Review: OMM Adventure Light 20 Backpack

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!

 

 

Test Model

OMM Adventure Light 20

Size: One size fits all

Carrying Capacity: 20L, 1220.5 cu. in.

Cost: US $70.19, GBP54, EU78.95

Add-on: Dry-bag, 20L

Best for:

  • Run commuters who carry larger loads on most run commutes

  • One backpack for both a daily run commute pack in the city and for epic runs/races such as the Marathon des Sables!

  • Run commuters with shorter torsos

Performance and Evaluation

Outstanding performance in a wide range of conditions. The OMM 20L is very comfortable, and performs brilliantly as a daily run commuting backpack when carrying medium to large loads. Also performs at the extreme level when used as an adventure racing pack on multi-day or stage races such as the Marathon des Sables. It says something about the versatility of this pack that many runners have used it in stage-races in the climates of both the Sahara Desert in temperatures up to 50C, and in the British winter in high mountain snow in temperatures that drop to -10C. Clearly, the OMM Adventure Light can handle extremes.  It will easily handle whatever you can throw at it on a daily run commute.

For those who often run commute with a very small load, such as a shirt and thin slacks, it is possible to cinch down the OMM Adventure Light 20 tightly by running a thin elastic cord through the eyelets on the front designed for that purpose. There is no cinching cord included for this purpose, however. The front buckle strap does pull the pack quite tightly together on a vertical axis, but not horizontally.

While this pack is certainly one of the least obtrusive full-size packs to use even when carrying a small load (ie. it is not ‘too much’ pack as others would be), I’d go for a smaller pack if you really aren’t going to carry much ever. A mostly-empty pack is just unnecessary now that there are so many smaller packs on the market which are designed to be comfortable with smaller loads. I have not tested the smaller OMM packs (13, 10 and 8Ls), but if their quality is similar to that of the Adventure Light, it would definitely be worth giving them a try.

Sometimes, it rains. We run commuters have to run in rain at times, as Kyle discusses in his classic ‘How to RAIN commute’ post.

To guard against sweat seepage or sudden unexpected rainstorms, a precaution is to always put your clothes into a dry bag — which will also compress them — before loading them into the main compartment. Or, there is the option of a small, external rain-cover instead.  

As mentioned above, the main compartment and the waist-belt pockets of the OMM 20L are made from a very light material that appears to be water repellent. This makes sense, given that it is designed to be used in adventure/nature races, where rain and water are common. This material does work. A few times when I thought it wasn’t going to rain I didn’t bother to use a dry bag and got caught in brief showers. My clothes remained dry. However, in prolonged rain or heavy downpours, water would soak through onto the contents. 

 

 

 

What I Liked

Comfort

Lightness

Size

Pocket distribution/design

Thoughtful overall design

Price

 

 

What I Didn’t Like

The location of the closing clip for the main compartment

 

Backpack Details

Front

The closing clip for the main compartment is at the bottom edge of the front of the pack, vertically. This is unusual. It took me ages to get used to, and for weeks I kept trying to open the pack using the plastic buckle that is situated on the top lid of the pack, where the clip is found on most bags. I’m still not convinced the bottom edge is a great location for the opening clip.

Sides

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.

 

Hydration System

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.

Conclusion

A top-drawer backpack for adventure running AND run commuting!

Additional Pictures

What I Carry

All of the items described in the post, with a bonus photo of the dog, Bebe.

Here is what I carry on my morning run commute. I am a minimalist. That philosophy requires discipline. Every now and then, I wish I had brought along this or that, but that is rare enough – I’m fine with the risk.

I use an ultra-lightweight backpack. It is a cheap but durable nylon number by Marmot. It isn’t specialized for this purpose. If I cinch the shoulder straps, it is stable enough. The interior contains a divider between two compartments, which allows me to stow sweaty clothes after changing. There is a little zippered top area, too. I liked it enough I bought a spare when it was on sale, so if I need to throw one in the wash or take one on a trip, it’s fine — I travel enough that I sometimes leave the extra at my elderly father’s house, so it is there when I check on him. The only problem with this model is it lacks any padding. I cannot throw it around for fear of damaging the gadgets inside. That only means I need to be careful. Or I could buy a separate case for the tablet. (For races, I switch to an Ultimate Direction vest.)

Inside the backpack, I have keys (two: house and office) with a high-powered flashlight attached, on a tiny locking carabiner. I have a driver’s license, work ID, credit card, and MUNI pass for the trip back, in a card case style “wallet;” an iPhone; and an iPad with my files for work. It is that last item that has made the run commute feasible. Basically all my data is accessible.

Oh, I also have a camera with me. I almost always have that, a real camera, typically a vintage film camera. That is extravagant. It weighs as much as everything else put together. I took up running and photography simultaneously, and for me they are associated activities. Others likely would forego the film camera.

Finally, I have a partial change of clothes: fresh socks, t-shirt, and shirt. I also have a lightweight towel meant for athletic use, about a quarter the size of a bath towel and much thinner. I sometimes carry another pair of pants or an extra pair of shoes, especially if there is inclement weather. I’d prefer not to do that though. I wear pants that are acceptable, as I judge it anyway, for a casual work environment. (My wife has a “no-fly” rule: if I am out with her, my pants must have a fly; these do.) I also have a cap, because my mother taught me to err on the side of putting something on my head when it was cold. (The running cap is soaked through with sweat when I arrive, so that has to be swapped out.)

There are omissions. I sometimes wear headphones, but I’m ambivalent doing so. If I will be going back and forth — a great day includes a round-trip run commute — I might pack a spare battery.

All of the above are shown on a list. I am an inveterate maker of lists. That is a bit OCD. But I wouldn’t be comfortable if I didn’t check off these items before I started out.

Run commuting compels me to plan. I have to consider what else I am doing that day, to ensure I bring what I need. If I am headed to the bank, for example, I add my ATM card in a separate “wallet.” But I do not want to be burdened by baggage. Most of the stuff I own, I don’t use. I no longer feel any need to acquire material goods in general, unless I am confident it will become integral to my life. I’d rather be out there running. There is always someplace else worth the journey.

What I Wear

All of the items described in the blog.

When you engage in an activity such as run commuting, people wonder about mundane details. Since everybody who is able to do so walks, and increasingly is conscious about it with the advent of fitness trackers, if you take up a more robust version of such a common endeavor you inspire curiosity about technique and tools. Everything I do is ordinary and easy to replicate. I share for others who wish to try out what turns out to be life changing.

My shoes are a collection of Hoka One Ones. They are maximalist, what clowns would wear if they ran marathons — I must be a good 2-1/2 inches taller in the Hokas. I have used Vibram Five Fingers. They are minimalist, essentially gloves for feet. That means I went from one extreme to its opposite. I have read casually the research about footwear. My impression, as a non-scientist, is that it is inconclusive. There is too much individual variation. Personal anatomy and stride likely matters as much as gear. For now, I prefer plush cushioning. I have three pairs of the same model, size 11 D, in solid black. They are less conspicuous than colorful options. I have wanted to try out the running shoes with the look of dress shoes. Run commuting is all about practicality. (If I do that, I will report back. I am frugal, and this innovative product does not seem to be discounted much.)

My socks are various low-cut pairs designed for running. I have had multiple unhappy experiences with wardrobe malfunctions in this regard. Many socks don’t fit and won’t stay up. That ruins the race or the morning. I have concluded, as is true with shoes, that it is important to consider the exact sizing and proper shape. I would rather be a regular with a company that has suits that fit and customer service that is considerate. I am willing to pay for those qualities.

The pants are important. Every piece of clothing is. But the pants are constant. I found a brand. I liked it so much, I decided to invest a bit of my retirement account into its stock, but I receive no consideration for that disclaimer/endorsement. My choice is Under Armour. My rationale is they have a bit of stretch to the fabric. There are multiple models that are appropriate for exercise and after. That saves significantly on the change of clothes that otherwise would have to be carried with a separate pair of dress slacks. One side effect of all the running is lots of laundry. I generate a half hamper of sweat soaked stuff every twenty-four hours. I do a load of wash, in a high-efficiency front-loader, just about every day. When guests visit, I am always haranguing them for dirty clothes to throw in.

The shirts are less particular. They are all lightweight activewear tops made of synthetic fiber or merino wool. They have in common breathability, conspicuity, and bargain pricing. They’re whatever was available at the mail-order outlet, one of a half dozen I track, all of which send me deals via email. I was a patron of Ibex, an American manufacturer that, alas, went out of business. I stocked up on their gear during their final sale, and I lament that the global marketplace has made it difficult for entrepreneurs such as these folks to sustain their ventures.

Underwear merits mention. I have a story about my switch. I ran one of the North Face Endurance Half Marathons. It had over 3000 feet of vertical gain, which I can attest is not inconsequential. I was joined by a college friend. He beat me by seven minutes, which I realize is considerable. I felt good, however, that when we had our post-race brunch, he had to excuse himself after eating only a bite, because he needed to lie down for an hour and a half nap. An experienced road racer, much more fit than me, he also is wiser. When I complained about chafing, he inquired about the details of my outfit. He kindly informed me nobody was still in cotton boxers for distance running, and that had changed not long after we graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1988. On his advice and counsel, I am happily in technical briefs. I vouch for the difference, even if I gloss over the details. Suffice it to say, wicking of moisture is to be commended.

Where I live, when I start out it’s usually foggy and about fifty degrees. For outerwear, I put on a high-viz fluorescent yellow windbreaker about half the time. It is not labeled as specialized for running. I almost always start off with a cap, too. I have several super thin wool skullcaps. If it is raining, I have a SealSkinz waterproof version. Although it is slightly too heavy, I prefer it to wet hair.

All of the above is “quotidian.” That is an apt word. It is a fancy synonym for “daily.” Perhaps others will benefit from seeing how simple it is to take up run commuting.

Pack Hacks: How to Tame Excess Backpack Straps

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.

The Problem:
Excess Straps on Your Pack

The Solution:
Secure the Straps with Velcro Tape

Here’s How to Do It

Step 1

Purchase some Velcro Tape

Also known as “fastening tape,” velcro tape comes in a wide range of sizes and lengths and is suitable for many jobs in which things need to secured (wires, cables, yoga mats, rope, etc.).

For our example, we used a roll of 3/4″ tape.

Step 2

Cut a 5″ – 6″ Piece of Tape

The length may vary depending upon how much excess strap you have, but usually 5 – 6 inches (13 – 15 cm) will suffice.

Step 3

Place End of Tape Near End of Excess Strap

By placing the first part of the tape inside the roll of strap, you will be securing it from unrolling later on.

Step 4

Roll Excess Strap to Buckle

The roll doesn’t have to go all the way up to the buckle – it can finish near it.

Step 5

Wrap Tape Under and Around Strap and Secure

If you have too much tape leftover, trim the excess.

Done!

The Finished Product Should Look Like This

When done correctly, the straps should never come loose. If you need to expand the pack straps, simply unfasten, adjust, re-roll, and secure once more.

Use anywhere you have too much extra strap on your backpack

By | 2017-06-10T22:49:35+00:00 June 10th, 2017|Categories: Gear, General, How To|Tags: , , , , |8 Comments

Review: Alpine Dam’s “The Shoreline” Trucker Hat

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:

  1. Brim too long

  2. Dome too high

  3. 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.

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To see more of Alpine Dam’s products (currently with a 30% off code on the homepage!) visit their website.

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Disclaimer

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.

Review: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L

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.

Test Model

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L

Size: Small/Medium

Carrying Capacity: 20L

Cost: US $105

Add-on: Hi-Vis Rain Cover (X-Small)

Performance and Evaluation

For run commuters who have struggled with the combination of traditional backpacks and running, the UD Fastpack may be the answer. Say goodbye to the uncomfortable waist belt that pummels your stomach and bowels, and the (especially for women) awkward sternum strap that is never quite in the right position, and the shoulder straps that (again, especially for women) don’t sit comfortably on the torso. Embrace the freedom and comfort of the vest pack and run until you drop!

One of the recurring questions about backpacks is whether or not they can be tightened onto the runner sufficiently to prevent swaying and bouncing whilst running. Some people have suggested that the lack of a waist belt on vest-style and hybrid packs is responsible for a greater sway and bounce. Professional US ultra-runner Megan Hicks wrote a review of the UD Fastpack in which she says she wouldn’t use it in the Marathon des Sables, because it is less stable than traditional backpacks with a waist belt. However, Megan runs at an average of 10km an hour during the MdS, for an average of 6 hours a day. I run a lot slower, and for approximately 1 hour per run-commute leg. I have found the Fastpack to be just as stable as my traditional backpacks, with the same load (medium-full) and at the same speed. Perhaps, like Megan, those who run very fast with a very full pack will find the Fastpack sways more. Run commuters who fall into this category are lucky, and get the satisfaction of being fast to compensate for having to wear a traditional backpack! Seriously, though, unless the pack is very full — for example with everything you’d need for a three-day self-supported back-country camping trip — you’re unlikely to feel any difference in the movement between this pack and a waist belt/sternum strap pack.

Pros

Very comfortable, particularly for the internal (and external!) organs!

Multiple run-accessible storage areas

Very lightweight

Advanced hydration system

Double sternum straps

Not as ‘action sports’ as many other vest packs

Double sternum straps

Did I mention that it’s super comfy?!

Cons

Expensive

Slightly floppier, more sporty, less ‘office-y’ looking than many traditional backpacks

No rain cover

Sway/bounce may be very very slightly more evident than with a traditional backpack (though I did not experience this)

May be too large for smaller or thinner people

Chest and straps

This is where the action is on this pack. The vest-style flaps that come from the inner-back edge of the main compartment, over the shoulders and down the chest, are key to the comfort of the Fastpack 20. These flaps feature large pockets that can hold water bottles, smartphones or food, for easy access whilst on the run. Running horizontally between the two flaps are two chest straps, which can be adjusted vertically by sliding them up or down their rails, similar to the more limited adjustments that can be made to the single sternum strap usually found on a traditional backpack. Together, the two sternum straps on the vest pack secure the chest straps tighter or looser against the torso, and thereby cinch the pack more tightly or otherwise to the body.

The two sides of the chest have a different configuration of pockets. On the left is a water-bottle pocket with a pull-cord tightener, and underneath this is a smaller zip-up pocket that can easily hold a Clif bar and a credit card and car key. On the right is a pocket that is closed flat against the chest strap by a vertical zip. Opening the zip gives you room to stuff a water-bottle into that pocket, by virtue of a small expanding pleat. When the zip is closed the pocket still has an open top, and is the perfect shape and tightness to hold in a smartphone. Underneath this zipping pocket is a smaller pocket about the same size as the one at the bottom of the right chest strap. The one on the left is closed by a Velcro fold-over tab, however. This means you wouldn’t want to put anything precious in it, only cliff bars/food, as there are gaps where a key could potentially escape. All in all, the chest pockets are very well thought-out, and allow access to lots of food, water, phone and other necessities, whilst on the run.

 

Each sternum strap can also be tightened or loosened. Together with the strap that connects the bottom corner edges of the main compartment to the bottom corner edge of both vest flaps, this allows for further customization.  Playing around with different strap positions and tightness is worth it when you first get the pack, as the different configurations can change the feeling of wearing the pack a lot.

An example of the chest straps at three different positions can be seen in the photos below.

Sides

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).

Back

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.

 

Hydration System

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….

Conclusion

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!

Additional Pictures

By | 2016-12-21T12:47:00+00:00 December 21st, 2016|Categories: Gear, General|Tags: , , , , , , , |8 Comments

Review: Hoka One One Huaka

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.

By | 2016-10-22T20:26:27+00:00 August 30th, 2016|Categories: Gear|Tags: , , , , , |0 Comments

Review: Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0

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.

Test Model

UD PB Adventure Vest 3.0

Size: Large

Carrying Capacity: 16L, 977 cu. in.

Cost: US $169.95

Add-on: UD 20oz. Water Bottle

Performance and Evaluation

I tested the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0 during 35 miles of run commuting. 

I was worried the Large might be a little big at first, but after adjusting the numerous straps (hidden and otherwise) it felt secure and form-fitting. With a water bottle added in the shoulder strap pocket, it was even more snug. I don’t normally run with water, though, so for most test runs I left the bottle out.

This thing is extremely lightweight – if you put it on while empty, you almost don’t even notice you are wearing it. The reason for that is the almost completely see-thru material from which most of the vest is made. Not only is thin…some of it’s compartments are waterproof, too! Or are they?

I was skeptical, so I ran a test. I placed several folded-up paper towels inside each of the small pockets on the shoulder straps, and then placed a rolled up pair of pants and shirt in the main compartment. All three pouches are made from “SilNylon/66: Silicone-Impregnated 30D nylon with a polyurethane face” which “creates a permanently waterproof fabric.” I was hoping to test it while running in a heavy downpour, but the rains never came. So I did the next best thing I could of…

Waterproof Testing

Result – Everything got wet

The water most likely seeped in through the zippers and not the material, but, still…lesson learned.

Wrap everything you need to stay dry in something waterproof (plastic grocery bag, drybag) before packing it into the vest.

—————————

For most runs, here is what I carried: 

  • A set of work-appropriate clothing, rolled up and placed in a plastic bag (not garment carrier compatible) 

  • Small lunch

  • Cell phones, wallet, work ID

  • Clif bar, and a couple of gels

  • Packable rainjacket

  • Sunglasses

That was a lot to carry in this vest. My regular run commuting pack is a 24L and I usually pack it almost entirely full. The UD PB Adventure Vest’s carrying capacity is only 16L, and while it does have additional external pockets and compartments to stash gear, I had to leave some things out that I would normally carry – namely, my sizeable lunch. However, that is often leftovers in glass containers and race vests aren’t meant to carry that in the first place.  A simple sandwich, with crackers and fruit fit fine.

On the run, the full vest ran extremely well. It felt really good to not have to wear a tightly-fastened waist strap, and the two sternum straps served very well as overall stabilizers of the pack’s load. One thing I noticed that is different than running with a traditional running pack – the weight of the pack is carried quite differently. On a standard pack (waist strap, sternum strap(s), frame or no frame) the full weight of the backpack is pulled against your back and becomes an extension of your body, rather than a bouncy, separate accessory. The UD vest’s weight is carried down lower on your body and pulls at your shoulders, straightening up your back slightly. It was a nice change and similar to how other waist-strapless hydration packs like the Nathan HPL-020 carries it’s weight.

Side view, showing water bottle in shoulder strap pocket

Back of the vest, showing elastic cord lockdown on sides of pack

Front of vest with water bottle

What I Liked

An abundance of run-accessible pouches

Comfortable and carries weight differently than a backpack

Extremely lightweight

Hydration system compatible and accepts additional water bottle

Double sternum straps

What I Didn’t Like

Low carrying capacity

Not waterproof

High cost

Backpack Details

Back

The back of the vest consists of two large, stretchable pouches, with the tops being held together with the blue elastic cord shown in the picture. These pockets are of decent size and can hold a jacket or hat and gloves with ease. The criss-crossed elastic cord area is excellent for holding wet clothing or shed layers.

Once the main compartment of the vest is loaded, the blue cord can be cinched tightly and then connects to a loop at the top of the pack to ensure the contents remain contained. For additional security, the elastic cord may be stretched to the sides and snapped in to gray cord fasteners on the sides and top of the vest (8 in total; 3 per side, 2 on top). These function very similarly to external compression straps found in good running packs.

On the left side of the main compartment is another zippered pouch. Like the main compartment, it is not run accessible, so store things here you won’t need until you are done running.It contains a key clip and (in addition to keys) can hold a wallet and a couple of other small items.

At the bottom of the pack are two reflective, non-stretchable loops. I think these are for carrying an ice axe, so yeah – not really useful for run commuting. 

Elastic cord hooks for extra compression

 Keys and valuables pouch

Main Compartment

The main compartment of the vest is made entirely of water-resistant material, and is closed with a zipper that runs up one side and across the top. It won’t hold much, as it is quite small by normal run commuter pack standards. I fit my clothing in there, but not much else. 

You can easily secure the contents in order to keep things from bouncing by using the elaborate elastic tie-down system.

 Almost full with a pair of pants and a shirt

Sides

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

Shoulder Straps

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!

Sternum Straps

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

Hydration Pouch

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.

Additional Pictures

Disclaimer

Ultimate Direction provided us with the PB Adventure Vest 3.0 for review, however this did not influence my opinion regarding this product. The thoughts and pictures contained in this review are my own.

Review: Deuter Speedlite 10

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.

 

Test Model

Deuter Speedlite 10

Size: One size fits all

Carrying Capacity: 10L, 610 cu. in.

Cost: US $50

Add-on: Dry-bag, 10L

Best for:

  • Runcommuters who don’t want to access phone/water whilst on the run

  • Runcommuters who carry small to medium loads

  • Runcommuters with longer torsos

Performance and Evaluation

The Speedlite 10 comes in a range of colours and has classic styling. If you choose the black version this a backpack that does not look too ‘sporty’ for the office. Whichever color-way you choose, you’ll notice that the Speedlite 10 is not floppy when not being worn. It has a soft foam-and-mesh back, and an internal, sewn-in bendy plastic wire running around the rim of the back panel. This frame is unobtrusive and not stiff – you can still bend the whole pack in half – but it holds the pack in a shape all of the time, meaning the pack doesn’t flop over in a sweaty heap when you put it down. This is a great quality in the pack. Many other small-size lightweight packs have no skeleton and as a result collapse like a badly-built sandcastle when not on your back. Several of the packs of similar load volume (see list below) are very floppy in this way. Floppiness is not a problem for trail-running or casual purposes, but some runcommuters don’t want their pack to be a puddle of sweaty fabric when they’re carrying it around. I runcommuted with a trail-racing ‘vest’ for a while, and it was great on the run but terrible to lug once off my back.

Performance

Performance is good, with little-to-no bounce when running with the pack. However, to prevent side-to-side sway I have to tighten the straps until they are basically too uncomfortable and have me ‘corseted in’ to the pack in a very stiff way. Personally, I prefer a tiny amount of sway to extremely tight straps, and that is the choice to be made for this pack, on medium to smaller-framed people. This brings me to another issue for performance: fit. Although the actual size of this pack is small in terms of how it looks, the positioning of the sternum strap would fit larger people best. This is because for smaller people who want to wear the pack up high the sternum strap may not slide up high enough to be comfortable.  See the photo above for the sternum strap at maximum height. It’s not a huge problem for me, but it might be for anyone smaller than me (particularly ladies, for whom the chest creates specific issues). I’m not small, either: 170cm, with a broad frame (though my torso length is small/medium, rather than medium/large). So, although the Deuter Speedlite 10 looks like it would suit a smaller person, with its compact size and clean lines, this is deceptive: it would fit best on larger/taller/size ‘L’ torso runcommuters.

Sometimes, it rains. We runcommuters have to run in rain at times, as Kyle discusses in his classic ‘How to RAIN commute’ post.

To guard against sweat seepage or sudden unexpected rainstorms, a precaution is to always put your clothes into a dry bag — which will also compress them — before loading them into the main compartment.

There is the option of a small external rain-cover for instead. I did not try this method on the Deuter Speedlite 10, but I would guess that the rain cover would need to be super-small, and even then there might be problems getting the cover to stay on with the usual drawstring method used on rain-covers, because there isn’t much prominent edging for the rain cover to cling around, due to the pack’s compact design.

 

 

Key clip inside top stash pocket, on which are instructions for signalling airplanes for help!

 

 

What I Liked

Durability: high-quality materials and construction

Grab-handle for hanging pack on bathroom hooks

 

Lightweight, bendable ‘frame’ tube that gives a shape to the pack

 

 

Key hook inside…

 

….nicely-sized top pocket

 

Cool English/german instructions for signalling to aircraft for help if stranded on desert island! (the ink on these starts rubbing off pretty quickly though, so you’ll want to be marooned not too long after buying this pack…)

 

 

What I Didn’t Like

No pockets at all on shoulder straps/waistbelt

Shoulder straps a bit ‘harsh’ and may chafe neck on longer runs

 

When the main compartment is full the side mesh drink-bottle pockets are virtually unuseable for carrying drink bottles

 

Tiny anti-slide clips on waist belt don’t really work

 

 

Backpack Details

Front

The front of the pack has four light attachment points, one in each ‘corner’. It also has a small strip of silver reflective material in the lower quarter. There is no bungee cord or straps to cinch down the pack if it is fairly empty. However, this is not a problem, as the pack material keeps its shape well and doesn’t flop around or sag if there’s not much in the pack. If you had a single delicate item such as a camera in the main compartment it would bounce around, but in that scenario I don’t know whether an external bungee or compression straps would help, either.

Sides

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.

Hydration System

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.

Comparative Packs

Additional Pictures

By | 2016-10-22T20:26:27+00:00 April 18th, 2016|Categories: Gear|Tags: , , , |3 Comments

Run Commuting Tights Fit to Face a Canadian Winter

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

The front panel is made of wind-blocking nylon, polyester, spandex, and blended with polyurethane. The back is slightly different, composed of nylon and spandex, with a soft-brushed fleece interior.

Having now used these for the past 2 weeks, I am extremely pleased with the way they keep me warm, even in the coldest weather (-22°C/-8°F). Despite being thicker than most thermal tights, they did not impede my range of motion. That said, the idea behind these tights (front and back panel made of different materials) is not new, but their price make them a real steal: $82 CAD (about $58 USD).

In the same category: Sugoi Firewall 180 Zap tights, $209 CAD ($148 USD)

Modified Running Gloves

A friend, with whom I often run commute, owns a pair of Nike running gloves, which also have a mitt cover for colder days. I have been trying to get a pair of these for many years and just recently found a similar product at MEC. Reviews were not good for the product though, but they were at a discount, so I went for them. I quickly found out why: the mitt cover seams let go after the second day.

I could have taken them back to MEC for a refund, but I decided to go another way: I went to my local shoe repair shop. For a minimal cost, they readily fixed them, and they will be good for many run commuting years to come.

My local shoe repair shop, Cordonnerie Chez Gerry.

Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie

For the past 10 years, I swore by soft shell jackets for winter running. However, last fall was very mild, so I kept my Salomon Fast Wing Hoodie around longer than usual, which led to trying it out in cold temperatures. With the proper base and mid-layers, it turned out to be a very good fit, even in temperatures as cold as -20°C/-4°F. Not only does it work well, but it is half the weight of my soft shell.

Source: www.salomon.com

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