Gear test: Hydration systems
By Rob Colenso Jr. - Staff writer
When the mercury is nearing the triple-digit mark, training for your next physical fitness test isnít as simple as just lacing up your running shoes. Forget your fluids and youíre a dehydration case waiting to happen.
You can stash water bottles along your route (hassle ó no thanks), borrow your neighborís garden hose (hope that dog doesnít bite) or just suck it up and carry your water with you.
How much water to bring and how to transport it are largely a matter of distance and personal preference. If youíre planning a short run of less than an hour, you can probably get by with a 20-ounce bottle. If youíre logging big miles for an upcoming race, you need more water, along with some electrolytes and carbs. Keep in mind that hydration guidelines call for replacing as much fluid as you lose due to sweating.
Hydration gear generally falls into one of five categories: hand-held bottles, bottle belts, fuel belts, reservoir systems and backpacks. We tested systems from each category during the spring racing season and summer marathon training cycle to help you find the best system to fit your needs.
Ultimate Direction Wasp
Capacity: 64 ounces
What we liked: This low-profile pack sits high on the back, putting the weight of all that water in a good position. Its light weight (21 ounces) and streamlined shape would pass muster with all but the most weight- and aerodynamics-conscious cyclists, while hikers will appreciate the 390 cubic inches of cargo space and external trekking-pole loops. Our favorite feature was the multiple pockets on the front harness, which offered quick access to energy gels while on the move. For most, 64 ounces of water should be enough for a three- to four-hour run.
What we didnít: While the drinking tube and bite valve worked well, the roll-top internal water bladder isnít as easy to fill as the screw-cap reservoirs available in other systems (though the wide-mouth opening makes cleaning a snap).
Best for: Long-distance trail runners who need plenty of water ó and plenty of room for gear ó for a day in the back country.
Price, info: $75. http://www.ultimatedirection.com
Ultimate Direction Access Groove
Style: Bottle belt
Capacity: 20 ounces
What we liked: Ultimate Directionís ďkicker valveĒ brings the ease of a bite valve to a bottle. You simply pull the valve up with your teeth or fingers, bite the valve and squeeze the bottle. You then push the valve to one side and it automatically retracts to its leak-proof closed position. The media-player pocket opposite the bottle is ideal for a full-sized iPod (or a cell phone like the Motorola RAZR). The reinforced rim of the bottle pouch holds its shape well, making it easy to get the bottle in and out on the run.
What we didnít: While the media-player pocket is great for the regular iPod, itís too roomy for smaller players like the iPod Nano and others; they donít fall out, but tend to bounce around inside the pocket.
Best for: Runners who canít hit the road without their full-sized MP3 player or cell phone.
Price, info: $26. http://www.ultimatedirection.com
Amphipod RunLite Trail Endurance
Style: Fuel belt
Capacity: Bottles, 10.5 ounces each; storage pouch, 80 cubic inches
What we liked: With 21 ounces of water distributed across two bottles, the belt doesnít bounce much. Optional add-on bottles (in 4-, 8- and 10.5-ounce sizes) allow you to tailor your load with water, sports drinks and carb gels. The cargo pouch offers plenty of room for a cell phone, keys, ID and other gear; an external bungee cord offers quick access to your rain shell or hat.
What we didnít: Amphipod devised a unique bottle storage system ó a clip-in base thatís meant to eliminate the frustration of trying to stuff a bottle into a pouch behind your back. Snapping a bottle in and out can be a bit of a fight until you get the hang of it. Water also tends to splash out of the plastic mouthpiece.
Best for: Trail runners who carry extra gear for their off-road adventures, as well as those who want to configure their hydration load for the mission at hand.
Price, info: $43 (additional bottles range from $7 to $13.50, depending on size). http://www.amphipod.com
Style: Reservoir system
Capacity: 28 ounces
What we liked: The Alterra is a great compromise for those who like the convenience of a reservoir-style hydration system but donít need the 70-plus ounces of water that backpack reservoirs typically hold. An external valve makes topping off easy, and belt-mounted clips help keep the long hose under wraps when not in use. Two small cargo pockets offer just enough room for your ID, keys and a couple of carb gel packets; an external bungee cord keeps your rain shell under wraps. Dual side compression straps virtually eliminate bounce.
What we didnít: We had no gripes with the Alterra, but you may want to think twice before stepping up to the Alterraís big brother, the FlashFlo ($40). This system offers 44 ounces of water (enough for a two- to three-hour run) and 96 cubic inches of storage space, but thereís no external fill access and the thin belt doesnít offer the same stability as the Alterraís beefy strap.
Best for: Runners looking for a bounce-free water source for their one- to two-hour run.
Price, info: $45. http://www.camelbak.com
Nathan QuickDraw Plus
Style: Hand-held bottle
Capacity: 22 ounces
What we liked: The moisture-wicking adjustable hand strap, carabiner-style loop and a zippered pocket to carry your ID and a house or car key. The soft rubber mouthpiece is a nice touch when youíre moving fast and you rap yourself in the teeth.
What we didnít: We found that the hand strapís elastic bands can stretch out over time, leaving you with a relatively loose grip on the bottle. Getting used to a handheld can take a while, as the extra weight can throw off your arm swing.
Best for: Short runs of an hour or less.
Price, info: $12. http://www.nathansports.com
Rob Colenso Jr. is training for the North Face Endurance Challenge off-road half marathon in August and the Marine Corps Marathon this fall.