Best Running Backpacks and Backpack Choosing 101

Most people don’t even consider wearing a backpack when running. It’s understandable: the running backpack would bounce, jiggle, wiggle, and next thing you know you aren’t wearing a backpack but a back pain. But what if you need to carry stuff with you? Water? Phones? Or maybe you’re trying to commute on foot to minimise daily expenses but still want to save time? Can we even reconcile the two? Yes, we can, with running backpacks. Here we have some of the best running backpacks out there compiled for you.

Most casual backpacks nowadays focus on aesthetics, weight, and general frame. As they are viewed as more of accessories than travelling essentials, as long as they are twee and swank and don’t cause too much of a hassle, they’re good to go. Sometimes, it is exactly because of such a reason, that a casual backpack just doesn’t cut it for runners. They need their own backpacks fine-tuned for their running.

Running backpack generally doesn’t appeal to the general public. Running backpacks, for you oblivious casuals, are backpacks specifically designed for runners and running-centric travelling and are quite a bit different from ordinary backpacks. They emphasise lightweight, harness, utility, and convenience. If you’re having a hard time choosing your backpack, whether you’re just into the world of running backpacks, or if you’re at a hardcore level, we’ve got you covered, with our list of best running backpacks on the market in 2021.

The Only 11 Running Backpacks You Need

CabinZero Adventure Backpack Dry 30L Azar – A Versatile Choice

Coming up first in our list we have the incredibly versatile CabinZero Adventure Backpack Dry 30L Azar. This is best suited for those who’d like to incorporate a bit of running into their daily mileage.

At 30L capacity, the ADV Dry is quite spacious for holding any necessities. This sheer size may turn off some, but the extra space really helps accommodate laptops or belongings well. The air ventilation comes in nicely to ensure comfort during your run. The inherent water-resistant coating ensures that your sweat (and its odor) won’t stick to your backpack. Additionally, the stowaway back strap provides a firm hold for your back while maintaining nice aesthetics. Speaking of aesthetics, the unique Azar pattern is the highlight of the backpack. The design is inspired by 19th century Persian textiles, adorned with silver and gold threads on top of exquisite woven silk.

CabinZero Adventure Backpack Dry 30L Azar

Adventure Backpack Dry 30L Azar. Image from CabinZero

With a beautiful appearance and a versatile design suitable for the average Joe, at £30, the waterproof backpack Azar is a nice aesthetic choice for everyone.

Kalenji Trail Running Bag 10L – A ‘Sticky’ Choice

This multi-pocketed Kalenji Trail Running Bag 10L is a great choice for you worrywarts who like to categorise and pack all kinds of stuff in your bag.

The most noticeable feature of this backpack is that it comes with a good ten little pockets. This comes in especially handy if you run often and don’t want your hands to be busy sorting through your stuff. Although you may find yourself in a sticky situation at first getting used to all the different pockets and your stuff placements of this backpack but once you do there are few that come close to this level of handiness and customisation. On top of that, with five different straps, the backpack’s going to stick to your bag like glue. It’s strange, however, that even with ten different pockets, there are still two extra attachable front pockets that are sold separately.

Kalenji Trail Running Bag 10L – A ‘Sticky’ Choice

Kalenji Trail Running Bag 10L. Image from Decathlon

That said, this bag is well-suited for any runner with its unique and thoughtful design. Its price point is decent, only £29.99.

Osprey Daylite Plus 20L – A Jack-of-All-Trade Choice

Choosing your ideal backpack is admittedly hard, considering a smorgasbord of them on the market nowadays. But eerily that’s just where this Osprey Daylite Plus comes in as a backpack that just does it all.

The main compartment is capacious and does feature a padded sleeve to carry a laptop of books if you need. It also has a few small pockets for you to fit your keys, phones, and small items nicely. The standard two side mesh pockets are nice to have for holding your water bladders. With two adjustable straps you can dial down your backpack swinging to a minimum. They are also designed so that they can be tucked away so it’s quite neat. One huge plus of this line of backpack is that it features a plethora of colour mix, and with the world-renowned elegance of the Osprey brand, you can utilise this backpack as a one-size-fit-all-option, whether you’re in the wilderness or in the office. Unfortunately, for reasons only God knows, it doesn’t have any kind of suspension whatsoever.

Osprey Daylite Plus 20L – A Jack-of-All-Trade Choice

Osprey Daylite Plus 20L. Image from Osprey Europe

Though the Osprey Daylite Plus 20L is far from perfect, it's a great crossover backpack for any users, not just runners alone. You can purchase this one at £55.

New Balance Fast Flight Running Backpack – The Simplistic Choice

If we’re talking purely simplicity and functionality, this New Balance fast flight running backpack might as well be the best option.

It is designed to be extremely light and functional, with decent capacity to fit your stuff in. It does have adjustable straps to help it fit nicely on your back; and two side mesh pockets to hold your water or phone.

Since most of its stocks are on its usability, this New Balance rucksack is lackadaisical in the department of comfort. Its straps, i.e., the shoulder and the waist strap don't come with paddling; it doesn’t come with too many pockets; it doesn’t have the now-standard air-ventilation system; it doesn’t even have the ubiquitous YKK zippers for your belongings’ security.

New Balance fast flight running backpack – The Simplistic Choice

New Balance fast flight running backpack. Image from New Balance.

Despite all its shortcomings, the fact that it’s very affordable and functional is enough for many who use a backpack not on a daily basis, or only in short-to-mid-distance commute. New Balance fast flight running backpack is available for only £26.

Alpkit artlu 10 – The Competitive Choice

Adhering to your body like gum, this light and simple Alpkit artlu 10 is a fitting choice for those who usually take on long-distance tracks.

The best feature of this bag is its strap system. Its harness can be changed with the double adjustable chest traps, which allows for incredible torso fitting. The slightly- flair-out wing-like bottoms beautifully comfort your belly shape, and the waist strap just ties everything in nice and neatly. One distinctive feature of this backpack is the hydration bladder, and all other pockets, are all inside the main compartment, which minimize swaying as you go. That, along with other typical traits of a running backpack like paddings and air ventilation, makes for a well-rounded backpack. Unfortunately, the specialization into running of this backpack’s design does mean that it has to sacrifice a lot of versatility it could have had.

Alpkit artlu 10 – The Competitive Choice

Alpkit artlu 10. Image on Alpkit

With the design fine-tuned for running, and at a price point of £45, the Alpkit artlu 10 might just be the best back for your buck.

Harrier Curbar 5L Race Vest – The Compact Choice

The most unique out of the bunch, this compact and simple Harrier Curbar 5L Race Vest holds its own against products from other famous brands.

Technically it is categorized as a rucksack, but its name (vest) suggests that this Harrier Curbar’s design has been simplified as much as possible, in a way that maintains both basic backpack functions and maximizes comfort. It features a 5L main compartment, two chest mesh pockets, soft-flasks pockets, double chest straps. Due to its streamlined, vest-like design, even when holding stuff in its compartments, the Harrier Curbar is practically non-existent on your body, or at worst it just makes you feel like your shirt is a trifle heavier than usual.

It’s a shame, however, that where it excels in comfort it fails in utility. Besides the bare minimum features of a backpack there isn’t much going on. The extremely limited capacity could just backfire in the event where you want to bring more than just our phones or keys with you. The two detachable hydration packs are also sold separately.

Harrier Curbar 5L Race Vest – The Compact Choice

Harrier Curbar 5L Race Vest. Image from Harrier.

Considering its pros and cons, the Harrier Curbar 5L Race Vest is still a decent choice for beginners and short-to-mid distance runners. It is available at £49.

TETON Sports TrailRunner 2.0 Hydration Pack – The Budget Choice

If you’re looking for a budget choice that still does its job well, the TETON Sports TrailRunner 2.0 Hydration Pack is for you.

TETON is known for its wide variety of sports products at a decent price range. Here, we’re looking at one of its best offers when it comes to backpack, the TETON Sports TrailRunner 2.0 Hydration Pack. Its design is small, compact, and neat, with small mesh pockets and sleeves to prevent items from bouncing when running. The harness system is intentionally designed to be small and tight to fit nicely to your torso. With hydration in its name, the backpack comes with a 2L hydration pack to ensure that you won’t ever be dehydrated. An interesting thing about this backpack is that it comes with a lifetime warranty, so you’ll never have to worry about it being worn out.

TETON Sports TrailRunner 2.0 Hydration Pack – The Budget Choice

TETON Sports TrailRunner 2.0 Hydration Pack. Image on TETON sports.

At £25, this is almost as good and as affordable as it could get. With this unreal warranty this could just be your lifetime companion.

Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest – The Ultimate Choice

Not everyone buys a backpack just for one training purpose. This Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest just does it all, hence its naming – Ultimate.

The rucksack has a bunch of utility features for sportspeople. It’s main storage compartment on the back, at 13.4L capacity, rivals even the common backpack and can comfortably accommodate travelling essentials. With ultimate utility in mind, two collapsible water bottles are provided in two front cinch pockets, making rehydrating quick and easy. There are other small and stretchable pockets on the front of the backpack so you can easily reach your snacks. There are also zipper pockets on the waist strap to accommodate your more important belongings such as your phone. On each of the shoulder straps there is a water bladder and a built-in whistle in case of emergency.

Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest – The Ultimate Choice

Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest. Image from Ultimate.

At a hefty price of £122, Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest just isn’t the most obvious choice out there, but it is the ultimate choice for hardcore trainers.

REFLECT360 Running Backpack – The Night-runner Choice

Not everyone can run in broad daylight. In fact, most people prefer running at night to feel the breezy night wind. If you’re among those people, REFLECT360 Running Backpack by Proviz should be your choice.

Covered in reflective and luminescent materials all round, the backpack will shine bright like a diamond in the middle of the night. This well-lit design will come in handy if you must commute earlier in the morning or later at night or if you must reach inside to get your stuff in low-light circumstances. In the sun though, the sleek and classic black-and-white ensures a fashionable look that’s well compatible with any clothing.

Beside its reflective coating, the backpack is quite standard and useful. The back compartment at 10L capacity is big enough for most. It features a few other compartments as well: the front one, two side pouches, and two mesh pockets. Water-proof coating is nice to have and comes in handy in case of a surprise rain. The AquaGuard® is a surprisingly pleasant touch as it slides anyway smoothly despite how contorted the backpack may be. The triple-strap system ensures a nice tight fit on all body frames.

There are a few gripes, though. The water bladder is sold separately, so rehydration especially if you’re using it at night, as it is intended to be, might be a bit cumbersome. The small pockets are quite shallow, too, so many phones just don’t quite fit in.

REFLECT360 Running Backpack – The Night-runner Choice

REFLECT360 Running Backpack. Image from Proviz.

At £62, the REFLECT360 Running Backpack is the ideal choice of night-runners.

IAMRUNBOX Backpack Pro 2.0 – The ‘Box-office’ Choice

With an innovative interior for office workers, a neat, box-like design, the IAMRUNBOX Backpack Pro 2.0 is rising in popularity for a multipurpose use.

Looks can be deceiving, and while admittedly it's simplistic yet fashionable design can catch oblivious runners off guard, the designers were clever to make sure that the harness can barely be seen from afar but does the job well. The box design itself is actually a quite clever touch, because not only does it fit laptops of most sizes nicely, but it also allows for folded clothing to remain uncreased, which means it is perfect for workers who run to their office. But it is the interior design that is the bread and butter. The main compartment is divided into a few tight mesh containers that hug your stuff just as tightly as the backpack hugs the wearer. The clever design just doesn’t stop there, there's a zipper underneath the backpack that, after tucking in all the strappings, will zip the entire backside to morph the backpack into a fashionable handbag.

A box-office backpack comes with a box-office-worthy price, £159. It’s pricing belongs to the upper echelon, much like a product itself.

CabinZero’s Classic Cross Body 11L Georgian Khaki - The Alternative Choice

To round out the list, we’d like to present to you an interesting alternative for those who’d like to keep it nice and simple - the Classic Cross Body 11L Georgian Khaki from CabinZero.

Crossbody bag doesn’t usually come to mind when people think of a running backpack (understandably, it  isn’t really a backpack so to speak), but it absolutely delivers! The strap goes neatly around the chest to shoulder area, and can be adjusted to fit tightly. It is sufficiently spacious to fit your water bottles, phones, keys, and even an extra shirt if need be. All pockets are RFID blocking pockets so you don’t have to worry about thieves!

CabinZero’s Classic Cross Body 11L Georgian Khaki - The Alternative Choice

CabinZero’s Classic Cross Body 11L Georgian Khaki. Image from CabinZero.

At £17.5, the CabinZero’s Classic Cross Body 11L Georgian Khaki is an interesting alternative if you want something that’s light, cheap and simple.

What to Consider When Choosing Running Backpack

We’ve done our best to provide you with some of the options we think would be best suited for any runners. But we know that some might be picky, and the aforementioned options might not cut it for you. So here is our quick guide of some of the most important factors you should be considering when choosing a backpack for running. Let’s have a look:

Pricing

Running backpack comes in all shapes and sizes, and quite frankly most casuals can’t be bothered to nit-pick the best one for themselves. For those people, as sad as it sounds, most of the time it's the pricing that dictates the buying, and the more affordable the price the better the backpack.

A typical utility backpack will fall into the £40-60 range. Anything above that should offer far more value in terms of aesthetics or utilities. Brandings do factor into the final pricing and may even inflate it, so sometimes you should go off the beaten track and look for some indie brands. For anything below that range, however, expect the bare minimum. That said, many we’ve discussed above get the job done while being relatively cheap.

Harness system

The next thing runners generally look for is how their backpacks could be customised in a way that would best fit them and would cause least discomfort when running.

Perhaps this is the most important thing that runners seek out for when they choose a backpack. The strap system should be divided into a few different positioning, and each of them should be adjustable for different body types. Make sure to carefully check the adjustability of the chest straps, shoulder straps, waist traps.

What most people don’t know is that, specifically for sports backpacks, not just running alone, there are different product lines for both genders, due to the backpack's compatibility with the shape and length of our backs. So remember to ask the salesperson to guide you to the appropriate section.

Unwanted movement on the go tends to be overlooked as well, especially by inexperienced running. What we mean here is, sometimes as people try the backpack on and adjust the strappings, it may fit beautifully on your body and perform just fine during the limited space of the respective outlet. But in action, there may be some tiny movements, which would cause discomfort and chafing even. For this, we suggest doing your research carefully, such as reading articles like ours, and consult veterans if possible.

Utility features

Sometimes it is a combination of available features that makes a great backpack. Many won’t single out certain must-haves when choosing a backpack but will look at every little detail in conjunction with one another to decide.

The first that comes to mind is usually the ventilation system. Most running backpacks will have this built in, but the level of ventilating might just differ. Then there’s the hydration bladders. Some are just too small to fit the bigger bottles in, some are designed specifically for collapsible water bottles. Some don’t quite have bladders, but rather pouches from which you can drink water directly through a hose attached to the shoulder strap.

Volume should also be taken into consideration. By and large, for running short distances alone 5-10L is more than capacious, but the further you run the more space you need to accommodate your food, water, and clothes.

It’s all about what you need

Ultimately, it’s about what you need. To find the best running backpack for yourself you must analyse all your needs then do the research and weigh all the pros and cons. Guides can only go so far, and we have done our best and we hope that this much recommendations and information is sufficient for you.

Khoa Pham


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