As with all my reviews, I’m going to take a look at things through the eyes of what I believe is a strong base of this blogs readers. That is to say I want to look at things from the perspective of that person who is relatively new to the whole running/ fitness game and most likely doing this in conjunction with a larger effort to lose some weight at the same time.
I say it all the time. Run with water. Run with water. RUN WITH WATER. Learn it, live it, love it. Staying hydrated is key to keeping you healthy, performing at your best, and preventing cramps/side stitches/a whole host of other nasty shit that can derail your workouts. Here the problem with this though: it’s a pain in the ass to run with water. Gripping a water bottle if fine, but gets to be irritating after a while. Up until now, I have used a running water bottle that has a hand strap, which I really like but I have 2 major beefs with it: 1) You are strapping 20 oz of water to your hand. Which does not sound like a lot, but it’s over a pound of water strapped up and sloshing around as you run. Not a huge deal and you adjust to it quickly, but there it is all the time, and my one hand is always full. And 2) as I get into my longer runs, 20 oz. is not enough to last for the duration of the entire workout, so I have to stop mid run (at a water station during a race or back at my car on a training run) to refill it. I hate stopping for some something silly like that. When I’m running, I want to be running. Again, it’s not the end of the world here, but an annoyance definitely.
So it was with much joy and excitement that I found out I was being provided an “Avila” hydration backpack from Hydrapak to use and review for you.
On paper, this is the solution. It holds up to 70 oz of water, which is more than enough for my long runs without having to refill; it is worn over both shoulders as a backpack, so my hands are free again; and whenever I want a drink, there is a tube positioned literally right next to my hand to grab and take a take a pull. Problem solved, right?
So what are we talking about exactly? The pack itself is made of very lightweight material, with one big zipper pouch with a hook on the top to attach the water bladder inside, a few very minimal mesh pockets for storage, enough to hold your ID and a key, possibly some other very small items inside the pack, and an opening on the top on either side to pass the water tube through so you can wrap it over your shoulder and position it on your front so it’s easy to get to. If you are looking for big amounts of storage as well, Hydrapak has multiple other pack options that provide these as well, but I figured for running and my personal needs, less is more. I’m not looking for enough room to pack a day’s worth of clothes or half a campground worth of equipment, I need something to carry a lot of water, and this Avila pack fits that job description perfectly. I considered seeing how many extra GU gels I could cram in there, but to be honest it’s unrealistic because once I have it on and tightened down, I am not going to want to take it off just to unzip and pull out an extra gel.
But of course I was skeptical, too good to be true usually is, right? Some of the obvious red flags for me going into this were: is this thing going to be heavy? Is it going to slosh around while I run? Am I going to look like a complete toolbox while wearing it? Most importantly, how easy is it to actually use?
After spending a few weeks using my Hydrapak Avila, I am happy to report the experience has been good. It does take some getting used to, just like the hand strap water bottle did, but I was able to adjust pretty quickly then and I have again with this new product as well. The weight is one of the things you have to deal with. Without any water, the backpack is insanely light, a matter of a few ounces, literally. But when full that sucker up, you can tell there’s something back there. This is the nature of the beast with a backpack I imagine. The water is where the weight comes from, and when you are talking 70 oz, that’ s close to 4 1/2 pounds of water back there. Again, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but once it’s back there, it’s enough that you know it. The good news is that since the weight is distributed across your back and shoulders, it’s easy to forget it’s back there. Once you adjust to it, it’s not so overbearing that it’s a complete and constant distraction.
I was very surprised, but the potential “sloshing around” issue is all but completely alleviated by a combo of the pack having one of those chest straps between the shoulders and tightening the shoulders down once I have it on. The water bladder itself is what they call a “shape shifting bladder”, which really means it’s this rubber/silicone feeling material that flattens as you drink, so you don’t have this giant area for the water to bounce around in back there as you start to drink down the supply a little. There is also a support system inside the bladder to connect the front and back to add more stability. Overall, this is a huge selling point for me. They obviously knew what they were doing when they designed this, because keeping over a half gallon of water under control is no easy task, especially while someone is running. Well done, Hydrapak. I am impressed on this front especially.
As for my concerns about looking like a complete toolbox while wearing it, to be honest, you look like someone who is wearing a hydration backpack. Kind of like a mountain hiker. It’s out there, There is no dressing it up or hiding it. You have to be the type of person who is ok with taking things to the next level. This is definitely a “next level” kind of running accessory when it comes to running on the roads and in road races. I imagine that this is much more commonplace for trail runners, though. The pack itself is pretty cool looking; the one I got is blue with light gray straps. It’s also offered in grey/red, black, navy and green, and orange. I feel like it looks sporty enough to not be a huge eyesore and it’s even got an extra elastic loop on the opposite shoulder of the water tube that I can clip my ipod shuffle to, so it’s right there and convenient. But it’s brightly colored with a few minimal reflective elements to help you be seen if you are running in early morning/ sundown times.
As for the actual usage, it pack does take some adjusting to but it’s much more good than bad. The bladder holds more water then you will ever need, and to actually drink out of it is easy. I let the tube just hang, and as you can see, it just naturally curves down and back along my side. It stays out of the way but I can grab it whenever I want it. It’s very convenient. The actual drinking is through a pressure sensitive rubber nozzle on the end of the tube, so all you do is bite down on it to open, and drink what you want.It’s not complicated, I learned almost instantly how to do it quickly and easily on the run.
Some overall random thoughts on it: I do believe it’s an overkill for the shorter runs. If I’m out running a 5K, there is no need to take things to this level. However, the Avila has been really useful and appreciated on long runs. It is now officially part of my new long run gear. I’m thinking anything over 6 miles I’ll be strapping it on. Another thing that is worth mentioning is that I was recently asked by a running friend my thoughts on the pack, because he is considering getting one to use during his upcoming marathon later this year. The reason he is considering it is this: He’s going to be shooting for a Boston Qualifying Time in the marathon. This is an immense challenge and a situation where every second counts. The thinking is that if he’s got his water on his back already, there will be no need to stop or slow down for the water stations and get caught up in the ensuing traffic. This can conceivably shave a few full minutes off his time. I am never, ever going to qualify for the Boston Marathon, so this is not really a concern for me, but it does go to illustrate and interesting point that there are always unforeseen benefits of these types of products if you look at it through a different set of eyes. This could potentially be a difference maker for someone trying to earn a BQ.
So my recommendation: when you are first starting out and chasing down that first 5K, this hydration backpack is not something that you are going to need quite yet. Once you progress past the 5K and working on 10Ks, 10 Milers, Half Marathons, etc. this is something that should at least be on your radar. It’s an option that I know I’m glad I considered.
Ok, I hope this helps.
Till the next time, Take it easy.
I am approaching this review from my standard viewpoint of what I believe the core interest of this blog really gets at: that is to say I am presenting my review by looking at this product from the perspective of a person who is relatively new to the running world, has some weight to lose and wants go about losing the weight by starting to incorporate a more active lifestyle and want to know how sift through the volumes of available gear/ equipment out there.
One of the great benefits to running a blog like this one is that it puts me in a position from time to time to receive various products to use and review for you. Oftentimes, these items are provided to me free of charge. This is the only type of compensation I have ever received, and my acceptance of these items in no way constitutes any obligation to provide an unwarranted positive review. My opinions on the products are unfiltered and 100% my own.
**This product was provided to me free of charge, but again, this does not influence my review or views on the product in any way**
Also please note that these are the personal opinions and experiences of one individual (me) on my personal blog, and intended to be taken as such. I personally, and The Running My Ass Off Blog do not accept any liability from the purchase or use of any products reviewed on this blog.
**Sorry, just have to cover my ass here. These are unbiased reviews, intended only to help. I’m not going to try and sell you anything, nor do I want you to take my opinions as the final word on any product. Let me help you figure out what you should check out, and then check the stuff out for yourself to see if you like it.**