Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the category “Gear”

A Break from the Winter Running Doldrums

There is no question that this winter has worn on me more than previous snowy seasons. The cold seems more bitter, the sky seems more overcast, the wind seems more biting, and the snow seems more relentless. I’m clearly not alone, as this seems to be a common theme both locally and nationally. I don’t remember the last time at least one part of the country wasn’t bracing for winter storm _______. When did we start naming winter storms? Are we trying to make the hurricanes and tropical storms jealous? At this point, I certainly hope we can all agree that global warming is doing a number on us at this point!

After being forced to bite the bullet and spend some time on he indoor track, I’ve actually come to enjoy the track work, as well as the strength-training that I’ve incorporated into my workout routine. However, when I noticed that the temperature gauge had the potential to creep above freezing for what seemed like the first time in ages, my heart still fluttered a bit. Sure enough, by early afternoon, the temps were heading past freezing and towards 40 degrees. In an ideal world, these would be the lowest temperatures I would ever see. Alas, that is not the world I live in, so I was going to jump on this opportunity! As I headed home from campus, the temperature read 42, and I knew it was a sign that I had to get out there and enjoy the weather 🙂

Now, I’m not sure what your threshold for shorts is, but if it’s above freezing, you are probably going to see me outside running in shorts. Today was just one of those days! I was scheduled for a strength-training session, so I drove to the Rec Center, parked, and soaked up the downright balmy temperatures during a 3-mile tempo run. Mother nature didn’t want me to enjoy myself too much, of course, so the wind picked up out of the north as I was heading back. Somehow I didn’t mind running into the nasty headwind quite as much as I looked down to see the shorts I was wearing. Take that, Mother Nature!

It had to have been a sign, right?

It had to have been a sign, right?

I headed back in and moved through my strength-training routine, making good use of the adrenaline pumping through me. Then I pulled out the bonus excitement for the day. Last week, I finally pulled the trigger and ordered a pair of Hoka One One Stinson Evo shoes. I’ve been contemplating trying them out for ages, and seeing a majority of runners at Across the Years sporting them sealed the deal for me. You can expect a more thorough discussion of my thoughts on them in the future. However, before fully committing, I wanted to take them for a spin, and since the treadmill was off-limits, the track worked perfectly. Almost immediately after putting them on, I felt like I was walking on wonderful little pillows of running goodness. They aren’t designed for speed, per say, but they felt so amazing to run in that I kept getting faster and faster and ended up pushing through the last of 3 additional miles at close to a 6 min/mile pace. I’m pretty sure these shoes are going to serve me well, and they made for the perfect end to a workout reprieve from the winter running doldrums!

I love a new shoe unboxing!

I love a new shoe unboxing!

Never Pay Full Price for Running Gear

Like most folks, I appreciate a good deal. In fact, over the years, I’ve become a discount shopper for many items, and have gotten rather good and finding the lowest possible price for just about any item I’m purchasing. I’ve found this to be especially helpful with running-related gear and shoes, which, as we all know, can add up rather quickly! The old mantra about running being the simplest sport because all you need is a pair of shoes still applies, to some extent, but the availability of a multitude of product categories stretches that simplicity quite a bit. There are plenty of other wonderful gear review sites and blogs out there, and I try to report on my own gear purchases as well. This plethora of information typically leads me to research extensively before purchasing just about anything.

Once I’m ready to pull the trigger on a particular item, I’ll put an equal amount of effort into finding the best possible price, and waiting for an item to go on sale, as it is most often not an immediate need. I have some common sites that I search pretty regularly when looking for something. Additionally, I’ve become a huge fan of The Clymbwhich is a membership (free) based flash-sale website for athletic and outdoor apparel and gear. New sales are posted every day at 10AM CST, and they run the gamut from socks and gloves all the way up to kayaks and bikes. They even have pretty reasonable vacation packages to rather exotic locations! They carry at huge range of major athletic brands at any given time, and have a permanent rotating collection (Clymb 360) in addition to their flash sales. Shipping is a flat $8 and their customer service has been excellent in my opinion. I’ve found casual and running shoes, apparel, and a wide range of gear that I never would have paid full price for but gladly picked up at 50-70% off retail.

In addition to The Clymb, also has a similar flash-sale site for athletic apparel. I’ve noticed that their items are more heavily cycling and triathlon-focused than The Clymb, but they also have some incredible sales. I will fully admit that I’m a bit of a gear junkie and I love the entire process, from research to product-testing, and would love to spend even more time testing products, although preferably through company sponsorship instead of paying for everything out of my own pocket. I would love the chance to attend the Outdoor Retailer Convention almost as much as I long to travel to Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). 

Just recently, I picked up three new items that you’ll no doubt be reading about in the coming weeks as I get a chance to test them out. I picked up the Ultimate Direction Sports Bottle holster ($5, retail $20), the Inov-8 Debrisoc 38 ($10, retail $20), and the Fuelbelt Speedster reflective vest ($10, retail $27.99). I’m looking forward to testing out all three items, which will hopefully fill needs I had as I push forward into the spring race season. Below are links I mentioned, as well as a few other great sites to check out.


The Clymb– This is by far and away my favorite gear sale site…apparel, hydration, shoes, nutrition, and the list goes on!

Active GearUp– A great flash-sale site for a multitude of gear and nutrition needs

ZombieRunner– great sales and a huge inventory

Running Warehouse– this is an especially great site for finding discounts on your favorite shoes!

Sierra Trading Post– this is a great go-to site for all things outdoors

Do you have any secret sites or tricks for finding the best deals on running gear? Share them in the comments section- I’d love to hear them!

Gear Review: Under Armor Coldgear Infrared Hood

It’s -4 degrees outside right now, and I can hear the wind howling as I type. In my office, it’s a comfortable 72 degrees thanks to a trusty space heater. Alas, I can’t do all of my training in my office, which means dressing appropriately. I’m always on the lookout for a piece of running gear that is going to make my outdoor experience more comfortable, whether it be in extreme heat or extreme cold. The balaclava has become an integral part of my winter running apparel as I have committed to remaining outside in freezing conditions. That commitment has been arguable put to the test more this winter than in any previous winter. I will admit that I did break down and purchase a pass to the university rec facilities, not only for access to the indoor track (you didn’t think I was getting on the treadmill, did you?), but also to use the fitness equipment as I commit to more strength-training this year. That, however, is a topic for a future post.

Original Coldgear hood (left) vs. Coldgear Infrared Hood (right)

Original Coldgear hood (left) vs. Coldgear Infrared Hood (right)

Today, I wanted to share a quick review of my new favorite balaclava. I’m a big fan of UnderArmor Coldgear products as excellent base layers.  I’ve had a basic balaclava for quite some time, and pull it out whenever the temperature drops below 10 degrees, or the wind is particularly aggressive. It has served me well, but constant use means it tends to get a bit, shall we say, messy. Thus, I felt it was time to add a second into my rotation to allow for more regular washing without interrupted use. I picked up the Coldgear Infrared hood on sale before the holidays, and have no had a chance to put it through the paces repeatedly.

Multiple wearing options.

Multiple wearing options.

In general, the appearance of the Infrared is no different than my standard UnderArmor balaclava. Both hoods fit snuggly over your head, allow for full face coverage, and are adjustable. i like being able to pull it up over my nose so only my eyes are exposed, but also pull it down under my chin for more ventilation. The fabric is 87% polyester and 13% elastane, which makes for a tight fit, and allows you to wear it as a simple neck gaiter as well. What sets the Infrared apart is the “soft, thermo-conductive coating on the inner layer”. Surprisingly, this added aspect made a subtle but discernible difference.

"Soft, thermo-conductive coating"

“Soft, thermo-conductive coating”

The Infrared is a bit looser around the neck, but still easily tucks into whatever base-layer or winter running coat you may be wearing. The elasticity has held rather well, and I’ve noticed no excessive stretching of the fabric, which is common in many garments of this type. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with this new addition to my winter running arsenal. The UnderArmor Coldgear Infrared Hood promises to keep your head toasty warm whether it’s -10 or 10 degree out.

Gear Review: Patagonia Houdini

Once again, I have pored over countless reviews and investigated the various attributes of multiple running products before settling on a purchase that I wished to add to my running gear bag. This time, the focus was a water-resistant windbreaker for trail running, hiking, and early morning runs. In searching for the perfect product, I considered multiple areas.

The Houdini has an athletic fit and doesn't constrict my movements, even mid-race!

The Houdini has an athletic fit and doesn’t constrict my movements, even mid-race!

  1. Cost- I knew I could spend hundreds of dollars but couldn’t justify the cost, so I needed a good value!
  2. Fit- windbreakers seem to end up fitting like garbage bags on me, and if I wanted that sort of fit, I’d just wear a garbage bag. I wanted to find something that was more form-fitting and wouldn’t get in my way.
  3. Lightweight and Packable- I don’t mind wearing heaving running apparel when it’s cold and snowy outside, but wanted something that would provide the protection I was looking for, and at the same time, not even alert me to its presence on my body. Fools errand?
  4. Water-Resistant and Breathable- I was aware that a fully waterproof running jacket was going to be much heavier and not necessarily breath as well, so I was quite content with a level of resistance for a light shower or cool mist. I am also well aware that I sweat profusely, so I need a jacket that isn’t going to drown me in my own sweat.
I'd say this qualifies as lightweight and packable!

I’d say this qualifies as lightweight and packable!

With these four characteristics in mind, I set out on my quest. I read reviews and watched video reviews for a number of jackets, ranging from the Stoic Wraith shell to the North Face Better Than Naked Jacket, as well as the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer jacket. Eventually, I was won over by the Patagonia Houdini. On paper, and from the reviews of fellow-runners, it seemed to have everything I was looking for, and wasn’t going to break the bank. I pulled the trigger.

The hood fits well, and zips up high without the need for elastic.

The hood fits well, and zips up high without the need for elastic.

I couldn’t be more happy with my decision! The Houdini has met and exceeded my expectations in every area. I purchased the medium, and opened it with a bit of trepidation, hoping it would fit like I wanted. Nothing drives me nuts more than the hassle of returning online purchases (ok, many things irritate me far more, but most of them aren’t running related!). I slipped it on, and it immediately felt great. The length was perfect, it was form-fitting, but allowed me a full range of motion, the sleeves wrapped around my wrists but allowed some stretch via a ½ elastic band design, and the hood fit well and tightened up nicely. I was eager to take this new third skin for a spin 🙂

The 1/2 elastic wristband fits wonderfully.

The 1/2 elastic wristband fits wonderfully.

After several runs ranging in length from 5K to 50K, I’m extremely pleased with my decision. The Houdini seems to flow with me while I run, without me really noticing that I’m wearing it. Whether I’m wearing a pack, or simply carrying handhelds, the jacket performs quite well. It breathes like a champ, and doesn’t end up sticking to my skin when the sweat begins to roll off of me. It has held up nicely during light rain, and I’ve been able to visibly see the water wicking off courtesy of the water-resistant coating.

The single zipper on the chest provides access to the pocket for packing up this lightweight marvel.

The single zipper on the chest provides access to the pocket for packing up this lightweight marvel.

When I’m done, it dries very quickly, and packs down into its own pocket to easily fit in your hand for storage in a pack. It will even fit into my Ultraspire waist pack if I’m running extra light. Some folks may wish for a few more pockets, but the lack of more pockets actually appeals to me. They end up just adding weight, and I’m not going to be storing anything in the pockets of a jacket while I’m running anyway so I’m happy Patagonia decided to go without them. If you are looking for a relatively inexpensive (for the quality product you are receiving) and high-performance, lightweight running jacket, then I’d definitely suggest giving the Patagonia Houdini a try!

Gear Review: It’s all in…or on your head!

The last month seems like a whirlwind of races and high mileage weeks! This is clear from the topics of my most recent posts. For the new few months, my schedule calls for my peak mileage weeks, some very long training runs, and then the uncomfortable taper leading up to December 28th and Across the Years. Now that I’m back into a routine of sorts, I can return to sharing some new information and thoughts that have been collecting in my mind. Over the past few months, I’ve added a variety of running-gear items to my training arsenal, and they have proven quite useful in various ways. Two such items find their home on my head, and have proven useful in a variety of circumstances.

Petzl Nao Headlamp

The first, and perhaps most significant running-related acquisition was that of a new headlamp. My running distances and durations have continued to increase, which inevitably means running in the dark. Additionally, I have aspirations of running a number of longer trail races that require quality lighting in order to navigate the technical terrain. Thus, I was rather focused on finding a quality headlamp I could rely on. After a great deal of research, and the utilization of several gift cards I was hold onto, I purchased the Petzl Nao headlamp. This torch is billed as the first “smart headlamp” and it truly lives up to its billing. The “reactive lighting” technology built into the torch adjust brightness according to where it is being focused. Thus, when I am looking straight ahead, it projects into the distance, and when I am looking down at my hands, the becomes dimmer to give me the light I need. The result is increased battery life, which is much appreciated.

You can see the sensor at the top and the LED lamps below.

You can see the sensor at the top and the LED lamps below.

The battery itself is actually rechargeable via USB, which is quite handy. When I opened the Nao after receiving it in the mail, I was skeptical of the size and weight of the battery itself. At first glance, it looks to be quite heavy and uncomfortable. However, the elastic band, coupled with the flexible upper portion which stretches over the top of your head, makes for a rather snug and secure fit. It can be a bit tricky to get the Nao fitted correctly to your head, but once you do, it isn’t going anywhere. The headlamp has stayed secure through a bevy of terrains, and I have not noticed any distinguishable movement that would cause irritation or rubbing. I did begin to notice the compression of the Nao after about 6 hours of continuous wear. However, I was able to take it off for a bit and return it to my head later. Although there was some minor discomfort, I don’t consider it significant enough to warrant a negative assessment. The cord that runs from the battery to the lamp may seem a bit cumbersome as well, but I didn’t notice any significant movement. There is an optional belt clip for the battery as well if you’d rather wear it around your waist to distribute the weight differently or keep the lithium-ion battery warm during the winter months.

The battery seems a bit big at first glance...give it a shot.

The battery seems a bit big at first glance…give it a shot.

The adjustment knob on the side allows you to shift between varying levels of reactive lighting and consistent lighting depending on your surrounding. The lamp portion itself is adjustable so you can position it more towards the ground for better night vision. The only downside to the reactive lighting technology emerged when I was behind another running with reflective clothing. The sensor in the Nao picks up on the reflection from the light hitting the garment, and dims as a result. In essence, the reflective patches on the vest of the runner in front of me was fooling the lamp into thinking I was closer than I was, and thus didn’t need as much light. In reality, this scenario is going to be pretty rare for most runners. Additionally, simply switching to constant lighting would have solved this problem. I just didn’t think about it in the middle of a race in the dark through a city I wasn’t familiar with and a route I didn’t quite know!

The Zephyr headband creates a secure fit.

The Zephyr headband creates a secure fit.

On top of everything else, the Petzl Nao also interacts with the Petzl OS, which allows you to set up customized lighting profiles for the headlamp and save them to the lamp itself. This can increase battery life, or accommodate various unique circumstances that you might anticipate while using the Nao. In reality, the OS might be a bit over the top for a headlamp, but it is a unique feature that some may enjoy for a bit of added control. Overall, I have been very pleased with the performance of the Nao and am looking forward to it being my go-to headlamp for longer nighttime runs and hikes in the future. The price tag may be a bit steep for some, but it is certainly worth the investment!

Halo Headband

I now move on to a much more simple piece of head-mounted running gear after discussing a rather technical and complicated item. I must first be very clear that I’m fairly certain I sweat more than most people. It seems to emerge from my body like an invading Cylon battle fleet descending on an unsuspecting Earth. I wear a hat, visor, or winter cap consistently while running in order to mitigate some of this moisture. My sunglasses help as well. However, especially in the summer months, I still find myself stopping to wipe the sweat from my eyes and mitigate the burning that eventually ensues. As a result of these circumstances, I was excited to give the Halo headband a try. The product seemed simple enough, with a unique sweatband built into the headband itself to direct sweat away from the eyes. I was skeptical of its effectiveness but willing to give it a try. I’m quite happy that I did! This headband just plain works. I’ve worn it under a beanie and under a running hat, and it has performed admirable. It fits very snugly to my head, and is fitted enough that I can fit my other hats over it without issue. I purchased this headband late in the season, as the temperatures were beginning to cool off. Despite this, I am confident that it will be my go-to piece of headgear for the blazing summer months, as well as a trusted accessory during the impending winter months.

Simple and effective.

Simple and effective.

My only critique, like the Nao, was that it seemed a bit overly snug after several hours of wear. Perhaps I just have a big head?! Either way, I would certainly suggest you give both of these products a look!

Gear Review: Zoot Ultra 2.0 CRx Compression Socks

I’ve been wearing compression socks/calf sleeves for several years now as a training and recovery tool. Although the science behind compression gear is still up in the air, I can’ argue with the freshness in my legs during longer runs, and the decreased recovery time afterwards. They just seem to work really well for me. Others will say they don’t notice a difference, or perhaps you only wear them during or only afterwards. It’s funny how many routines and idiosyncrasies runners develop, isn’t it?

My commitment to compression socks means I’m always on the look out for the opportunity to try a new brand or style, to see if I notice a distinct difference. Lately, I’ve been using the Smartwool PhD Run Graduated Compression Light socks, and I’ve really enjoyed them. The level of compression is not overwhelming, which means I don’t notice them while I’m running, but certainly notice the effect afterwards. However, as you’ve so keenly observed, this is not a review of Smartwool socks 🙂

I’m always on the lookout for a solid deal, and my favorite go-to gear site, The Clymb, was having a sale on Zoot running gear. I’d always associated Zoot more with tri-gear, but the price was right, so I pulled the trigger and ordered two pairs of the Ultra 2.0 CRx compression socks.

Zoot 1

Out of the box, I was impressed with the anatomically correct fit for each foot. I accidentally put the left sock on my right foot, and I could notice the difference. They were characteristically tight to pull on, as any pair of compression socks should be, and I always feel like I’m wrestling with them. This can be a challenge early in the morning, when my brain isn’t quite awake yet!

Zoot 2

Fit: Overall, I was very happy with the fit of the socks. They were true to size, although I did have to fold over the top a bit, so they wouldn’t be bunching up behind my knees. I’ve found this to be the case with other compression socks, so it’s entirely possible my legs are just a bit shorter than normal. I’ll add it to the list, I guess! There were no noticeable seams inside or outside the socks that would cause blisters down the road, and they hugged my feet and calves nicely. I noticed the graduated compression (18-30 mm Hg) a bit more in these socks than in previous brands, but they were still comfortable.

Compression: After a 20 mile run, these socks certainly fit the bill for compression effectiveness. My legs were feeling delightfully fresh, and I needed very little recovery time, aside from my normal stretching and rolling routine post-run. I was particularly impressed by how consistent the compression seemed. I noticed them hugging my calves more during the entire run than other brands, but this extra compression was a welcomed-reminder that they were working. I had no skin impressions after taking them off, as can sometimes happen if a small seam is misplaced or the socks don’t fit correctly.

Comfort: The socks are heavy enough, and provide a nice amount of padded cushion at the heel and toe. I’m not a fan of the thinner socks and tend to develop blisters when I wear them, so I was happy with the weight of the material. Zoot claims they offer increased Achilles tendon support, which I didn’t necessarily notice but may become more aware of as I wear them longer. I’ve yet to develop any hot spots on my toes or feet, which is a welcome relief as well.

These socks are definitely proving to be a worthwhile investment and seem durable enough as well. I haven’t had them long enough to comment on how they hold up to repeated use and washing, but I’ll definitely be putting them through the paces over the next few months! So, if you are looking for a comfortable compression sock for training or recovery, I would definitely suggest giving the Zoot Ultra 2.0 CRx a look.

It's surprisingly difficult to take a picture of yourself wearing a sock!

It’s surprisingly difficult to take a picture of yourself wearing a sock!

Have you tried these socks? Have you tried other compression socks/gear? Do you have any brand suggestions?

Ultimate Direction SJ Race Vest vs. Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 Set

I analyze things. No, I don’t think you understand. I REALLY analyze things. I’m the guy that spends all day reading reviews before deciding on the type of peanut butter to put on my sandwich. It can be a problem, but it does have its perks. One such perk is the fact that I’ve put a great deal of thought into every running decision I’ve made and every piece of running gear I’ve purchased. I approach a lot of these choices from a “what if” perspective. That is to say, I try to think about every conceivable scenario in which I’d be using this item and make sure it is the best choice for most of those scenarios. I wish I could say my level of scrutiny increases as the prices of items increase, but I probably spend as much time on a $10 water bottle as a $150 race vest. This brings me to my most recent quest, which I alluded to in my last post.

I’ve been on the hunt for the best possible ultra race vest. I wanted something that I could load up with enough nutrition and other various supplies to last me through a 50 or 100 mile trail run. Obviously I can’t bring enough water on my back for that distance, so water transport became a major focus of my research. After my negative, albeit skewed Camelbak experience, I had convinced myself that bladders weren’t for me. I wanted to be able to store handheld bottles that I could carry if I wanted, refill when I wanted, and change out when I wanted. This factor limited my search somewhat, and after reading copious online reviews, watching YouTube product reviews, and constantly reassuring myself, I had narrowed my search to the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest and the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 set. What follows is a mostly unbiased review based on my experiences with both packs.

I should begin my disclosing that I have the most amazing and supportive partner ever. As I was midway through my research, the beautiful epicurean disclosed that she intended to buy me a pack as an anniversary gift. I needed only to let her know which pack to buy. After I had narrowed down my search, she suggested ordering both packs, giving them a whirl, and deciding after some hands-on experience. My hesitation up to that point was due to not being able to actually try either pack on. There are no dealers for either pack in the entire state, and although I was committed, I wasn’t going to cross state lines to try on a hydration pack. So, we ordered both packs and they arrived incredibly quickly, which worked out perfectly, because it gave me enough time to test them and decide on a pack before my RAGBRAI run!

I’ll begin with the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest. I can admit upfront that I really wanted this to be the pack for me. I just finished reading Eat & Run, so Scott Jurek is fresh in my brain. On top of that, the pack is just really sexy. He helped design the pack to suit his ultrarunning needs. The pack uses incredibly innovative materials to make it super lightweight (7.5 oz.) and durable. The main compartment is very flexible, utilizing Cuben Fiber to make it easily expandable and collapsible. In total, it holds 9.2 L. It is hydration bladder ready, but does not come with a bladder. This pack really shines in the front, however. On the outside of two adjustable sternum straps are slots for two water bottles. The pockets rest parallel with the body, and sit high on the chest. There are mesh pockets on the sides of the bottle holders, as well as the above and below the bottle holders. It even comes with two Ultimate Direction 20 oz. kicker valve water bottles, which is a nice touch. They suggest measuring your chest for proper sizing, and my 36″ chest meant purchasing a size Medium (31- 38 inches).

Race Vest 1

The UD vest arrived first and I eagerly pulled it out to try it on. I slipped it on, adjusted the sternum straps, and sat with it for a bit. It is INCREDIBLY lightweight, and even with the water bottles, I could barely feel it on my back. I loaded up the pack to simulate running conditions, and took it for a spin around the block. I was careful not to get sweaty so I could still return it if need be. Overall, the material felt great to have on, and the water bottles sat comfortably on my chest. The sternum straps tightened well and prevented any movement, so I don’t think I would be concerned with chafing. The side panels are hex mesh, so there is no ability to adjust the fit other than the sternum straps. It sat nicely on the upper part of my back, and the contents I loaded up didn’t move around at all. However, I noticed, even after adjusting the fit, that there were pretty sizable gaps between my shoulders and the straps. I adjusted the sternum straps in every conceivable position, but the gaps remained. this gap didn’t seem to bother me while running around the block, but 100 miles might be a different story. I began thinking about the various aspects to look for in fit for a hiking pack, and many of the same principles would apply here. Overall, though, I loved the back, and might have found myself in love with the idea of the pack even a bit more than the pack itself.

Race Vest 2

Pros– lightweight, lots of storage, nice water bottle placement (reviews for placement with women seem to be mixed)

Cons– fit customization, sizing, need to use after market bladder

The Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 set is the veteran in this race. This race vest was originally released several years ago, and have evolved to meet the needs of ultra runners around the world. In all the reviews I read, I honestly could not find any significant negative comments about this vest. People were basically drooling over the versatility and comfort of this vest, so it was an obvious option for me. This vest does come with a hydration bladder specifically designed for the pack, as well as water bottle holsters up front. The bladder is very well designed, with a quick release hose at the bottle, and an insulated sleeve to keep your water cold longer. The hose actually gets tucks along the pack under your armpit and up to your mouth, as opposed to most hydration systems that track the hose over your should. The water bottle holsters are angled at around 45 degrees out, as opposed to the parallel orientation of the SJ vest. I comfortably fit 20 oz. bottles in each pocket, but they could be used for a camera, or other nutrition items as well. There are several mesh pockets on the side of the vest, and two large compartments in the back. The pack weighs a bit more than the SJ vest (12 oz.) but this is partially due to the bladder, which is removable. Storage capacity is almost identical, although the Salmon website lists it at a bit less since they assume you’d have the bladder in as well.  The vest offers to adjustable straps across the sternum that are movable in a triangular format to allow for more adjustment. There are bungee straps on top of the shoulders as well so you can cinch the pack closer to your back. A mesh pass-through space at the bottom on the back offers a perfect location for a second layer as well. Small, detachable (velcro) pockets up front offer even more storage.

Race Vest 3

Luckily, the Salomon vest arrived the day after the SJ vest, so I had quick access. As soon as I put the vest on, I knew exactly what all the reviewers were talking about. In about 30 seconds, I had made all the adjustments I needed, and the vest literally felt like a second skin on me. I loaded the pack up with the same items as before, and took it for a spin around the block. I was initially worried that my arms would rub on the water bottles while in the holsters because of the angle, but this wasn’t the case. If anything, the pack kept my posture more upright and my shoulders relaxed and arms down. It sat nicely on the upper part of my back, and there was no movement whatsoever once I cinched everything down. This pack was literally a part of me when I was running. There is more than enough space in the back for all your nutrition and other supplies as well.

Race Vest 4

Pros– fit, fit, fit, hydration bladder option, fit, lightweight

Cons– a bit less storage space in the back with a bladder, price

Ultimately (pun-intended), I overcame my infatuation and decided on the Salomon vest. I just couldn’t argue with the fit! It had everything I needed, and in the back of my mind, I wondered if I should give hydration bladders another go as well. This pack has everything I need and more. On Saturday morning, I bit the bullet, cut the tags, and loaded it up with two water bottles in front for a morning 22-miler. After the first mile, I knew I had made the right choice. The fit was amazing, and my pace and stride weren’t impacted in the least. With the two water bottles, I had everything I needed for a long run. By the end of the run, I was starting to feel some pressure on my ribs from the water bottles. At that point, I stopped and adjusted the straps to better fit my chest. Good grief! I wish I would have done that earlier 🙂

Yesterday, out of utter curiosity, I filled the bladder, and headed out for a quick run to give it a try. Maybe I was wrong…it happens occasionally, right? As I started running, I could hear some sloshing, which was to be expected. However, i didn’t feel the bladder moving around in the least bit. After the first mile, I may have enjoyed the vest even more with the bladder full and more space up front for nutrition. I never would have guessed I’d come back around, but I couldn’t be more happy that I did. Hopefully, in the midst of this lengthy review, I can save you some time of your own. Both vests are excellent options, and widely used (looking at pictures of the elite runners at the Hardrock 100 tells you all you need to know about the popularity of both vests). The Salomon vest is a bit more pricy, but in my opinion, worth every penny. I’ll be getting many miles of use out of this amazing race pack!

On my way home...just another day in Iowa!

On my way home…just another day in Iowa!

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