The Best Running Backpacks For Long Runs Or Commuting


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Mar 22, 2024

The Best Running Backpacks For Long Runs Or Commuting

Top picks for running to work and tackling long runs, as well as backpacks designed for women There are two main types of runner that require a backpack: the commuter and the long-distance runner. The

Top picks for running to work and tackling long runs, as well as backpacks designed for women

There are two main types of runner that require a backpack: the commuter and the long-distance runner. The first needs a pack that holds all the gear they require for a day at the office while still being comfortable enough to wear while running. The second needs a lightweight pack to carry the water and food they need to fuel long runs, as well as some basic safety gear if they’re heading for the trails.

While there is some overlap, those two different types of runner require two different types of running backpack. So I’ve picked out the best of each, and also enlisted help from another runner to highlight those designed for women.

And if you are looking to start running to work, make sure to check out these tips from five dedicated run commuters. No time? Then at least make sure you pack spare underwear.

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I am a keen runner and log around 50-70 miles a week. A lot of that is done on forest trails and I test running backpacks on my long runs, while also using them when traveling on foot, usually to the track or shops. Camilla Artault tests women’s running backpacks because these have a different fit and features from men’s backpacks.

This backpack really shows off the value you can get at Decathlon, since it matches the performance of packs that cost twice as much. It comes in three sizes and has a comfortable fit that you can adjust with three front straps, which can be moved up and down to suit different body types as well as tightened. For hydration purposes there are pockets that can take either large bladders (the pack comes with a 1L bladder) or smaller soft flasks.

Other features I found useful were the waterproof phone pocket, which always gives me peace of mind when getting very sweaty or in case of an accidental spill of a sticky sports drink, and the magnetized clip that secures the tube from the bladder—you can move it around the pack to find a position that doesn’t annoy you.

This lightweight backpack molds against the body on the run, and with mesh material against your back it doesn’t get too clammy and hot even on long runs in my experience. The mesh patterns on the back are different on the men’s and women’s packs to create a tailored cooling experience, because men and women get hotter in different areas.

The pack has lots of pocket options on the straps to store essentials including a phone, and it can be quickly and easily adjusted using the thin straps to secure the fit on the run. The Zephyr Pro also comes with a detachable quiver for your poles which can be attached on the back, so you can grab the poles from behind your shoulder in the manner of an archer grabbing an arrow—both convenient and very cool.

This small, lightweight pack is a great option for a range of activities. It will work well both for run commuters who don’t need to carry much stuff to the office and for trail runners who need a lot of gear for their long runs. The pack has two chest straps to keep it still as you run and along with a large main compartment, it has a small zip pocket on top and stretchy water bottle pouches on the sides. One downside is that the straps themselves don’t have any pockets, so I found it’s not as easy to access food and water on the run as with some backpacks.

Osprey’s Duro and Dyna running vests come in 1.5L, 6L and 15L sizes—the Dyna vest is designed to fit a female frame and the Duro is the unisex version. I’ve tested the 6L and 15L backpacks in recent years and both are comfortable to wear for long runs and, in the case of the 15L, commuting. The main pockets are supplemented by a stretchy web on the outside into which you can stuff things, and the straps have multiple pockets for easy access while on the move.

The Montane Gecko VP12+ backpack hugs the body so snugly I found it running top than a bag, and thanks to the three straps across the chest—two that hook in and one easy-to-adjust Velcro strap—you can get a very tight fit with no bouncing even when pounding down hills.

There are so many pockets on the Gecko VP12+ it can actually get confusing when you’re running, so I’d advise having a system in place so you know which of the numerous pouches and zip pockets to reach for when you want a certain item. You can put soft flask water bottles in the front straps or a hydration bladder in the back, and the fabric of the backpack is treated with Polygiene so it won’t start to smell even after several sweaty runs.

This is hands-down the best commuter backpack I’ve tried. It has a large capacity of 20 liters that can be increased to 25 liters if you use the expandable front pocket, which is ideal for shoes. It also has a 15in laptop pocket and a spacious central compartment that can handle everything you need for a day in the office and then some.

Even if you fill all these pockets, I found the backpack still sits comfortably against your back and you can tuck in the various straps so they don’t flap around and annoy you. There are four adjustable straps that you can tighten to eliminate bouncing, and the waist strap has zipped pockets on either side that can take keys, an ID card or a small wallet, although not your phone.

The material has anti-odour properties, so it won’t start to smell even if you’re storing sweaty gear inside. The rucksack is water-repellent and will keep its contents dry in a rain shower, though you might want to duck inside if caught in a downpour.

It’s a popular backpack that is often out of stock, but if that’s the case you can sign up to be notified when it’s available.

This is a terrific little backpack and an absolute steal. The Vango Lyt 15 is just about large enough to take your office essentials, including a small laptop or tablet, and has an outer zipped pocket for the gear you need close at hand. The backpack has no waist strap—there’s only a sternum strap—but given its small size I found it still sat securely on my upper back when running. There’s also the Lyt 20 if you need a bigger rucksack, but if you load that to the brim, the lack of a secure waist strap might be more apparent.

I love a roll-top in a commuter running backpack, because it gives you that extra bit of flexibility when you suddenly have to transport more than expected. You can push the Zip Commute Pack beyond the 20L of capacity by using the roll-top, which is ideal for when you suddenly have to grab something from the shops on the way home.

There are also loads of pockets on this backpack, including an internal laptop sleeve and other dividers, and an extra zipped pocket on the front where you can stash wet gear or your packed lunch to prevent it coming into contact with your clean office attire.

When loaded up for a day at the office it’s easier to get a secure fit using the adjustable straps, but I did find it bounced a little when the pack was almost empty, perhaps because I was between sizes and went for the larger one, so I’d opt for the smaller size if you are in between.

Throughout the long winter—and even in the spring and summer if you work long hours—run commuting often means running in the dark. Making yourself as visible as possible on busy city streets is a savvy move and this unisex reflective backpack is your best bet for ensuring you can be seen by drivers and cyclists bearing down on you from behind. Its 10-liter capacity isn’t huge but it has proved big enough for my work essentials, and there are two zipped pockets on the waist straps for easy access to the things you need most often.

Camilla found it wasn’t the best fit for a petite female form. When adjusted to keep the load high enough on the back, the strap webbing was uncomfortable at the back of the neck.

The Saysky Commuter Backpack is a great option for runners who want one bag for both long runs and commuting. Its capacity is 12 liters and it has a laptop sleeve in the main pocket, which is enough for most commuters if you don’t need to pack a big coat or change of shoes, but is light enough to wear for normal runs as well. It also has waist strap pockets for easy access to essentials like gels.

It’s easy to tighten the straps to get a comfortable and secure fit for all kinds of runs—I even wore this bag during a fast interval session—and it’s fully waterproof so you can run in all weathers.

Most unisex running backpacks are designed for men, so it’s hardly surprising women often find them uncomfortable. Perhaps they’re too long in the back, the straps don’t quite sit right, or the weight is carried too high or low. Not to mention that when devising chest straps, many designers seem to forget that women have breasts. Here’s our pick of the best running backpacks for women.

A backpack designed for women is one thing, but we’re all different shapes, so having an adjustable backpack is key to achieving a better fit. Gregory has perfected this with the Maya, which offers a seemingly infinite number of ways to modify the fit, resulting in a backpack that clings to your back like a baby monkey. The bag has a lot of thoughtfully placed pockets, including on the waist strap, but its smartest trick is an easy-access sunglasses clip on the shoulder strap. A hydration pocket can accommodate a bladder and the side pockets fit water bottles too. The 22-litre pack is well suited to a commute, while the 16-litre and 10-litre versions are ideal for trail runs.

Designed for serious training and racing, this technical 16-litre model from Original Mountain Marathon will serve you as well in an ultra at altitude as it will on an urban commute. Padded shoulder and waist belts keep things as comfortable as possible when carrying up to 10kg and, with a single wide-opening zip offering easy access to all the contents, you won’t waste time fumbling for your gloves at the bottom of the bag. There’s an extra zip pocket with a key clip on the waist belt, and angled water bottle pockets at the sides. It’s also compatible with a two-litre hydration bladder.

Running backpacks are generally lighter than normal backpacks, and often sit a bit higher on the back. The best running backpacks have a chest strap, and sometimes also a waist strap on larger bags, that you can tighten to eliminate any bouncing while you run. Many are also waterproof, since runners will head out for long runs or commutes in all weathers.

Other key features on a running backpack include external pockets for quick access to items like gels, or your keys and phone, and most will have reflective details on the back to make you more visible on night runs.

Running backpacks designed for commuting tend to be larger than backpacks for long runs, and they will often have a laptop sleeve and other internal pockets to help you organise your stuff for the office.

Your intended use determines what size running backpack you should get. If you want a minimal pack just to carry some water and gels or bars to eat on your run, the capacity can be as small as 1-2L. For longer trail runs you’ll also need to carry a waterproof jacket and other essentials, which means a 5-12L backpack will be best, and those tackling multi-day ultramarathons might need a backpack with 25L capacity.

For commuting you need a larger backpack, typically 12L and up, in order to carry everything you need for a day in the office. Those who need to carry a full change of clothes into work, plus a laptop and maybe even shoes will need a 20-25L backpack. Look for options that have expandable pockets so you can cram even more stuff in when required.

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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.

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