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.

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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.

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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.

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Gear Review: Orange Mud HydraQuiver VP2 Vest Pack (Summer 2014)

DISCLAIMER: At the time of writing this review, I am a member of the Orange Mud Ambassador team.  Despite this, I will always do my best to maintain a neutral stance and offer as much of an unbiased review of the product as possible.  I will always look to call out the positives and negatives of every product I review so that I can provide you with a thorough review that you can count on.

If you recall, I recently wrote a review on the Orange Mud HydraQuiver Double Barrel pack.  Since writing that review, the owner of Orange Mud read it (and reviewed my other credentials) and decided to extend me an invite to join the team as a Product Ambassador.  As a result, I have become quickly acquainted with their vision and what they are trying to do within the world of endurance sports.  Their unique approach to hydration is really starting to gain some attention and, if you read my last review, I firmly believe that their products back them up.  So much so that I even put my name on the line by accepting the Ambassador role.  Well, you can imagine my excitement when they gave me an opportunity to do a little bit of long range product testing of their soon-to-be-released vest pack, the HydraQuiver VP2 (Vest Pack 2 Bottle), in the Squaw Peak 50 Mile Endurance Run held in the mighty Uinta Mountains just South of Salt Lake City, Utah.  Below, I offer my detailed review, some preview photos of the pack, and some comparisons between the vest model and their current two bottle pack.  Enjoy!

Description

The HydraQuiver VP2 represents Orange Mud’s first foray into a vest style pack.  It’s predecessors had straps that immediately looped over the shoulder and under the armpit.  Instead, the VP2 extends further down the ribcage on each side, 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 snug in place without restricting breathing and mobility. The VP2 also uses a new mesh that is super durable, yet more breathable and lighter.

On the front of the pack, the VP2 keeps the same stretchy shoulder pockets of the other models.  These are good for phones, gels, and other smaller items.  I personally like to keep my phone in one of them for those quick trail selfie moments!  The biggest storage change between the VP2 and the Double Barrel is the replacement of the zipper pocket on the back with two large stretchy pockets on the front.  I like this change a lot!  The back pocket on the Double Barrel, while nice, was not easily accessible while wearing the pack.  It also created a bulge if you tried to fill it with too much stuff.  The new pockets on the VP2 are easily accessible from the front and expand quite a bit, which results in a bit more storage space.  These pockets are large enough to fit a 16-20 oz water bottle or about 10-12 Honey Stinger waffles…they get the job done!

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The pack keeps true to what makes Orange Mud unique by keeping the bottles on the upper back in the same fashion as their other models.  it also has about the same footprint on the back, leaving the middle and small of the back completely open and uncovered.  This low footprint is one of my favorite aspects of all Orange Mud packs because it keeps the back open and breathable.

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The VP2 also offers the rip cord on the back for fastening down a jacket or other item.  My favorite use for this is to carry a third water bottle for longer self-supported trail runs with less reliable water sources.

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Expected Retail Price: $149.  Price-wise, this prices the pack inline with higher quality competitor products, such as the Ultimate Direction SJ Vest, but still below the Salomon packs.  Some may consider the storage capacity to be a bit less than the SJ Vest, but I find the HydraQuiver VP2 to be more than sufficient storage-wise while offering much more comfort and flexibility.  With something as important as a hydration pack, I have always given the most weight to comfort and utility, especially for my sport of endurance running.  In my opinion, like with shoes, you should always buy what works and not necessarily what is the cheapest.

In Action

Orange Mud likes to tout that they make packs that simply don’t bounce.  That is such a true statement!  I won’t rehash much of what I covered in my previous review, but the VP2 lives up to this hype just as much, if not more than their other packs (largely due to the increased stability of the vest design).  It did take me a few tries to dial in the straps and find the sweet spot between snug enough and too snug, but once I did, the ride was phenomenal.  I never had to battle with the vest; it just felt natural.  The Squaw Peak 50 Mile offers ~10K of ascent and another ~10K of descent.  Despite some difficult grades, the pack stayed in place and never threw me out of my rhythm.  Also a staple of their packs is that the bottles stay put.  They never once popped out of their holsters.  In fact, I even bent over a couple times to tend to my shoes and the bottles didn’t budge, despite being slightly inverted.

My Final Thoughts

Pros

  • SUPER light and breathable.  I didn’t feel weighed down or burdened by the pack at all.  The bottle placement on the Orange Mud products are perfect for distributing the weight.  I felt no back discomfort, even with steep climbs or downhills.
  • Comfortable.  During most of the 50 mile race, I often forgot I was even wearing it.  No chafing or anything.  And no, I am not exaggerating.
  • Flexible storage options.  The pockets are big enough to carry anything you might need, either during a race or self-supported.  The rip cord in the back is also versatile, whether you want to carry a jacket in the cooler whether or an extra bottle on those really hot days (my favorite for self supported runs).
  • Like all other Orange Mud products, they are made in the good ole US of A!

Cons

  • I literally only found ONE issue with this vest, which can fortunately be fixed with experience using the pack.  When both bottles were full, I found that the weight shifted the pack a little bit.  The bottles were still easily accessible, but the pack shifted just enough to change the “feel” of the pack.  I was able to quickly remedy this by adjusting the side straps a bit tighter, which held it firmly in place.  The trick is dialing it in just right so it is tight enough to keep the pack from moving, but not too tight where it restricts your breathing.  It took me some time to find this sweet spot, but I was able to get it just right.

Recommendation

4.8 out of 5

I fell in love with the first HydraQuiver Double Barrel from the moment I put it on.  I didn’t imagine they could make a pack much better, but the team at Orange Mud has done just that with the HydraQuiver VP2.  It is clear to me that they pay very close attention to feedback from their users and product testing and roll those into their designs and improvements.  The VP2 offers all of the benefits of the Double Barrel, with additional storage space and a vest like feel for those that prefer that.  I believe firmly that Orange Mud is paving new ground in the realm of endurance hydration and will continue to support them along the way.

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Gear Review: Orange Mud HydraQuiver Double Barrel Hydration Pack

Disclaimers: None – no affiliations at the time of writing this review.

Ahhhh…trail runners and their quest for hydration! One could argue that we are pickier about this than we are with our shoes. Vest, belts or handhelds? Bottles or bladder? With all of the different varieties out there, we certainly have options (and if you look at what is hanging in my closet, I certainly am no exception). After much experimenting early on in my running life, I can safely say I am a bottle guy.  Although I often alternate between handhelds and different vests depending on the run I have planned, I always stick with bottles. I also like to experiment, so I’ll admit that I was quite intrigued with the latest offering from Orange Mud. I appreciate innovative thinking, and Orange Mud certainly offers an innovative new approach to bottle-based hydration packs. Their initial single bottle model is interesting, but I didn’t feel that it offered me anything new beyond the packs that I was already using. Fast forward to the release of their Double Barrel two-bottle pack and I became quite intrigued. At face value, it looked to be just what I was looking for so I finally decided to give it a shot and I am glad I did. So without further adieu, here is my review.

Description

I mentioned that Orange Mud takes an innovative approach to the bottle hydration vest.  Where most vests will place the bottles on the front chest or the lower back, Orange Mud takes a different approach by placing them on the upper back.  With the double barrel model, you essentially have a bottle resting on each shoulder blade.  Also on the back is a bungee cord in between the bottles for fastening a light jacket or poncho.

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Just behind the bottles is a zipper storage compartment for storing additional items, such as energy, a blister kit, etc.  It is pretty roomy and offers a big pouch with a smaller pocket inside of that.  This is not accessible without taking the pack off, but is good for storing items that you won’t need to access regularly.

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Lastly, there are two pockets on the front, one on each shoulder strap.  These are stretchy and secured by velcro.  They are ideal for holding 2-3 gels per side.  Because of the stretchy nature, I had no problem using one pocket to hold my iPhone 5S.  They velcro from the bottom, but since they rest slightly behind the top of the shoulder, I had no concerns with the phone inadvertently falling out.  The fit is pretty straight forward…you put it on just as you would a jacket.  Each strap runs from the top up the shoulder and wraps under the armpit.  Each strap also has an adjustable pad for added comfort.

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Price: $110

In Action

I had a few major concerns with this pack when I first saw it, so for my review, I wanted to make sure I tested it on all of the types of trails that the mighty Wasatch has to offer.  I took it on some rolling long runs along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail as well as up and down the steep, technical terrain of Grandeur Peak with its 5000 feet of elevation change over six miles.

The first concern was, how much would the pack bounce?  Would it be unbearable?  Would the bottles fly out?  The answer to this question is a resounding NO!  In fact, the pack was so snug that it I had barely noticed it, particularly on the downhills.  As I was cruising down a 20%+ grade decline, I actually forgot I had the pack on.  On top of that, my hands were free so I could use them to help maintain my balance.  The bottles are never at a risk of flying out either thanks to the design of the pack.  In fact, you can even hang the pack upside down without the bottles sliding out.

The second concern was whether or not the straps would become uncomfortable over a longer distance.  The longest run I did with the pack was 27.5 miles and I had no discomfort or chafing on my shoulders.  I did find myself running my thumbs under the straps every once in awhile to readjust it, but it was minimal and not really a big deal.  The pack is lacking a buckle between the two straps, which I think would help hold them in to position.  At the same time, I found that without the buckle, I had nothing going across my chest that would restrict my breathing.  Either way, this may be a good future design consideration.

Lastly, I wasn’t sure how accessible the bottles would really be on the run.  The ease in which I was able to do this was perhaps the most surprising observation at all.  After a couple of tries, I already had a good feel for pulling the bottles in and out of the pack, even with a pretty brisk pace.  During my entire testing, I did not drop or miss a bottle placement once.  The cradle for each bottle is also adjustable, so if you need to raise the bottles for a better reachability, you can.

My Final Thoughts

Beyond what I have already called out above, I wanted to highlight a couple of additional things that stand out about this pack.

Pros

  • The two 24-ounce bottles provide quite a bit of water.  On top of that, because your hands are free, you could carry additional water in the form of handhelds.
  • The thing I love about this pack more than anything is its footprint.  It sits on your upper back and extends only to the bottom of your shoulder blades.  I love this because it keeps my entire lower back and chest open.  I found that I sweat a lot less thanks to this added breathability.
  • The shoulder straps slightly shift your shoulders back when wearing it, which helps to reinforce running form.

Cons

  • Although it has a storage pouch on the back, it is really only meant for essentials. When trying to back too much in there, it creates a bulge that you can feel on your back and causes the pack to rest awkwardly against your back.  It really is meant for minimal storage.
  • The price runs at the high end versus comparable competitive products.

Recommendation

4.7 out of 5

This vest is the latest in my collection, which also includes UltrAspire, Ultimate Direction, and Nathan.  All of those will continue to serve their purposes, but I can see this vest as getting the majority of the action.  Ideally, I think the Orange Mud Double Barrel HydraQuiver is best suited for 10-30 mile self supported runs (more if you want to carry additional handhelds or know of reliable sources to refill your water bottles).  I also see it being a GREAT option for supported ultras, where you can frequently refill your bottles and fuel at aid stations.  In this instance, you can carry everything you need and get the convenience that bottles offer while also keeping your hands free.