Friday, May 27, 2016

FuelBelt: Helium H2O 2-Bottle Belt Review

FuelBelt is one of the leading hydration systems in the market today. With 10 Ironman World Championships under its belt, what more can you ask for? If this is good enough for Craig Alexander and Chrissie Wellington…well this is good enough for me.

FuelBelt was founded by Vinu Malik in 1997. A triathlete and runner by nature, Vinu is a 7-time Hawaii Ironman finisher, a 32-time Ironman finisher and has done over 300 races. What led to the creation of FuelBelt was plain and simple, Vinu was just looking for a better way to transport his fluid during training and racing. That simple goal has led to the birth of FuelBelt that we are enjoying today.

There are two varieties of hydration systems on their line up (i.e. hand held and belt type system). The Helium is a belt type hydration system and is FuelBelt’s top seller. They used a catchy name on this one…“Helium”, the second lightest element in the periodic table. This really sounds interesting and there must be a cool metaphor behind it…well, the first thing that I can think of is it must be light…that’s pretty obvious.

·         BPA-free ergonomic bottles
·         Helium Big Grip molded-holster
·         Breathable Helium Hex-Foam padding
·         Large removable storage pocket
·         Adjustable waistband with soft-touch Velcro
·         Soft, silicone push-pull bottle caps

Fit and Functionality
My first FuelBelt was the Revenge R30 series. I used that when I was training for my first ½ Marathon 2 ½ years ago. It served me well. Like the previous models, the Helium comes in a different configurations (that is the number of bottles; 2, 3 or 4) and all that include a decent size pouch for carrying some running essentials. It also comes in different colors, from flashy to not so flashy…so you have that option to stand out from the rest, if that’s your choice and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Helium is the definitely an upgrade of what I owned. Some of the key features of the Helium are: 
·         The Hex-Foam, a special padding on the lumbar area that is made of super lightweight, comfortable, and water repellent materials. This is specifically designed to channel the air which helps increase the breathability and prevent overheating especially in warm conditions.
·         The big grip holster, designed for improved bottle control while running at all speeds. Durable, bounce-free and feather light construction.
·         The soft touch Velcro that easily snugs and lock in place for a comfortable fit. 

1. Hex-Foam                                      2. Big Grip Holster                                 3. Soft Touch Velcro
So now that it’s out of the way, let’s get into more details. Functionality speaking, the Helium boasts the one hand entry/ exit and has been the favorite of many runners. Running is a tough sport and fumbling with my drinks (which can add more misery) is something that I don’t want to happen. I was so pleased during my test runs that I was able to snag the bottle at ease and put it back without looking at the holster. The major concern I had with my old FuelBelt (the Revenge) was that the holster wasn’t reasonably built to hold the bottles in place, I ended up losing one bottle on one of my runs. That was not the case with the Helium, the new holster design is solidly built to hold the bottles in place and provided minimal bounce during the run. The bottle still features the same shape, that is formed to follow the contour of the back for comfort. However, the bottle cap has been upgraded with a new soft silicone, leak proof system and much more durable which should last for a long time.

The only negative I could say is that the pouch is not that great and some runners might not like this because there is no way the newer phones can fit in it. Many industries are utilizing the stretchable materials for their pouch and FuelBelt could have done the same thing. However, though it's not big enough in my opinion, I was still able to squeezed in two gels, a bar, cash and my keys without any problems. I don’t normally carry my phone with me during the run except if I’m going more than 13 miles, so this is not really a big deal for me. But for some, you may need to find some other ways to hold your phone, like armband or hipbag.

My Verdict
Image Credit: FuelBelt
The FuelBelt Helium is a one size fits all hydration system and should be able to accommodate majority of the runners. It has a decent amount of stretch that wraps comfortably around my waist without the feel being too tight and constricted. It features a Hex-Foam that helps to channel the air in and out to increase breathability and performance. A new holster design that secure the bottles in place, a bounce free run and a new soft touch Velcro system that can be adjusted easily to get the right comfort.

Overall, I highly recommend that you give Helium a try. It is lightweight, convenient to carry, and one of the most comfortable belt type hydration systems that I tested so far. The new Velcro system is much easier to use in getting the perfect amount of tension around the waist in comparison with some belt clip system. With its two 7 oz bottle and a decent pouch to carry some of my running essentials, this is an excellent choice for training and short distance race. You can grab the Helium for $39.95 directly on their website or at retail stores near you. They even expanded internationally so check them out if you happen to live outside the U.S.

Thanks again for reading and let me know your experience with it.

Monday, May 23, 2016

SmartWool: PhD® Ultra Light Short Sleeve Review

SmartWool is a company based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and founded in 1994 by two ski instructors Peter and Patty Duke. The company is well known for using merino wool on their products. Wool is great in moisture wicking, it has an odor reducing and anti-microbial properties not found in other manufacturer’s performance apparels.

Image Credit: SmartWool
I finally had the chance to lay my hands on this beauty. The PhD® Ultra Light Short Sleeve came in few days before my race. Now the drooling is over:-). Sadly, I never had the chance to test it out first on my training runs and I decided to just go ahead and use this on the actual race. I know, I’m guilty in violating one of the rules in running; “don’t race with a new gear”. Yeah, I thought about that, but the Capital City Classic race was only 10 miles anyhow and if something bad happens…well, it will be a lesson learned for me.

Body: 56% Merino Wool, 44% Polyester
Mesh: 54% Merino Wool, 46% Polyester

    Semi-Form Fit.
    Thoughtfully designed raglan sleeves remove underarm and shoulder seams.
    Flatlock seam construction designed to eliminate chafing.
    Gender-specific body-mapped mesh panels for additional breathability and moisture management.

Fit and Functionality
When I opened the package, I was amazed how light the material was. There was no doubt that this was built for high intensity workouts and geared for maximum wicking. Back in yesteryears, we always associate wool with “itch” and that was a fair assumption. However, that is no longer the case with today’s new technology. It was super comfy and airy when I ran with it during the Capital City Classic in Sacramento last weekend (you can read my race recap here). I sweat a lot during that race but never did I experience the shirt sticking to my body, unlike some other running shirts I have in my collection. It allows my body to cool off even on that hot day, thanks to the mesh panels that were strategically placed at the back and at the arm pit area, that helps the air to circulate in and out of my body. One added feature is the polyester blend in the material, it gives the shirt enough stretch and "semi hugging" the body, this helps in recovery and quicker dry time than merino alone. Like other companies, SmartWool wants us to be safe, they added 360° reflective materials to increase our visibility during low light conditions.

My Verdict
The PhD® Ultra Light Short Sleeve is built for performance in the highest degree. It is ultra-light and provides maximum breathability and wicks moisture fast away from my body. I tested this several times after my race and it never disappoints. True to what they advertised, there is no hype on this shirt. It is simply amazing!

The only drawback that I can say is the price, a whopping $70 for this shirt. This will surely put a ding in your wallet. Realistically, it’s above the normal price range of $40-$50 for this kind of shirt. However, the material is the driving factor for this price, merino wool is not cheap. So be the judge if this is for you, $70 can buy you a short and a shirt (depending on the brand of course) but you have to look at performance and quality as well, which makes this shirt stands out from the rest.

You can purchase the PhD® Ultra Light Short Sleeve directly on SmartWool website or at retail stores near you. SmartWool stands behind their product and guarantees 100% satisfaction. If for any reason you’re not satisfied with your SmartWool® product, you can return it to them within two years of purchase and they'll make it right for you. 

Thanks for reading and as always have fun but be safe.