These are the bags that I have tried and the reasons I have not got on well with them.
- Camelbak: Too narrow for my shoulders
- OMM 12L: Rides too high and slightly too narrow.
- Salomon Radlight: About the best I had had previously but hard to get bottles out (Someone else had to do it for me!)although had worn this on the SDW100 and Ridgeway 85.....It has now fallen apart!
- Lowe Alpine Waist pack: OK, but always left with chafing
- Ultraspire Fastpack: Too big! Big enough to live in!
- Ultraspire Revolution: Excellent fit but sideways bottle leaking issues and no zip.
- Salomon XT Skin SLAB: These fiddly horrible little clips to attach the straps I can only imaging 50 miles into a cold ultra would annoy the hell out of anyone.....and not big enough to fit my back
So ranting aside, I am quite a picky chap. I have a 40 inch chest and am 6ft 2 so am probably fairly limited in terms of fitting. I had been emailing Keith a the UltramarathonRunningStore over the last few weeks about the new Ultimate Direction SJ (Scott Jurek) vest and it looked like it might arrive after the St Peters Way 45 miler next weekend.
I then decided to go with the PB vest which is essentially a slightly bigger version of the SJ. My decision to road test it for my role as Sweeper for the London Ultra yesterday forms the basis of this report.
The PB vest retails at Keith's store for £129.98 which I'll admit doesn't come cheap. The issue is, if you decide to compromise on price, you often compromise on quality. This is at the top end of the market and definitely comes with the refinement that the price tag commands.
My first test was to test it straight out of the bag. I unpacked it and adjusted the straps to my liking and filled it with 2 coats, 3 hats, an umbrella and 2 bags of flour (anything I could get my hands on!) I also filled both water bottles and went out into the back garden and jumped up and down to see what the "bounce" was like. I was very impressed. Once I had adjusted the neat little red bungee cords, it didn't move.
Not everyone is a fan of front bottles. I am. I used to attach the RaidLight bottles to the from of my old Salomon. It works as long as you have at least a bit of mass in the sack at the back for counterbalance. These bottle holders come with 2 side pouches either side of each bottle which are elasticated to hold gels and in my case, a small map rolled up. Each bottle comes with 2 bungee cords, one of which is adjustable and the front is made of Cuben Fibre (of which I will come onto later).
Onto our role in the London Ultra.......Sweeping duties for the 50km event from near Bromley in South East London to Ealing in North West, along rivers, towpaths and the Capital Ring pathway. Susie and I gave the runners a headstart after manning our checkpoint, went home for a cup of tea and then trotted up to the top of Crystal Palace. I had in the pack 1xbottle of Cola Nuun, 1x bag of sweets, my jacket, Susie's Jacket, gloves, spare clothes for possibly getting the Tube home, 3 gels, gloves, iPhone and some cash. We stopped off at Tooting Bec for some shots in the February sunshine.
The bag felt very natural to wear. Only minor adjustment at the start to get the fit right and it did not move about or sway at the back. The bottles held tightly and importantly, did not leak. 2 bungee cords here was an excellent idea.
The bottles themselves have a finger loop and textured sides to prevent slippage. On the top the fitting is tight and not like some bottles that pop open when over-tightened.
The rubberised kicker cap I initially met with some apprehension as my concern was it was a little flimsy. I was scared to use my teeth to pull it out for fear of ripping but I think the silicone runner was much stronger than I had anticipated and it passed the test on the day. It did not leak and was clean and easy to use. The bottle came straight out of the loops and went straight back in even when tiredness set in at the end of the day.
There are 2 chest straps to secure the vest in place. The top strap is elasticated to allow the ribs to expand so that the runner can breathe. This is fundamental to the success of a vest and I am not sure why other manufacturers forget about the anatomical need to breathe in and out! The lower strap, which sat just below my sternum and across the bottom of the ribcage, has a greater adjustability, while both are moveable up and down with a very clever piece of piping that the clasps can migrate up or down. Once in place, there is no slippage. The straps are smooth and did not rub my top underneath and there was no chafing.
Above the bottles on either side are 2 zipped pockets. The left hand side has a whistle attached that does need tucking in while running as it does become irritating if it bounces up towards the face. This is easily remedied by tucking into the pocket. One of the pocket opens upwards and one opens downwards. These are ideal for gels/travelcard but neither were big enough to fit in an iPhone. Both are made from the tough Cuben Fibre but not waterproof from the inside as the mesh from the chest is very breathable.....and for good reason.
The mesh that lines the back area and the straps is a soft, breathable but supportive honeycomb structure. All of the seams are hidden as you can see in the photo above.
The straps are hemmed with a soft fabric that doesn't hold water (i.e sweat) and so the bag doesn't gain too much mass when you are exerting and perspiring. When I get home and out of the bath after a long run, my wife usually looks at my back in horror at a strapmark or intense chafing but this time....nothing!
Inside the bag there are 2 main storage areas, both expandable with Cuben Fibre. Cuben Fibre or CTF3 as it is known is a high-performance non-woven fabric for applications such as yacht sails, airship hulls and many designs that require a strong rip resistance and light areal mass. The material felt quite flimsy at first......
But after I tried to stick a sharp pencil in and the lead snapped, I realised that it was pretty strong! The Cuben Fibre folds away like bellows into the 2 compartments of the backpack. The smaller of the 2 compartments has a mesh to the front and will store a light jacket or food. The rear compartment, where I stored a change of clothes and mine and the wife's coat has a really clever idea.....internal bungee cord cross-weaved to hold in any items to stop them moving around and to organise the space. Across the back is yet another bungee cord, cross-weaved to pull the pack tight to the body and again, reduce any lateral movement.
Finally, between the front and the back of the pack are 2 mesh sides that sit just above the hips.
These loose woven stretchable and breathable sections contained 2 compartments each side, one zipped and one Velcro. The zipped compartment is where I stored my iPhone. Whilst it held securely and comfortably, I needed to access my phone to contact the race organiser and phone a few friends who were running who I wanted to get hold of while performing my sweeper duties to check their finish times. This is a bit of a downside to the pack as it was tough to get the phone out as the tightening bungee cord was often the first thing that was pulled and it hampered access the the small zip holder. A bigger zip tab would have really helped here, something that was not the same plastic end as the bungee as they felt the same for tired fingers. There are a number of other bungee cords and stronger loops for ice-axes, poles and the like but they will not be used unless I get a place at the UTMB next year! In front of the zip pouches on the right was a neat little Cuben Fibre pouch that I put in a couple of coins, which I felt was very useful when running down to Elephant and Castle for my train, being 20 mins early and wanting a cup of builder's tea at a cafe and not wanting the hassle of taking off the pack. An excellent addition. The bag is choc-full of reflective piping and the bright colours add a safety dimension for evening and night running. I noticed this when I took it off at the Tube station in NW London to travel home. The pack weighs in at 496 grams with bottles included which is very light indeed.
So, to the verdict: it is near to the top of the price range for running packs which might put some runners off. It does not stint in features and run comfortability. I dropped the wife off at Richmond-on-Thames as her 17 mile long run in training for the VLM was over and she jumped on the train home, leaving me to continue sweeping. Even as I accelerated to 7.40s, the pack didn't move and I really didn't know it was there, despite the addition of a can of Coke to the rear compartment. Although I only ran 52km on the day, I feel that this will be in use on the SDW100 this summer and my 192 mile Coast-to-Coast run with Phil in August. It offers the 2 back compartments and 11 storage pockets, 7 of which are on the straps and very accessible. The material is light but very strong and I think will be durable. I am really happy with the way that it performed on the day and am looking forward to giving it the full once over at the St Peter's Way 45 mile race next Sunday. top marks to Ultimate Direction. I'll be honest, I had never heard of them before 6 months ago and thought their earlier rucksacks; the Diablo and the Highline were fairly ugly and would not have got me parting with their money. The new Signature range look the business and the PB vest certainly hits the right notes for me, in terms of storage, fit and stability. Top marks for this vest. The search is finally over!