Sunday, July 14, 2013

In Pursuit of My Perfect Handheld Bottle / Hydration System

I just ordered two different handheld water bottles and one race vest from Amazon to test out.  I have a long race coming up in the future and I know I will need to carry fluids due to the distance between some of the aid stations. Personally, I prefer to not carry anything in races except for maybe a few calories. I would rather use race supplied aid stations for fluids if the race is the type that does not allow me to access my own aid (like short loop ultras where I just crew myself).

I own a few race vests/hydration packs as well.  They are useful for training when running long without support or aid, but in a fast race I just don't find that I feel swift when I am wearing a hydration pack.  In a race setting, I find the aid stations are usually plentiful enough to allow me to go without the pack.

If racing seriously, I just don't want to be weighed down by a pack or even a bottle if I can avoid it.  For example, at Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug, I ran my fastest 50 mile race carrying nothing.  It was a 7.6 mile loop with 4 aid stations per loop.  I just ran from aid to aid and it was more than enough for me to run a 7:41, finishing first female in that event (coming in 4th OA).

Right now my favorite bottle is a simple 10 oz Sprint bottle (with
Nathan's Quick Shot 
out the pocket) made by Nathan Sports.  It seems that it is now called the Quick Shot.  I have 6 of these bottle.  Some have pockets, some have an insulated wrap. My favorite version has nothing but the strap and the bottle.

After assessing my own fluid consumption, I find that I drink 10oz -30oz per hour depending upon many factors (i.e. how far I am running, how hot/humid it is, how fast I am running, etc.)  For ex, if I am running 6 miles easy on a cool day, I often do not need to take any fluids at all, so carrying 10 oz of water for that run is more than enough. However, when I do speed work on a hot humid day, I have easily consumed up to 30 oz of fluid in one hour.   I know this because I spent a lot of time paying attention, logging what I consume and even weighing in and out after each run to see whether the amount of fluid I was consuming made sense.

Quick Note on sweat test and hydration planning:  Regardless of what you may read elsewhere, the body cannot always replace fluid at the same rate it can sweat it out.  Making an attempt to do so can be dangerous and even life threatening.  According to Noakes, on average a body can process approximately 400 ml to 800 ml of fluid per hour  (13.5 oz to 27 oz per hour) and therefore Dr. Noakes warms that trying to push in substantially more than that amount of fluid can, at worst, create a situation where the brain can swell, which is a very bad thing.  For the most recent resource about hydration, check out Noakes' new text, Waterlogged

So knowing that I consume approximately 10-30 oz per hour, I really dont need to carry alot of fluid if I know I will have a chance to refill within the hour. I love the Sprint bottle for loops that are less than an hour long, for short loop races where I can swap out pre-filled bottles, for shorter runs where I can refill if I need to, etc.  The bottle fits like a glove, it has a valve that simply holds fluid in until you squeeze and the pressure shoots fluid out. There is nothing to open or close.  It is perfect... except in the summer 10 oz is rarely enough, even for a short run of less than an hour.

Nathan's larger bottles, the best I found was the Quick Draw Elite, do not have the valve that I love (no other bottle does that I know of) and only the Quick Draw Elite bottle by Nathans has the same glove-like hand strap but b/c the bottle is 22 oz, it is not as well-balanced as the 10 oz in my hand. Unfortunately this bottle is no longer available on the Nathan's site and instead there is now just a QuickDraw... with a less ideal hand strap, in my opinion.  If you do get your hands on the Quick Draw Elite, you may also find that because the overlapping velcro closure is located on the bottom of the Quick Draw Elite bottle, this makes it hard to stand the bottle up when setting it down somewhere.

Nathan's Vapor Draw Bottle
Since I am a smaller person, with smaller hands, I find the circumference of 22 oz bottle to be too large for my comfort level, so I have been on a mission to find bottle smaller than 22-20 oz that are no of poor quality. (I thought Amphipod, with it's 12 - 17 oz ergonomic bottles, was my answer, but I had too many issues with the quality of their products to even want to try again... not only did the threading around cap wear out creating leaks (twice), the hand strap seams were weak and started to break from the bottle, but not after the zipper closure would repeatedly stick. The whole amphipod system just failed me.)

In a few days I will be testing out a Nathan's Vapor Draw Bottle.  At 24 oz, it is much larger than I know I would be comfortable carrying.  However, I could not resist the unique shape and wonder how that little grey hook thing will help balance it. I find that pouches seem like a good idea, but when ever I put stuff in them it seems to throw off the balance of the bottle making it feel awkward in my hand after awhile.  That little hook thing appears like it will help keep the balance.  I believe the nozzle is a twist nozzle, which I am not sure I will like.  We shall see.

UltrAspire 16 oz handheld.
The other bottle I ordered is an odd shaped UltrAspire 16 oz bottle.   I have high hopes for this bottle because the hand strap looks similar to the Nathan's Sprint.  The stretchy encasement is advertised as "pockets" to store things like gels or other thing that you can squeeze in there, like maybe a baggie of electrolytes?  That could work.  The rectangular shape throws me off a bit.  It seems odd and looks uncomfortable, but if that hand strap is comfortable and holds the bottle secure, the shape of the bottle may not be as relevant.

Finally the last thing I bought was a new ultralight race vest by Nathans 1.5L Minimist Race Vest.  The reviews claim that because the 1.5L bladder just sit in the pocket in the back it bounces too much, but I have some ideas to try to resolve that issue.  I like that fact that this vest has two front closures.  I altered my last Nathans race vest by adding a simple top closure and sliding the factory closure down as low as possible to stop the bounce of the front pockets.  I find I wear that vest more than my hydration pack and I prefer to carry bottles of fluid in the back pocket and when I want to carry them up front, I put them in the front mesh drawstring pocket.  The only problem I have with carrying a bottle of fluid in the lower front mesh pocket of the old Nathan's Race Vest is that the pocket bounces and eventually the incessant tapping of the the bottle against my rib-cage get obnoxious... in addition, if it is hot and I am only in a sports bra, then then mesh itself starts to take on a cheese grater effect. ouch! It always occurs to me half way into a long run that I may want to carry some moleskin and just stick a square of it where the bottle rubs and it would be perfect.

However, because this new pack has two front closures and one being low on the pack, below the bottom of the front pocket that I would use to possible carry a bottle the bounce may be less.  But, since the other race vest has a bungie closure on the pocket, which I use to tighten than tie down the bottles, I am not sure if that front pocket will effectively carry bottles the same way. I also added a second tie down to my race vest to hold down the top of the bottle when I stick it in the pocket.  I may need to do some personal alterations to this one as well to get it to do what I need it to do.

So in a few days, the experimentation begins and hopefully by the end of the summer I will have figured out a system that allows me to carry fluids in a minimally disruptive way.


  1. Great post! How would you rate belt systems that holster water bottles for fluid and electrolytes? ie. iFitness or Fuelbelt?

  2. Thanks Joe! Personally, I have not found a belted system that works for me.

    There are a few reasons for this that are personal to me and not necessarily a belt issue, although others may have the same complaints. First, I think because I don't like the feel of anything wrapped around my abdomen when I run, belts are not appealing to me. I find it makes me very uncomfortable and sometimes can cause stomach cramps. In fact, even waist bands of some shorts can feel uncomfortable for me (except for the Glycerins I tend to race in now, that waist band is perfect). When I did try a belted hydration system, I started off with it low on my hips and then without fail it would slip up and start bouncing around my true waist region.

    Finding the best hydration system becomes more of an issue for me in the summer, when I usually run in sports bra and shorts and want something light that doesn't make me feel too warm. When the belt bounces it then tends to rub my skin and that just become uncomfortable. In the winter, I find my pack or vest less of a big deal during training runs b/c I have about 7 lbs of clothes on any way so the additional weight of the pack seems moot. To tighten the belt enough to keep it from bouncing makes it usually too uncomfortable. Tightening it around my true waist doesn't stop it from bouncing. If I wore a singlet, it would likely work out better, but I don't wear a singlet in the heat, so that is not a option.

    The only belt can wear is the Nathan's gel waist pack belt, but that is because it is light, doesnt bounce, but it is not a fuel belt and never loaded up with a pound or 2 of fluid.

    This bounce issue may be more of a female problem than a male problem, since it seems caused by hip to waist ratio. In fact, a phenomenal male runner, who prefers to not carry anything when possible, shared good thoughts about this belted hydration system, Roadrunner Sports Thirst Buster Fuel Belt. I am not sure it would work for me though.