Over the years I’ve competed in quite a few endurance events including Ironman, long distance bike time trials, ultra trail runs, adventure races and multi-sport events like Ö till Ö, and Coast to Coast New Zealand.
As a rule, I always try to carry as little equipment, clothing, food and fluid with me as possible during these events. Carrying anything unnecessary around slows you down and costs valuable energy.
I have found I can usually perform absolutely fine for about an hour without taking on fluid. Sometimes I can go as long as 90 minutes without a drink, if I’m really well hydrated when I start and it’s not too hot. However, when going beyond 90 minutes (in both training and racing), I almost always opt to carry a drink (if it’s not possible to pick drinks up from aid stations at regular enough intervals).
I have experimented with ways to carry drinks on the move over the years, not to mention spent a lot of my own hard earned cash! I've had multiple bottles, packs, bladders and gadgets, even testing gear for mags like 220 Triathlon and Trail Running.
Here's a quick summary of the method's I’ve tried and the best kit I've found for carrying my Precision Hydration fuelled drinks around...
Carrying fluid when long distance running
I’ve played around with 5 ways of carrying my drinks when running...
In a backpack with a bladder.
- Carrying fluids on your back is ok but has a few disadvantages that mean it’s not generally my preferred method.
- Whilst you can carry quite large amounts with bladders (up to 3 litre capacity!), it can get pretty uncomfortable after a while, which affects your running posture.
- It's also impossible to see how much you’ve consumed from a bladder without taking the pack off, and re-filling it is tricky at aid stations, which can waste valuable time when racing
Verdict: A decent solution for carrying large fluid volumes when there is no other choice but not always the most comfortable. Also awkward to see how much you’ve consumed and fiddly to re-fill in a hurry.
Best bit of kit for this I’ve used: UltrAspire Titan
Why? Because it has good carrying capacity for compulsory gear in longer races and accessible chest pockets for food too.
In a waist pack.
- A waist mounted bottle holder has the advantage of being quite close to your centre of gravity so it does not swing about and is really easy to get at.
- You can see how much you’ve consumed easily and swap or refill the bottle quickly if you run low.
- The main downsides to the waist pack are that it has to be done up tight if you’re running fast to stop it flapping around, and this can interfere with breathing. Because they need cranking up so much the straps can can also sometimes chafe
- The total volume of fluid you can carry is typically only about 500ml (16oz) to 750ml (24oz), which is not all that much during a very long or hot event (I sometimes go through that amount per hour in very long or hot races).
Verdict: Simple and easy to swap/refill bottles and see how much you’ve consumed, so better for shorter events or those when you can top up reasonably regularly.
Best kit: Amphipod Velocity Plus
Why? It is really elasticated so doesn’t bounce around much and has a horizontal bottle that comes out easily when you want to grab it, but which is secure the rest of the time.
Front mounted bottles.
- Having 1 or 2 bottles with straws on the chest straps of a rucksack is very convenient when doing events that require you to carry safety equipment and/or additional clothing.
- You can put the kit on your back and keep the fluids upfront. This balances the weight distribution across your upper body and you can tell how much you’ve consumed at a glance at any point.
- Re-filling or swapping bottles is simple and with 2 bottles you can carry a reasonable volume of liquid at a time (up to about 1.5 litres).
- The main issue can be that the bottles on the front can swing about if you’re running hard and this can get really annoying.
Verdict: Great way to carry fluid if you also have to take other equipment and can do so on your back to balance the weight across your torso. Not so good when you’re trying to move really fast so better suited to longer, slower paced events.
Best kit: Raidlight Olmo 5
Why? Very lightweight and it has capacity for 2 bottles on the front.
Hand held bottles.
- These come in 2 types; ergonomically shaped bottles that you hold onto, or straps that fix a standard bottle to your hand.
- As long as you can get used to having a reasonably heavy bottle swinging around in your hand as you run (this does take some time, so you'll want to test it in training!), handheld bottles are a simple way of carrying a smallish amount of fluid without the need for anything strapped to your body.
- I use this method when I just need a small drink during a 90min to 2 hour run and don’t need to carry any other kit or equipment.
Verdict: Simple way of carrying 250-500ml (8oz to 16oz) but you need to get used to having it in your hand as it can feel odd at first. Good for longish training runs when you have little need to carry anything but a bit of a drink.
Best kit: Quickshot Plus
Why? It only holds 300ml so is light and ergonomically shape, plus has a pocket for a car key or gel as well.
Under arm bottles.
- I only came across this design of pack relatively recently when doing a test of hydration vests for a running magazine.
- The Inov-8 Race Elite Vest uses 2 long, flat 500ml (16oz) bottles that slide into sleeves that go diagonally under each armpit.
- At first glance it’s easy to think that this would be really uncomfortable but in practice it seems to work exceptionally well. It keeps the weight of the water very close to your centre of gravity, doesn’t allow it to wobble about and is easy to access and re-fill on the go.
- I’m not aware of any other packs that use this system at the moment (though there may be others) but I’d be surprised it is does not get copied before too long.
Verdict: Probably the best way I’ve found to carry a decent amount of fluids along with some other kit whilst running.
Best kit: Inov-8 Race Elite Vest
Why? It also has a rear section that can be used for a bladder if you need to carry loads of drinks, and this can more likely be stuffed with spare clothing or safety kit in long races.
Carrying fluids during triathlons / time trials
You only really need to carry fluids during the bike section of a triathlon (as aid stations are usually plentiful during the run).
On the bike (and when talking about non-drafting events) I’ve always tried to use drinks systems that allow you to stay in the aero position and drink from a straw or tube rather than having to reach for bottles because the more time you can spend in the aero position the better.
Whilst there are loads of aero drinks options, including systems that fit under the saddle and even ones that are integrated into the bike frame, I think the best methods are ones that allow you to top up from normal bike bottles that are handed out at aid stations along the course. This is really important during longer and hotter Ironman type events where you will go through way more bottles than you could conceivably carry from the start.
Verdict – I definitely think that the best systems allow you to stay in the aero position for triathlon or TT cycling. For very long events when you will need to drink multiple bottles a set up on the handle bars or on the down tube that can be re-filled on the move is also a really good idea.
Best bit of kit for this I’ve used: Aerodrink
Why? Simple but effective and easy to refill on the move.
I hope this advice helps you find the right kit for you and you see a boost in your performance as a result! What hydration gear have you found most useful? I'd be interested in hearing what our community is using, so feel free to let me know in the Comments.