The North Face Enduro 13 Review

Originally reviewed for Fitness Rocks:

Ultra distance runner Jonathan J Mackintosh shares his opinions on the North Face Enduro 13 backpack.

I purchased the North Face Enduro 13 rucksack in the week before the 53 mile 2011 Highland Fling ultramarathon. Despite owning bags by both the OMM and inov8, I wanted something that was super lightweight and that let my body breathe more than the packs I currently owned.

‘Testing’ a new pack on a 53 mile run is preposterous but it is testament to the Enduro 13 pack that it passed with flying colours and was rarely off my back in both training runs and races throughout the rest of 2011. Despite the arrival of new packs on the market, the Enduro 13 remains as my pack of choice for the forthcoming 2012 ultramarathon season.

The Enduro 13 is highly streamlined and it is therefore, not for those who like to pack for every eventuality. Having said that, the Enduro 13 appeared to be the pack of choice for many UTMB athletes and, as such, is capable of carrying all of the required kit for this, the toughest ultra in Europe. If you own minimalist waterproof equipment it will no doubt make packing for all weathers that bit easier. Even with space considerations I have regularly carried a waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, various Buffs, basic medical supplies, a map, energy gels and bars without problem. If anything, the space limitations prove beneficial in that the contents of the pack tend not to bounce about, something that I have experienced with other packs.

My initial attraction to the pack was as a result of the 2 side mounted bottles. These are perfectly positioned for easy use on the run and can be easily filled at aid stations/check points. There is the option to add a bladder to the inside of the pack and the bladder hosing can be easily accommodated on the packs straps. Personally, I have found it easier to keep an eye on hydration when using bottles as you can quickly see how much or how little liquid you have left from a quick inspection, something that is not so easily done with a bladder.

Retailing at approximately £65.00, the pack sits in the mid price point area relative to other packs.

Overall the Enduro 13 is well constructed and, having been used considerably for almost a year, shows no sign of wear or tear. A wipe down with a damp cloth soon removes any dirt and/or salt desposited through sweating.

Pros

  • Super lightweight
  • Easy to clean
  • Size – Minimalist size allows the body to breathe
  • Easy access bottles
  • Easy access side pockets, useful for carrying bars & gels

Cons

  • The pack often sells out & remains out of stock for long periods on the North Face store
  • The use of velcro on the front fastening mechanism can be unkind to technical t-shirts if you let the 2 come into contact
  • Size – May not be large enough for everyone’s packing tastes

Check out my review of the Salomon XT Wings 5 backpack if you are looking for a pack of this type.

Salomon XT Wings 5 Review

I was pretty much sold on The North Face Enduro 13 as far as running backpacks go. However, a discussion on Facebook alerted me to the Salomon XT Wings 5 backpack and I decided to check it out. The XT Wings 5, unlike many of Salomon’s recent vest style offerings, is a minimalist backpack.

There are a number of similarities between the XT Wings 5 and the Enduro 13. Both are fairly minimalist, 8 litre capacity backpacks. Both are bladder friendly and both include 2 bottle holders, providing easy access to bottles.

The Benefits of bottles

  • It is easier to monitor your fluid intake and also how much fluid you have left when using bottles
  • It is easier to fill bottles at checkpoints/aid stations
  • It is possible to mix up your hydration when using 2 or more bottles (I use High5 Zero Electrolyte Tablets and generally mix up the flavours in case I get sick of drinking the same flavour all day)

Having used the Salomon XT Wings 5 backpack for a number of long runs now, the points that I have found to favour the Salomon XT Wings 5 are as follows:

Salomon’s customizable bag system

A number of Salomon accessories can be easily added to the pack to increase functionality & pack volume. I have added two Salomon zipped pockets on either side of the waist strap.

When I first received the Salomon XT Wings 5 backpack the only obvious drawback in comparison with The North Face Enduro 13 was the lack of side pockets.

The Salomon zipped pockets resolve this issue are quite a bit bigger than the built in ones of the Enduro 13. If no additional storage is required, the zipped pockets can easily be removed.

The Split Compartment

Both the Salomon and North Face packs have an 8 litre capacity. The Salomon XT Wings 5 splits the capacity over 2 compartments and I have found that this is useful in that you can better organise the content of your pack.

Inside the top main compartment is a zippered organizer pocket, reservoir sleeve and water drainage ports. The lower zippered pocket is located between the two water bottle holders for a lower center of gravity. I would use this lower pocket for heavier items such as a head torch, camera etc. I have also found it is fairly easy to access gel bottles and food items stored in this compartment.

Two mesh pockets with security clips, located at either side of the lower compartment, give fast access to food or small items.

Shoulder Pocket

The latest versions of the pack come with an extra shoulder pocket for more storage. Located on the right strap, the pocket is versatile enough to carry anything from a spare bottle through to a phone or food. I have found it to be placed quite high on the strap but this is likely down to my positioning of the pack overall.

Specs

  • Shoulder straps – LITE shoulder straps – Harness construction
  • Water management – Waterproof zipper
  • Belt – Quick fit belt
  • Load Management – Adjustable sternum strap
  • Pockets & compartments – 2 mesh side pockets – Front pocket – 2 main compartments
  • Carrying system – Custom system – 4D Pole holder – 4D bottle holder
  • Hydration – Bladder compartment with hanging system – 3D bottle included (600 ml/20 oz)
  • Back systems – Airvent Agility
  • Security – Whistle – Reflective
  • Fabrics – 70D PA*210T Ripstop PU – 100D PA honeycomb
  • Weight 387 (NS) Weight (lb oz) 1lb 5 oz Dimensions 53 x 19 x 8 Volume (ci) 490 Volume (l) 8 Weight (g) 590

(Specs taken from Castleberg Outdoors)

Summary

I didn’t think that I would find a pack that was comparable to The North Face Enduro 13 but, with the Salomon XT Wings 5 SS12 backpack, I have done just that. The packs are very similar in so many ways and, as such, it is a close call. Both packs are super lightweight, comfortable to wear, easy to clean, minimalist packs with easy access bottles.

However, the following things edge the Salomon in front as far as I am concerned:

  • Easy to add to the pack functionality and/or volume thanks to Salomon’s customizable bag system
  • The sternum fastening strap, located towards the top of the shoulder straps, permits approx. 4 inches of vertical slide, thus allowing for a better custom fit
  • No Velcro fastening means you don’t have to be so careful when putting the pack on/taking the pack off
  • Split compartment storage meaning easier access to contents

Retailing at approximately £62.00, the pack sits in the mid price point area relative to other packs and is approximately the same price as The North Face Enduro 13.

UltrAspire Kinetic Review

Thanks to Sand Baggers, the Scottish-based specialists in trail running & ultra marathon kit for providing me with an UltrAspire Kinetic pack/race vest to review. Since receiving the pack back at the beginning of October I have managed to get out for a number of short and medium length runs and have now gathered my thoughts together for a review of the Kinetic.

Overview

“With an uncanny kinesthesia* sense, this is the first performance bottle vest backpack! Finally, those who love bottles can return to them wearing a revolutionary vest! With an emphasis on freedom of movement, form follows function, in this power packed race vest. Also featuring Body Rhythm™ harness, this pack is built from the waist up to retain a low center of gravity for balance and control while animating the pack with motion capability that mimics the movement of a human athlete’s hips and shoulders, as opposing forces in motion. This means the pack moves multi-directionally in tandem with the wearer. *Kinesthesia relates to that sense that detects bodily position, weight, or movement of the muscles, tendons, and joints, and intuitively responds to them all.”

Pros

  • Lightweight & highly breathable pack/race vest
  • Excellent build quality
  • Multitude of handy pockets and storage areas
  • Use of magnets to facilitate easy entry/closure on front pocket and rear stash area
  • Easy access to bottles – makes for easy consumption of liquids and easy refilling at checkpoints
  • Freedom of movement

Cons

  • Limited capacity – But then, that is the point of this pack. (For a similar pack with greater capacity, check out the Fastpack)

Details & Features

  • Soft, fully breathable, lite weight mesh hip support featuring bio designed optimum efficiency
  • Lite weight adjustable Speed Hook™ attachment
  • Low profiled dimensional zippered pouch on each side of waist piece that does not impede natural arm movement
  • Quick stash right pocket is large enough to hold a spare bottle or other essentials and it uniformly compresses with cord
  • Patent pending Magnon Electrolyte Pocket™ with easy worry free magnet closure
  • Light weight zippers pulls easily grabbed even with gloves, cold or numb fingers
  • Left mesh pocket over zippered inner pocket for securely stowing temperature and weather change accessories, energy foods and other necessary gear
  • Roomy upper back quick stash with magnetic closure designed like a bicycling jersey for quick and easy access even at full speed
  • Ergo aligned and angled bottle holsters allow for ease of access; plus, patent pending* new feature aids return of bottle between usages, keeps bottle in proper position and aids stability
  • Comes standard with two Human 26 oz finger loop bottles.

Review

The UltrAspire Kinetic is a lightweight, highly breathable pack/race vest with a multitude of pockets. The pack provides easy access to bottles, making it easy to both consume and monitor consumption of liquids. Further, the easy access bottles are easily refilled at checkpoints without the need to remove the pack.

The two 26 oz bottles have finger loops on them and I have to admit to being surprised at just how useful these are. I found that I made use of the finger loops both on long runs, once tiredness had set in, on steeper ascents, when I wanted to hydrate, and also while attempting to retrieve food from pockets and consume it. Utilising the finger loops left me with 2 hands ‘free’ whereas, with a conventional bottle, I would have ended up having to hold it, leaving me with only 1 hand.

The pack itself is highly comfortable and breathable. I tend to sweat a lot and the design of the Kinetic, with its open back, helped to ensure that my back was still able to breathe. Most packs tend to move as a single unit and, after approximately 1/2 mile adjusting and tightening straps to my specifications, I noticed just how different the Kinetic is in that respect. The upper and lower sections of the pack move freely, giving you a far greater range of motion.

The Kinetic has a variety of front and side pockets and a rear stash pocket that sits between the 2 angled bottle holders. While there isn’t a huge capacity to the Kinetic, you should manage to accommodate gels, food, salt tablets, phone and/or GPS unit, headtorch, buff(s) and waterproofs with some considered packing.

One of the excellent features of the pack is the patent pending Magnon Electrolyte Pocket™, a small pocket on the front right strap of the Kinetic that is the perfect size for carrying salt tablets. The pocket opens and closes easily thanks to the use of a small magnet. The magnet closure is utilised again on the rear stash pocket, enabling easy access to the contents of the stash pocket without having to fumble with zips or clips and without having to remove or turn the pack in any way.

Beneath the Magnon Electrolyte Pocket is a small mesh pouch with a drawstring closure mechanism that can accommodate anything up to an additional small bottle. On the left hand side of the pack there is a small mesh pouch and, underneath this, a zipped pouch with an additional outer mesh pocket on the front.

When it comes to fastening, the Kinetic makes use of aluminium ‘speed hooks’ that slot into place. Both the chest harness and waist straps are adjustable. Unlike some bags, I found that, once adjusted, the waist strap remained exactly as set. This is great as there is nothing more irksome than having to constantly reset the tension of a strap. If you are adjusting the chest harness, be careful not to over tighten as this can restrict breathing!

Initially I found both of the aluminium speed hooks to be quite stiff but this is far better than loose hooks that pop out while running and, over the weeks, they have slackened off sufficiently for them to live up to their name as ‘speed hooks’. The speed hook fastening system is great and I far prefer it to Velcro fastening (as used on TNF Enduro 13) and the clip systems of some other packs. Further, I don’t think I have ever managed to set and retain such a perfect tension level/tightness around the waist as I did with the Kinetic.

If there was one single thing that I would change about the pack it is that I would like just a fraction more space in the rear stash pocket. I found that I could stash my lightweight North Face Triumph jacket but not much else. However, with the variety of other pockets, I have been able to accommodate buffs, head torches and food.

The Kinetic is a perfect pack for short to medium length runs and possibly even long runs depending on how much kit you need to carry. It would be an excellent choice for ultras that have regular aid stations/checkpoints that could be used to replenish supplies. In the event that you decide you need greater capacity, UltrAspire do a number of other packs, including the Fastpack, should you wish to stick with bottles rather than a bladder.

For a detailed look at all of the pockets and pack features, I recommend taking a look at the excellentUltrAspire Kinetic Race Vest Review posted by James Wilie on the Trail Runner Nation website.

The Kinetic comes in 3 sizes:

  • Small: fits waist up to 28? – 44? (purple), 417g
  • Medium: fits waist from 30? – 46? (red) 431g
  • Large: fits waist from 32? – 46? (blue) 436

Kinetic by Ultraspire (YouTube)