Run commuting in the cold, dark days of winter can be challenging. If you keep normal hours, you often start and end the day in darkness. Footpaths are often not as well-lit, which make running on the road itself safer, but that renders you vulnerable to passing traffic who can’t see you. In an effort to make myself as visible as possible, I looked for the brightest backpack I could find, and strangely enough found it in the black backpack produced by ProViz Sports.
ProViz Sports are a UK-based company that specialise in highly reflective gear, using 100% CE EN 20471 certified reflective material to produce clothing and equipment designed to highlight users in low-light areas. They chiefly focus on cycling and cycling products, but recently produced a backpack tailored to running (and run commuters): the REFLECT360 Running Backpack.
What I carry on a typical day
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.
The OMM Adventure Light 20 does not come with a hydration bladder or bottles. As discussed above, the side bottle pockets are perfectly designed and executed for their purpose. With both bottle pockets carrying 600ml — or 750ml at a pinch — bottles, this would give you 1.2L – 1.5L fluid. You could also remove the foam back pad from its dedicated sleeve and put your hydration pouch in there. There is no other pocket in the main compartment to hold a hydration bladder, and unless you had a completely full load it would slosh around a bit if in the main area.
A top-drawer backpack for adventure running AND run commuting!
Run or hike with a pack long enough and you may begin to notice tiny annoyances about your gear transporter that are enough to drive you crazy.
For example, your zippers may make jingling, tinkling noises with each step. The quiet, sloshing water in your bottle or hydration pack might start to sound like you’re camped next to a gushing waterfall. You may even get noticeably angry at your straps that keep swinging into your arms as you move.
Some backpacks come with pre-built solutions for all these issues, but many do not. What can you do to keep yourself sane while out on the run? We’re here with answers!
In our first Pack Hacks instructional post, we’re going to show you how to deal with excess backpack straps.
Here’s How to Do It
If a Goldilocks exists in my modest collection of running caps, it is Alpine Dam’s Shoreline model. The sweet spot especially is its brim.
That is no small praise. There is a glut of trucker caps proffered to the running community these days. They have grown increasingly popular since Anton Krupicka wore a trucker cap in his Leadville 100 victory. They espouse, perhaps embody, the simplicity and care-free attitude self-proclaimed dirtbag runners seek to claim – yet that counter culture cap, once de novo, has become de rigueur.
Salt-crusted hats are where it’s at.
Short of blocking sun, containing hair, or concealing a bald spot, choice of such caps really comes down to brand. They are, like bread, permutations of only a few ingredients assembled in different manners and amounts.
I have several, some of which were race takeaways, others I’ve purchased since my wife encouraged me to wear sun protection during Atlanta’s immolating summers. The reasons that have led to my abandoning some are precisely why I have grown enamored of Alpine Dam’s cap in the several weeks since they provided it for review. My disdain and disappointment in most are enumerated thus:
Brim too long
Dome too high
Material destroyed by my incessant and salt-heavy sweat
There is a little room in the Shoreline’s crown, so air can move through and hair isn’t plastered to my scalp, yet not so tall that it looks absurd. Same with the brim: not a stub, as on bicycle caps (Krupicka’s current favorite, by the way), nor so long that it juts above your vision like the Star Destroyer in Star Wars’ opening scene, or that you feel you’re wearing a Goofy cap from Disney World. Even Beyonce looks a fool in a Goofy hat. You want to look good on your commute: you want to feel you look good, too.
The hat also wears well for hard-style poses amongst a trucker’s wasteland.
Here’s what really sealed it for me about the Shoreline: those long brims also obscure headlamp beams. That is important when you are run commuting in early or late hours, or running ultra distances. One shadow is enough to grab a toe and send you sprawling, leaving your flank scraped by Supermanning down a sidewalk, or your sternum marred by trail Braille.
The Shoreline cap is royal blue, with a mesh back and a foam front panel, sporting a flashy sherbet-hued logo: big, bold, and satisfying, like a glimpse of Atari, and absent the glaring day-glo safety colors so prevalent in active wear of late. So the cap is attractive, if unobtrusive.
You’ll notice it is choked with salt. As The Run Commuter founder (and my best friend) Josh can with a sneer of revulsion attest, my sweat is so salty that it appears I’ve been laboring the live-long day in the mines of Syracuse, New York, rather than enjoying an eight-mile run. It has honestly ruined cotton caps by destroying and warping the fabric. So far, the Shoreline’s foam has stood firm and shown no discoloration.
The logo is reminiscent of a mountain elevation profile, and wondered whether it was that of Mt. Tamalpais, located near Alpine Dam HQ in Marin County, California. Company founder Adam Melenkivitz clarified it is intended as the former (his daughter chimed it looked like their maps), and not actually Mt. Tamalpais. Rather, something with which anyone familiar with such profiles could identify.
He continued, “Specifically, the sharp end of the logo is how I imagined the climb from the Alpine Dam years ago … well prior to Strava. I always saw this as a winding, sharp climb in my mind. At the time, I had to work up to this ride, so ‘Alpine Dam’ was big goal for me. Alpine Dam for me wasn’t just the dam, or lake and the trails, but the entire experience of the loop.”
That’s a noble goal. It appeals to me, as certainly it will to others. It’s my Thunder Rock, or someone’s Iron Man, or another’s 15K. It might be your run commute.
The one detriment I’d note in the cap again comes back to sweat. Alpine Dam sent two models: the Shoreline, which I tested, and the BoFax, which my wife claimed. Hilary commented that she would like an integrated sweat-wicking band inside the BoFax. Neither model carried one, but it wasn’t much of an issue to me. The Shoreline did just fine, drawing sweat up into the cap’s body and brim.
One last thing I appreciate about the brand, which might be a deciding factor to some, is that Melenkivitz in his correspondence, and in Alpine Dam’s media, consistently references his kids. They are heavily involved in the products – selecting logo colors; doodling mountains on the patio; reviewing design ideas. Alpine Dam offers a few kids’ models, too. So though dirtbag runners seem to lean toward lone wolf branding, Alpine Dam might position itself across a variety of pursuits and social activities, as well as with active families.
That’s a rich market, neither too big, nor too small: just right.
To see more of Alpine Dam’s products (currently with a 30% off code on the homepage!) visit their website.
Alpine Dam provided us with the trucker hats for review, however this did not influence my opinion regarding this product. The thoughts and pictures contained in this review are my own.
This small, light backpack is simple yet sturdy and is perfect for a certain type of runcommuter. It is about as basic as you can get in a pack designed specifically for running/sports. The Speedlite 10 is a great runcommuting pack for those who value durablity, quality, and simplicity, but more significantly, those who want a pack that they can forget about while running. This is one for runners who don’t want to access much whilst on the run.
The top zip opens the main compartment from halfway down each side of the pack. Below the zip on each side is a mesh pocket with elasticized top edge that keeps the pocket in close to the pack. These mesh pockets work fine when the pack is relatively empty. When the main compartment of the pack is full, however, it’s very difficult to get a drink bottle into the pocket. This means that if you want to carry water to drink while runcommuting it has to be either a very small bottle (like 150ml) or you’ll need to use a hand-held. This could also be annoying if you are using the pack during the day and just want to have somewhere to put your full-size water bottle.
Main Compartment and Top Access Pouch
There are no compression straps on either the front or sides of the pack, but this is not really a problem, as the pack is not very deep, and this –combined with the fairly stiff fabric – means that even when the main compartment is entirely empty there is no swinging or flopping or dragging.
For its compact size, this pack holds a fair bit of stuff — enough for many runcommuters. It will take a pair of size US9.5 (women’s, US8 men’s) shoes, and a full set of pants or skirt, underwear and shirt. It won’t have room left for a jacket, however. Without the shoes, the main compartment will fit the pants/skirt, underwear, shirt and lightweight jacket.
I have used this pack in hot conditions, with my work clothes loaded in the main compartment with no plastic or other dry-bag covering. Despite my ladylike perspiration, the clothes remained dry and fresh. This is due, I think, to the thick-ish mesh back panel and the water-resistant inner coating of the main compartment. Together, these features kept sweat from soaking through. However, my longest run in these conditions was one hour, so people running longer or who are more serious sweaters (though I am not a lightweight!), may find moisture transfer occurs. A dry-sack to contain your clothes before you put the whole sack into the main compartment will also serve the function of compressing your clothes to prevent rumpling and load-bounce. (As a related point: the Deuter Speedlite 10 is too small for the iamrunbox clothes organizer).
Back, Shoulder Straps and Waist Strap
For me, the main down-sides to this pack are related to the straps. The shoulder straps have a little bit of mesh on the underside, but are not actually padded, and the material they are made from, while robust and durable, is quite stiff and harsh. Several times I have ended up with chafing on the sides of my neck from the straps, after runs of over an hour. However, this was always when I was wearing collarless, thin running t-shirts as my only layer. I think this would not be an issue for people wearing jackets/second layers/rain shells etc. I suspect, also, that the chafing is related to the size of the straps/positioning of the sternum strap on me specifically.
The waist strap also has an annoying problem. While the waist strap itself is basic but comfortably unobtrusive, there are two little plastic holders, or ‘strap wranglers’, on the waist belt, one either side of the main clip. These are supposed to keep the extra waist-strap lengths from flying around, unfortunately, on my pack they don’t really work. As I run they quickly either slide along the waist strap right up to clip, making them useless. Or, the excess strap ‘jumps’ out of them, again making them redundant. If you look at the photo on the right, above, you can see how the strap-wrangler has slid almost up to the belt clip on the left. On the right is an example of the extra strap simply falling completely out of the strap-wrangler and dangling to its heart’s content.
This is not a pack for the technology-attached. There are no pockets on the front straps of this pack, so forget about checking your phone whilst on the run.
This pack would be perfect for runcommuting if you don’t want to drink, eat or text whilst on the run.
The Deuter Speedlite 10 does not come with a hydration bladder, so if you want to use one it would need to be bought separately. I said, above, that this is a great pack for those who don’t want to drink on the run. This claim could be modified to: this is a great pack for runcommuters who don’t want to drink on the run, or, for runcommuters who think they might like to dabble in trail running as well. You certainly can drink on the run without taking off the Speedlite 10, as it has a hydration tube opening at the top edge (right hand side only). Inside the pack is a dedicated pocket in which to put your hydration pouch. However, when I put a full 1.5L bladder into the pack there was no longer room for a runcommuter’s clothes + shoes combo. But on a trail run there’s no need for clothes storage room, and the pack is a great size for the trailrunning necessities: food/gels, rain jacket, space-blanket, hat, map, etc.
About four years ago, in the midst of my transition from conventional running shoes to more minimalist ones, I was offered a quick glimpse of what I thought were the ugliest shoes ever made on this planet: the Hoka One One. I just could not picture myself run commuting in them without becoming the laughing stock of the Ottawa running community.
Then, in the past months, The Run Commuter published a few (serious) articles about using them for run commuting. At about the same time, I started having some troubling leg pains, which forced me to cut back on my run commuting habits (I also turned the big 4-0 around the same time). This was not a good thing, and I started looking for ways to be able to get back to a normal run commuting regime. I tried many things (physio, osteo, massage, sports medicine, etc), but none of them really solved my problems.
At the end of February of this year, being a bit despaired to see my weekly run commuting mileage go down in such dramatic fashion, I tried something bold: I bought a pair of Hoka One One Huaka. This turned out to be a very good decision.
Within days, I was able to run distances that I could only dream of running a few days before. My run commuter partner made lots of fun of my shoes, going as far as telling me, jokingly, to run a few feet in front of him to avoid him the embarrassment. I did not pay any attention to him: these shoes were getting me back on the roads and it felt great. To this day, running in my Huakas is still the same treat that it was the first time.
Hoka One One shoes are a great addition to the toolkit of serious run commuters that have entered the master zone. They are a great shoes to wear at the end of the week, when your legs are tired and the pain is uncomfortably increasing.
Running with a pair of Hoka One One is like running on soft packed ground all the time. Despite their thickness, the stability is OK, and weight is similar to any normal running shoes. Their only downside is that the increased volume of foam tends to wear off faster than in a normal pair of shoes. Despite that, I intend to keep a pair in my run commuting rotation at all times, even if I have to buy them more often than other shoes.
While not technically a backpack, the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0 has all the features you would expect on a pack, and a whole lot more. It’s great for the run commuter who doesn’t carry much with them to work, and is perfect if you also want something light and comfortable for carrying gear and water on long road/trail runs.
The sides of the Adventure Vest are the defining characteristic of vest-style packs. Each side of the vest forms one unbroken loop from the waist all the way to the top of the shoulder. In a backpack the shoulder straps have thinner straps that connect to the bottom of the pack and can be shortened and lengthened to tighten the bag to your shoulder area. With the vest you put your arms through each loop and buckle the sternum straps at the front.
On each side of the vest at hip level, there are large zippered pouches, made of the same soft, stretchy material found on the front of the pack. These are great for storing hats, gloves, sunglasses, etc. Softer things would probably work best though, as this area presses directly against you hips.
Behind each large pouch is a small piece of velcro that, when opened, reveals an adjustable strap that tightens the vest to your waist. It took me a while to realize that this important feature was here, so be sure to make note of it’s location if you plan on buying one.
In front of the large pouches are smaller ones that are ideal for energy bars, gels, a wallet, or other small items that need to be accessed quickly and easily.
Left side of the vest
Right side of the vest
Working our way up from the bottom on the right side, you will find a pouch that holds a water bottle. It can hold anything really, but was designed to hold a bottle and includes a cinch strap at the top to hold the bottle in place. On the outside of this pouch, you’ll find another small, stretchy pouch that is good for holding one or two gels or a Clif bar.
At the top of the shoulder strap on both the left and right sides, is a narrow, long, zippered pouch that (like the previous pouch) will hold a couple of gels or an energy bar.
On the left side shoulder strap, you will see a large, stretchy, open-top pocket that will hold a hat and/or gloves, camera case, or similar-sized items. Above this is a pouch similar in size and location as the water bottle holder, but zippered on two sides. This is great for a large smartphone, sunglasses, or additional clothing, such as a t-shirt. It will also fit another water bottle!
The UD PB Adventure Vest has two sternum straps attached to long, sliding rails allowing for a wide range of adjustment. The straps themselves are thin and unpadded, and connect using small buckles. There are no excess strap holders, so to keep them from flopping around, try securing them with small pieces of Velcro tape.
Closeup of sternum straps
Zippered pouch on left side holds an additional water bottle
The Adventure Vest does not come with a bladder, but will accommodate most bladders with capacities up to 70 oz. (2L).
The hydration pocket can be found within the zipper located at the top of the vest. Inside is a velcro strap that holds the bladder and keeps it from slipping down and bunching up. The drinking hose can be routed out either the top left or top right side through holes that bring it out and down the shoulder straps. The hose can also be passed underneath the narrow, white, zippered pouches in the shoulder straps to keep the end of the drinking tube from bouncing around while running.
If you run commute year-round above the 49th parallel, you most likely have a variety of thermal tights. Up until this year, finding a pair that performed well below -20°C/-4°F proved to be tricky (at least for me) unless I was ready to spend lots of money. However, Mountain Equipment Co-op came out with a great new set of tights this year that solves my dilemma: the MEC Flyer Tight.
Source: Mountain Equipment Co-op