Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Nathan VaporKrar and ExoDraw Review

Nathan Sports is sold in over 45 different countries and was on Inc.’s 500/5000 List of Fastest Growing Companies in 2013.  They make hydration, visibility, and performance gear using industry leading materials.  If you go to your local running store, there will most likely be Nathan products there.

Nathan Sports just came out with a new design for a few of their running hydration products.  They still have all of your favorite packs, waistbands, and handhelds too.  The new line includes the VaporKrar Vests (12-liter and 4 liter) and WaistPak and is named after minimalist ultra-runner Rob Krar. He was born in Hamilton, Canada and is 40 years old.  Rob started trail running in 2012 and ran his first Western State’s 100 a year later where he finished in second place behind Timothy Olson.  Rob was a night pharmacist, family man, and just a regular guy for most of his life.

VaproKrar 4L Vest

Rob Krar spent some serious time helping Nathan Sports design an awesome vest using different materials than other Nathan packs.  He wanted to design a lightweight runner’s vest that was form-fitting, but was still breathable. The VaproKrar4L Vest is made specifically to fit the male torso.  The VaporHowe 4L Vest is the women specific version.

Both vests have two front water bottle pockets and come with two 12-ounce Exoshot soft flasks with extended tubes.  These are basically collapsible bottles with a straw so you can drink out of the bottles without having to take them out of the pockets.  For runs where you can last on 24 ounces of water, this works great.  If you are running a longer distance event, it is a little more difficult to fill than some other water bottles out there.  I really like this feature though.  While the pack comes with 12-ounce bottles, the pockets are designed to fit bottles up to 22 ounce bottles. 

The VaproKrar4L Vest is light weight, weighing only 10.4 ounces without the soft flasks, which add another 6.4 ounces if they are empty.  The material is form-fitting and breathable.  It’s probably one of the best fitting vests because it fits almost like a compression shirt.  There’s no bouncing around and it just feels great. 

There are multiple pockets for storage or to stash your fuel and it is easy to access in a hurry.  There are two zippered pockets in the chest area that are big enough to fit an iPhone 7 Plus and two additional stash pockets in the front of the bottle pockets.  There are pockets on either side and small and large pockets in the back.  The larger back pocket is big enough to use a 1.5 liter hydration bladder (not included). 

The VaproKrar4L Vest is available at the Nathan website for $149.99 and comes in Steel Grey.  You can also find it at a local retailer or online.

Plenty of storage
Great fit – no bouncing
Light weight 10.4 ounces
Extremely breathable
Decent price at $149.99

The bottles sometimes leak if they aren’t screwed on correctly

VaproKrar WaistPak

If you like to take a little gear with you and don’t need much water, the VaporKrar WaistPak might be what you are looking for.  It uses the same lightweight and breathable material as the VaproKrar4L Vest, but is made as a waist pack. 

The VaporKrar WaistPak has a pocket with a Velcro strip to hold an 18-ounce ExoDraw collapsible soft flask.  The pocket does a great job of keeping the flask close to your body and not allowing it to bounce. 

There is a zippered pocket that is large enough for larger smartphones (up to iPhone 7 Plus) and other running gear.    There are also two stretch pockets on either side for gels or other smaller items. 

There are two synch straps that you can use to secure the VaporKrar WaistPak and there is elastic with grippy material along the top of the pack to make sure the pack doesn’t move around.  The unique thing about this pack is that you step into it. There is no buckle or Velcro, so you will need to order a specific size. 

This is a great pack for shorter runs and it really feels great.  I honestly was expecting the water flask to bounce around because of how the bottle sits in the pocket, but much to my surprise, it didn’t bounce at all.  You can get the VaporKrar WaistPak at the Nathan website for $59.99 and it comes in Steel Grey or Black.  You can also find it at a local retailer or online.

Plenty of storage
Great fit – no bouncing
18-ounce ExoDraw soft Flask
Light weight 4.5 ounces
Extremely breathable
Decent price at $59.99

The bottles sometimes leak if they aren’t screwed on correctly

ExoDraw 18oz Handheld

The ExoDraw 18oz Handheld uses the same bottle that is used in the VaporKrar WaistPak, but utilizes a special sleeve that makes it a great handheld.  It has a small pocket in the front that allows you to put your keys, license, or cash in for your shorter runs.

The really cool thing about this handheld is the way you hold it.  The flask itself has a rigid ExoSpine™ to make sure the flask does not shrink as you drink.  It makes it easier to hold regardless of how much fluid is left.  The best part though is the ergonomic hand strap that provides a grip-free experience.  You can literally put your hand in and tighten the strap, then you don’t have to hold onto the flask. Really cool idea that works well.

The sleeve’s material is made of neoprene and insulates the flask while providing a sweat-free grip.  It also is removable for easy cleaning.  My one issue with the ExoDraw 18oz Handheld is that it’s not the easiest flask to fill up.  Not a big deal, unless you are using it in a race where you need to refill the flask.  Other than that it is an awesome handheld. 

The ExoDraw 18oz Handheld is a light weight handheld that is easy to use and is super comfortable.  You can get yours at the Nathan website for $49.99 and it comes in Steel Grey or Blue Radiance.  You can also find it at a local retailer or online.

One pocket for small items
Ergonomic Hand Strap means you don’t have to grip the flask
18-ounce ExoDraw soft Flask
Light weight 3.6 ounces
Sweat-free grip
Decent price at $49.99

The bottles sometimes leak if they aren’t screwed on correctly

Nathan’s Social Media Links:

Nathan states that “No matter how hard you push our gear, we guarantee it.”  This does not include normal wear and tear, but you are covered from any manufacture defects for as long as you own the product.  That sounds great to me.  I definitely push my gear to the limits at times and it is great to have a company that stands behind their products.  I emailed Nathan a while back about a leaky bottle and they shipped one out to me at no charge, no questions asked.  Now that’s great service!

The VaproKrar4L Vest, VaporKrar WaistPak, and ExoDraw 18oz Handheld are awesome hydration options from Nathan Sports.  I am extremely impressed with the fit and feel of all three products.  They each come with innovative solutions that some other companies haven’t come up with yet.  Head over to your local running shop and check them out or visit the Nathan Sports website. 

Note:  I received this product in exchange for a review.  The review is my personal opinion of the product and I was not required to give a particular opinion of it.  I am not a doctor, so please use all of the products that I review at your own risk.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The North Face – Summer 2017 Review

If you are into outdoor sports, you probably recognize the name The North Face.  I have been using their gear for over 20 years.  Founded in 1966 in San Francisco’s North Beach area, two hiking enthusiasts decided to follow their passions and founded a small mountaineering retail store.  The little shop became known as The North Face, a retailer of high-performance climbing and backpacking equipment.  The North Face gets its name from the coldest, most unforgiving side of a mountain.  It moved across the bay to Berkley in 1968 and began designing and manufacturing its own brands gear.  The rest is history.  After over 40 years, The North Face has grown to deliver an extensive line of performance apparel, equipment, and footwear.  Their motto is “Never Stop Exploring.”

Flight Series™ Warp Knit Dual Shorts in action at the Gold Rush 50k in May 2017

Men’s Endurus TR Trail Shoe
I reviewed the Ultra Endurance trail shoes in the fall of last year and was really impressed (click here for my review).  

The Endurus TR is another great trail shoe that I’ve recently been testing.  It has a seamless welded TPU and suede quarter panel that adds support and increases breathability.  There is a molded TPU toe cap that provides awesome protection from rocks and other hazards.  The Endurus TR also uses CRADLE™ heel-stability technology to add extra stability on technical trails as well as providing a great fitting heel.  I had no issues with my heel slipping or lifting in these shoes, which is great.

There is a midfoot-to-forefoot ESS Snake Plate™ that will protect the bottom of your foot from sharp rocks that could leave you in pain.  Anybody that has experienced a bone bruise can attest to how much they suck.  The Snake Plate™ also provides torsional rigidity to help stabilize your foot. 

The collar lining has FlashDry, which is a fabric technology that was designed to feel like a second skin against your body.  It accelerates the removal of moisture and speed up the evaporating process and keeps moisture away from the surface of the fabric so you stay drier and more comfortable.  This protects against both sweat and water.  It worked great when running though creeks and during wet runs.

The Endurus TR uses an XtraFoam™ midsole that offers a softer foam under your foot for superior comfort, but has a firmer density EVA material around the edges of the shoe to provide stability.  It was super comfortable and even though it provided cushion, I found that the midsole didn’t make the shoe any less responsive.  This would be a good shoe for shorter trail runs as well as ultra races.

The outsole has the Vibram™ XS Trek sole which is durable and sticky so you can run on all sorts of terrain in any condition.  Vibram™ is one of the leaders in outsoles for trail and hiking shoes and you can see why when you run in the Endurus TR.  The sole has 3.5mm multi-directional lugs that do an awesome job of finding traction even when other shoes might have issues.  The Endurus TR weighs in at 11.2 ounces for a men’s size 9, which is decent for a shoe built this well.  It has a 6mm heel drop and has enough cushion to make your feet happy all day without losing any ground feel that can be so important.  I normally run in a size 10 (for most shoes), and it did fit true to size.  The Endurus TR retails for $130 on The North Face website.

The Vibram™ outsole is durable and grippy on any surfaces.
Breathable and moisture wicking fabric
Great price at $130
Fits true to size
Great midsole provides cushion but is responsive
Protective TPU toe-cap and snake plate.

Better Than Naked™ Singlet
The Better Than Naked Singlet is an extremely light weight tank/singlet that feels so good, you barely even know it’s there, hence the Better Than Naked™ name.  Not only is it extremely light weight, but it is one of the most breathable tops that I have. 

The Better Than Naked Singlet uses The North Face’s FlashDry™ fibers to move moisture away from your skin so you feel cooler and more comfortable.  Here in Northern California, We’ve seen a few 100 degree days, which means that I was doing my lunch runs in 85-90 degree heat.  The Better Than Naked Singlet worked flawlessly even though I was a sweaty mess.

The singlet has an athletic fit and uses stitch-free constriction on critical seems to prevent chafing, which is always a plus.  It has a reflective logo to increase visibility on those early morning and late night runs.  The Better Than Naked Singlet retails for $45 on The North Face website.

Decent price for an awesome singlet at $45
Extremely breathable and moisture wicking fabric
Feels great and moves with your body
Helps Regulate body temperature
Stitch-free construction to prevent chafing

Flight Series™ Warp Long-Sleeve
Even though the weather is heating up, it can still be chilly on those early morning runs or during night runs for those ultra-runners or Ragnar peeps out there.  The Flight Series™ Warp Long-Sleeve is a minimalist approach to the long-sleeve running shirt.  It has an athletic fit that is fairly form fitting without being a compression top.  It also offers 360-degree reflectivity for increased visibility as well.

The Flight Series™ Warp Long-Sleeve uses The North Face’s Warp-knit fabrication to provide minimal seams, which prevents chafing.  One thing I really thought was cool was the engineered venting, which are a bunch of small holes that are strategically placed to help keep you cool.  This is the most comfortable long sleeve shirt that I own by far.  I really like this shirt and tend to gravitate toward it when it is a little chilly out.  The Flight Series™ Warp Long-Sleeve retails for $130 on The North Face website.

Breathable and moisture wicking fabric
Next-to-skin fit that moves with your body
Warp-knit fabrication prevents chafing
Extremely comfortable
360-degree reflectivity

Flight Series™ Warp Knit Dual Shorts
The Flight Series™ Warp Knit Dual Shorts may very well be the shorts you have always been looking for.  I know that is the case for me. It’s a 10-inch compression short that has a woven 5.5-inch running short over the top of it.  This two-in-one short has a low-profile waistband with a drawcord.  My one complaint, which is really minor, is that it’s hard to tie the shorts tight, although it provides a secure fit anyway. 

These shorts were inspired by The North Face’s ultrarunner athletes and as part of their Flight Series™, it’s performance running gear that is race-day ready.  I definitely found that was the case.  It is my go-to shorts for all long runs, trail runs, and races. 

The Flight Series™ Warp Knit Dual Shorts uses The North Face’s FlashDry™ fibers to move moisture away from your skin so you feel cooler and more comfortable.  The compression shorts have ventilation holes like the Flight Series™ Warp Long-Sleeve shirt to aid in breathability and is stitch-free to prevent chafing.  Something that I have not heard of before is that the compression liner can be cut to whatever length you prefer without the material unraveling.  I really like the length of the liner, but it’s nice to know that it can be shortened.

On the back of the shorts, there is a zippered pocket and two stretchy pockets for gels.  This is truly an amazing short and if I could have a whole drawer full of these, they would be my only shorts I own.  I have run a 50k race in these and not only did they keep my legs fresh, but I had no chafing issues at all.  You have to follow the washing instructions and lay them flat to dry, but that is not a big deal and they dry quickly.  You can get the Flight Series™ Warp Knit Dual Shorts for $150 on The North Face website.  While it is pricy for a pair of shorts, I would not hesitate to recommend them because they are so awesome. 

Breathable and moisture wicking fabric
Best shorts I’ve worn, ever!
Zippered pocket and 2 stretch pockets in the back
2-in-1 shorts with compression liner
Liner can be cut to size without material unraveling

At $150, these are pricey, but more than worth it.

The North Face’s Social Media Links:

The North Face makes exceptional gear and while it may cost a little more than some of the running gear out there, the quality and feel makes them well worth the price.  Every time I test gear from The North Face , I am more impressed than the last time.  I don’t know how they keep putting out better stuff than before, but they do.  The North Face offers a lifetime warranty against any manufacturing defects in materials and workmanship.  They will repair or replace the product at no cost to you.  All you pay is for is the shipping to The North Face.  You can pick up all of your gear from The North Face website or find a retail location near you (click here for locations).  Take a chance on some gear from The North Face and you won’t be disappointed.  Be sure to let me know what you think.

Note:  I received this product in exchange for a review.  The review is my personal opinion of the product and I was not required to give a particular opinion of it.  I am not a doctor, so please use all of the products that I review at your own risk.