On long runs year round, and on most runs in the summer heat I carry some sort of water, electrolyte drink, and food. I've used waist packs, handhelds, vests, bottle bands, and nearly every style of product you can imagine. I have had success with all of them, and a few failures.
Why a handheld? This one was a tough decision. I have been using a hydration vest all summer. It was my 50 mile race that made me think about something else. First, by the end of the run, my back felt pretty beat up, and had a few raw spots. Second, there was a section of the run where I could have dropped the vest and picked up a handheld or two and then picked things up again after about 10k of running. Only I didn't have anything to carry at the time. Additionally, for some reason I have been falling a lot this year. I was thinking the handhelds might give some cusion for my palms. And, for the really long training runs in the heat, I can use my vest and the handhelds.
I haven't had the handhelds long, but by the time you read this I will have put in about 100 miles with them. This will be everything from 4-5 mile jaunts through 20-30 mile long runs. This is enough to give me a good idea how things will perform in the heat.
Initial inspection shows the same Orange Mud quality that you may have heard about elsewhere. Top notch materials. Top quality stitching. And there are a few design aspects that caught me a bit off guard - in a happy way. The first thing I did was stick my hand in it. The crew at Orange Mud spent some time thinking this one through. The strap is wider than most I have seen, and there is a flap of material that comes over the top of the hand to help distribute load. And it all comes together to produce a really comfortable fit on your hand with a full bottle, a half full bottle, and an empty bottle. The handhelds I've used in the past felt really good with a full or empty bottle. But so far, nothing has felt good with half a bottle sloshing around. I think it's the strap and the material over the top of the hand that make it fit so well.
That black patch on the front is two pockets. Two. Made with a stretchy material. So, of course I did what any child would do. I played a little game of "what fits in the pocket?" And the answer is - a whole lot! The bigger pocket in back will hold most phones. (If you're using one of the new big ones, you're still out of luck.) Between the two pockets, you can hold several hours worth of food. I dug out a pair of my light gloves and stashed those in there. That made it hard to hold a gel as well, but I got it all in. And the best part of the whole thing? There's one of those little key hooks! I love those key hooks. They really should be on everything. As a bonus, the seams for the pockets fit my hand perfectly. I can hold the water bottle like a quarterback holds a football - finger tips on the seams.
Another little detail that pleased me greatly is the bottom strap that holds the bottle. This is a piece of nice reflective material. The bottom seems like an odd spot at first, but it works. If you're striding well, it will provide a flash both in front, and behind you. If you're dragging and your arms are low, it will flash behind you. And if you're drinking, it clearly flashes right in front of your face.
The bulk of the handheld is some sort of really high quality nylon. It is naturally stiff enough to hold it's shape. It holds bottles just tight enough that they don't flop, but you can still pull them out without too much issue. The mouth of the bottle opening has no real reinforcement and no real closure or cinch. And I'm not sure it needs it. It can be a bit of a struggle to get the bottle back in, but nothing too terrible. If I can manage it after 20 miles with cold, clammy hands, it's workable. (Cold in July? It is if you're above 10,000 feet!)
Can it really be that good? Well, mostly yes. The only criticism I have for the product is actually the bottle it comes with. This is a pretty standard sized 22oz Purist bottle from Specialized. (Same basic bottle as the RunJunkEes bottle) And I'm not a big fan of the spout. It's difficult to pull open, and difficult to tell if it's open when giving it just a quick glance. This is not the same spout used on the RunJunkEes bottles. But it works just fine.
And that's it. That's my criticism. The spout on the 3rd party bottle could be improved.
Without meaning to, today I gave the handhelds the ultimate test. I took a digger. We won't get into why I fell, but I'm not badly injured. It's just skin. It'll heal. Holding two handhelds did exactly what I was hoping - my palms are in great shape. Not long after my fall, I had a chance to stop at a stop light for a major intersection and take a close look at myself and my gear. After about 100 miles and one fall, there is one little scuff with a few frayed nylon threads where the bottle in my left hand slid in the dirt under the weight of my body and moving at a fairly good clip. And it looks as if both handhelds now have a couple stitches that might be a bit loose or popped. I've seen new products in stores that looked worse than these things do after 100 miles of use and a good fall. Of course the new ones don't have dirt and mud on them.
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