I must be a real distance runner now, because a couple of weeks ago, I gave in and bought my first real hydration pack. All last summer, I ran with a handheld Nathan 20 oz bottle. I like the Nathan bottle a lot, but there were definitely times when I had to plan my run around multiple car stops to refill on hot days. After signing up for Worlds End, I figured I needed to stop dragging my heels and commit to a hands-free system.
I talked to a lot of people and read a lot of reviews. I came close to buying a kids CamelBak, but the bladder intimidated me. I have enough trouble staying on top of keeping my water bottles clean, so I didn’t want something that was so much work, especially since I knew I would be using it regularly.
A friend and fellow ultrarunner mentioned that she was looking at vests over backpacks. I returned to the internet, where I saw a lot of positive reviews for the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta, a vest designed specifically for women. Many of the reviewers mentioned that the bottles that came with the vest leaked, but that an easy fix was to buy two body bottles instead, giving you 28 oz of combined fluids. I liked the idea of being able to carry two different liquids, along with some other gear, so much so that I went ahead and ordered a vest. Imagine my dismay when I received an email a few days later that they were completely out of stock. The company offered to notify me as soon as they had more inventory, but they weren’t expecting that for several weeks, and I was now less than 2 weeks out from the Worlds End course preview run, where I really wanted to try out my pack.
One more plea to fellow runners online turned up a suggestion to try a vest from Orange Mud. I have to admit that I had never heard of the company. I scoured their webpage, reading all sorts of reviews of their HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2. I was excited and intrigued by the two large, 25 oz bottles, which would give me 50 oz of fluids without having to carry anything in my hands. I also liked the idea of being able to easily refill at aid stations during a race, along with easy clean up once I was home. I wasn’t sure how I would feel carrying that much on my back, but with little time left, I went ahead and ordered a pack.
My pack arrived less than a week after ordering, and just 4 days before the Worlds End preview run. I tried it out on my treadmill during a short run that Wednesday, just to make sure that it wouldn’t drive me crazy on the long run. I was a bit nervous to go into such a long run with a new pack, but I figured this would be a clear way to see how I felt about the vest.
The official verdict? I’m a big fan. The water bottles do slosh, just like a handheld, but you get used to the sound, and the vest doesn’t bounce at all. I am able to carry plenty of fluids in the back, and usually fill one bottle with Tailwind and one with plain water. There are two velcro pockets on the shoulder that sit surprisingly flat. I tend to keep my car key in one, and a Chia bar in the other. There are also two larger pockets in front that cinch with a zip cord. I usually throw my phone or a small camera in one, and put some extra nutrition in another. I love being able to carry so much and still have my hands free. There were several spots along the Worlds End preview run when I needed my hands to get up a rock, and this vest allowed me to do so without a problem. I’ve also found that I am able to remove a bottle and replace it without having to remove the pack, which is a big plus.
From the moment that I ordered my vest, I have been impressed by the customer service from the company. For me personally, I have found that this is one of the best things about buying products from smaller companies. Earlier today, I went out for a long run in ridiculously cold conditions. It was a whopping 18 degrees F when we started and just 25 when we finished several hours later. For the first time ever, I found I had a hard time replacing my bottle in the holder on the run. My running partner mentioned that the cold might have caused the fabric to constrict a bit. In any case, at one point, the bottle slipped from my pack and hit the ground at just the right angle to crack the lid. I contacted the company via their Facebook page when I got home, and had a response from them within an hour. A new lid will be on its way tomorrow, which means that it will most likely arrive in time for my next long run next weekend. I won’t have to miss a single run with my pack.
I’m so glad that I found Orange Mud and this vest. I highly recommend it to other runners looking for a great pack to use on their long runs.
View of my vest from the back as I cross a frozen creek. Note how my hands are totally free for balance and catching myself when I trip on the trail. 😉