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Review: Hydration Systems For The Road, Trail

A look at nine options for staying hydrated while on a run.

A look at nine hydration systems for runners.

As an athlete, the acquisition of knowledge about nutrition, fueling, recovery and the other elements relative to training and racing is a lifelong journey towards success. There’s always more to learn and new ways to refine things already known. It’s all part of the fun.

However, without being able to put all of that information to use, it would just be science. Gear is where knowledge meets practice and the execution of physical activity all comes together.

It’s the sexy part of being an athlete, but unlike most sports, the simplicity of running leaves for a limited cache of gear we can play with. Sneakers are cool, but they’re just sneakers, after all.

In my recent article about hydration, it’s clear that even for short distances its important to have fluids along with you. That’s where the fun starts!

I remember the first handheld water bottle that I crafted out of webbing, duct tape, and bungee cord, but now there’s an arsenal of products to choose from for all distances, body types and preferences. We sent some thirsty testers out into the field and this is what they came back with.

Handhelds have come a long way since my early prototype and although the concept is the same duct tape is not included.

Isomeric 16oz, $26.50, and Isomeric Race 20oz, $24.00

Features: Both of these handhelds incorporate UltrAspire’s Polarity system, which uses magnetic energy to enhance your fluid’s beneficial properties. A little esoteric, but I’ll take any help I can get! They are also shaped differently then any other bottle on the market. Visually it was questionable but when used, each design enhanced the ability to drink with ease. They were easy to hold with a comfortable fabric that allows you to wipe your brow or mouth.

Cons: Although I like the size of the bottles, they were a bit cumbersome and heavy for the female tester. They do have smaller sized options, but these won’t take you as far.

Ultimate Direction Fastdraw Extreme 20oz., $25.95

Features: This model addresses the cold hand/warm fluid issue with handhelds. Really cold fluids make your hands cold and then get warm, but the neoprene sheath that covers this bottle keeps the fluids cold and your hand from going numb. It has a comfortable cinch so you don’t have to hold on too tight and a zippered pouch to carry a small snack and electrolytes. With a 20-ounce capacity, this will keep you hydrated for a moderate run.

Cons: Successful hydration means ease of consumption. The high volume nozzle on all of the UD bottles is a bit tricky. Its good to get a rush of fluids, but sometimes the retractable nozzle takes extra energy to pull out.

CamelBak Quick Grip with Podium Chill Bottle 20oz., $23.00

Features: Cold fluid leads to a cooler core temperature and the ability to go longer. The podium chill bottle did the job of keeping drinks cold through the 70-minute trail run the testers used. The valve is easy to use with good flow.

Cons: A little stiff and heavy as a result of the extra insulation in the bottle. Heavy and bulky for female users.

At a certain point, distance trumps the ability to carry enough fluids in handhelds and for those who don’t enjoy them in the first place, the next options are the waist and back. Vests are the most versatile, but one has to consider comfort, capacity, cost and storage. Here’s what we came back with.

UltrAspire Omega 70oz., $142.00

Features: Lightweight construction meets comfort in this vest that got some of the best reviews from our testers. Great for training or racing, this vest performed well on shorter distances carrying just a parka or longer distances with a bit more. Plenty of well designed pockets for goodies and extras. One size with lots of adjustment.

Cons: Mouthpiece does not have the best flow. The adjustment straps are a bit slippery and require a lot of repeat tightening. Hint: A little tape or sandpaper helps.

Ultimate Direction Signature Series AK Race 40oz., $89.95, and SJ Ultra Vest 40oz., $124.95.

Features: Designed by veteran distance runners Anton Krupicka and Scott Jurek, these vests are lightweight with plenty of thought placed upon construction. Both carry water bottles in front pockets, which our testers enjoyed as a different option than traditional bladders. They’re best as race vests where you can refill your water bottles at aid stations or have some kind of filter (see below) with you for training runs. Not having to carry bottles for those who don’t like bladders, this makes for a great option. The AK is the one to choose for anything up to 50k.

Cons: What you gain in ounces you lose in comfort. There’s no room for padding, so be conscious of where you face zippers, buttons, and fuel bars to avoid chafing and sore spots. Different sizes but limited ability to adjust beyond.

Geigerrig Rig 500 70oz., $130.00

Features: This vest is purely focused on hydration, with the most innovative bladder that any of our testers have seen. One of the biggest problems with bladders is the issue of having to drink with a lot of effort. With its unique pressurized system, all you have to do with this vest is swallow. Excellent features of being able to turn the bladder inside out and place it in the dishwasher and the ability to attach two types of in-line filters to refill the bladder from anywhere made this the most popular system of any vest tested.

Cons: The pack, although really comfortable with excellent construction, was too heavy and bulky for trail running. They have many different styles but the Rig Cadence looks to be the best option for runners.

CamelBak Marathoner 70oz., $100.00., and Ultra LR Vest 70oz., $130.00

Features: These are affordable vests to be used for both training and racing for all types of runners. CamelBak has been in the business for a long time and is a company that offers variety and selection over specificity. Both are one size with adjustable Velcro shoulder straps. Easy flow hydration bladders provide plenty of fluids. Each has requisite padding for their intended distances.

Cons: These vests are a little cumbersome. The adjustable straps were not favored by our testers and were not the most comfortable despite their padding. The bladders also require additional purchases for drying and cleaning.

Distance running requires access to water and thankfully I have yet to see a corner store pop up on the bend of my trail runs. Since minimalism is such a hot topic, inspired by the Geigerrig, we also decided to test out some lightweight water filters and purifiers.

SteriPen Freedom $119.95

Features: Clean drinking water is essential for anyone and this micro sized UV purifier is pretty nifty. It purifies 16 ounces of water in 48 seconds and destroys over 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses and protozoa such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium. It was great for sharing on a group run, while carrying handhelds that could be refilled out on the trail from streams and rivers. It’s also lightweight enough that no one minded carrying it. Its USB charger can be plugged into your computer or wall anywhere. An excellent option for travel running.

Cons: If the water is too dirty, it requires pre-filtration before the SteriPen can be used. The company does offer a filter assembly that one can also easily carry along but it is an extra step.

Aquamira Frontier Pro, $24.95, and Frontier Emergency Filter, $11.95

Features: This unique and compact filtration system attaches to almost any hydration bladder or can be used with its tube adapter to drink from a larger vessel a runner out on the trails might have. It is super lightweight, requires no charging or tube attachment system and removes 99.9 percent of Cryptosporidium and Giardia bacteria without having to pump up to 50 gallons of water. Our testers really enjoyed the novelty of a water filter and the freedom that it employed. The Frontier Filter is a paired down version of the pro but has the same filtration ability. It does not attach to any bladders and is better used as a back up or in basecamp. Great price point.

Cons: Can’t really be used on the go. You have to filter your water first and then get on your way and this system requires time to make that happen. A better on the go option from Aquamira would be to use their treatment system. Still worth having on a fastpacking or basecamp running trip.

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