To wear a pack or not to wear a pack…this is the question on many racers’ minds as the heat of the summer really kicks in full gear. Summer obstacle course race and mud run participants often stare down the aisle of their local running store wondering: What is really needed for race day hydration and what are the best options?
When making the decision whether to carry your own hydration, two factors play a huge role: length of course and temperature. Most events will have more than one water station on course; however, more and more people are opting to carry additional hydration. One of the reasons is that even the shorter distance 5K courses can take over 60-90 minutes to complete, especially if there is mountainous terrain involved. On any race over eight miles, it is recommended to carry some water as well as a few gel packets. Below are three of the most popular options for race day:
The lightest of the options is the hydration belt. Most hydration belts offer space for two to four small 10-ounce water bottles. Benefits of the small hydration belts are that they tend to be lightweight, do not add any weight to the shoulders and can be refilled easily and quickly at aid stations. Most belts have an additional pocket or two for a bar or gel to help refuel on the trail. In addition, they will not weigh you down when they get wet.
In terms of drawback, they can be cumbersome going through obstacles, especially those obstacles where rolling and crawling through narrow pipes or trenches is required. In addition, the risk of losing a bottle during a swimming obstacle or barbed wire is high, unless you modify it as I have pictured.
A popular model is the Nathan Hydration – Trail Mix Belt available for about $30 to $45, depending on the model. For longer races where aid stations are spread out, a hydration belt with larger bottles can be used.
The hydration pack, or as many call it a Camelbak (this is one brand), includes a hydration bladder that stores a larger quantity of water. Many prefer the hydration pack, especially for longer races such as the Spartan Race – Beasts or Tough Mudders that can last three to six or more hours. These packs not only have space for a one to three liter bladder, but there is also more room for snacks and a spot to stash a layer or two.
The downside of a pack is that once it gets wet, it can be heavy and cumbersome while swimming obstacles and moving through barbed wire. A good test for a hydration pack is fill it with what is needed then submerge it in muddy water to find out just how much it will weigh on race day. Additionally, refilling the bladder will take time during a race and be more difficult than bottles. However, you should be able to carry everything you need and bypass the stations all together. A great pack that is easier to refill on the run is the Inov-8 Race Pro 10 available for about $150.00 or the Inov-8 Race Pro Extreme 4 available for about $170.00.
The hydration vest is a hybrid of a hydration pack. It is a vest that allows you to carry water, either in bottle or bladder form, without the bulk of a full pack. Most vests have a few small pockets to stash a few snacks. Most vests are lightweight and can carry bladders from one to three liters in size. Vests have been one of the most popular options in trail running for years but have yet to really catch on in obstacle course racing and mud runs among the masses. Vests are often the lowest profile options for racers, and allow a racer access to the essentials.
One of the downfalls to the vest is a result of it being so lightweight. A vest can be easily snagged on a barbed wire, and as with hydration packs, can be more challenging if you need to refill on the run. However, as more and more catch onto vests, no doubt their popularity will grow. An inexpensive and light vest is the Mountain Hardwear Fluid Race Vest, which can be picked up for about $60.
As with everything, be sure to test your equipment prior to race day. Depending on the race, the option you choose would be completely different. I have participated in races with all of the options listed above, depending on the race, distance, weather and how I am feeling that day. Whichever hydration system you use, make sure it works for you! Test several products out and find the one that fits, and you will be comfortable with on race day.
The choice to carry hydration can make the difference between a great race and well…a not so great race. Use your judgment. If it’s hot, opt for hydration. No one ever finished a hot race wishing that hadn’t brought something extra.
That’s the dirt this week! Next week we talk grip strength, it’s importance and one trick to help with obstacle monkey bars