Runner’s World magazine (Oct 2016) recently gave Seattle the silver medal for number 2 best running city in America (behind San Fran). Aaron Mercer, our runcommuter for this month, is a Seattle resident who uses his runcommuting to make the most of what the city has to offer. He braves the state’s rainy, wet conditions to runcommute almost every day. Aaron is helping his work colleagues stay healthy, too.
A scientist at Novo Nordisk, Aaron is also the Wellness Committee chair and promotes running to other employees. Aaron says he enjoys exploring his city on his runcommutes. He manages to incorporate cafe-testing into these runs as well, taking advantage of Seattle’s abundance of coffee joints. An excellent idea for all runcommuters: the combination of running and coffee is a classic, and what better way to start (or end) the day…especially when it’s raining!
The New Run Commuters Submission Form
Finally – a backpack specifically made for run commuters!
The company that brought us our favorite garment carrier, IAMRUNBOX, released a series of run commuting backpacks after a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and we were extremely excited to get our hands on one recently. The IAMRUNBOX Backpack Pro is a stylish and extremely practical backpack for everyday commuters who run with a change of clothes, a laptop, and a few personal items. Best of all, this pack won’t bounce!
The laptop carrying feature works quite well. It’s a simple, two-strap holder that rides close to your back, but it does what it is designed to do. Smaller laptops or tablets may need additional padding around them to keep them from bouncing up and down in the pack.
The deep and wide zippered waist belt pouches are a fantastic feature. Most backpacks that have these usually tend towards smaller, stretchier styles that work for carrying, at most, a few gels, a thin beanie, or a pair of gloves. The IAMRUNBOX Backpack Pro’s waist pockets, in contrast, can hold large smartphones, thick wool hats, sunglasses, and more. I normally carry my Nexus 6P (which is 6 ½” long and 3 ¼” wide) in the main compartment or in inaccessible side pouches of other packs, so it is awesome to have it right in front of me and be able to pull it out to take a picture or check a text message.
You notice the weight of the pack just forward of your shoulders and at the small of your back. I couldn’t identify any potential chafing locations – the fit and feel of everything was perfect.
Waist and sternum strap with whistle
Waist strap has openings on both sides to hide excess strap
The sides do not include any additional storage or features.
Top and Bottom
The top and bottom of the pack include reflective strips. No additional features are present.
When open, the right side of the pack is where you store your clothing. To hold all the clothing together, the Backpack Pro has a zippered, breathable cover, which makes it very easy to close the pack once everything is inside.
The left side of the Backpack Pro is used for securely storing up to a 13.5″ laptop. It can also hold a tablet, a book, or a few magazines quite well, or any other items that you may need at work (small lunch, belt, packable raincoat, etc.).
Open and empty
Fully packed with a light lunch
Back and Waist Strap
The back of the IAMRUNBOX Backpack Pro is rigid, with four palm-sized cushions strategically placed to allow the pack to rest comfortably against your back while walking or running. When the pack is on the body and cinched down, the cushions rest at the base of the scapulae and on both sides of the lower back.
The waist strap is wide and lightly-padded and a simple plastic buckle secures it to your waist. There is a large zippered pouch on each side that is big enough to hold large smartphones and plenty of additional gear (see notes at end of review regarding the metal zippers). A unique feature of the waist strap is that each side facing the buckle opens to reveal a pocket that can be used for storing excess straps.
Four cushioned pads make for a comfortable ride
The waist strap pockets hold large phones and more
Compared to most packs I’ve used, the shoulder straps on the Backpack Pro are wide, coming in right at 3 inches (7.62 cm) and there is very little narrowing of the straps along the length. There is some very thin padding on the inside of the straps, and I found it to be adequate for running with heavier weight.
The front of the right side strap features a reflective loop and a zippered, crescent-shaped pouch. The pouch holds a pair of gloves or a few gels when closed, or – when opened – a water bottle. This is a neat feature and works best with shorter bottles.
The left side strap includes a reflective loop, as well, and an elastic expandable top loading pouch that holds smaller smartphones (iPhone 5, etc.) securely.
There is one sternum strap on this pack. It is made of nylon and includes a piece of elastic that stretches an inch and a half that enables the strap to move when the wearer inhales and exhales. The sternum strap can be adjusted 9 inches vertically, so that it can placed in a comfortable location on the wearer’s chest.
Suspension system. Right strap opens to hold a small water bottle
Fully loaded with a winter jacket secured to the front with straps
The metal zippers shown in this pre-production pack will be replaced with string pullers to avoid clanging sounds and the water-resistant zip will be upgraded to ensure softer opening.
The IAMRUNBOX Backpack Pro is a fantastic pack for run commuters; especially those that need to transport a laptop and keep their office clothing looking good.
IAMRUNBOX provided us with the IAMRUNBOX Backpack Pro for review, however this did not influence my opinion regarding this product. The thoughts and pictures contained in this review are my own.
Is THIS the best run commuting pack…ever?
For some people, perhaps even many people, the answer is yes, the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 is the best run commuting pack ever.
Those who read my review of the OMM 20L will recall that I opened that review with a similar question, and a similar answer. There are reasons for this: firstly, I cannot deny that I enjoy using the question as a rhetorical device, but, secondly and in my defense, I have had the good fortune to test two outstanding run commuting packs this year, both of which are destined to become classics, in my opinion. Both the OMM Adventure Light 20 and the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 are brilliantly designed and made, and both function perfectly for the daily run commuter who totes medium to large loads of clothes/shoes/food.
The difference between these two packs is profound, however. The Ultimate Direction Fastpack is what is called a running ‘vest’ in the trail-running world. Right here on TRC Josh reviewed the smaller sibling of the UD Fastpack, the UD Peter Bakwin Signature Series Vest 3.0 (see review), so you may already be familiar with the new generation of running packs invented – and designed for – trail and adventure-running. My ‘Pack Off’ article comparing the relative merits and downsides of the two styles is coming to TRC soon!
The UD Fastpack 20 is across-between the traditional and the vest style. It is not a compromise, however. It is a fully functioning backpack with all the advantages (and possibly disadvantages) of no waist strap and double sternum straps on wide chest straps, instead.
On either side is a large, mesh water-bottle pocket. It is not closed, but an elasticized rim keeps the bottles in. This elastic is not as tight as on some packs I have worn. Once I took out two full bottles in these pockets when there was nothing really in the main compartment, and the lack of padding from the main pack meant that there was more leeway for the bottles to agitate out of these mesh pockets. They didn’t actually fall out, but I was worried once or twice, and I had to keep checking… Otherwise, if the main compartment is at least half full, the water bottles feel pretty secure, even when running fast.
Main Compartment and Access Rolltop
The main compartment is like a sack, and it closes in the roll-top style, first being pressed shut with Velcro and then rolled over like rolling up a carpet, until it is tight against the pack. At this point each end of the roll is clipped in to a strap that comes up each side. The strap is then pulled tight, cinching the whole thing vertically while the roll secures it horizontally. This is a very effective closure method, though it does take a few more seconds to do than a single zip would (such as is found on the Osprey Stratos and Talon series, for example). The strap on each side that cinches down the roll does create the only annoyance I have experienced with this pack – the long, dangling excess lengths of each side strap can whip around as you run, sometimes even coming round and lashing you in the front (possibly as punishment for the evil thoughts I have about car drivers…). You can’t trim them off—as Josh shows you how to do here in the ‘Pack Hacks’ series—because the extra length is needed on occasions when you fill the pack to full capacity. (See photos) What you can do is thread the excess strap into one of the daisy-chain loops on the front of the pack, which keeps them out of the way.
The main compartment itself is huge and empty, awaiting your clothes and lunch. If you don’t put anything in the main compartment, but do fill the front pockets with heavy items (such as full water bottles), you may find the front pulls forward/down, which can cause pressure on the back of your neck. This is an unlikely situation to be running in, however. I did this once, just for the experiment to see what would happen, but in the normal run of things it’s not a configuration most run commuters will want to try. If you do, for some reason, want to carry tons of water but nothing much else, it’s better for the weight distribution to put the bottles in the side pockets of the main compartment, behind and under your arms. This scenario is not fool-proof either, however…(see comment in ‘Sides’, below).
The back of the pack consists of a machine-knit fabric that is slightly thicker than t-shirt material, overlaying a nylon or other material than can just barely by glimpsed underneath.
There are no seams on this back panel, making it very smooth against the back. The whole back panel as well as the backing on both over-the-shoulder and down the chest vest flaps is a single piece of material. There are no seams or joins anywhere where the pack touches the wearer, except for where the yellow material meets the soft grey edging material. This trimming material is also soft. The pack did not cause any chafing on my back at all, ever.
Inside the main compartment of the pack is a Velcro-closed compartment that holds a foam pad cut into the shape of the back of the pack, and which gives the pack a firm, stable, back padding. This foam pad is smooth foam on the side that faces into the pack. On the side that sits against the wearer’s back, the foam pad has many little nipple-bumps all over it, for massage-style comfort. This pad can be taken out of the pack and used to sleep on etc when you’re doing a stage-race in the Sahara Desert, or when you get tired on the way home from work and want to take a quick nap in the park.
The Fastpack 20L does not come with a bladder or bottles, but hydration compatibility is one of its design priorities. There is a dedicated hydration bladder sleeve inside the main compartment. Immediately above this is a Velcro ‘hook’ for hanging the bladder from (so it doesn’t slump down into the sleeve). Above this, in the center of the top of the pack, underneath the grab-handle, is the hole for the bladder hose. There are two elastic/nylon strips on each vest flap near your clavicle bone for the hose to route through. Then there are two large mesh pockets on either side of the pack, as mentioned above, for water bottles. Finally (sort of), there is a pull-cord-closing bottle pocket on the left vest strap. If all this still didn’t give you enough storage for fluids, there is also the zip-closing pocket on the right vest strap, which can be opened wide enough to hold a 600ml bottle if necessary.
Above: An example of the amount of liquid you can carry in the UD Fastpack when simply using the designated pockets: 2L bladder, 3 x 750ml bottles, 1 x 420ml softflask. Of course, if you wanted to, you could also put a mini-keg in the main compartment….
So, how does the UD Fastpack 20L perform as a daily pack for run commuters? The answer is: extremely well…. For some, this will be the perfect run commute pack and, like the OMM 20L pack, the only pack they’ll need for both the daily run commute and the Marathon des Sables or the 4 Deserts adventure races!
The Best Run Commuting Backpack Ever?
OMM (standing for Original Mountain Marathon) is a brand well-known to UK and Euro trail runners, but it has yet to become popular in the US, which is a pity. I would go so far as to say this is a ‘best-kept secret’ of running packs. The OMM 20L may be the best run commuting backpack ever, and for those so inclined, it doubles as the best multi-day trail running pack ever, too! It is relatively cheap, hugely comfortable, robust, thoughtfully designed, and has tons of storage room.
For these reasons, no doubt, it has been the backpack of choice for the winners of some epic races: this year alone Eion Keith was wearing it when he won the notoriously grueling Spine Race in England – 268 miles non-stop over snowy English high country in mid-winter. Elspeth Luke wore it to run 1100k over Scottish mountains in record time. And it’s not just for cold-weather conditions: Aussie pro racer Samantha Gash wore it to run the 4 Deserts races across –as the name implies–four of the world’s serious deserts. Many athletes use this pack at the 6-days, 250km stage-race in the Moroccan desert, the Marathon des Sables.
So, how does such a hardcore pack work for everyday run commuters who just want to run an hour to work through suburban streets? Brilliantly, that’s how!
On the lower half of each side of the main compartment is a mesh pocket with elasticized top edge. They are water-bottle pockets, and have been designed with great consideration for the needs of adventure runners, for whom hydration is essential. The pockets are deep, each amply holding a 600mL bottle. This is true even when the main compartment of the pack is full. The other brilliant thing about their design is that they are angled slightly backwards, so that the top of the water bottle is tilted fractionally towards the direction you are facing. This makes it easier to pull the bottles out and put them back in, while running. The bottles don’t jump out of these pockets even when there isn’t much in the main compartment of the pack. Overall, excellent design and performance.
Main Compartment and Top Access Pouch
The main compartment is basically a cylindrical sack with a drawstring closure. Over this fits a hood that buckles down with a strap that runs vertically down the front of the backpack and clips to the lower quarter of the front of the pack (the ‘weird’ strap described above). The main compartment holds a LOT of stuff. You could easily get a medium-thickness winter coat in here along with shoes, clothes and lunch.
As you can see in the photo above, there is a zipped pocket on the top of the hood that covers the main drawstring compartment of the pack. This zipped pocket is almost the same width across as the hood itself, so it can hold a wallet and phone, or even a small Tupperware container, easily.
Back, shoulder straps and waist belt
The padding on the OMM Adventure Light 20 is generous, light and comfortable. It is also positioned where you need it and not where you don’t. The back is kept firm and self-supporting by a removable foam pad that sits inside the main compartment in its own sleeve. This pad is so light, and helps keep the overall structure of the pack so comfortable, that after I tried running once with the pad removed I resolved never to do so again — it’s simply more of a gain to have the foam pad in there.
There are two identical pockets on either side of the waist belt. Both pockets close with zips. They are large enough to fit a smartphone, and there is some flexibility as the lower half of each pocket is made of a mesh that stretches slightly. I found these pockets to be very useful for carrying my phone, food snacks, and accessories like gloves, hat or headlamp.