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: Kaenon Hard Kore Sunglasses

I am a total junky when it comes to sunglasses, as is evident by the full rack of shades sitting on top of my dresser.  I especially love finding a good pair of sunglasses for trail running.  That is why I jumped at the opportunity to review the Kaenon Hard Kore glasses.  Let’s take a look.

DISCLAIMER: Kaenon provided this pair of sunglasses for the purposes of this review.  As such, I always strive to provide an unbiased review for the benefit of both my readers looking for honesty and the company looking to improve their products.

Overview

Kaenon, founded by a pair of sailors (and brothers), has its roots in water sports.  They started the company in 2001 to build a product that addressed some of the main limitations and issues with eyewear at the time.  The result was a company that has innovated and grown to include several product lines.  Today, I am reviewing a model in their Kore Performance line, the Hard Kore.  Here are a few key features to highlight:

  • All Kaenon models start with their proprietary SR-91 lens.  This is their bread and butter.  SR-91 not only received the highest optical resolution score that you can get, but was the first non-polycarbonate material to pass the high-mass impact ANSI Z.87.1.  In other words, they offer unsurpassed clarity and durability.
  • Polarized lens that eliminate glare while offering full broad spectrum UV protection.
  • Supports prescription lenses so you don’t have to sacrifice vision quality.

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Price: $175+ on Amazon (click to view)

Use

I actually got these at Outdoor Retailer back in August (shame on me for taking so long to review), so I have had several months to wear the Hard Kore and put them to the test.  I chose the copper lenses due to their better contrast on the trails and have not been disappointed at all with how they have performed.

Above all else, they provide excellent clarity, allowing me a great view of the trail in both sunny and shaded conditions.  The polarization also provided great protection against glare of any sort without distorting the clarity whatsoever.  I did have some minor fogging on one chilly and rainy run, but that seemed to be either a one-time occurrence or unique to the cold/wet weather combination.  Beyond that, the clarity was never compromised in any other instance over my three months of testing.

From a comfort perspective, the frame stems are a bit wider/taller than you will see on most products out there and there were some pluses and minuses to this design.  On the plus side, the added contact to the sides of the head aided to keep the glasses in place.  As a result, I never experienced any bouncing or slipping of the frames.  The way they hugged the sides of the head also made them extremely comfortable.  Most recently, I spent 10 hours running in the Grand Canyon and never felt the need to take them off.  These are definitely an all-day pair of sunglasses.  On the flipside, I found that the footprint of the frames did interfere with some hats, most noticeably trucker style hats.  I usually run in the Headsweats floppy hat style, which gave me no problems, but you should keep that in mind.

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Conclusion

There are a lot of sunglass options out there of all shapes, sizes, and price.  Kaenon definitely prices alongside other premium brands, such as Oakley and Rudy Project.  While they would probably price too high for most people when it comes to everyday wear (myself included), I have always been of the mindset that one should always invest in a great pair of optics when it comes to activewear.  Perhaps it’s because I tend to be clumsy on the trails, but I feel that one shouldn’t sacrifice quality when it comes to having crystal clear vision on the trails.  That being said, if you are looking to make a solid investment in your gear, you should definitely give a hard look at the Kaenon Hard Kore.  Here are my pro’s and con’s.

Pro’s:

  • Light weight – They are super light on the face, which keeps you from noticing that they are even there.
  • Stable – They don’t slip or bounce on your face, which is important, especially because of how annoying it can be when you have to constantly push sunglasses back up on your face.
  • Optics – Probably, the most important feature to any trail runner, I found the optical clarity to be fantastic.  I went with the copper lens color because that color provides the best contrast on dirt terrain.  These were probably the best quality copper lenses I have ever worn.

Con’s:

  • Frames – They do hug the head nicely, but they are stems are wide/tall.  I didn’t find this to be a problem without head wear, but since I run with a hat on 95% of the time, I found that they do get in the way with certain types of hats.
  • Fogged up slightly during one heavy rain day with cooler (mid 40’s) temperatures.  Did not experience this on days when it rained, but the temperatures were higher.

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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!