Trail Running 101: Hydration

Trail running is growing in popularity. But, with so many options, it's hard to know where to start! So, we turned to our community partner, semi-semi pro trail runner and favorite Kiwi, Jourdan Harvey to share his experience and knowledge...

 

As you get into some longer runs you may find yourself needing to bring some water along. Water is important to help you stay hydrated and performing your best! But what's the best way to carry your water? And of all the ways to carry it, what's the best for you trail running needs? Well, read on...

 

This is especially important if you are heading into the wilderness where you should be prepared to carry enough water for the duration of your run to prevent dehydration and the subsequent issues it may cause, such as headaches and nausea.

It's a good idea to have extra water incase something happens and it takes you longer to return to your car than expected. It’s also important to check the weather as this can influence the amount of water you need. Typically aiming to take 16-22oz per hour will work depending on weather, make sure to get the size to suite your needs.

 

When it comes to drinking the water I recommend trying to constantly sip throughout the run as opposed to gulping down large amounts occasionally. This will help your body to absorb as much of the water as possible. We will go over things you can add to the water such as electrolytes and calories in our nutrition blog post. So let’s get into ways to carry the water!

Hydration Pack 

A hydration bladder is probably the most common and well known option. The bladder sits in a pack on your back and has a tube to the front which you drink from like a straw.

This is nice for keeping your water out of way however, I personally find it hard to track how much water I have drunk. You can try and tell by the weight but to get a good gauge you really need to get the bladder out and have a look at how much is left, which can be time consuming.

But, bladders are a great hydration option to use across multiple sports. You can take the hydration pack skiing or mountain biking and also take the bladder out and put it in your hiking pack. If running is not your only outdoor pursuit then the hydration bladder could be a great one stop shop. In most cases you will also be able to fit plenty of food and extra clothes in the pack that carries the hydration bladder making it a good solution for longer runs.

 
 
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"While it can sometimes be overkill, I always carry a Nathan hydration pack with me on both trail training runs and races*. I prefer to have both hands free and the [hydration] pack I've been using is comfortable, bounce-free, and allows me to carry plenty of water for any distance. It's not ideal to have the added weight, but I'd rather have the added weight and too much water than not enough! Plenty of storage for mid-run snackage and necessary identification for a post-run, adult-restricted beverage of your choosing." - Meg Sawyer, Patient Care Coordinator, Trail Running Bad Ass

*Side Note from Meg: Anything less than 7 miles I don't usually run with water at all. I think the bladder inside the pack holds 2 liters of water and the pack itself isn't much bigger than that.

 
 

Hand Held

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A hand held is a cheap and effective option for both those starting out and tenured trail runners. It’s a simple concept of just carrying a water bottle.

A single bottle has a small volume usually 17 or 22oz, so these are best for short training runs up to around 90 minutes, or during a race where you can regularly fill your bottle at aid stations.

A hand held will usually have a strap that your hand can go through which helps you to carry the bottle and not have to grip it throughout your run. Some other common features are a pocket which you can use for gels, keys etc and and a valve nozzle for easy access.

Hand helds are also available with a soft flask style bottle that compress as you drink, which is great if water slosh gets to you. Once you are done a soft flask is easy to stash away in your shorts, although I have no problem tucking an empty hard bottle into the waistband of my shorts until I reach the next aid station.

 

Race Vest

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A race vest is quite a popular type of hydration pack and consists of a vest style pack and some number of water bottles.The vests are light and fit the body well. They sit over your upper back and rib cage leaving your abdomen area free of any straps which aids breathing.

Usually these are sold with two 17oz bottles but you can purchases extra bottles if required. In my vest there are two bottle pockets in the front and a large pocket in the back where I can fit 3 bottles, so I can carry up to 5 bottles if required.

Almost as importantly the vest is still comfortable while carrying one or two bottles. Many race vests also have a slot for a small bladder down the back so you can combine bladder and bottles. There are plenty of pockets which can carry nutrition, first aid, extra clothing and anything else you may need while out on the trails. Having easy access to a number of bottles makes tracking a water consumption goal (for example 1 bottle per hour) a breeze.

These are a bit more expensive than a simple hand held, but if you are getting into more regular long runs and races it’s worth looking into.

Filters

Finally, if you are going on a very long trail run, say 4 hours plus, it may be hard to carry enough water. In this case you will want to look into getting a filter to take with you on the trails.

There are many small filters to choose from. One option is a filter that fits on the top of a bottle in place of the normal top. This solution is useful as the filter is self contained in your bottle so filtering water won’t slow you down past filling your bottles.

Similarly you can get an inline filter which fits on the end of a bladder tube, so you can just fill your bladder from any water source. A squeeze filter is also cheap, fairly lightweight and easy to use. You have a dirty bag which you fill at a stream and squeeze the water through a filter into your bottles. This process will mean a bit more downtime to fill up, a good chance to catch your breath!

It is important to research your route to find where potential sources of water are before you set off. Late in summer water sources are less reliable, if you are relying on this hydration solution know the distances between sources and top up often as the next source might be dry.

 

Staying hydrated on your runs will keep you on the ball and improve your training and racing. Find a solution that suits your running style, you will probably end up with multiple solutions for different adventures. Check out the next blog post where we will discuss electrolyte options and liquid calories.