I read a blog post the other day titled 12 Reasons Handhelds are Better than Hydration Packs, and, while I don’t necessarily agree that handhelds are the way to go, I think the information is worth sharing. Personally, I have used both, and I find that there are pros and cons with either product. For a short-ish training run (12 miles or less) or a race with aid stations every 4 or 5 miles, I like handhelds because I don’t need as much water, and it’s nice not to have the extra weight and heat from a pack on my back. For a long training run or a race without regular aid stations, I’d much rather carry a pack so that I know I will have plenty of water when I need it. However, as with most things, everyone has their own preference when it comes to hydration products, and you may have to experiment to find what works best for you in different situations.
To help you see both sides of the debate over hydration packs versus handheld bottles, I’ve listed the twelve reasons why handhelds are better from the blog post I mentioned, followed by my assessment: True/False and Why.
1. More Fluid Choices
True. I like the idea of carrying two bottles and being able to fill them with two different fluids, BUT this is also possible in a hydration pack. For example, the Nathan Synergy hydration pack has two reservoirs and a dial on the drinking tube so that you can switch back and forth between the two. I have not tested this pack, but I plan on buying one in the future to facilitate my increasingly longer adventures in the wilderness. I will admit, if fluid choices are your concern and you are not planning to run unsupported for hours on end, you would most likely be more happy with two handhelds than with a big pack like the Synergy.
2. Visual Reminder to Hydrate
True. I don’t have trouble remembering to drink, but if you do, this would help. Also, as the author points out, it is very helpful to know how much water you have left so that you can properly conserve/know when to refill.
3. More Minimal
True. This is good, EXCEPT in those situations when you need more supplies. The main reason I prefer a pack is because I tend to do long trail runs and need to carry a lot of water (sometimes I fill my pack, which holds 60 oz. and still need to re-fill along the way!) along with enough food for several hours, a small first aid kit and possibly an extra layer.
4. More Dog-Friendly
False. I don’t have a dog so I don’t have a strong opinion on this, but I know that with my Camelbak, I could pour water from the drinking tube into a makeshift bowl just as easily as from a handheld bottle.
5. Less Injury from Falls
True, BUT if you plunge your handheld into the mud (as I have done while breaking my fall with it), it makes the act of hydration extremely unpleasant.
6. Less Overheating
True. Probably the biggest drawback of packs is that they raise your body heat. Bad in the summer, but good in the winter.
7. Less Chafing
True. My Camelbak chafes the back of my right arm for some reason, but that’s it. I live with it.
8. Less Weight
9. Keeps Your Form in Check
This is true. I notice that a pack makes me tend to hunch, especially climbing hills.
10. Keeps You Moving
False. With handhelds will have to keep moving between aid stations because you are likely to run out of water before you get there! (I’d rather play it safe and have plenty.) BUT, during a race, I’ve found that with a hydration pack, I don’t have to stop at every aid station to refill. That saves me a lot of time over the course of a long race, and it keeps me moving when I might be tempted to stop and take a rest.
11. Keeps Your Upper Body Strong
Yes, but so does a pack. I have sore shoulder and back muscles after carrying my pack all day. If I carried bottles, I’d have sore arms and shoulders. I figure it’s about even.
12. Keeps You Looking Like a Runner
Good point. The first time I ran with a handheld bottle, I said to my husband, “I feel so hard-core with this!” And sometimes if you dress the part, you’ll act the part.
So, as you can see, I pretty much agree with all the author’s points, depending on the circumstances, although I feel that most of the apply to hydration packs as well as handheld bottles. And I believe I will continue to use both in the future, as my hydration needs dictate.
Update: A friend just sent me a link to a study on how ultra runners hydrate. Turns out the scientific data supports using a pack over bottles!