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.

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!

Product Review: IceMule Pro Cooler

My family loves to hike.  As a low maintenance trail runner, it is easy for me to stuff a few things in my pack and head out the door, but family hikes tend to require more planning (especially when it involves a six and eight year old).  We like to take our time and enjoy nature on our adventures, which comes with its own set of challenges.  We need to pack enough food and drinks for everyone for a long day outside.  I can’t tell you how many times we have thought to ourselves, “man, it would be great if we could have a real picnic” while reaching the half way point of our hike at one of the many remote alpine lakes in Utah.  This is a challenge because by the time you actually get there, your drinks are warm and your food is smushed and gross.  Well, I finally found a solution with the IceMule Pro Cooler.  Take a look!

Disclaimer: IceMule provided me with the Pro 20L for free for the purposes of this review (and perhaps after a little salivating on my part at Outdoor Retailer).  As always though, my objectives are to help you with your buying decision and help the company improve upon their products, so I will strive to be honest and unbiased.

Product Overview

The model I have been using is the 20L Pro model, which is a soft-sided, insulated cooler designed to be worn as a backpack.  I was interested in this model because it could be worn backpack style and I felt it offered the right balance between capacity and weight and would be perfect for my anticipated use.  Here are the specs from their site.

Dimensions & Capacity

  • 17″ tall, 14″ wide, 11″ deep (when closed)
  • Capacity = 18 cans plus ice
Features
  • TriFold DriTopTM System. Foolproof seal to keep ice in and air out.
  • MuleSkinETTM and MuleSkinEVTM. Tough 1000 denier Outer layer for exceptional strength and durability; heavy-duty inner layer 2X thicker than most soft coolers.
  • ComfortCarryIMPTM System. Reinforced back-straps and plus ventilated back pads provide ultimate comfort for long-range excursions.
  • PolarLayerTM Insulation. Keeps contents “IceMule Cold” for up to 24 hours.
  • IM AirValveTMAllows for insulation layer air removal so the cooler can roll up for storage in its stuff sack.

Price: $99.95 on Amazon.com (click to view)

Field Test

I have used it a few times so far, but I will focus my review on my recent trip spent hiking with my family in the hotter conditions of Southeastern Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  Many of the trails in these parks are pretty exposed.  Knowing that we would be moving slow with my kids, I wanted to make sure we had enough cold drinks and some food for when we got hungry.  I figured this terrain would be the perfect test for the IceMule. Here is a picture of me wearing it near Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

I was focused on reviewing it in two key categories, comfort and performance.

Comfort

This was perhaps my greatest concern before using it.  My initial thought was, “how could wearing a cooler on my back be comfortable?”  At the end of the day, I was beyond surprised at how comfortable it was. When loading it about 2/3 full, it weighed in at around 15lbs; a manageable weight for most grown ups.  The padding on the back and shoulder straps was so comfortable that I didn’t feel burdened with the weight and didn’t feel any awkward weight distribution at all.  When all was said and done, I never got sore shoulders or any sign of chafing.  In other words, it was pretty comfortable.  In addition, it was pretty breathable.  Sweat on by back was very minimal, despite being about 85 degrees Fahrenheit out.

Performance

Ultimately, the biggest test for me was how long it would keep the ice, otherwise, what would be the point of carrying a cooler up a mountain.  🙂  With a small 8 lb bag of ice, about 8 bottles/cans, and some food, the ice melted about half way over the course of 4 1/2 – 5 hours.  This included several times opening and closing the cooler along the hike.  I am sure with more ice, it would have kept even longer, although I felt the amount I used was typical of how I will use it.  While it didn’t seem like the ice would last anywhere close to a full day, it would have been good for 8+ hours in the heat of the day, which is likely perfect for most uses.  Additionally, I plan to test out other use cases to see what effects it has on ice longevity.

When done, it is easy to clean as well, just requiring a quick rinse and air drying.  It also has a air release valve so that you can release the air used for insulation for quick and compact storage when it is not in use.

Conclusion

One other nice thing about this pack that I haven’t mentioned yet are the rip cords on the back of the pack that is perfect for cinching down a jacket or two.  It is perfect if you are expecting it to be rainy or chilly and would like to pack accordingly without having to carry another bag.  I will say, I don’t believe there is anything else on the market that compares to the IceMule.  It fills a huge gap that I have had as it relates to hiking, particularly as a family.  I could see this having so many applications too, day trips to the park/zoo/etc., a day out on the boat or at the beach, you name it!  For $100, this is definitely worth picking up and keeping handy.

Pros:

  • Ice lasts more than long enough for a day full of activities.
  • Comfortable and breathable.
  • Plenty of room (with some to spare) for drinks and food for my family of four.
  • Easy to clean and store.

Cons:

  • In addition to the rip cords on the back, it would be great to build in some pockets or storage up front for quick access to essentials.

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!

Gear Review: Orange Mud Vest Pack 1

Orange Mud continues to gain traction in the world of trail and ultra running as more people get on board with their unique “bottles on the back” design.  As they continue to grow, they continue to look for ways to expand their product line and give options to their fans.  I have used all of their pack models to date and have honed in on an ideal usage for each one, but still had a need that I didn’t feel was being addressed as well as it could.  During races, I am really picky about my food, therefore I like to carry most of what I eat.  At the same time, I don’t need to carry a bunch of water thanks to the frequency of aid stations at most races.  In other words, I wanted a race-day pack that wouldn’t be weighed down by a bunch of liquid or multiple bottles, yet had enough storage capacity to carry everything I needed.  The new Vest Pack 1 fits this need to a tee, let’s take a look…

DISCLAIMER: At the time of writing this review, I am a member of the Orange Mud Ambassador team, which is primarily because I love what the company does and the products they make.  That being said, the goal of my reviews is to help you find out what works for you and help the respective company make their products better.  Therefore, I will try to find the good and bad and call them out equally.

Description

The Vest Pack 1 is a single bottle version of their popular VP2 pack.  It has a similar design in that it extends further down the ribcage on each side (versus the original HydraQuiver design), snapping into place with a single buckle across the chest.  It also has a strap on each side that runs to the back of the vest, further helping to hold it in place without restricting breathing and mobility.  The key to wearing either model Vest Pack is getting the proper fit on the rib cage straps first and then using the single strap across the front to stabilize everything.  This is a relatively easy process and I usually can get it perfectly dialed in after a run or two.  As far as materials, It is made of the same mesh as the VP2, which makes it light and very breathable.

The front of the pack is identical to the VP2.  It has two roomy drawstring pouches for holding larger items and two smaller stretch-mesh, front-accessible shoulder pouches for smaller items, such as gels, keys, and phones.

orange-mud2-1024x1024

The back of the pack is where the design deviates from the VP2 a bit.  The bottle sits on the back in the middle, which is similar to the original Orange Mud HydraQuiver, instead of on the sides like the VP2.  Also, where the VP2 had a drawstring in the middle for fastening jackets and such, the VP1 has two separate stretch-mesh pouches on each side.  These pouches do provide quite a bit of capacity thanks to the stretch of the pockets, but I did find that the openings of the pouches are somewhat restrictive, making it difficult to stick items down into the pouch and later retrieve them.  It also limits the type of stuff that you can put in it, because larger rigid items are difficult fit through the opening.

Hydraquiver_VP1_Profile_Black

Retail Price: $119.95 (includes a 25 oz bottle)
Weight: 8.7 oz (10.7 oz. with empty bottle)
Chest Size: Fits circumference from 27″ – 52″

In Action

This pack is not unlike every other Orange Mud product…you simply forget that you are wearing it!  It has zero bounce and does not feel restrictive like so many others.  The bottle never falls out, even during the times I had to lean over to tie my shoe or pick something up.  The location of the bottle on the upper back is great for weight distribution.  I only found it to get in the way when wearing my Petzl Nao (which has a battery pack on the back of the head) or when wearing a backwards baseball cap (which I never do)…other than that, the bottle location is not really obstructive, yet always within reach.  My wife, who has long hair, generally wears a pony tail and flips it to the side which works nicely for her.  The front storage is great for accessing everything you need on the run, which allows you to reserve the back storage for emergency only items and limits the amount of time you have to spend fumbling around at aid stations or on the go.  The shoulder pouches in particular are handy for storing your phone, gels, keys, or other smallish items.  I have heard some people express concerns about the shoulder pouches coming open and things falling out.  Speaking from experience, I store my phone, car keys, and other things in the shoulder pouches on every one of my runs and not once have they opened up or has something fallen out.  You can rest assured…these pockets are very secure!

My Final Thoughts

Pros

  • Super light, yet versatile…perfect for ultra racing!
  • Comfortable.  During most of the 50K race I used it in and all other training runs thus far, I forget that it is there.  And unlike the VP2 where it can tend to shift backwards a bit when both of the bottles are full, this pack doesn’t have that problem.
  • Plenty of front accessible storage, big enough for food, headlamps, hats, gloves, etc.
  • High quality, durable construction made right here in the USA.

Cons

  • I mentioned this before, and that is the ease of use of the back storage pockets.  To make these more user friendly, the opening of the pockets needs to be changed to allow larger items to be stored more easily.

Recommendation

For me, this pack represents the best parts of the HydraQuiver and the VP2.  While I continue to use my other Orange Mud packs on training runs, this is my new go-to race pack for any ultra distance for its combination of storage flexibility and light weight.  Just like with all other Orange Mud packs, you have to be willing to shed all of your initial impressions and embrace the “bottles on the back” design.  I won’t lie, it does take some getting used to (in the same sort of way that Injinji toe socks do), but [like Injinji] I have seen only a rare few that have tried it and not fallen in love with it.  I recommend them because I used other brands in my earlier years of running and nothing comes close to these in my opinion.  As far as the VP1 is concerned, if you are looking for a great race day pack with flexible storage options, you will want to give this one a go.

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!