Product Review: Katadyn BeFree Water Filter Soft Flask

I actually ran across the Katadyn BeFree while I was flipping through an issue of Runner’s World looking at one of their “favorite gear” articles and it caught my eye.  I am a recent convert to soft flasks, which I like to keep readily accessible in the front pouches of my vest.  I figured that one with a built in filter would be great for self supported runs where water sources aren’t always reliable.  I have carried a Life Straw before, and they are great, but the straw is only good when physically at a water source and their bottle models are rigid and don’t fit well in my pack.  This gives me a great option without having to carry any extra gear.

   

Overview

The flask itself is made by Hydrapak, so you know you are getting a solid bottle.  It is a 0.6L flask (20 oz), providing capacity in line with other soft flasks and rigid bottles on the market and perfect for the front pouch of most running packs.  It is going to cost you around $40, which means you are paying about $20 for the added benefit of the filter when you consider the price of similar soft flasks on the market.  The filter is certified for up to 1000 liters of water or about 1600 refills of the flask, so it will last most people for awhile.

In Use

On the trail,  I was quite satisfied, but there are a few things I would tweak to the overall experience.  The bottle itself was great.  Katadyn says that the flow out of the bottle is roughly one liter of water per minute, which is more than enough for a swig of water along the run.  I haven’t yet had any issues with a reduction in water flow and don’t imagine that I will as long as I keep the filter clean between uses.  In general, it is great not having to worry about running out of water.  I generally carry two soft flasks these days.  My usual practice is to empty the filter flask first and then fill up at the next water source, making sure I hang on to my non-filter flask mostly for backup.  Filling it up is super easy.  Just take the cap off, fill the flask, and put it back on.  It is recommended that you wipe off the flask after filling it, but since you are drinking through the cap, the risk of ingesting water that does not pass through the filter is still pretty low.

As for the experience, I would like to see if there is a way to use a straw top instead of the drink nozzle that is on it, that way, I can keep it in the front pouch of my pack and drink from it without having to take it out.  An alternative would be to try one of those soft flask holders (like Solomon has) to make it easier to carry in your hand (which I haven’t tried yet).

Pros

  • Super convenient with the filter built right into the bottle.  You can stop at any water source, take the cap off, fill the bottle, and you are good to go.
  • Easy to clean the filter if water flow becomes clogged.  In most cases, you can just shake it, but if all else fails, you can rinse/flush it in a clean water source.
  • Perfect size to fit conveniently in the front pouch of most packs.
  • Water flow was great.  A light squeeze and you can get a mouthful of water no problem.

Cons

  • The cap is a squirt top, which means you have to take it out and squeeze it to be effective.  I think you could offer a cap with a straw attachment and it would work just as well.  This would keep from having to take it out of the pocket.
  • The top of the soft flask near the cap is a bit more rigid than other Hydrapak flasks I have used and it is a bit more tricky to get stuffed down into the front pockets of my vest when full.

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Product Review: Orange Mud Endurance Pack

For their first few years of existence, the mantra at Orange Mud was centered around bottles over bladders.  The first four packs they released were bottle-based, with their signature “bottles on the back/jetpack” design.  So you can imagine my surprise when they said they were working on a bladder pack.  At the same time, it makes sense.  From a business growth perspective, there is a huge demographic that prefers bladders (particular for long, self-supported activities).  Besides, why shouldn’t the folks in the bladder camp get to enjoy the high-quality, well-thought-out designs from Orange Mud!?  With that said, I bring you my review of the Orange Mud Endurance Pack.

Product Overview

This is Orange Mud’s first foray into a non-bottle based pack, although it steals many of the same concepts of its bottle-based predecessors.  For example, it still has the signature shoulder and chest pockets that you get on both of the Orange Mud Vest Pack models.  It also uses the same breathable mesh.  Where it differs is on the back of the pack, where the bladder neatly hides away beneath the storage that is layered on top of it.  The result is a ton more storage room than we are used to seeing with Orange Mud packs.  Here are the specs from their site:

  • Pack Weight: – 270grams, 9.5oz.
  • Dimensions: 10″W x 13″ tall / Volume 6 liters.
  • Bladder: HydraPak 2L (70oz) elite, with quick disconnect and blaster valve.
  • Compartment 1: Bladder compartment
  • Compartment 2: Main cargo
  • Compartment 3: Zippered elastic pocket with secure key clip.
  • MUDX Technology: Trekking Pole Attachment Option.
  • Material details: Our stretch fabric is tough, abrasion resistant, & endurance designed.
  • Shoulder pocket storage: Phone, gel, nutrition, electrolyte and more, both sides.
  • Front chest pocket storage: 15oz/450ml soft flask capable.
  • Front adjustments: 2 elastic straps have multiple adjustment locations.

Price: $135/$150 (trekking pole model) at OrangeMud.com (click to visit)

Fit

This is probably the most form-fitting hydration pack in the Orange Mud line of products.  While I love the bottle system, the fluid shape of a bladder contributes to the packs ability to mold to the contour of your body for more “hug-like” feel.  Additionally, the pack itself is slightly longer from top to bottom, which increases the footprint on the body, but also enables a more snug and secure fit.

I have never really had much of a problem with bounce on any of the Orange Mud packs to be perfectly honest, and the Endurance Pack is no exception.  What I did find is that while the bottle-based packs did seem to take a bit longer to dial in the right fit, the Endurance pack was a lot easier right out of the gate.


Ride

The Wasatch mountains in Utah offer the best terrain for field testing because of the steep uphills and aggressive downhills; they just offer the right conditions for really testing out a products potential.  The most annoying thing to me about any pack is when it shifts a lot on a fast downhill.  I am happy to report that this passed with flying colors.  The very secure fit not only makes me happy on downhills, but it also allows the pack to disappear when wearing it.  What I mean is that it fits so close to the body that you forget you are even wearing it.  Despite that, it did not feel restrictive whatsoever!  The downside to the fit and larger footprint is the effects it has on breathability, especially on the back.  As good as the mesh is on the pack, it there is simply nowhere for heat to escape off the back of the body.  I definitely sweat more on my back than in Orange Mud bottle packs.

Conclusion

Overall, this is an unbelievable entrance into the bladder-based pack.  Minus a few nitpicky things, I think Orange Mud nailed it.  In fact, this pack has actually caused me great internal strife and conflict.  One the one hand, I hate bladders, but on the other hand, this pack is so comfortable that it makes it worth it.  I still struggle with this, but having choices is never a bad thing.  One complaint I have always heard about OM is price, yet this is pretty price comparable to similar bladder packs on the market.  I would recommend this pack to anyone that likes bladders over bottles or just needs a pack that can hold more water and other stuff.  I have used Nathan and Salomon bladder packs in the past and this more than holds its own against any of those that I have tried.  I likely will still race with one of the bottle-based vest packs, but this is definitely my new go-to for long distance, self-supported runs.

Pro’s:

  • Fit…in other words, like a glove.  I was always pleasantly satisfied with the minimal bounce of their bottle-based packs but this fits even better.  It literally does not move at all.
  • Plenty of storage! With the two front pockets, shoulder pockets, open back pocket, zip back pocket, and cinch cords, you can carry anything and everything in this pack.
  • Quality. Nothing about this pack says “cheap”.  The construction and sewing is all top notch from what I can tell.

Con’s:

  • Add on charge for the pole hooks.  Should be included.  I am not a fan of how they secure either as it makes me paranoid that they are going to become unhooked (I must add that this has been all paranoia so far since it has not actually happened to date).
  • Bladder size.  70 oz. is perfectly fine for me, especially since you can stash soft flasks up front, but some people do like a larger bladder reservoir and might have a problem fitting anything larger than the 2L in this pack.
  • Bigger footprint on the back is not as breathable as some other Orange Mud packs.

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