So…When I started running the trails it became apparent that I needed a hydration system beyond a two-sip belt. I went to my local Runners Depot, where they had one vest and one vest only: the CamelBak Dart. When I first tried it on, I had nothing to compare it to. My first thought was “gee it’s great to have water.” Previously I was having to ration whenever water I could hold.
However, I quickly realized that this pack bounced like a black girls booty. The front strap needed to be tight or else the pack would fall off. There really wasn’t any room for storage. On the plus side, the bite style mouthpiece was easy to use, as it didn’t require opening. The hose length was the proper size to not be burdensome, and the clip on the shoulder strap positioned it perfectly to be out of the way.
I was not satisfied with how much the pack moved and sought an upgrade. I saw the Salomon S-Lab packs had very high ratings, but that came with a cost. I figured that all higher end packs would be similar. Upon recommendation and a few hours of research, I opted to try the UltrAspire Alphpa 2.0, the lightest pack on the market in relation to how much water it could hold.
It felt extremely light when I first tried it on. It was significantly better designed than the CamelBak. The two big front pockets allowed me to carry a separate bottle with my Tailwind, and my phone or a normal water bottle on the run. The soft flask (bought separately) with it’s long straw, was weird to drink out of on the run, as it did not reach my mouth. The tube from the bladder was too long. You could throw it over your shoulder like a continental soldier and then still have too much to deal with. The valve required opening and then water would flow freely, not an optimal design, but it was better than the Nathan bladders I have tried, which didn’t allow me to get a strong enough flow. The same was true with the flask, you had to open and close the mouth-piece, which was very difficult. Liquid would pour out if it was not properly closed.
The bladder that comes with the pack is 2L, yet when filling it all the way, half of it sticks out of the pack. I would not say that this “holds 2L.” Technically I can hold the bladder without the pack… When I first put the pack on with a full bladder, it didn’t bounce much, but the front straps needed to be as tight as possible to minimize movement. Once I started drinking water though, it felt like I had one of those water tube toys, supersized, on my back. Lets just say it was a constant effort to adjust straps to minimize movement, which on the run is a waste on energy that I didn’t have to begin with. My shoulders hurt after long runs. I had faith that something better might exist.
I decided to give the Salomon S-Lab 5 Set a try. No local stores carried this pack, so I ordered online. The bladder was sold separately, but it did come with 2 soft flasks.
Alas, I have found a hydration solution to my satisfaction. In this case, you get what you pay for. Unlike the other packs, this vest fits tight. The straps are really just to keep it closed, vs. necessary to tighten in order to minimize the bladder bouncing. The bladder pocket is a tight fit, therefore, as you drink, it remains secure. The pack comes with an insulated sleeve to house the bladder, keeping water cold significantly longer than the UltrAspire. There are tons of different pockets. My shoulders felt great after my test run. The 2 soft flasks are extremely easy to drink out of, there is no opening and closing. The bladder and the flasks have a bite to drink from nipple.
Negatives: there are no instructions for how to wear this vest. How to insert the hose through the vest is not intuitive. The weird bending hose attachment is a pain to get on and off. A small piece cracked when I was figuring out how it worked. Instead, they should have just positioned the place to inset the hose vertically, removing the need for that attachment. The hose length is not ideal, I have no idea where to put it, but it is still better than the UltrAspire in my opinion. I am not flexible enough to reach the side zipper pockets easily, but it is possible. Same goes for the back elastic pouch pocket.
Overall though, the Salomon S-Lab 5 set is the only hydration system I would recommend at this point.