Ultimate Direction Jurek Endure Review

The following review was included in Issue 10, Autumn/Winter 2013 of Barefoot Running Magazine.

Waist packs are excellent for holding keys, gels and fluids that would otherwise be cumbersome to carry. The latest offering from Ultimate Direction, the Jurek Endure Hydration Belt, is an excellent minimalist waist pack with space for the bare essentials.

Anyone at all familiar with the ultramarathon scene should be able to immediately identify the man behind the belt, ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek, and it would appear that Jurek’s vast experience has been well tapped to create a quality product where the attention to detail is second to none.

Styling

The Jurek Endure hydration belt is available in black or citron. While I actually do like the citron/lime green colour, the pairing of this with aqua blue just doesn’t work for me as far as colour combinations go and, as such, I opted for the far more sedate grey and black offering. I can see, however, that the brighter option is not without merit as it would likely benefit the wearer in terms of increased visibility.

Fit

The Jurek Endure is so light and free of movement that it’s possible to forget that you are wearing it. Most waist packs that I have tried in the past have suffered from bounce and/or movement of some form, more often than not leading to chaffing. This is not the case with the Endure.

The first time I used the Endure, I adjusted the belt strapping to provide a comfortable but secure fit and I have not had to touch it since. This is largely due to the elasticated holder that serves a dual purpose. It secures any excess strapping, stopping it from flapping about. Further, it ensures that the desired strap positioning is retained. I’ve had packs in the past that have required constant adjustment and it ranks as one of my pet hates, especially when said adjustment has to be done mid race. As such, I think that this is a particularly neat feature.

Another plus point is the left hand side fastening, which ensures that there is no direct pressure on the stomach area, something that helps to avoid digestion issues when running.

Build Quality

The Jurek Endure is constructed from strong, lightweight, highly breathable Hex Mesh. The mesh does not absorb moisture and, at the end of one particularly sweaty run, I was surprised at just how sweat free the pack was, unlike the soaking wet t-shirt and shorts that I was wearing at the time. The pack also makes use of Silnylon, silicone impregnated for ultra lightweight and durable waterproofness, and Velvetex, super comfortable and soft edge binding.

Performance

Typically, waist packs come with a single 5-600ml bottle or two 5-600ml bottles. The Jurek Endure comes with two 10oz/295ml bottles. The reduced bottle size obviously impacts on the volume of fluid that can be carried, thereby impacting on the distances that the pack can be used for. However, the use of 2 smaller bottles spreads the weight evenly, adding to the stability of the pack. Further, the 2 bottle approach opens up fluid options. Typically, I have opted for one bottle for plain water, with the other carrying some form of juice or water with a High 5 tablet added. In terms of volume, I have found the two 295ml bottles to be sufficient for short to medium distances, even on hotter days. However, fluid requirements vary from person to person.

The bottle holders on the Jurek Endure are stiffened at the front, which helps when it comes to retrieving and re-holstering the bottles on the move. An elastic cord helps to ensure that the bottles remain in place. This is fairly easily removed and re applied as and when required and there is a small plastic clip to assist with this. I did find that the plastic clip isn’t always all that easy to grab and, ideally, I would have preferred a larger, cloth based method of pulling the elastic back. This aside, the fastening mechanism works well and I always found the bottles to be secure.

I’ve already mentioned that the belt strapping provides a perfect fit, secured by the elasticated holder. There’s also one further useful addition, two moveable race clips that permit the attachment of a race number to the belt. If, like myself, you hate sticking pins in t-shirts, you will no doubt appreciate this functionality. Further, given that the weather in the UK often necessitates the use of waterproofs, your race number will remain visible. While you might resort to a waterproof jacket on your upper body, covering any number attached to a t-shirt, rarely do you see runners use waterproof trousers.

There is a large, moveable side pocket on the right hand side of the Jurek Endure. This well sized pocket is perfect for carrying gels or energy bars and can be worn on the left side if preferred. It’s also a good fit for an iPhone 5 but, with the addition of a headphone connection, can be fractionally on the tight side, especially if you are prone to taking your phone in and out for the purposes of taking photographs and/or answering texts and phone calls. If I have one criticism of the pocket, it is that the zip placement, on the top of the pocket, occasionally results in the pocket moving rather than the zip opening, necessitating a two handed approach to retrieve the contents of the pocket.

There’s a stretch mesh pocket on the rear, located between the two bottles, that is fastened with a small Velcro strip. As with the bottles, an elastic cord can be used to help secure any items placed in here. There’s not a huge amount of space in the pocket but you can, for example, squeeze in a buff and a pair of thin gloves at a push. Alternatively, it will hold a few gels and/or energy bars. It’s also possible to secure items on top of the pocket, such as a lightweight jacket, using the elastic cord. I am always concerned that anything positioned here disappears without my noticing and, as such, I always try to somehow clip the item on to the pack.

Safety reflectors positioned on the rear of the waist pack serve to increase your visibility to traffic.

Price

£34.98

Overall Rating

The Jurek Endure from Ultimate Direction is my new go-to waist pack for short to medium distance runs and supported long runs where there is no compulsory kit requirement. It’s the perfect pack for those who like to travel light and its limited capacity ensures that you are never going to over pack for your run.

Granted there are a couple of minor adjustments that I would like to see to make the Jurek Endure truly perfect. However, it does come close to perfection, especially with regard to the lack of bounce and the fastening mechanism that ensures it stays exactly in place.

“Ounce per ounce, the Jurek Endure belt does more than any other waist pack. Scott wanted twin bottles because they balance the load, and you can use one for water and the other for your sports drink mix. One can quickly stash a windshell, gloves, and even a hat into the stretch mesh pocket and innovative bungee system, and the movable front pocket allows you to whip out a bar gel without breaking stride. Hydration products should be at your finger tips when you need them but they should just provide you with the bare essentials and the Jurek Collection from Ultimate Direction really does that.” Scott Jurek

Specifications

  • Fluid capacity: Comes with 2 * 10 oz. bottles
  • Weight: 163g / 6 oz (8.5 oz with bottles)
  • Pocket Size: 16.5 x 7.6 cm / 6.5 x 3 in
  • Pouch Size: 10.2 x 10.2 cm / 4 x 4 in
  • Bottle holsters are stiffened with lightweight foam for quick access
  • Front pocket is sweat resistant and moveable, with foam backing
  • 3/4 in. waist webbing with stretch panel
  • Movable Race Bib clips
  • Adjustable buckle fits: 26 – 44 in. / 66 – 112 cm

The Ultimate Direction Jurek Endure Waist Hydration Belt is available from the http://www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com/

Columbia OMNI Freeze Review

The human body uses sweat to let heat escape from the body and, in doing so, attempts to prevent us from overheating. Sweating can range from the effective ‘glow of perspiration’ to the ‘dripping’ stage, where the body is battling to control its temperature. Unfortunately, as one of life’s larger runners, I tend to find myself at the dripping end of the scale more often than not. It’s not a comfortable place to be, especially when exerting yourself for any length of time. I’m sure many of you will have experienced that really uncomfortable moment when you put a rucksack back on to an already sweaty back. Clothing manufacturers have attempted to address the problem, with varying degrees of success, by producing clothing that wicks the sweat away from the body. Most manufacturers have adopted the same approach, viewing sweat as a problem, something that needs to be removed. Columbia have turned this approach on it’s head with their range of Omni-Freeze Zero products, t-shirts, shorts, and accessories that actually seek to put your sweat back to work. When I first heard about this, I will admit to being sceptical but I was fortunate enough to receive an Omni-Freeze Zero t-shirt to test and, I have to admit, by the end of testing I was suitably impressed.

The Technology

Omni-Freeze Zero technology is intended for running and other fast paced activities. The tshirt material contains visible blue rings of cooling polymer and it is these rings that create the cooling effect. When exposed to moisture, the rings swell, letting air pass around you as if you had goosebumps, resulting in the cooling sensation. Given that my tshirt was the same blue colour, I hadn’t actually noticed the composition of the fabric but, as my run progressed, I could see more and more of the rings contained in the fabric. When you stop sweating, the material soon dries, and the cooling effect stops. As such, you should never find yourself getting too cold. Columbia are so confident of their product that they believe it’s cooler to wear an Omni-Freeze Zero top than taking your top off entirely. According to Columbia, the cooling effects will last for the life of the garment.

The Test

Scotland has actually seen some consistently hot weather for the first time in years (to the point that people were actually starting to complain about the heat – what’s that about!) It gave me the perfect opportunity to try out the Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero tshirt. Not only did I test it out and about on the roads and trails. I put it to the ultimate test, running on a treadmill at midday in the sun-trap conservatory at the back of our house where the temperature hit 30C!. I’ve never been a fan of running in the heat, largely due to my bulk, but this year I was determined to do something to address this, and I was taking the Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero shirt along for the ride! The tshirt offers UPF50 sun protection, is antibacterial, and has ergonomic seams, for comfort on the move. I found it to be form fitting, not as loose as I would normally wear my tshirts but, thankfully, not overly tight as required by some wicking garments for full functionality. So, how did it fare? Well, I actually felt nothing, but in a good way, if that makes any sense at all! I end up pretty sweaty at the best of times, with my tshirt clinging uncomfortably to me, and that’s in normal temperatures, not the summer temperatures experienced these past few weeks. However, when wearing the Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero tshirt, I found that my upper torso was some kind of neutral zone – I was never too hot or too cold. I just didn’t have to give any thought to my temperature, leaving me to focus my attention on the run in hand. What was surprising was the extent of how wet the tshirt was by the end of my exercise, and, perhaps more surprising, that I hadn’t noticed this whilst wearing it. Going by the success of my experiment, it’s definitely time to invest in some more of the Omni-Freeze Zero tshirts. I’m also keen to try the Omni-Freeze Zero bandana. If it’s anywhere near as effective at cooling as the tshirt, it will soon replace my standard Buffs as my favoured headgear for running. Update 26th August 2013: Given the success of the aforementioned testing, I packed the Columbia OMNI Freeze for a holiday in the Scottish Cairngorms, where I knew I would be doing a fair bit of running. The weather overall wasn’t too bad for August and certainly far better than I have experienced in the past at that time of year. However, there were a few days with some significant wind, especially as my runs took me higher up into the mountains. Two days in particular stand out, where I was being blown left, right and centre by the wind, to the point of making little headway. However, the Columbia OMNI Freeze kept me from feeling the worst of the chill, despite being soaked in sweat from my exertions. Again, very impressed and glad to have packed the OMNI Freeze for runs up into the mountains. RRP: £35

Specification:

  • Weight: 135g (men’s medium)
  • Fabric: Omni-Shade, Omni-Freeze ZERO, Omni-Wick 92% polyester/8% elastane ZERO jersey
  • Sizes Available: S-XXL
  • Colours: Wham (green), Black, White, Hyper Blue

Stockists

Columbia – Trying stuff since 1938: Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero Explanation: There’s also a ‘slightly’ tongue in cheek video to promote the Omni Freeze Range:

The North Face Ultra Guide Review

The North Face ultra-running team is a veritable who’s who of endurance running, including Jez Bragg, Sébastien Chaigneau, Lizzy Hawker, Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, Dean Karnazes, Nikki Kimball, Hal Koerner, Kami Semick, Diane Van Deren, Michael Wardian, Mike Wolfe and, as of January 2013, man of the moment Timothy Olson, who again won the Western States 100 (15:17:27), his second consecutive Western States 100 win and even more impressive when you consider that he won in temperatures of around 102F/28.9C!

Given the aforementioned roster of athletes, the huge foothold that The North Face has in the outdoor clothing and accessories market, and their continued support of high profile events like UTMB, UTMF and the San Fran 50 (to name a few), you don’t actually see that many pairs of The North Face running shoes on the start line of events. However, given the latest TNF product, this may all be about to change.

Despite The North Face accounting for around 50% of the gear in my wardrobe, I have to admit that this was my first pair of TNF running shoes. I doubt, however, that it will be my last.

I’ve been fortunate to review some excellent shoes of late and The North Face Ultra Guide easily falls into this category. The Ultra Guide can best be described as a luxurious, well cushioned running shoe, with ample room in a toebox that has been constructed to accommodate potential feet swell, making them perfect of ultramarathons and other endurance events.

After just a couple of 10 mile runs to break the shoes in, I put them to the test in a 33 mile event on a wet and miserable day. Despite the inclement weather, I finished blister free and with my feet in good condition, all the more surprising given the lack of training in the build up to the event thanks to a new addition to the family!

Considering the weight of the shoe (544 g for a pair of mens size 9), they pack a considerable amount of cushioning. I had to laugh at the comment from the ultra168.com review of The North Face Ultra Guide:

“I immediately felt the huge amount of cushioning North Face have crammed into this shoe. If I was blindfolded I would have sworn I was in a pair of Hoka’s. The expected rocky feel under foot was totally lacking, all I had to remind me I was on trail was the slight roll I felt when I got a little out of shape on loose rocks at speed.” (ultra168.com)

The cushioning certainly makes for a comfortable run and provides more than adequate protection from the terrain underfoot. What’s more, you never actually feel like you are being artificially ‘sprung’. Instead, I can only describe it as a feeling of comfort.

“For comfort and support on the trail, lace up The North Face® Men’s Ultra Guide off-road running shoe. This hard-working, hard-wearing shoe is built to give athletes the sturdy protection they require on tough runs and races. Incorporates abrasion-resistant mesh uppers and Snake Plate™ technology to protect the forefoot. Tenacious™ Grip rubber outsoles deliver a sticky grip on slick or uneven terrain. Support comes from the advanced Cradle Guide™ system that cushions the forefoot on impact and promotes natural movement from stride to stride, plus Northotic footbed and metatarsal fit systems. Engineered in a lightweight, streamlined package that belies its sturdy construction, The North Face® Men’s Ultra Guide shoe keeps athletes moving on the trail.”

The Ultra Guide handle the crossover from road to trail well, providing a perfect shoe for multi terrain events, as was the case with my 33 mile ultra, and/or for those of us who need to pound the pavement before reaching the confines of the forest. The well spaced, multi-directional lugs provide excellent grip which would best be described as ‘aggressive’, allowing the shoe to deal with rocky, rooty terrain with ease, and yet they are not as protruding as to be obvious once back on tarmac.

Aesthetically, the shoe has been described as having a ‘retro’ feel by some reviewers. I would certainly agree that the red colour scheme that I was testing had a fairly traditional look to it but, if anything, this is the kind of look that I have come to expect from TNF product. The blue/yellow colour scheme does have a slighty more modern look to it.

Despite throwing everything at the shoe over the past few months, the robust uppers look as fresh as the day they left the box. The sole is finally showing signs of wear around the gel box area in the heel but, certainly at this point, this appears to be cosmetic more than anything.

The Ultra Guides are staying firmly in my running shoe rotation. Having tested them in all conditions, I have yet to find a situation where they do not perform.

I will be really surprised if this year’s offerings don’t do something to increase the number of ultra runners wearing TNF running shoes and, from the sneak peak of what’s to come in 2014, as revealed at the 2013 Outdoor Retailer trade show that took place recently in Salt Lake City, Utah, The North Face are continuing their efforts to further increase their presence in this growing market.

On show were:

  • ‘The North Face Ultra Trail’, a lightweight, flexible trail runner with 8mm heel-toe offset, a full-length, low profile Vibram outsole, and a wider forefoot geometry to accommodate foot splay and swelling.
  • The North Face Ultra Smooth, a hybrid shoe built for running on roads and smooth trails, with 8mm heel-toe offset, and a combination Vibram/EVA outsole. Perfect for those of us who are not in a position to step straight on to the trail.

Expect to see a far greater presence from The North Face on a start line near you!

The North Face Ultra Guide, RRP £110.00

Technology:

Cradle Guide: Midsole technology engineered to naturally absorb impact, stabilize the foot and promote a biomechanically correct stride to achieve the perfect balance of stability, cushioning and comfort.

Snake Plate™

“The patent-pending Snake Plate™ consists of a forefoot plate that winds back and forth between the medial and lateral sides of the foot. Because it is not one solid element, it is not as uncompromisingly rigid from side to side and front to back. The result is a forefoot plate that allows the foot to do what it is physiologically designed to do: flex, bend, and contort to changing terrain. At the same time, the Snake Plate™ delivers rigidity where and when it is still needed. The thickness, composition and size of the Snake Plate™ vary from style to style as appropriate. For example, a thicker, more rigid Snake Plate™ addresses the technical, ever-changing demands of a mountain run. A thinner, more flexible Snake Plate™ reconciles flexibility with a decreased demand for protection while on smoother dirt paths.”

Tenacious™ Grip

“Tenacious ™ Grip: a high-abrasion sticky rubber designed for maximum off-trail traction, that will also withstand the rigors of rough off-trail surfaces.”

Unleashed Performance™

“A neutral design construction that allows a natural stride turnover, Unleashed Performance™ category footwear is geared toward the more mechanically sound runner.”

Cradle™ Guide

“The North Face Cradle Guide™ technology offers full Phase Impact Control, a system that guides the foot through all 3 stances of the gait cycle, impact, mid foot and Toe-off. This system is engineered to provide the perfect combination of cushioning, stability and protection for any foot on any terrain, letting the hiker or runner move swiftly and lightly over backcountry trails.”

(Information from http://uk.thenorthface.com/tnf-uk-en/men-s-ultra-guide-shoes-2.html)

Features Include

  • Neutral design ideal for mechanically sound runners

Upper:

  • Tongue scree collar
  • Abrasion-resistant, tight-weave mesh
  • TPU-welded midfoot support
  • C-Delta metatarsal fit system
  • Perforated EVA Northotic™ footbed

Bottom:

  • Dual-compression, EVA CRADLE GUIDE™ midsole platform
  • 16mm/8mm heel/forefoot EVA heights from center line
  • TPU Snake Plate™ forefoot protection
  • Tenacious™ Grip sticky rubber outsole

Product Specifications

  • Style: A4UM
  • Approx Weight: (based on Men’s 9)
    • ½ pair: 9.6 oz (272 g)
    • pair: 1 lb 3 oz (544 g)

Montane Minimus Waterproof Jacket Review

After a couple of years of constant use, my The North Face Triumph waterproof jacket started to show signs of wear and tear. Hardly surprising given the usage and the friction from various running backpacks and waist packs. It was my first experience of a truly breathable waterproof jacket, a jacket that didn’t leave me cooking in my own sweat and, as such, any replacement would have to be carefully selected.

So what do I look for in a waterproof?

  • Performance fit (I don’t want excess material getting in the way and/or ‘rustling’ with each movement, but, at the same time, I don’t want an overly tight, restrictive fit)
  • Waterproof (Obviously!)
  • breathable (The more breathable the better)
  • Windproof (Ideally)
  • Reasonably priced

From searching the forums, one obvious contender was identified – the Montane Minimus, highly regarded by ultra runners and, from the sound of things, a replacement that would at least match the Triumph in terms of performance.

The Montane Minimus jacket weighs in at just 215g (Size Medium) and offers a ‘revolutionary combination of performance, weight and breathability’. The PERTEX® Shield + fabric delivers exceptional breathability levels and performance characteristics.

As with many of Montane’s lightweight garments, when not in use, the Minimus packs down to the size of a large apple.

I have had the Minimus for approximately 1 month now and have put it to use on both walks and runs, including some sub zero runs in Cairngorm snowstorms. The protection from the elements is excellent, even in the aforementioned Cairngorm conditions. Further, the Minimus allows heat and moisture to escape, preventing overheating.

The hood, with its wired peak and three point adjustment, provides a comfortable fit and protects well from the elements. When not in use, the hood rolls up and is easily secured, preventing it from bouncing around.

One definite advantage over the Triumph is the inclusion of Velcro cuffs. I often like to roll up the sleeves of my waterproof and, with the Triumph, the elasticated cuffs meant that there was little control over this. Further, there were times when this felt uncomfortable and overly tight. The Velcro cuffs of the Minimus provide a greater degree of control and let you set the preferred level of tightness.

The Minimus has a mesh ventilated, map sized zippered chest pocket. I threw a pair of sunglasses into the pocket only to see them disappear down into the depths of the pocket. I have also securely stored an iPhone in the pocket and was surprised at just how little bounce there was from items held in there.

The Minimus is available in a number of colours but my preferred Vivid green with Alpine red zips colour combination guarantees that I will be easily spotted on the hill!

My only gripe with the jacket is that the front zip has proven to be quite difficult to fasten at times (Turns out I had a faulty zip, no issues at all with the replacement jacket).

So, overall, highly impressed with the Minimus and looking forward to using it when conditions dictate whilst out running and as an easily packable lightweight waterproof when out walking.

There’s also word of a forthcoming new Montane Minimus Smock. (More information on www.outdoorsmagic.com)

  • Mountain Hood: Fully adjustable helmet compatible mountain hood
  • Wired Peak: Fully stiffened wired peak for extra protection from downpour, improving visibility
  • Three Point Adjustment: Drawcord adjustment to the rear of the head and two points at the front allow volume reduction to suit
  • Zip Pull: Easy grab zip pulls
  • Face Aperture: Single hand adjustable elasticated face aperture
  • Front Zip: Full length YKK Aqua Guard water resistant front zip
  • Articulated Arms: Articulated arms for reach high movement and tailored specifically to reduce hem lift
  • Internal Storm Flap: Extra storm protection behind centre front zip with rain drain
  • Cuffs: Adjustable cuffs with grab tabs for ease of use with gloves or mitts
  • Adjustable Hem: Adjustable hem to prevent weather entry and heat loss
  • Fabric: Pertex Shield. Exceptionally high fabric breathability with an MVTR of 25,000g/m2/24 hours and a 20,000mm hydrostatic head
  • Internal D-Ring: Internal D-Ring inside pocket for secure key storage
  • Dusk Till Dawn: 360° ‘Dusk Till Dawn’ reflectivity
  • Chest Pocket: Mesh ventilated, map sized zippered chest pocket
  • Seams: Micro-taped seams throughout to increase breathable surface area
  • Montane Stuff Sac: Stuff sac perfect for storage on the move when not in use

Dirty Girl Gaiters Review

I first noticed Dirty Girl Gaiters a couple of years back at one of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series events. I was intrigued by the brightly coloured gaiters and sparked up a conversation with the wearer, creating a lasting friendship.

Back then, I believe they were imported directly from the USA but they are now available at www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com who stock an ever expanding range of the Dirty Girl Gaiters, featuring everything from plain colours through to neon effects, psychedelics and even a variety of camouflage effects.

I didn’t need asking twice when offered a chance to review the gaiters and selected the camouflage Urban Decay gaiters.

If you have never tried running with gaiters, it’s definitely something that I would recommend. There’s nothing worse than trail debris ending up in your shoes, especially if the end result is increased potential for hotspots and blisters. Blisters aside, grit or stones rattling about in your shoes can be distracting if nothing else.

Over the past 3 years I have used Raidlight and Inov8 gaiters to great effect, keeping the trail out of my shoes.

However, both have a common point of failure. The Inov8 gaiter uses elastic to pass under the shoes while the Raidlight offering makes use of a leather strap. It’s only to be expected that, with the constant pounding, these contact points with the trail will eventually degrade and snap. Don’t get me wrong. I did get a good long life with both gaiters before the contact points went but sods law dictates that any equipment failure always occurs miles from anywhere and, more often than not, during an actual event.

Another consideration is the ease of getting these gaiters on and off. Not so difficult first thing in the morning before you set out on your run. All kinds of difficult after a 50+ mile event when your legs don’t want to bend, thereby making removal of the strap underneath your feet all the more troublesome!

Finally, in some conditions I found that the thick leather strap employed in the RaidLight gaiters appeared to impact significantly on my grip with the terrain underfoot, causing me to slip out, most noticeably mid-race on a very muddy Conic Hill, with almost disastrous consequences.

So, back to Dirty Girl Gaiters. They have an altogether different approach.

The gaiters are made from a breathable fabric that has 4-way stretch. There is no point of contact with the ground. Instead, the gaiter is secured by way of a small patch of Velcro stuck to the back of your shoes, and by way of a small hook at the front of the gaiter that securely attaches to your laces. This also means that there is nothing underfoot to snag on rocks, roots etc, or to impede your grip on a muddy Conic Hill!

While the hook at the front of the laces can still be awkward to remove at the end of a long days running, the Velcro fastening is quickly and easily removed – far less hassle than trying to fish potentially mud covered fastenings from underneath your shoe.

(Keith from www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com suggests the following: “I’d suggest just getting a butter knife and bending the hook of your DGGs upwards to create more of a gap. You should have zero difficulty getting your hook on/off your laces and I suspect the gap is just a little small and that because of it you had trouble getting it unhooked.“)

All the necessary bits come supplied. If I was to suggest one minor modification it would be that, instead of a Velcro strip, they just provide small Velcro dots or circles which would most likely look much neater on the trainers. That’s something that is easily remedied however, as these can be obtained fairly easily.

I did try initially without attaching any Velcro but the back of the gaiter did ride up over the duration of the run, reducing the level of debris protection. Once attached, the Velcro ensures that the gaiters stay firmly in place. However, if you read the instructions, you will see that they suggest attaching the Velcro to clean shoes and approximately 24 hours before you actually use them. Having successfully ignored both of those suggestions on the first use, I managed to remove both sides of the Velcro when removing the gaiters at the end of the run. Rest assured, with proper preparation and forethought, the Velcro does stay in place!

Dirty Girl Gaiters are simple, lightweight, machine washable, and with a style to match every personality and, despite the name, they are definitely not just for girls! Just be careful if you ever do a Google search, you might get more than you bargained for.

RRP approx. £15 – £19 depending on selected gaiter.

There’s even a video outlining how to attach Dirty Girl Gaiters to Vibram Five Fingers.

Salomon Soft Flask Review

Having had the chance to test out the new Salomon Soft Flasks, I have to say, I am well impressed. I used these in combination with the bladder of my Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set 2013 Backpack and the 237ml flasks fitted perfectly into the 2 front pockets without any problems. I reckon I could easily fit the 500ml flasks in there if I wanted and it’s something that I might just do once they arrive in stock at www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com.

The flasks are really easy to use, with a bite valve that takes just a little pressure to release the fluid (or gel) contained within the flask.

One of the best things about the flasks is the size they compact to when empty. Once drained, the flask ends up comprising of little more than the bite valve with the flask sucked neatly underneath it. Given the almost non existent presence of the flasks, I can see myself carrying a spare on hot days, in the later stages of ultras and/or on longer stage races. If I find that I need to carry more fluid than anticipated I can then easily fill up the spare flask at a checkpoint, facilitating the carrying of extra fluids but without the hassle that carrying an extra bottle would entail. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that I just wouldn’t carry an extra bottle, it would be too much extra weight to carry just on the off chance that I might need it.

My only concern would be with regard to the durability of the flasks. Not for any quality reasons. The flasks do feel like a quality product. However, when compared to traditional plastic bottles, the flasks were always going to feel flimsy. I would be interested to see how a flask would cope with being dropped for example but, having just bought them, I’m understandably not too keen to see if that does have a detrimental impact!

“The Salomon soft flask manufactured by Hydrapak are flexible so compress as you drink to eliminate water bouncing/sloshing inside and reduce sucking effort. Easy to squeeze – with bite valve. Carry this soft water/gel flask in your hand, shorts pocket or race vest pouch. Carry gels, water, electrolytes and other fluids such as milkshake.. The compact / space-saving and lightweight solution to carrying your hydration/electrolyte/nutrition fluids.”

Note Added 26th April 2013:
One point to add to the above review. Having run while holding the flask, I have found that the liquid contained within soon heats up thanks to the transfer of heat from the hands. I haven’t used the Salomon Sense Hydro S-LAB Set but would assume that this may also prove to be an issue with the glove.

Features

  • Bite valve
  • Flexible / squeezable
  • Compresses as you drink reducing volume and reducing sloshing
  • Fill level indicaters
  • Easy to fill and clean
  • PVC, Phthalate, Bisphenol-A free

Specifications

Dimensions

  • Soft Flask 237mL/8oz: 19 x 7 x 3.8cm

Weight

  • Soft Flask 237mL/8oz: approx. 25g

Links (Ultramarathon Running Store)

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.

Osprey Talon 4 Review

I have noticed the Osprey Talon 4 before but, in all honesty, just thought it looked over-sized. However, one of my running friends, Colin Knox (http://colinknox.blogspot.co.uk/), has been using the Talon 4 for a few years now and, at the recent Cateran Trail Ultramarathon, there were at least 4 or 5 of these on the go in the small field of 70 runners.

My review of the Osprey Talon 4 waist pack is long overdue as I have now had the chance to run in a variety of situations with the pack. I have taken it out for longer runs in the Cairngorms and also on a number of shorter training runs. Given my success with the Talon 4, it is likely that I will run at least part, if not all, of the forthcoming 95 mile West Highland Way Race with the pack.

I have been searching for over a year now to find the ‘perfect pack’, one that will cover all eventualities, from a shorter 1 to 2 hour run, through to a full ultramarathon (with checkpoints/aid stations). The Osprey Talon 4 appears to tick all of the boxes.

“This active lumbar pack features an innovative hip compression system that also secures water bottles. StraightJacket style compression keeps the pack stable during dynamic movement.”

http://www.ospreypacks.com/en/product/multi-use/talon_4

  • Horizontal StraightJacket style compression
  • HDPE reinforced bottle sleeves with bungee and compression
  • Dual hipbelt pockets
  • Internal mesh pocket
  • Front zippered pocket
  • 2-20 oz. sport bottles
  • AirScape backpanel with ridge molded foam and air chimneys
  • BioStretch™ built-in hipbelt
  • Reflective prints

With 2 bottle holders that can accommodate both the provided Osprey bottles or your own choice of bottles, the Talon 4 is capable of carrying sufficient fluid for longer runs. Generally I discard provided bottles in favour of my preferred Camelbak bottles. However, the Osprey bottles are good quality and leak free, something that is so often overlooked in many waistpacks and backpacks.

The bottles are easily accessible on the move thanks to the angled bottle holders and can be firmly anchored in place thanks to some clever restraining straps.

The Talon 4 does not suffer from the bounce that is so common amongst other packs and, especially of packs with dual bottles. I can only assume that the clever construction of the pack, with the main storage area sandwiched between the 2 bottle holders is responsible for this. Further, there are a number of refinement staps that let you fine tune the fit and all but eliminate bottle bounce.

In terms of storage, there are zippered pockets at each side which can easily take gels, bars, keys, even an iPhone (although it can be a snug fit with a headphone cord in place). There are two spacious larger pockets sandwiched between the 2 bottle holders. Each of the pockets contains a small loop which makes for easy opening and closing whilst on the move. I generally carry pretty lightweight gear and, as a result, I have no problem packing in a waterproof (North Face Triumph), space blanket (best to be prepared) and a buff or two. To be honest, I have yet to have the need to pack it to the limits but, if at all, this will likely happen at the forthcoming West Highland Way Race.

Summary

The biggest shock as far as I was concerned was with regard to the pack stability. Given the size of the pack, I had expected at least an element of bounce but was pleased to find that this was not the case.

The single problem that I did have was on the inaugural run. I did not move the excess strapping to the side of the pack and, as a result, the motion resulted in a slight chaffing between my t-shirt and the belt loops. Having learnt this lesson, I now pull the excess strapping to the side and, thankfully, have had no repeat of this issue.

To conclude, I can see this pack getting a lot of use and, especially as the temperatures soar, it will be good to keep the back free of a backpack. Given the generous pack space of the Talon 4 I should be able to accommodate everything that I need both in terms of training and actual ultramarathons that I would previously have carried in a backpack.

I am glad that I finally gave the Talon 4 the chance it deserved.

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)