoki Loop: Alberta, Canada - Photo Credit: Allison Edgerton
The Best Hiking Packs for Trail Runners
Fortunately, there are several backpacks on the market that offer an ideal middle ground. These five hiking packs have enough capacity to take on any day hike, but are designed with the fit and clever features of running vests, making them excellent for trail running as well.
Black Diamond wanted to design a pack that blurred the boundaries between mountain sports like hiking, scrambling, and trail running, in a way that few other packs do. They succeeded with the Distance 15. The vest-like shoulder straps feature pockets for soft flasks and snacks, and one zippered pocket for your phone. The cavernous 15 L main compartment accommodates a ton of gear. Compression webbing keeps it all secure, even while running.
Equipped with trekking pole sleeves and ice ax loops, the Distance 15 can even handle technical scrambles deep in the alpine wilderness. If you generally stick to shorter three-season hikes and trail runs, you could instead consider the Distance 8. It has all the features of its larger sibling, just with less volume. It is more akin to a trail running pack you could use for some hiking—rather than the other way around.
Unlike the Black Diamond Distance packs, the Gregory Miwok 12 is marketed as a hiking-specific pack, but designed to work well for trail running, too.
The cushioned shoulder straps distribute weight well, and the pack’s dynamic suspension design helps it move with—not against—your body as you run. A dedicated hydration pocket and waist strap pockets allow you to eat and hydrate on the go - a critical component for any trail running-friendly pack.
The Gregory Maya 10 is the women’s version of the Miwok 12. It has a little less internal volume, but the main pocket still provides more than enough space for extra layers, lunch, and other hiking/trail running essentials.
Like the Miwok, its bounce-free design and snug fit make for a solid multi-purpose pack.
Salomon is well known for their high-quality running vests. These hyper-minimalist packs have just enough space for the bare essentials, which is perfect for light and fast trail runs, but not so great for hiking.
The Salomon XT 10 bridges that gap. It combines more storage and hiker-friendly features (zippered interior pockets, hydration sleeve) with the vest harness system that makes Salomon’s running packs so good. Pockets in the shoulder straps can store 500ml soft flasks, snacks, and your phone.
With 20 L of capacity, this pack from Ultimate Direction can do everything from winter hikes to weekend ultralight summer backpacking adventures. The running-style vest has storage for water and snacks. There are side pockets for water bottles, a zippered top pocket, and a large roll-top main compartment.
You don’t need this much volume for your typical trail run, but this spaciousness combined with a runner-friendly design creates the perfect “single-quiver” backpack for year-round hiking, backpacking, climbing, and trail running.
Trail Running on the Juan de Fuca Trail: BC, Canada - Photo Credit: Steve Edgerton
Tips for Running With a Hiking Pack
Here are a few tips to help your hiking pack work well for trail running outings:
Pack Light: Hiking packs have more volume than most trail runs require, making it easy to overpack. Heavy packs negatively affect your running form, so try to be mindful of what you bring. Stick to water, extra layers as needed, a first aid kit, and light, calorie-dense snacks.
Pack Right: Keep heavier items and anything with hard edges at the bottom and middle of your pack, with softer items, like rain gear or a down jacket, closer to your shoulders. Using shoulder and waist straps to store snacks and a hydration bladder or flasks for water will keep you moving, minimizing how often you need to stop to take off your pack.
Wear Sleeves: Even well-fitting hiking packs can cause chafing when they rub against your skin. Wearing a shirt with sleeves is the best way to protect your shoulders and arms from unnecessary pain.
Start With Some Trial Runs: Starting small is good advice for every outdoor sport. Don’t take your hiking pack out for an epic all-day mountain run without testing it out first. A few short runs with a full pack will help you dial in the fit and identify any issues before you really get out there.
Most importantly, don’t let fear of not having the perfect gear prevent you from trying something new! The best way to start trail running is to just get out there, with whatever gear you currently have. Pathloom is here to help! Plan appropriately, find some trail running buds, and hit the trails!
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