Running was once a simple activity. I’d do around 10 miles on the trails with nothing but an ID card, in case my body needed identification found in an arroyo providing a lunch buffet for the coyotes. After the 10 mile distance, I thought I should take some liquid since I was getting thirsty. I tried carrying a small water bottle, not bad, but that got old. And then I decided I wanted music! The Camelback was next. I tried a few different ones I had, different sizes and features, but the load would flop around a bit, hard to compress into place. And the fitting of the bag was as close and secure as needed.
My bicycle jerseys have pockets, so I tried these. Small light items were ok, even my phone would settle into position after about 100 feet. I didn’t try to carry any liquids, too big, too heavy, I didn’t think they would ever not wiggle around. Got one of those arm bands for the phone, it worked, but was really messing with my tan line, and the headphone cord flopped even more than when it was hanging from a rear pocket in the bike jersey.
All of this was over a span of about 10 years. Had I continued running consistently over that time I may have gotten famous, and I wouldn’t be writing from this perspective, because I’d be a sponsored professional runner with no full-time job except running. I should have kept running! My running was more of a “while traveling” activity, since 2006, because the items needed took little space in my suitcase, and I could usually find a trail, or at least an acceptable road route anywhere I went. I jumped back in to more running in 2013, and eventually needed to solve the “I need to take more crap with me” problem.
The Flip Belt was a great option for an ID, money, phone, and a few gels. This is a very simple tube of stretchy material, with four slots scattered around the belt. It hugs my beltline comfortably and fits under a shirt without causing anyone to wonder what I was trying to hide around my waist. With a phone, 5 gels, cash and ID, it does not jiggle of drop. This works great on short runs, but I wanted go further and thought I needed liquid. (“Needed liquid”- ignoring the hydrate or die sales pitch, we all eventually become dehydrated if not drinking. Our individual needs are not the same. There are guidelines we can follow, but we need to insure we have enough liquid and not take in too much. Drink when you are thirsty!).
My first hydration vest was the Osprey Rev 6 Hydration Pack. It met all my needs: pockets on front, pouches, internal storage, 1.5 liter bladder, adjustable height and length sternum straps. I did have to create a strap system to attach my SPOT device to this pack; it’s supposed to face the sky as clearly as possible and there were no pockets near the top of the shoulder straps or on the back. Pockets on the shoulder straps were great for gels and bars or the right side. The left strap had the Osprey DigiFlip pocket. This held my phone securely and when flipped open, I could almost read the screen and select the screen icons. However, the phone was a little too close to my eyes for serious reading, such as maps or messages. After having squandered my vision, getting closer does not help, only makes me look a little goofy, like I’m going to eat my phone.
The side pockets, while a descent size for small food items, are difficult to access. Picture an arm folded tighter than imaginable, chicken wing style, with the wrist cranked almost painfully toward the rear, trying to get that tasty sea salt caramel Gu I had been thinking about for 3 miles. After three years and two sore wrists, it was time for something with more pockets up front, no more chicken winging!
To add motivation for a new vest, the bladder that came with the Osprey blew a seam one cold morning, as I was starting a long cold winter trail run. The seam was on the bottom of the bladder, and almost two liters of nice warm Accelerade poured down my backside, and it was right around freezing. Needing a new bladder justified a new vest. I tried to make this philosophy work with bicycle tires, but failed miserably, and had to apologize. (NOTE: Apologies always work better when they come in a blue Tiffany’s bag!)
With a move for a new job, and a shorter distance between home and work, run commuting was now an idea. I had been bike commuting for 30 years, but had only done a few run commutes, but with no hydro vest. I was skilled at prepositioning work clothes at the office, but I needed to take some food and other small items, there’s always something else. I did more research this time, because I had experience with one hydration vests and had a few ideas of what might be good or better. And after using one vest for a couple years and looking at a few vests and reading reviews, I decided I was an expert on the subject! The primary things to upgrade: easily accessible pouches or pockets in the front and more volume in the pack.
I decided against one that was rated as great for commuting, only because I thought it would be too big for racing. (RACING? WTF!?) I’d see a random advertisement for a trail race, and finally committed to one. So, now it’s about more serious running and commuting, and one vest was going to do both with success. I chose the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0. Pockets, pouches, zippered pockets, strap adjustments, pockets, so much storage, so accessible! There are two pockets up high on either shoulder strap that will hold the SPOT tracker in good position. The right strap has a deep pocket that holds the water bottle nicely, or holds a few GU BLOKS packs, or LARABARS in the center, or a few on the outer narrower slots. The left strap has a zippered flat pocket that looks designed to hold a phone, and does that nicely. Below these two premier sections of the shoulder straps are open or zippered pockets that hold many gels or similar size items.
The waist belt has good sized zippered pockets, I can easily store my PETZL ACTIK headlamp with spare room, or more food or a wallet. There are two pull strings at the base of the backside, these are the “Comfort Cinch Technology”. Pulling these will draw in the length of the waist belt and bring the back section closer to the body, adding a bit more security. The adjustable height sternum straps are great, but can’t pull in slack around the waist like these two strings.
In the main area, the big zippered area is plenty big for my commute or can hold many additional clothing items for varying weather runs. A small key or wallet pocket is accessible outside on the left, and an open stuff pocket holds quick access items on the lower area. The draw string system is amazing! With additional anchor points, the string can be drawn outward and provides a wider “hug” on the bundle.
The Adventure Vest did not come with a bladder, so I chose an Osprey 2 liter model to add to the pack. It fits nicely in the separate pouch, accessible by a zipper. There’s a bladder attachment strap in the top of that compartment, and the hose can exit either side easily. Adding a hose security magnet to one of the pole straps completes the hose placement.
Each shoulder strap has a pole strap and straps below the front pockets will hold the other ends of trekking poles. I put the dirt end of the poles in the lower loops, something about that carbide tip being near my face just looked bad. One issue, if using the supplied bottle, it will not be possible to use the upper built-in pole strap on the left, and using either pole strap will reduce ease of use of some of the front pockets because the poles will be close in to your chest. The system on the right works, but adding a small additional strap to each side will make all pockets more accessible and it’s much easier to carry my Black Diamond Distance Z poles nicely!
I’ve been using this for a year, in most conditions. I use hot water on the cold days, it keeps my back warm for a while but always cools eventually. Vests aren’t the most comfortable item in the hot humid environment here, but it does not bother me, it will gain sweat weight, not too much though. I’ve been able to take plenty of extra layers for cold runs and have been able to remove extra layers on warm runs. The only time the pack did not have enough food was when I didn’t load enough, and there was room for it. My longest activity was about 12.5 hours and there were a few food stops, but I should have taken more food with me and could have easily.
I’ve seen some pack descriptions as form fitting and aero looking, but I don’t think that’s an issue for me, I don’t run that fast and there’s nothing bad protruding from the Adventure Vest. But if I did run faster, I might not need to carry as much stuff, and I’d be done sooner. But then I wouldn’t be able to justify this really cool pack with all these bells and whistles! But one thing to always remember when shopping for any type of pack- you will usually be tempted to fill a pack to capacity, no matter the size. How much crap do you need to take? Will the pack compress to prevent movement? And can you pick it up after you put your Bluetooth speaker system in there?