Running where you need to go is the ultimate way to rack up extra weekday miles. You also save time you would otherwise spend in traffic—and burn calories instead of fossil fuels. Though many of us are working from home for the time being, if you want to commute on foot on a regular basis once you’re able to go back into the office again, it will just require a little planning. The first step is finding the right running pack to carry everything you need for the day, like your wallet, phone, and clean clothes to change into.
Take a look at info on five of the top-performing packs below, then scroll down for buying advice plus more in-depth reviews of these and other great options.
Backpacks Made for Running
Running backpacks have come a long way from the battered Jansport you hauled around in school. New packs have ventilation channels to circulate air across your back, and ergonomic harness systems to help you tote your belongings without them bouncing around, messing up your form, or causing injury. When choosing your new running pack, first consider what—and how much—you need to carry.
Most packs are measured by cargo space volume. Smaller packs in the six- to eight-liter range can pack tight to your body so you barely notice them, but seldom have space to haul more than small essentials and a few clothes. Larger packs extend farther from your body, which could offset your center of gravity or just shift too noticeably to be comfortable while you’re running. Packs with six to 15 liters of cargo space are generally spacious enough to haul your gear without impeding your mechanics.
If you need to carry a laptop, look for a pack that’s at least 11 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 one- to two-liter bladder of water plus race essentials. When testing larger packs, we found bags with sternum straps and hip belts worked best—this becomes truer as the weight of the load increases.
Backpacks Versus Vests
We’ve highlighted a range of backpacks and vest-pack hybrids, and it’s important to note some of the general pros and cons between the two styles. While backpacks typically carry more gear, they also tend to come in single, “universal” sizes, and therefore don’t ride as well as vests. If you’re small-framed, you’ll have to really cinch the backpack straps down, leaving lots of annoying, dangling ends that need to be tied down or they’ll drive you crazy. All of the vests we’ve chosen carry exceptionally well on the run, and hit the 15- to 20-liter sweet spot that’s big enough to carry most of what you’ll need without really hindering your stride.
How We Tested
Every pack here has been thoroughly evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers, and use our own experience wearing and running in these products to determine the best options. The most appropriate way to test a running backpack is, well, to run with it. We loaded each pack or vest with typical essentials—a laptop or tablet, shirt, pants, shoes (where possible), keys, a notebook and a pen, a phone, headphones and cash/cards/ID—then pounded our local pavement on runs of 5K to 5 miles at 8:00-8:30 pace. We evaluated the contenders based on value, fabrics, comfort, looks, and—most important—ability to haul our stuff back-and-forth without bouncing.
What you see here emerged as our top picks for running packs. Try a few on. See what works for you.
Related video: Great gym bags for runners.
Backpacks —EDITORS’ CHOICE—
Lululemon More Miles Active 17
Capacity: 17 liters | Weight: 1 lb. 3.2 oz. | Hydration capacity: Up to a 2-liter bladder (not included)
This latest backpack from Lululemon is quite possibly the most stylish we’ve tested. The minimal, blacked-out aesthetic goes seamlessly from run to office to gym. Though what really sets it apart from other, more traditional style backpacks are the shoulder straps. Rather than sewing them directly to the pack, Lululemon used a floating design, running the straps through loops on the main pack body. This allows the straps to move a bit more freely with your body as you run, boosting the comfort. The main contact points are also vented to allow enough airflow to keep you from feeling like you’re running in a winter coat. One hang up: While the floating strap design moves well with your body, the two adjustable sternum straps are positioned higher than many more traditional backpack styles, which usually feature hip belts. So when you're running with a loaded pack, you still may experience some bounce and “slap” against your lower back.
Storage is smart and organized. A top zip compartment keeps everyday items like phones, keys, and wallet easily accessible and prevents them from working their way to the bottom of the full pack. The main compartment can hold up to a two-liter hydration bladder, a laptop or tablet up to 13 inches, and a full outfit for when you reach your destination. Two side zip pockets are great for stashing snacks or other items you may need to access quickly on the go, and we also like the exterior mesh pockets that stretch to accommodate water bottles or sweaty clothes, but don’t sag or bounce when you pick up the pace.
—WIDE RANGE OF ADJUSTMENT—
Patagonia Nine Trails 20
Capacity: 20 liters | Weight: 1 lb. 6.4 oz. | Hydration capacity: 2-liter bladder (not included)
There are generally two styles of packs out there for runners—traditional backpacks and running vests. The Nine Trails bridges the gap between the two. Its look and organization mainly follows the traditional backpack or daypack style: two padded shoulder straps, a massive compartment with interior organization, and some external pockets for extras you may need to separate or access quickly. Yet it runs more like a vest.
Patagonia made every strap adjustable, so you can dial in the fit for your torso length and waist. I’m 5-foot-6 with a 28-inch waist, and the S/M was perfect, with plenty of room for adjustment bigger or smaller. The two wings on the side hugged just above my hips, and kept the pack secure, stymying any twisting, slipping, or chafing. The wings also have great pockets for stashing snacks or keys you may need to access on the fly without removing the pack. The back of the Nine Trails has a hard plastic plate over lifted foam padding, which both protects both you from pokey items and your gear from the sweat monster you may become. The 20-liter capacity is plenty of storage for all your extra clothes and even a pair of shoes. A large interior sleeve can hold a 15-inch laptop or a bladder for hydration. But if you’re partial to bottles or soft flasks, two exterior side pockets afford quick access and are deep enough to keep bottles secure. The durable DWR-finished Cordura material makes the Nine Trails hardy.
However, keep in mind that its main use is still trekking. The padded shoulder straps are very comfortable, especially when carrying heavier loads, but they ride closer to my neck than other packs I tested, risking chafing on long or sweaty days.
Nathan RunAway 30
Capacity: 30 liters | Weight: 1 lb. 5 oz. | Hydration capacity: 2-liter bladder (not included)
Going to the gym or carrying extra gear on race day doesn’t need to be complicated. And the RunAway is a simple running backpack that can get the job done without breaking the bank. It looks like an everyday backpack and provides just as much organization as the classic L.L. Bean ones many of us took to school. While it doesn’t look like it, the RunAway still has space for a hydration bladder, with a slot to route a hose over your shoulder. Our favorite feature is the separate shoe compartment, perfect for muddy spikes during cross-country season or carrying dress shoes on your commute to the office. And don’t worry, large shoe sizes and Hokas still fit. Two external side pockets are deep enough to hold a yoga mat or foam roller for taking to the gym, and a bungee cord in each pocket helps keep them secure. However, while it’s a great pack for carrying all your gear to the run, its larger capacity and standard backpack feel means it’s not the most secure on your back while running.
Arc’teryx Arro 16
Capacity: 16 liters | Weight: 2 lb. 1 oz. | Hydration capacity: Bladder not included
The Arro is one of the Arc’teryx’s original staples, and the brand is now making it in a smaller 16-liter option. The sleek styling is a throwback that still fits in just as well on the move as it does propped next to your desk. At first touch, the Cordura nylon and water-tight zippers scream durability. Yes, this backpack can take a beating, but it also didn’t slow us down. While its appearance is more urban, flared wings near the hips and articulated rear padding helped it hug us better than many others, eliminating a lot of side-to-side motion as we moved quickly. Though Arc’teryx says that the padded sleeve is designed for 13-inch laptops, we were able to fit a 15-inch Macbook Pro in there without issues. We also appreciate the smaller secondary zip pocket on the back with drainage holes, great for separating toiletries and other items that may be wet from electronics and clothes. While the position of the sternum strap isn’t (easily) adjustable, it was already in a comfortable spot.
Tracksmith Mission 18
Capacity: 18 liters | Weight: 2 lb. 2 oz. | Hydration capacity: Up to a 3-liter bladder (not included)
Tracksmith collaborated with Mission Workshop on a running backpack that can handle whatever you want to throw at it. The heavy-duty build is solid, and not only is it durable for long-term use, it’s also weatherproof to keep clothes and gear dry in any commuting conditions. The honeycomb mesh in the back panel and shoulder straps allow much-needed breathability, since weatherproof packs, by design, don’t breathe. The back panel also has wings that hug your hips to reduce motion while moving, though at 23 inches tall, it may feel a bit long for shorter runners.
A separate compartment allows you to carry up to three liters of water, without worrying about electronics or clothes getting wet. The main compartment adds two small slots for basic organization and a padded sleeve that fits a 13-inch laptop. The outside of the pack rounds things off with two side mesh pockets that are great for holding a water bottle or snacks you may need to access on the move, and an outer zip pocket fits essential items like a smartphone, keys, and a wallet. For safety, it gets Tracksmith’s stylish sash in a reflective highlight for extra visibility on the roads.
—BEST IN WET WEATHER—
REI Co-op Commuter 25
Capacity: 25 liters | Weight: 1 lb. 10 oz. | Hydration capacity: Bladder not included
The Commuter 25 is actually listed as a cycling pack, but that’s where its strength comes from. City cyclists are known for riding in any type of weather, and this backpack comes prepared for anything. In fact, our favorite feature is the included rain cover, which typically comes separately and costs another $20. Whatever extra sweat we shed using the rain fly was worth it to keep our electronics and clothes dry. We weren’t totally drenched however, thanks to the mesh and segmented padding that allowed airflow between our back and the pack body. The main compartment easily fit a full outfit including shoes, and the hydration bladder pocket accommodated a 15-inch laptop with plenty of room to spare, though it isn’t padded. If you do carry a laptop and also want hydration, an open side pouch keeps a water bottle easily in reach without forcing you to take the pack off. The other side has a smaller zip pocket for keys, phones, and snacks, though it does take removing one of the shoulder straps to really access. Cinch straps help compress the pack down to eliminate bouncing, and, if you do find yourself on the bike for your commute, they make it easy to attach your helmet for storage once you get where you’re going.
REI Co-op Trail 25
Capacity: 25 liters | Weight: 2 lb. | Hydration capacity: Up to a 3-liter bladder (not included)
This other 25-liter pack from REI comes in a trail-ready build. We love that it, too, has an included rain fly. While the Trail is actually heavier than the Commuter 25, it actually felt lighter on the run, due to the support of the internal frame sheet. Its recycled ripstop nylon breathed really well during high-output activities, like hiking and running. The hydration bladder pouch is noticeably larger than in the Commuter 25, with the ability to hold up to a three-liter bladder. Unsurprisingly a 15-inch laptop will also fit in that bladder sleeve, although it’s not nearly as secure. While a laptop might bounce around, the pack didn’t move much as we ran, especially when it was loaded down. The sternum strap and hip belt adjust easily for the right balance of security, while still letting us breathe deeply. Though listed at the same 25-liter capacity, we were actually able to carry more in the Trail 25, thanks to the four stretchy mesh exterior pockets and daisy chain loops down the back. If you do find yourself heading for the hills for some adventure, trekking pole carry loops and additional straps make it easy to load up everything you need for overnight camping trips–tent included.
Vests —BEST WEATHER-RESISTANCE—
Black Diamond Distance 15
Capacity: 15 liters | Weight: 13.9 oz. | Hydration capacity: Pockets for two 17-oz. soft flasks (not included)
Black Diamond built the Distance 15 to bridge the gap between trail running and alpine climbing. What’s that mean for run commuters in the admittedly tamer environments of city streets and suburban office parks? They have a rugged-ass pack that sheds almost any weather, and it’s built on a true running vest chassis, with body-hugging, pocket-riddled shoulder straps that keep the load right where it belongs. We found its roll-top access (a theme across the vest category) to a single, large compartment is the best design for fitting the maximum amount of gear without wrinkling your clothes. Smaller openings and divided carry options force you to cram your clothes—rolling up shirts and shoving in shoes—in ways that will leave you looking disheveled. We found that the Distance 15 wore super comfortably, and we couldn’t have been happier with its copious harness pockets, which include four oversized, stretchy mesh pockets that easily hold a phablet or a water flask and are secured with elastic shock cords. Not to mention the two zipper pockets are perfect for safely carrying essentials like keys, cash, credit cards, and an ID. The only real drawback we found was that the rigid, abrasion-resistant Dynex body material doesn’t stretch or give at all, meaning that its 15-liter capacity limit is hard and fast; if you try to squeeze anything more in, you’ll end up smushing it.
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 15
Capacity: 15 liters (plus 6 liters “unsecured”) | Weight: 1 lb. 1.5 oz. | Hydration capacity: Pockets for two 17-oz. soft flasks (not included)
You probably could’ve guessed that the Fastpack 15 would be another roll-top pack built on a hydration vest chassis. But this one is different, and you don’t have to look twice to see how—unrolling the back side reveals an almost full-length zipper that opens from the top down, essentially butterflying the pack to reveal, and allow easy access to, its entire contents for smooth packing and fishing out small items. Inside, there’s a designated laptop compartment (unique among the vests), along with a main compartment that easily fit our clothes. Outside, two stretch mesh pockets run the length of the back side, and were big enough to hold our shoes, too. We loved all the pockets on front, including three secure zipper ones for essentials like chap stick, cash, and cards, as well as a stretchy mesh one that could hold a flask or, in our case, that big old smartphone. On the run, the Fastpack stayed put, and rode remarkably well with a full load. Our only niggling complaint is that the rigid foam in back feels overbuilt and doesn’t breathe all that well. Given the size and weight of this vest, a lighter mesh construction would likely perform even better, making this perhaps the best commuter vest on the market.