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Gear Review: Hydration Packs

Posted May 08 2009 9:47am
If you’re in the market for a hydration pack and have a few weeks to think it over, I think I can be a big help to you.

Several weeks ago I was contacted by not one, but two companies to field test their hydration packs, which seemed like a stroke of very good luck. You know the old saying about making lemonade when life gives you lemons? Well … what do you do when life gives you lemonade to start with?

The answer I came up with was that I’d try to collect as much lemonade as I could, and share my good fortune with as many people as possible. So I contacted a few other companies to pitch my idea, and found each of them remarkably supportive.

Consequently, over the next few weeks I’ll be posting reviews of six hydration packs, from six different companies. Here’s the lineup:

CamelBak: Octane XC (sorry, the pack doesn't have it's own page on the CamelBak site)

Inov-8: RacePro 4

GoLite: Rush

Nathan: HPL 020

Ultimate Direction: Wasp

North Face: style TBA (probably this one or this one )

Some of these are established models, and others are newcomers. All of them target a similar demographic: trail runners or adventure seekers who want a lightweight hydration system to fuel their activity, with minimal weight and maximal comfort.

As you’d imagine, there are some similarities between the packs. Each one listed above holds approximately 70 oz of fluid - which is a nice middle ground between carrying 2 or 3 bottles and the bulky 100-oz (or more) beasts that are used by wilderness trekkers. From an ultrarunner’s standpoint, it’s the perfect volume of fluid to allow a few hours of running before refueling - either on a long training day or between aid stations at an ultra. They all have storage areas to carry gear like clothing, food, or cameras, and they have all been strategically designed – in both material and shape – for comfort and convenience of use.

What struck me most about trying these models, though, was the ways they are different. Within the same category of packs, each company has come up with at least one (and in many cases, two or three) element that distinguishes it from its competitors. If you think that every hydration pack is the same, you’re probably in for a big surprise.

My plan is to discuss each pack in a stand-alone post like I typically do with product reviews. They won’t all be in succession, but I’m hoping to crank out two per week in addition to whatever else I’ve got on my mind between now and the end of May. Afterwards, I’ll do a post that compares all of the models together, with some “Best in Category” designations for things like comfort, ease of use, etc. By that time, you’ll have more than enough material to make an informed decision when you’re shopping for packs.

Since some of these are well-established packs, many readers might already be using one of the models I’m reviewing. If that’s the case, I’d love to get your opinion as well. At the end of each post, I’ll ask for feedback from anybody who has used that particular pack; feel free to confirm or disagree with anything I’ve mentioned in the review.

The first review will be up sometime next week – but first, there’s a race report I’ll have to take care of. The Quicksilver 50M is this Saturday in San Jose; if all goes according to plan, it will be the culmination of a 100-mile training week for me (things are definitely getting crazy – but at this time of year, crazy is good). I’ll try to have a race report here early next week, and kickoff the gear review shortly thereafter.
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