Monday, October 29, 2012

Gear Review - Source Hydration 1.5l Dune Race Pack

With the Australian Ultramarathon season getting into full swing, it’s the right time to be testing and checking your gear, to make sure you have the ideal combination for the specific events you’re participating in.

Light, low profile and very comfortable
I was sent a Dune Race hydration pack (with a 1.5l bladder) from Source. You may be more familiar with their range of hydration bladders which the supply to North Face, Salomon, and other high end brands, and this is where I had my first experience of them.  Of all the hydration systems I have tried the Source valve is by far the best.  

The cylindrical valve can be used in any orientation, and a gentle bite is enough to get the fluid flowing freely. It also has a simple twist lock system, sealing the valve shut when not in use.  The standard pack also comes with a dust cover with clips over the valve keeping it clean. For me this is more of a hindrance than a help as the cover bounces around while drinking, so you need to keep hold of it.  I was thinking of taking it off completely, but it is great for running on the beaches where sand has the ability to find its way into all those places you don’t want it.

The tube is insulated helping avoid that horrible warm first mouthful, and apparently stops water in the tube freezing on colder days (not that something I’ve experienced recently!). One of my favourite features if the magnetised clip, which holds the valve right where you want it on the sternum strap, and keeps it there until you need a drink. The magnet is so strong that you can pretty much drop the tube and it is magically pulled back into place, without any flapping around.

The bladder itself has a wide opening for fast refilling of water and ice. This then folds over and the clip slides across to make an airtight seal.  For warmer races I find having the option to add ice essential.  The bladder is made of a plastic which inhibits bacterial growth and doesn’t flavour the water at all, so all the good scientific stuff is covered too.

The pack itself is the most comfortable I have worn.  I’ve done over 200kms in this pack without any hot spots or rubbing.  It is fully adjustable, and the design is such that if you tighten one side it doesn’t pull the pack to one side, but instead makes it fit more snugly. I put this down to the shoulder straps being positioned in a cross shape across you back. This is especially effective if you have asymmetrical shoulders or sloping shoulders, where a conventional pack doesn’t sit evenly.

The loose ends of the shoulder straps are attached so you don’t get any annoying flapping of webbing. The hip strap is adjustable and elasticated, and could probably do with being a bit longer, as for more on the longest extension it is just on the limit of what I would prefer. That said I’m larger than the average skinny ultra runner, so it wouldn’t be an issue for the greater majority of runners.  

I also found that the pack sits quite high on my back, leaving enough room beneath it for a bottle belt.  I have a very long body, and this is typical of all packs I have tried, however having the capacity to carry a couple of extra drink bottles is essential for me on hot runs with a long distance between checkpoints.

The waist belt has two pouches with ample room for all those essentials, keys, gels, phone, etc, all easily accessible whilst on the move. I found these to be very comfortable and no bouncing around, even when fully loaded.

The main storage area is at the back and is concealed to some degree by the cross over shoulder straps, so getting a friend to access this without taking it off may be tricky.  This is a race pack, so the storage space is quite limited. You could get a few snacks, a first aid kit and spare pair of socks in the main compartment (which also has pockets to keep your kit in place) and then an external bungy criss-cross for storage of a rain coat.  Personally I’d prefer a little more storage space, but then I have always been one to take too much with me, rather than just what I’ll need. So maybe this pack is ideal to force me to reduce the load I’m carrying!

Another feature I do like is the low profile design. Not only does this keep the pack close to your body for minimal bounce and sloshing, but it has a very small “footprint” of contact on your body. This maximises the cooling opportunity for exposed areas of skins and clothing, whilst minimising the area warmed by having the pack against your body. 

So overall I was very impressed with this pack, and it’s definitely one I will use in upcoming races. As a heavy sweater, I would have preferred a 2l or 3l bladder, and whilst you could fit one in it I’m not sure it would function quite as well.  Only for those ultra races with over 20-25kms between checkpoints would I think this could be an issue.

The only downside for me is the lack of storage space for mandatory gear, but again this is only for those races where they have an extensive kit list (most frequently experienced in colder climates or winter races).

The pluses are many. The comfort and fit (I would forget that I was wearing it), it very light weight, the valve delivery system, and the lack of bounce and sloshing.

From reviewing this pack I have learnt that I don’t believe there is one pack for all races, and that different distances, terrains and conditions favour different packs. The Dune Race is well suited to warmer conditions, with checkpoints no more than about 2-3 hours apart (depending on how much you sweat!)

Run Happy

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