Hydration vests let you go light and far!

Summer is fast approaching, and that means big summer adventures are right around the corner! Whether you’re looking to do a run around town or a day in the mountains, a hydration vest is an integral piece of gear for trail runners and hikers. If you’ve ever looked into buying one, you probably already know that there are tons of options and endless variations on what at first glance is a simple piece of gear. We want to help demystify the world of hydration vests for you. Running vests are an investment, and getting one that is the perfect match will make a world of difference!

What size/volume vest do I need?

Running vest volumes are generally measured in liters (the size of a Nalgene water bottle). Vests come in a variety of sizes, from 1-2 liters up to 15 liters or more. For most people, a vest in the 5-12 liter range is ideal. To gauge the size of the vest you need, think about the gear, food, and water that you’ll want to carry with you. About how many water bottles would all of that fit in? That’s how many liters you want to shoot for!

  Jeff’s philosophy: “I like to move light and fast and carry only the necessities, so I tend to opt for vests that are as small and light as possible. I’m partial to vests 8 liters and smaller, though I have some vests over 12 liters for really really big days or when I need a lot of clothes or water.” Jeff is a big fan of the Salomon Advanced Skin 5.

Vicky’s philosophy: “I always want to have enough room for my things and be able to pack an extra layer. I find a 12-liter vest works great. Plus, I can always run with it empty and it feels the same as a smaller vest. It’s a great ‘one pack to do it all’ size. You can make a vest smaller, but it’s tough to make on bigger!” Vicky recommends the Nathan Pinnacle 12 or The North Face Flight Training Pack 12.

How should a vest fit?

Snug around the shoulders with no space between you and the vest.

Vicky wearing the Salomon Advanced Skin 8 for a  comfortable fit in the front.

Vests come in both unisex and women’s specific fits. The sizing is generally similar to t-shirt sizing. The best thing you can do is try a bunch of vests on! All vests are cut different (even from the same brands), and you never know how one will fit your body. Unlike a backpack that just needs to fit your shoulders comfortably, you want the vest to hug and wrap your whole upper body snuggly.

You don’t want space between the shoulder straps and your shoulders. You also don’t want space between the sides of your pack and ribs/chest. A comfortable, snug fit will reduce bouncing and chafing. It’s especially important for women to try packs, as they fit different chest sizes very differently. A ladies’ favorite is the Salomon Advanced Skin 8, which has bottles designed to sit lower on ribcage rather than up by the sternum (Ashley says: “keeps the bottle off the girls!”).  It can take some experimenting with different vests and adjustments to get the fit dialed in just right! Other ladies specific vests include the Ultimate Direction Mountain Vesta 5 and the Nathan Women’s Pinnacle 4 and Pinnacle 12.

 Bladder or bottles?

 The age-old question sure to rile up any trail runner. There is no right answer, but there may be a right answer for you! Most all packs are compatible with both hydration bladders and up-front bottles. Pros of up-front bottle are that you can see exactly how much you’ve drank and can have two different types of drinks. They are also easier and quicker to refill at aid stations or streams. Bladders carry water weight more efficiently on your back and can more easily carry large amounts of water. However, it is hard to tell how much you’ve drank and they are a bit more cumbersome to refill. Most vests come with bottles, but the Nathan Pinnacle 12 comes with a bladder ready to go!

Ashley carrying two bottles, Bridgett with one bottle and a bladder, while Chuck has just a bladder

How to try on a vest

Put a vest on and grab some snack and goodies! Can you reach the pockets you need to reach while running? Are you able to adjust the vest for a good fit while it’s filled with snacks? How easy is it to get on and off? If you’re carrying bear spray in a water bottle pocket, can you get it out easy? Think about how you’ll be using the vest while running and try to simulate that in the store. Chances are if something bothers you in the store, it will bother you on the trails! This is a great time to test things out before making an investment in a running vest. And maybe most importantly, make sure your giant smartphone will fit in one of the pockets!

What features am I looking for?

The North Face Flight 12L pack has a giant pouch in the back great for big days on the trails!

There are all sorts of bells and whistles on hydration vests. Focus on the ones important to what you’ll be doing and how you’ll be traveling. If you plan on carrying trekking poles, check to make sure the vest you get has trekking pole attachments. We all carry our phone, so be sure to test it out in a few pockets to make sure you can fit it in an easy to access spot. If you might need to carry extra clothes or gear, check for bungee straps on the back. Take a peak at the adjustments to make sure the vest can adjust to fit you in both a summer t-shirt and winter layers.

Other considerations

In Montana, we’re often running or hiking in grizzly country. Hydration vests are perfect for carrying bear spray in an accessible place! 

Need to carry bear spray? One of your bottle pockets is the perfect spot!

Out for a long mountain run? Try out a BeFree water filter to turn any water you find into clean, potable water! 

Jeff’s take on BeFree filters: “I carry substantially less water now that I have a BeFree filter. I check to see how much water is on a route, then just refill my bottle at stream crossings and don’t worry about carrying liters and liters of water for a big route. It’s been a total game changer!!”

Never run out of clean water with a BeFree filter!

Lee Macholz is one of our 2018/2019 RErun ambassadors. She is a stud! After work and family time, she still manages to volunteer and/or run many events through Runners Edge and Run Wild Missoula. We got a new trail shoe called the Cloud Venture. Since Lee rocks the trails, we asked her to test out these shoes and her thoughts are below…

OnCloud Cloudventure

Specs: 6 mm; Neutral; 7.9 oz

I grabbed a pair of Cloudventures just before heading down to Moab, UT for spring break play time with the family. I was set to run the Behind the Rocks 30k and still hadn’t decided which shoes to wear. But since I didn’t have the time to take them out for a test run before the race, I stuck with my Xodus because I was already completely un-trained for the race and felt it was not terribly smart to add new shoes to the mix as well. However, we still had a full week to play after the race and I wore the Cloudventure for the rest of our time running and hiking in the desert. I also raced the Bitterroot Runoff in them last weekend so these shoes have seen some great early-season action.

OnCloud is a new brand to me, I’d seen a few folks in them over the past year or so, but I had not yet tried them on. In the store, my initial impression was that they were stiff and didn’t have much cushion.
This impression didn’t last though. As soon as I got out on the trail with them, they proved to be really responsive and comfortable. I find that I don’t need, or even want, as much cushion in my trail shoes as I do in my road shoes. The Cloudventure has good support throughout the shoe. I can feel the arch support just enough to know that it is helping my foot, but not so much that it is too tall. The arch support does feel like it extends forward more than other shoes I’ve worn. It was noticeable enough to wonder if it would hurt or fatigue my foot, but it didn’t take long to get used to it and by the end of my first run I’d forgotten all about that. I tend to get a couple tender toes, but I have not had that issue yet with these shoes. The rest of the fit is good, with skinny laces that don’t come untied and a soft tongue that doesn’t slip or pinch. And they are really light weight – easily the lightest running shoes I’ve ever worn!
The really noticeable thing about the Cloudventure is the sole. It is really knobby and kind of crazy looking. Most of the cushion for this shoe seems to be in the material of the sole. I am not the lightest on my feed on the downhill but the sole absorbs impact really well. The downhill sections of the
Bitterroot Runoff felt really great in these shoes. Then there is the traction. I love the “Missiongrip” traction on these Cloudventures. Wearing these in Moab was super fun and I felt kind of like spiderman on the rocks in these shoes. They gripped everything – going up and going down. The one thing that annoys me about the sole is that the spacing and depth between the lugs will pick up rather large rocks.
You know the feeling/sound when you get a little rock stuck in the tread of your shoe? Yeah, instead of smaller-than-pea-sized rocks that are usually easy enough to scuff out of your tread without stopping, I get thumb-sized rocks stuck and usually have to reach down and dislodge the rock. I’m not sure yet if that was just a factor of the rocks in Moab, or if that will continue to be an annoyance on the trails
around Missoula. We’ll see.

All in all, I think the Cloudventure is a great trail running shoe. My favorite things about them is how incredibly light they feel and how grippy the soles are. This makes going up and down hills a dream. If you are looking for a new trail shoe, check them out and come join me in chasing clouds in the mountains this summer!

Raise your hand if you’ve come home from a winter run cold and sweaty with fingers too numb and body so tired that wrestling a wet sports bra off your clammy skin felt like an insurmountable task. Me too. Death by soggy bra is a good way to kill even the coziest pre-run situation but wriggling out of a damp bra underneath a pile of winter layers is the worst.

Enter the Brooks Fast Forward Zip Sports Bra.

I’m not someone who needs a lot of support from a running bra so I usually just go for whatever pullover racer back has the softest fabric or cutest pattern. I have never owned a sports bra that wasn’t a pullover until last month. I always thought the fancy ones with hooks or zippers weren’t for me.

And I was a little skeptical of the Fast Forward bra. Would the zipper make a weird bump under my shirt or bounce around? Would I hear in clinking as I ran? Would the zipper feel like cold metal when I put it on? Nope, nope and nope. Despite the zipper, this bra has a simple construction with a mesh racer back, sleek front panels and a wide soft elastic band along the bottom. Like most bras it came with pads, although, like always, I removed them right away. The zipper has a cozy panel behind it that protects your skin from ever feeling the zipper and the zipper lies smoothly under your shirt. The zipper pull locks down and doesn’t bounce. The best feature? When your run is done the zipper is smooth and easy to undo freeing you from a soggy bra in seconds. No struggle!

A note about fit and sizing: since I don’t need much for support I tend to buy sports bras a size bigger than my normal shirt size, so I can avoid feeling suffocated. This bra fits true to size, and the medium I tested was probably a little big but it was comfortable and I didn’t think about it while I was wearing it. I often find sports bras feel too short, and that I have to keep tugging them down, and that didn’t happen with this one, if anything the straps felt a tad too long. The elastic band around the ribcage is soft and supportive without feeling restrictive.

Despite having a zipper this bra feels light, breathable and sleek, and I’m sure it will be in heavy rotation all summer. I recommend this bra for anyone looking for an option that doesn’t require a clammy wrestling match to get out of.

Sean Kiffe is a Runner’s Edge Ambassador for the 2018/19 season. He is very visible around town as he runs just about every Runner’s Edge race
and Run Wild Missoula event each year. We thought Sean would be the perfect person to review the new product we are carrying, Trail Butter. He often spends countless hours on the trails, so who better to test this product than Sean?! Read his review below and you can also follow Sean’s adventures on instagram@seankiffe.

The Trail Butter brand is relatively new on the running nutrition scene and it is a welcomed addition. The company started in 2012 on a self proclaimed mission to…

“create delicious, all-natural energy food alternatives that provide balanced, slow-burning energy in a convenient portable package, all while using only unprocessed, whole-food ingredients” https://trailbutter.com/about/

It appears that they have done exactly that. As any long distance runner knows, you have to fuel the beast. Testing out Trail Butter could not have come at a better time for me. As I’m gearing up for the coming season of running with a couple ultra distance events on my calendar I’m attempting to explore the range of products out there to find out what works with my digestive system.

I used the Trail Butter product on four different runs. There are several things that I really liked about this product. First, I love the fact that these are made of simple, real, sometimes organic ingredients and when you eat it that’s what it tastes like…real food. Unlike the ingredient lists of other running foods and gels that sound like a chemistry text, the Trail Butter ingredients are simple. There are also vegan options for those of you who are so inclined.

One thing that I really enjoyed was that there was none of the gooey aftertaste or lingering paste in your mouth that you get with gels and that’s nice when you’re sucking wind on the long course. The claim of “slow burning” really resonated with me. The nut component offers a ready source of fat that burns slowly, perfect for those long distance efforts where short bursts of high fructose corn syrup or some other sugar are simply not enough to sustain you for very long. The butter-style format allows for quicker assimilation into your system than an energy bar which would take longer to digest and might be dry and hard to swallow on the run.

The packaging comes in three different styles. The single serving 1.15oz packets are easy to open and resemble the packaging of a typical gel. The 4.5oz pouches were my favorite. I loved having several servings in one reseal-able, easy to eat out of pouch. This limits the amount of garbage and mess that you end up having to tote around the trails with you if you were carrying 4-5 packets of the same product. You can also get the Trail Butter flavors in a 16oz jar, which might be nice for those of you who like to prepare custom running foods. Last year I was fond of taking quartered PB&J banana sandwiches on my long runs and eating them a quarter at a time every few miles. The jar size would be nice for that.

The small company hails out of Portland, OR and still has that homegrown feel about it. I like this and it almost gives it a sort of local feel. The product is not crazy expensive and ounce for ounce contains more calories than the typical 1oz gel packet.

While dark chocolate and coffee was by far my personal favorite, the original flavor and the maple syrup and sea salt both were delicious in their own right. Having a sensitive stomach, I tend to get some discomfort after too many sugary gels. If that sounds familiar to you I think you’re going to really enjoy this product. Trail butter goes down easily, tastes delicious and delivers long lasting energy that’s perfect for the long haul. In summary, Trail Butter is real food, real simple and really good. Trail Butter is a must-try for anyone looking to mix it up with their running nutrition this season.