Gear Review: Hydration Nation

The longer your runs, the more likely you’ll need to hydrate on-the-run.  Unless you always run on a route with water fountains (lucky you!), it’s a good idea to either carry your water or make water bottle drops along your route (FWIW, I only know one person who does this and it is because he is very opposed to fuel belts, or what he calls “the nerd lasso”).  Over the last 18 months, I’ve accumulated 3 items to help with my hydration needs: a handheld bottle, a waistpack, and a hydration vest.  In case you’re in the market for any of these, here’s my super-duper honest review!

Amphipod Hydraform Handheld Lite – 12 oz

Retail price: $17.95
What I was looking for
: A small handheld bottle that would be easy to carry on medium distance runs (10-14 miles).
Why I bought this one: I went to REI and “tried on” every handheld they had.  The Amphipod bottles felt the best and fit my hand really well.  I’m not usually a thirsty runner, so I figured 12 oz. was a good size for me.  I also thought the pouch would be great for carrying fuel.
Usage: ~Once a week since spring, 2012.

lake chabot

Action shot with Amphipod handheld at Lake Chabot (photo courtesy of Coastal Trail Runs)

– Just the right size for most runs
– Ergonomic shape
– Never sweaty or uncomfortable against my skin
– The pouch has enough room for 1 package of Clif Bloks or 2 Gu’s
– My biggest complaint about this bottle is definitely the cap. It is very hard to open and also difficult to completely shut tight.  Maybe it’s just my cap, but it’s annoying.  I can’t open the cap with just one hand and to close it, I have to shove the cap tight with the palm of my hand.
– The cap is also impossible to clean.  Because it’s clear, it’s easy to see the gunk building up from when I fill the bottle with Cytomax.  Even if I rinse it out right after using it, there is still gross looking stuff in the lid.  I’ve taken to using a safety-pin to get the crud out.
– It gets very, very heavy when it gets wet.  As luck would have it, this has only happened to me once … at my first marathon.
Rating/Summary: 3.5 out of 5.  If it wasn’t for the cap, I’d give this bottle a 4.5.
UPDATE (Jan 2014): I finally ordered a replacement bottle from Running Warehouse, and I’m happy to report that they’ve significantly improved the design.  The old nozzle was a plastic snap cap, whereas the new one is rubberized and I can open it with my teeth.  I’ve only used it once so far, but I’ll go ahead and up the rating to 4.5 out of 5.

Nathan Trek Waistpak (22 oz.)

Retail price: $27
What I was looking for
: Something slightly bigger than my Amphipod handheld that would get me through longer trail runs with no access to water.
Why I bought this one: Good reviews on REI and Amazon.
Usage: Only 2-3 times since receiving it for Christmas from my sister (nothing personal, JS!)

I ended up wearing this thing much, much higher up on my waist.

I ended up wearing this thing much, much higher up on my waist.

– The bottle cap is GREAT compared to the Amphipod bottle.  Very easy to open and clean.
– 22 oz. is just the right size to get me through a 12-15 mile trail run.
– The pouch is huge.
– When the bottle is full, I found it nearly impossible to get it not to bounce.  I ended up wearing it very high up on my waist (Steve Urkel-style).  It bounced less when it was lighter, so I guess it was good motivation to drink early and often.  I’m wondering if it fits better on other people, or maybe I just don’t know how to adjust it properly.
– It looks uber dorky (see: Steve Urkel).
– The pouch is huge but not compartmentalized, so things jostle around and it’s hard to locate things quickly.
: 2 out of 5.  I really wished I had tried this on in the store before buying it (or rather, requesting it as a present).

UltrAspire Surge (2 Liter)

Surge - front view (source)

Surge – front view (source)

Surge - back view (source)

Surge – back view (source)

Retail price: $116
What I was looking for
: After one especially thirsty 13-mile trail run with Cathryn, with NO water access the entire route, I decided it was in my best interest to start considering something larger than my 12 oz. handheld and also more ergonomic than my Nathan waistpak.  I also intend to run longer trail races, which would entail longer training runs, so a hydration vest made the most sense.  I knew I wanted a small-ish pack, but bigger than 1 liter — otherwise, what’s the point?  I decided to keep my eye out for a 2 liter hydration vest.
Why I bought this one:  At the end of August, I got my daily Clymb email full of deals, which included the UltrAspire Surge.  It was selling for half price, plus I had a $25 friend referral credit, thanks to KH.  I was afraid that it would sell out by the end of the day, so I frantically researched the pack before going to work (good reviews here and here). I liked that it was compact for running, yet roomy enough for the random sandwich or trail mix if I decided to take it hiking.  Ultimately, I decided it was a no brainer in light of the discounted price.  What a steal!
Usage: Since getting it last week, I’ve used it 3 times.

Enjoying the view (photo credit: AL)

Atop Mt. Diablo with the UltrAspire Surge.

– Compact. Hugs my body so that it doesn’t bounce.
– Related: barely noticeable.
– Lots of pockets up front for easy access to everything from fuel to my iPhone to tissues.  I even have a compartment for trash.
– Extra pockets in the back, which I haven’t used yet but I can see being useful for packing food for extra long runs and hikes.
– The Hydrapak bladder is very easy to use.
– There is a small “Magnon Electrolyte Pocket” that is waterproof and secure. It’s meant to store electrolyte tabs or pills, but I’ve been using it for my keys.
– I got pretty bad chafing from a combination of the right shoulder strap and the tank top I wore for my 20-miler on Sunday.  Similarly, a tech shirt kept creeping up during my first run.  I think it will just take some time to figure out which tops work best with the vest.
– When I first got it, I was disappointed that the Hydrapak wasn’t one of the reversible ones because those seemed really easy to clean. (I think different models might come with the reversible bladders, but I’m not sure.)  I’ve since figured out the easiest and fastest way to dry the bladder — stick it upside down over a pair of kitchen tongs over a dish rack.  I also shake out the drink tube as much as possible.
– This didn’t apply to me, but the Surge is pricey without the discount.
4.5 out of 5.  I say this tentatively because I’ve only used it 3 times, but so far I’ve been very pleased with the Surge.  I’ll probably add a quick update in a couple of months after more use (and abuse)!

Last words of wisdom: buy a bottle brush and use it.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

So, those are my 2 cents. What about you — what are your favorite/least favorite handhelds, fuel belts, and/or hydration vests?  Any tips to pass along?

Disclaimer: These reviews are my personal opinions. I have not been compensated (with merchandise or money) to endorse these products.


Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Gear
13 comments on “Gear Review: Hydration Nation
  1. vttrailgirl says:

    I’m using a Nathan hydration vest. I’d like to try a SMALL handheld. I have a full size, and I can’t stand the sloshing. I’m also eyeing an Ultimate Direction vest that has TONS of pockets on the front.

    • Jen says:

      Yeah, pockets are pretty awesome. And I agree with you about having a small handheld — the sloshing was one reason I didn’t want a bigger one, not to mention the weight… though I suppose it’s a good arm strengthening exercise!

  2. JS says:

    Oh man, I only got a 2 out of 5?! See if I ever buy you anything again!

    JK. 🙂

  3. Dominick S. says:

    I just wasted 5 minutes of my life reading about products I will never use. It’s not you, its me.

    • Jen says:

      Oh, Dominick. I, for one, will never understand why you choose to do bottle drops — it seems so time consuming, requires planning, and there’s the risk of theft. To each his/her own, I guess.

  4. Dominick S. says:

    You will be happy to know that it took me about 25 minutes to drop all my bottles before my long run this weekend and 2 of 7 were stolen…a-holes…anyway, the glory of not having to run with a nerd lasso made it all worth it.

  5. Kira says:

    Yay, I’ve been waiting to read your review of the vest. I have an Amphipod fult-tilt airstretch velocity waistpack. I like it, but I have to wear it high and tight to keep it from bouncing. The top opens and closes easily enough. Eph hates it because it chafes his back. I also have a CamelBak barebones running hydration backpack. It’s ok…needs more/bigger pockets and it gets really stinky (ok, I get really stinky when I’m wearing it). It doesn’t quite sit comfortably on my back when full, and I’ve been thinking about replacing it with a vest next year. If I try running with one in Wyoming before spring it will probably just freeze!

    • Jen says:

      From what I’ve seen on the trails and at races, most people seem to have either Nathan or UltrAspire packs, so I can only assume that those are the better fitting ones (or have better marketing?). Just FYI – I ran with the Hydrapak full (2L) for the first few runs with my vest, and that’s what these reviews were based on. It fit great. And so far it doesn’t stink.

      I wonder whether those handwarmers (the little plastic things) will keep the water from freezing if you stick them in next to your bladder. (Bladder in your pack, not in your body, FYI. haha)

  6. […] Best new piece of gear?  Oiselle long rogas shorts (see photo above)!  These shorts are comfy, flattering, and have THREE pockets (2 with zippers).  I don’t know how I lived without them.  Also, they made me into a Oiselle junkie — I now own many other Oiselle items, and I love them all.  Runners-up: Altra Superior trail shoes and UltrAspire hydration pack.  […]

  7. […] Kaiser.  I’ll be carrying a bottle of Cytomax and 2 Gu packets. (Sidenote: I really like my Amphipod handheld, but the one gripe I have about it is that the nozzle was getting incredibly difficult to open and […]

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