Running to work or the gym is an easy way to rack up additional miles each week, avoid the hassles of traffic and public transportation, and start the day with a boost of energy. Making it happen requires just a little planning—and finding a good running pack to carry essentials like your wallet, phone, and some clean, sweat-free clothes to change into.
Backpacks Made for Running
Running backpacks have come a long way from the battered Jansport you hauled around in school. New packs have ventilating channels to circulate cooling air across your back, and ergonomically designed harness systems to help you carry your belongings without messing up your form. When choosing a pack, first consider what you need to carry.
Most packs are measured in volume of cargo space. Larger packs increase this volume by extending further from the body, offsetting your center of gravity and changing your form. Running packs with 6 to 15 liters of cargo space are generally spacious enough to prove useful without impeding your mechanics.
Smaller packs—in the 6- to 8-liter range—are easy to forget mid-run and easily stow a change of clothes and other small essentials. If you need to carry a laptop, look for a pack that’s at least eleven inches wide with a minimum 10-liter capacity. Dedicated laptop sleeves secure the added weight by positioning it closest to your body (bladder compartments in hydration vests work well for this, too).
Also make sure to choose a pack with a well-designed harness system, which keeps the bag stable and ensures a comfortable fit. Hydration vests are designed to fit close while managing the weight of a 1- to 2-liter bladder of water plus race essentials. When testing larger packs, we found bags with sternum straps and hipbelts worked best—this becomes truer as the weight of the load increases.
Brands have taken cues from runners by updating products to hold more without sacrificing comfort. Inov-8, for example, took their popular Race Elite Vest and added on a 10-liter rear compartment. Nike had commuters in mind with the Commuter Backpack—a laptop pocket keeps your device tucked away in the 15-liter sack.
From smallest load to largest, these are our picks for run-commuting packs. Start here. Try a few on. Find what works for you. And then find a shower near your office.
Related video: Great gym bags for runners.
Camelbak Ultra 10 Vest
Ultra™ 10 Vest 70oz
Camelbak’s Ultra 10 vests keep getting lighter, and their 2019 version is the lightest yet. At only 8 ounces without the bladder, the Ultra 10 rivals minimalist vests without trimming off the padding that makes vests comfortable. Plush 3D mesh in the shoulder straps and back panel hugs the pack against the torso while also creating negative space for airflow, allowing the vest to run cooler than expected. The shoulders also have two pairs of straps: dual sternum straps tighten across the chest while similar straps pull in the opposite direction, connecting to the back panel and cinching to the ribs. If you need more space than the 8-liter compartment allows—perhaps to fit a laptop—remove the large 2-liter bladder to give yourself a tight-holding sleeve.
IAMRUNBOX Backpack Pro
Run commuter Kirill Noskov couldn’t find a backpack that could take his clothes from work to the office wrinkle-free. So, in 2015, he created IAMRUNBOX, a hard-shell rectangular garment carrier shaped to fit a folded dress shirt and sized to hold an outfit. A 2016 Kickstarter campaign turned the carrier into a waterproof backpack and added space for a laptop. The pack has wide, padded shoulder straps, a sternum clasp, and a padded hipbelt. When these are pulled tight, four foam pads on the back panel stabilize the hardshell frame and distribute the load. Smaller details show Noskov was designing with the run commuter in mind: a folding guide shows how to fold various garments to both fit in the pack and avoid wrinkles, water-resistant construction protects electronics, and an elastic mesh sleeve and large hipbelt pockets keep phones and smaller items within reach.
Ultimate Direction Halo Vest
Men’s Halo Vest
For pack-averse run commuters, Ultimate Direction’s new Halo vest features a skeletal 6.2-ounce design with an 11-liter carrying capacity (5.5 ounces and 10 liters for women). As a vest, this pack rides higher on the back and, instead of clipping around the waist, cinches comfortably to the back and rib cage for bounce-free running. Dual sternum straps can be hooked across the chest in a variety of positions and flexible micromesh pockets can secure two water bottles, a phone, and nutrition. The main compartment offers less structure than a bulkier running pack, so a bit of creative folding and rolling is necessary to fit a pair of pants and a shirt.
Nathan VaporHowe/VaporKrar Race Vest
VaporKrar 12L 2.0 Men’s Race Vest
Packs begin to turn from hydration vests to hiking daypacks when their capacity reaches 12 liters. Nathan’s new women’s VaporHowe and men’s VaporKrar running vests are among the few 12-liter hydration vests, and a standout in the category for their ability to wear so close to the body. The pack is made of a combination of lightweight, stretchy synthetic fabrics that not only fit more like a piece of clothing than a pack, but also form a layered pocket system that keeps a tight hold on your cargo. Cutouts in the back panel promote air circulation, but this pack still breathes less than a less structured, mesh-backed vest. The vest comes with a 1.2-liter bladder, but if you want to save that room for your wardrobe, the shoulder straps are also made to receive Nathan’s 12-ounce soft hydration flasks with bite valves.
Osprey Duro/Dyna 15
Men’s DURO 15 WITH 2.5L RESERVOIR
Osprey’s Duro 15 (and Dyna 15, with a women-specific fit) trail running hydration pack adjusts and adjusts, and then adjusts again to pull any size load in the spacious 15-liter compartment close and comfortable. The vest is cinched by two sliding elastic chest straps that can sit anywhere from collar bone to sternum, or be removed altogether, a wide, foam-padded wrap-around hipbelt can be clipped and pulled tight with a strap ergonomic enough for midrun management. Stabilizing straps at the back hip, under the arm, and over the shoulder compress your cargo from three additional angles. The pack comes with a 2.5-liter reservoir and pockets galore—both zipped and stretch mesh on the vest and the belt.
Salomon Agile 6 Set
Agile 6 Set
The Agile 6 is designed for running, hiking and commuting. The backpack has a main compartment to store your jacket or a change of clothes, as well as an internal zipper pocket. Each strap includes a soft front holder for water bottles and a snap to keep the pack secure while in motion. Hikers and trail runners will appreciate the pole holders and helmet loops. The Agile 6 is waterproof and has reflective detail, making rain and darkness no match for your backpack run.
Inov-8 Race Elite Vest 10L
Race Elite Vest 10L
Inov-8 took the fan favorite Race Elite Vest and added a 10-liter compartment for all of your storage needs, creating a vest-backpack hybrid. The compartment is roomy for a change of clothes, whether you’re running to the gym or storing a race kit before a 10K in the park. The vest has six exterior pockets to make bottles, food and other necessities easily accessible on your run. Trail runners can have quick access to poles thanks to holders located at the base of the vest.
Salomon Trail 10
Trail 10 Backpack
This pack stands out because of its middle-of-the-road size (10 liters)—not so big that it weighs you down while running, but big enough that it can actually carry something substantial. It easily fits a jacket, keys, wallet, and phone, and still has room to stash more. It also features a few zipper pockets and pouches to stow smaller items and stay organized. On the road, the Trail 10 feels snug and secure, its narrow width centers the weight nicely along the middle of the back, and the soft mesh along the back offers cushion and ventilation. It won’t fit a laptop, but it can handle the smaller essentials you need to bring with you.
The North Face Women’s Electra
Electra Daypack – Women’s
The Electra is comfortable and light, has room for 12 liters of storage, and can even handle a computer (we tested it with a Macbook Air, with the thinnest carrying case) in a dedicated storage sleeve, along with a small change of clothes. Thick sweaters and jeans or bulky shoes won’t fit, but for warm-weather run commuting, this is a great option. One thing to note is that it doesn’t come with a chest strap, so if you plan to carry a heavy computer or gear, it may bounce around.
Lululemon Women’s Run All Day Backpack II
Run All Day Backpack II Women’s Fit 13L
This understated backpack is super sleek, which is a definite step up from some of the clunkier packs out there. The straps stay snug, a grooved back pad helps direct cooling airflow, and the pack keeps items in place so they don’t jostle around too much. It has multiple small zip pockets for keys or a phone, and a sleeve to accommodate an iPad or thin tablet. The two front-body straps may seem confusing at first since only one is attached to the harness, but they’re actually pretty simple to secure: One hook fastens across your chest, and the other wraps around your lower torso. It’s a little too narrow to fit a laptop, but with 13 liters of storage, it’s the perfect size if you need to pack light clothes and gear for the office.
Nike Run Commuter Backpack
Run Commuter Backpack 15L
As its name suggests, this backpack is made for commuting runners who want to sneak in a run before or after work with their belongings in tow. The Commuter has reflective detailing on the front and strap to increase visibility, and an adjustable sternum strap keeps the pack from bouncing. A laptop pocket and mesh pocket in the interior will give even the most disorganized runner some semblance of order in the midst of commuting chaos. The sides also have small pockets for items you need to grab instantly without going through the inside of your pack.
Lululemon Surge Run Backpack
Surge Run Backpack 15L
With 15 liters of storage, the Surge Run fits everything you’d need to get to and from work: a set of clothing, a laptop (we tried it with a 17-inch MacBook Air), and a pair of shoes. The wide, adjustable shoulder straps, which each have zipper pockets sized for a phone or wallet, allow you to get a snug fit, even if you overstuff the bag with a heavy coat. And there are two more adjustable straps that go across your chest. All those straps mean the backpack doesn’t bounce around as you run. Its water-repellent fabric also stands up to the elements, and the pack has kept clothes dry in everything from light rain to a blizzard. It even survived a mosh pit and spilled beer at a concert, so that level of versatility is an added bonus. It’s a simple, well-built, aesthetically pleasing commuter backpack that can handle some rock ’n’ roll, too.
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