To that end, I’ve picked up a few things since the start of the year which I think will meet the aforementioned criteria and I wanted to share my initial thoughts with anyone who might also be interested in refreshing their kit.
Although I’ve been quite happy with my Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 4.0, I have been in the market for something a little more sleek that is better for races with frequent access to aid stations. I find that having to fill up my 2L water bladder takes a lot of extra time because I have to take my vest off, unzip the pouch, open the top, and then awkwardly hold it open while refilling. It doesn’t seem like much but it’s an activity I dread during a race, and I’m always jealous when I see other runners roll up with a soft flask who are on their way before I even have my vest off.
What attracted me to the VaporKrar 2.0 was its low-profile design and storage system. In the front, there are two soft flasks with extended straws for hands-free drinking (awesome feature) and a multitude of pockets. Although the UD vest also comes with soft flask bottles, I didn’t find myself using them often because they were both difficult to remove from the pockets and also took up almost all the available storage space on the front of the vest (e.g. I had no place to put my phone. This vest, though, has a secondary pocket behind the flask pouch exclusively for phone storage which is a great idea.
Also, the rear storage pocket has a wrap-around open design which makes it simple to grab or stow additional nutrition, a jacket, headlamp, or any other gear you need without having to take the pack off. I also like its shirt-like feel that rides close to the body without any bounce.
I plan to use this vest for races and longer training runs where I won’t need to carry more than a liter of water at a time (the capacity of the two included flasks is 1.2L). I won’t kick my UD vest to the curb completely, though, as I have a couple of longer adventures planned this year for which the extra storage will come in handy.
I’m always on the hunt for good socks, and Swiftwick has come up a lot over the years. I have gone back and forth between synthetic and merino wool socks, mostly settling on the offerings of Darn Tough due to their durability. However, the new offerings from Swiftwick sound quite promising so I figured I would give them a shot.
I’m particularly intrigued by the Flite XT series, which features a “GripDry” fiber on the ankle and forefoot that creates tiny micro treads to help with grip inside your shoe. I can see this coming in handy for a wet or dusty course where excess moisture and friction can lead to excessive blisters.
In addition to the Flite XT Five sock, I’ll also have a couple other pairs in the rotation just to mix things up:
So far they’ve been working really well. I can actually feel the moisture getting wicked away from my feet and the fit is excellent. TBD on the durability, but so far I’m digging them.
Ever since my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I’ve been a big fan of this type of satellite communicator. They are relatively lightweight, effective, and simple to pair with a phone for easy two-way communication via text messages. Some popular options like the SPOT can be useful for indicating your location in the case of an emergency, but only two-way communicators like this device will allow you to actually have a conversation. Not only is this great for checking in with friends and family, but it can also be extremely useful when you’re in trouble to be able to indicate to emergency staff your exact location, how your condition is progressing, etc. What’s more, it has features like tracking and weather forecasts, which are super handy to have when you’re in an area with no cell service (as I was many times on the A.T.)
With this type of device, a monthly (or yearly) subscription is required and the Somewear is no different. The plans range from $15-$50 per month depending on your desired usage. At the end of the day, it’s a small price to pay for worldwide safety and communications coverage.
I plan to use this on upcoming trips in South Africa, Korea, and beyond. Having this lightweight device will not only help me (and my wife) sleep better at night, but also provide some cool and useful tracking and weather data during the trips.
At the end of 2019 I was on a quest for the best possible pair of running shorts after I’d had enough with my beloved Patagonia Strider Pros. The result of my search left me with a pair of Graves PX 7″ shorts from PATH Projects paired with SAXX Kinetic (long) liners. I have been putting this combination through the wringer and so far I am incredibly impressed.
Although the sizing on PATH Projects shorts are a little wonky (I had to size up), they claim to have altered the fit on newer models so they should be more true-to-size. The lightweight material, high-quality construction, and ample storage space have been perfect for my usage. I wore this combination through the dusty and humid conditions of my most recent ultramarathon in Cambodia with absolutely zero chaffing and pure comfort.
This has been a winning combination for me and I expect to put some serious miles on these items throughout the year between training and racing.
That wraps up the new running and hiking gear I’m testing for 2020 – at least the first half, anyway. I like to put things through their paces so if things are working well I don’t want to rock the boat. The way things are going with the aforementioned items, I don’t suspect I’ll be in need of replacements any time soon.
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Brandon Chase is a writer, endurance athlete, and guide based in Maine. He is a former Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State and spent nearly a decade overseas serving at embassies in Egypt, Cyprus, and Pakistan.
Along with a 98-day thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, he has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked the West Highland Way, fastpacked in the Himalayas, and trekked around New Zealand and South Africa. He also regularly competes in ultramarathons at the 50k, 50-mile, and 100-mile distances. He is a Lead Guide for Andrew Skurka Adventures and the New England Outdoor Center.