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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Shaba VS-12C Mini Bluetooth Speaker

One of the things I LOVE about doing product reviews is the chance to expand the horizons of my readers through the discovery of products of new or relatively unknown brands.  I have found some really great products out there simply by digging a little deeper.  My latest find is the VS-12C mini bluetooth speaker from Shaba Audio.  Shaba’s parent company is also a manufacturer and exclusive distributor of Sherwood Audio in China.  Shaba’s product line is focused on portable audio devices, such as the VC-12C.

The market today is flooded with choices when it comes to bluetooth speakers, which can make it hard to find one that balances cost and quality.  You can go out and buy one for $100+ and get something that sounds good, is waterproof, etc., but aside from being pricy, products in this price range generally aren’t the type of thing that you would walk around with.  On the smaller side, you can spend less money, but most of them that I have run across either have poor sound quality, are cheaply made, or both.  I found the Shaba VS-12C to be a pretty solid middle ground.  Let’s take a look.

For its size, it provides surprisingly good quality audio output, both in terms of quality and volume.  The VS-12C is about the size of an egg, which you can see in this picture:

In terms of audio quality, it packs a decent punch too.  For comparison purposes, I would say that the audio volume output is about 75-100% more than that of an iPhone and the quality is considerably better.  Whereas sound quality can often degrade as you approach max volume on most devices, the sound quality is pretty consistent on the VS-12C.

Aside from just playing audio via bluetooth, it has some other pretty cool features as well.  Here are some highlights:

  • A selfie button, that allows you to prop your camera up and take a picture using the VS-12C as a remote.
  • A speakerphone capability that allows hands-free communication through your phone.
  • LED lights, that make it easy to use in the dark.

I could see a number of uses for this little guy.  For example, if you want some music while out hiking, walking, running, etc., it is the perfect size to carry in your hand, fasten to your pack, or hang it around your neck.  Really, it is pretty convenient for any situation where portability is a main concern.  Here is a basic pro/con list of highlights:

Pros:

  • Size makes it super portable for just about any situation.
  • Sound quality.  I am not going to use it to DJ a party anytime soon, but the sound quality was well above my expectations for something of that size.  It is perfect for personal, portable needs.

Cons:

  • I don’t like it hanging around my neck and would have much rather preferred if they built a clip onto the back of it so I could clip it to things instead.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!