I was in need of a more proficient way to carry hydration for an upcoming trail race, Superior Spring 25k, after learning my lesson running Zumbro in 2017. For Zumbro, a challenging 17-mile trail race, I had an 8oz handheld flask. While it was great to have hydration on me while going through the race, there were plenty of aid stations along the way and it made it difficult to take in nutrition with only 1 hand. I was able to skip a couple aid stations because I had water, but then I had to stop and fill my flask for a couple of the other ones, which ended up costing me time in the end. I read an interview from one of the winners and his mention of carrying water really resonated with me. Even the person I ran with for most of the race had a Camelbak and she would get pretty far ahead at each aid station and I’d have to hustle quite a bit to catch back up. I knew if I was going to run Zumbro again, or another similar race, that I’d need to get a hydration vest or belt of some kind to maximize my performance and time.
It didn’t take long for me to find that next race, as I was one of the lucky ones who were chosen in the lottery for the Superior Spring Trail Races in Lutsen, MN on May 19th. The 25k (15.5 miles) is on the rugged Superior Hiking Trail and the course is an out-and-back with only one aid station at the turn around. There was no way I could get through this one without something better than my little flask, so I started my search. I talked to other runners, one of the benefits of group runs, and tried to get as many personal experiences, opinions, etc. on how they felt about the various options. I also read some reviews online and hit up the local experts at 605 Running Company.
I ended up leaning back on my go-to brand for running hydration, Nathan®. Not only do they make great water bottles, running hydration, and other running accessories, having my name on the product makes everything personalized! I was leaning between a couple different options, (cheap vs. expensive) and emailed Greg about my choices to get his opinion. He said he was getting in the VaporKrar 4L, and so I figured I’d go all out with my choice and get it.
I typically don’t run with water when training unless I’m brining my GoPro, which I carry in my little handheld 8oz flask pocket. I just don’t put in that may long runs where I need it these days. But, with 15.5 miles and 2300+ feet of elevation change, I knew I was going to need to put in some long runs and try and prepare the best I could for the race.
When I first put it on without any water in it, I could barely tell I was wearing anything. I played around with the configuration of straps (two front buckle and two side sliding) until I got a good feel for it. It comes with two 12oz flasks which would be enough for me, as I don’t typically run longer than 15 miles. I do tend to drink a lot when available so I figured this would work out perfect. There are also a couple pockets on the outsides of the flasks, and two zipper pockets further up on the upper chest. There are a couple pockets on the sides, but I found those hard to use with the adjustment straps going over them. In the back, there is no bladder, but one can be purchased and the magnet attachment for the nozzle comes with it already. The large stash area in the rear is a great place to put a light rain/wind layer and there are is a lower stash pocket too, so you can spread out the weight a bit of anything else you may carry like gloves or a hat.
I hit up my favorite trails in Sioux Falls out at Great Bear when running with the vest for the first time. It was a warm day so I filled up both flasks full and headed out on the trails. It took me a little while to get used to the vest as it was very different than running without anything, which is what I was used to. I had to adjust the straps a bit and quickly found that I couldn’t get the vest as tight as I wanted, because then I couldn’t breathe. My lower chest expands quite a bit as I inhale and so I adjusted everything so I could fulling inhale. This did create some bounce but nothing that was too bad. I found that the top buckle strap needed to be tightened further than it was able, for the vest to be tight on my chest, but allow myself to get a full inhale while not bouncing. I bought a medium and in hindsight, should have probably picked up a small (or at least tried one on). I actually remember reading someone stating the same issue in a review I read, so it seems I’m not the only one that would like the top strap to be able to get tighter. I’d recommend trying on the vest, with filled flasks, to make sure you can run comfortably with the vest with minimal bounce (also a suggestion I read online about hydration vests in general & something the good folks at 605 Running Company would allow you to do.)
Through the Great Bear training run, a couple others, and the 25k race, the vest held up great and the two flasks are easy to drink from. I even carried my GoPro during the race in one of the pockets along with 2 gel packets and 2 Hot Shot bottles. I ended up drinking all my Skratch in both flasks, both gels, and one of my Hot Shots. I didn’t have to stop once to drink or grab anything and didn’t have any chafing. As the flasks get drank, I found that adjusting the side straps helped to keep the vest at an optimal fit. I probably won’t use the vest much for reasons stated earlier, but I know I have a go to hydration vest that will work great for any extended running, hiking, or biking that I’ll be doing.
Nathan Schwab is the President of the Sioux Falls Area Running Club and Race Director for the Trail Race Series. He also is a full time Personal Banker & Financial Representative at First Bank & Trust in Sioux Falls. When Nathan isn’t running or working he enjoys spending quality time with family.