Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ultimate Direction: AK Mountain Vest 3.0 (Signature Series) Review

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an Ultra “tough” marathoner, we are bonded with this one common denominator…our passion to run. It is also that passion that drives us to advance and create much better gears. Ultimate Direction is no stranger to the world of sports endurance. Besides lab testing, their gears are tested by real athletes. One of the benefits of doing this is that UD gets the direct feedback from their athletes after testing and implement those changes immediately. This is what I like most with UD, their gears are bi-products of actual sweat and careful scrutiny of their tough athletes.

Speaking of tough athletes, if there’s anyone who knows what it takes to survive the brutal runs on the high countries, it’s Anton Krupicka (AK). UD collaborated with Anton to develop this one of a kind gear…hence they named the vest right after him, the AK Mountain Vest 3.0 signature series. To make it even more special, it comes in a new Canyon color that is very pleasing to the eyes.

·  150g Knit Mono Mesh: New 150gsm harness conforms to your body for absolute comfort and superior load carrying
·  180g Darlington Power Mesh: Lightweight strength with differential stretch in the x and y axis for enhanced load management
·  SilNylon/66: Silicone-Impregnated 30D nylon with a polyurethane face creates a permanently waterproof fabric, and substantially increases seam and tear strength

·   Sliding rail sternum straps
·   Bottle holsters tighten to carry phone or camera
·   iPhone compatible pocket
·   Unique, on-the-go trekking pole holders
·   Double ice axe loops
·   Soft and flexible 150g mono-mesh
·   External stretch pocket for organization
·   Secure lateral pockets

·   Volume Capacity: 702 in3 / 11.5L
·   Weight: 11.55 oz. (14 oz. with bottles) / 330 g (400 g with bottles)
·   Height: 15.7 in. / 40 cm
·   Width: 11.4 in. / 29 cm
·   Depth: 7.5 in. / 19 cm

·   SM: 24 - 33 in. / 61 - 84 cm
·   MD: 31 - 40 in. / 79 - 102 cm
·   LG: 36 - 46 in. / 91 - 117 cm
Note: As mentioned on their website that this vest fits differently from the previous version, please check the sizing chart here. You should measure around the bottom ribs for best fit.

The AK Mountain Vest 3.0 is not just a vest to carry your hydration but rather a pack where you can store most of your essentials and gears. You don’t have to be in the “running” mode to appreciate this vest, you can use this while hiking, trekking or anything in between and rest assured that you will have all the storage you need while being versatile, compact and still be fast on your feet.

There are so many features on this vest, so let’s start out at the front and move around it. Starting off with the straps: On the left shoulder strap: is a small decent pocket that is secured by flap with Velcro, this pocket is waterproofSo if you are fond of listening to music then this is the best place to keep your small electronics safe and dry. On top of that is a (safety) whistle which I think is a mandatory requirement these days.

You can also find the same pocket on the opposite strap and the only difference is that it doesn’t have a flap that goes over the top. You can easily throw some of your valuables in there (like cash or car key). I tend to have the habit of checking my keys while running, making sure it’s still there and it is just within my reach. 

Just below that is a deep set of pockets designed to hold the two (2) collapsible 500 ml flask (included). It’s deep enough where I can almost push the entire flask down and secure it with the bungee cord. Similar pocket can be found on the opposite strap. You could also use this pocket to hold your phone but I suggest that you put it in a zip bag since this is not water proof, sweat and moisture can easily penetrate this area. I have a Google Pixel XL and it fits perfectly inside this pocket. Just underneath that bottle holder is a catch pocket (where UD logo is) that you can use to store your trash or other small items like gels and bars.

Right below that is another deep pocket that is stretchable enough where I can store my gloves, collapsible hat and electrolyte tabs. This pocket is also available on the right side and the only difference is that it is secured by a zipper. The zippered pocket is where I store my gels and gummies for easy access.

There are two sternum straps that are fully adjustable and can be slide up or down on an 11-inch rail for better fit and snug.

There are two loops on both sides of the strap that can host the trekking poles. So rather than having those poles sticking out from your back, it’s in the front for easy access which is a great feature.

Moving around the love handle areas are two large zippered pockets where you can find the hidden side strap (cinch) that you can micro adjust according to your circumference. I use this to store my energy bars and anything that has a flat surface. I like the idea that UD put on this pocket, they made sure that even when you put bulky items in it, this will not interfere with your arm swing.

Going to the back side, it has total of Five (5) separate compartments. The first compartment is the giant mesh pocket (where the Ultimate Direction word is). You can use this to store wet clothing like light jacket, arm warmer and beanie.

The next two compartments are just behind the giant mesh pocket (as you can see on the picture below), both has the same capacity. These two compartments are waterproof. The very top compartment has a key clip inside where you can keep your car key so they won’t be flying around when you start digging through your stuff. This is also a good place to keep your phone (and other electronics) protected from getting wet (I tend to keep mine in front though with a zip bag).

The last two big compartments are the one closest to the skin. It has two directional zippers (that you can open from either on top or bottom) and is separated by a mesh. This is big enough where you can store extra clothing, map, harness, crampons, rappel ropes, and more fuels. If the included 500 ml flask is not enough, this can also hold a 70 ounces (2L) of bladder for extra hydration (unfortunately this is not included but you can buy it separately). The bladder hose can be sent on either left or right section to the front of the pack.

Common to all UD vests is the bungee cord, you can easily use this to hold a rain jacket or some clothing that might be bulky to go inside the compartments. There are extra hooks on both sides if you want the bungee to get a little bit tighter. Down at the very bottom are two loops that you can use to hold the ice axe or hook for your climbing gears.    

@ Hidden Falls Regional Park
The test run: I’ve been incorporating quite a few trail runs to my regular road runs in preparation for my first Ultra marathon (Salmon 50k) this coming Saturday. I’ve tested quite a few hydration systems during the course of my trainings and each item has their own pros and cons, but overall, all of it are good and high quality products. I was undecided which one to use ‘till I tested the AK Mountain Vest 3.0. I have to be honest that this one tops all the hydration systems I have tested. The shape of the vest comfortably curves and hugs the circumference of my body. It also provides a quick access for adjustability depending on how much load you have in the vest.

One major issue with some vests is the type of materials they used, it tends to irritate skin and possible chafing could arise. Well not with the AK, the Knit mono-mesh fabric doesn’t rub to the skin and it provides better breathability,

The Darlington power mesh provides excellent stretch in all directions that is super durable and flexible at the same time. It also provides an excellent moisture management that wick moisture out fast.

The waterproofness of the selected compartments is one thing that everyone will surely appreciate. I put a napkin inside one of those compartments for wet test and sure enough…it is waterproof!

My Verdict
If you love the outdoor so much and spend most of your free time wondering around the trails or some unfamiliar grounds then the AK Mountain Vest 3.0 is the right gear for you. It’s an all-around multipurpose vest that allows a tremendous amount of storage space. You don’t have to be a runner or an Ultra Marathoner to appreciate this vest. From cycling, hiking, skiing, trekking and other activities you can think of, rest assured that it will provide abundant storage for your gears and other important stuff. No more reasons to leave those behind.

At a price of $154.95, it may not be the cheapest considering that it doesn’t have a 70 oz bladder but one thing for sure is that it is one of the best hydration systems you could own. I highly recommend that you give the AK Mountain Vest 3.0 a try and guaranteed that you won’t be disappointed. Below is a short clip courtesy of UD featuring the man behind this awesome vest.

Here are some of the Ultimate Direction gears that I have reviewed in the past. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading and hope that you find this review helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to drop below.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Salomon: Speedcross 4 Shoes and Trail Gaiters Review

If you’re into trail running, then chances are you’ve heard the brand Salomon many times. I’ve done a lot of reviews on Salomon products and quite frankly I still couldn’t get enough of them. Once you tried one of their products, you might find yourself getting another one. They’re that great!

Trail running is up again and if you’re on the market or looking to upgrade your shoes then I suggest that you visit their website, they have tons of selections to choose from. It took me few days to decide on which one to get but at the end I fell for the Speedcross 4. The Speedcross 4 (4th generation) is the much and long awaited upgrade of the Speedcross 3. The S3 has been around since 2012 and I’m not sure what took them so long to do the update. If you fell in love with the S3, then you’ll surely love the S4 as well.

The Speedcross 4 is just one of the many trail running shoes from the Salomon’s line up. The shoe weighs in at 10.9 ounces (310 grams) for size 9. The heel to toe drop is 10mm (Heel height: 30mm, Forefoot height: 20mm). It is lightweight, highly cushioned with a deep monster grip traction to keep you planted on the ground. As for fit, the shoe is on the narrow side but the size 10 that I normally wear just fit fine with me, more on the fit below.

·      Sensifit: Works to cradle the foot providing a precise and secure fit.
·      Lace pocket: provides easy storage for the lace
·      Quicklace: one pull system lacing
·      Molded EVA: provides cushioning, stability and anatomical support
·      Mudguard: protective material around the base of the shoe
·      Anti-debris mesh: avoid debris to be trapped between the foot and the footbed

The Speedcross 4 is built to tackle rough mountain trail conditions so it’s obvious that it must employ a highly durable material. The upper is made of very tightly woven fabric that is tear resistant. Though this version is not full waterproof (click here for the Gore-Tex version) it is still capable of handling light precipitations that can keep your feet dry. It has a 360-degree mudguard around the base that sits high enough to protect your feet from those shallow puddle and mud from getting in. The toe cap is very robust and it feels like it is equipped with a steel inside, you can literally kick rocks with this toe cap and easily walk away from it without injuring yourself.

With 10.9 ounces per shoe, it does feel a bit heavy, but there’s a good reason behind it. Salomon filled it with molded EVA foam to deliver that cushiony ride and anatomical support you’ll need to lessen the impact to your joints and body.

When it comes to the toe box, don’t expect that you can splay your feet in it like Altra or Topo. I found that all my toes are snug together, but not too constrictive even when my feet tend to swell during the run. If you have a narrow to average feet, then you’ll feel at home with the S4.

Salomon is fond of using the quick lacing technology, you can find this in almost all of their shoes. Though it has its pros and cons (ask any runners about it), I found it OK and it provided the right amount of hold to secure my feet. Though I have to admit that I did adjust the tension after two miles since I felt a little bit of a hot spot on the top. The lacing they used are thin and light and does not absorb water. At the very top of the tongue is a lace pocket that you can store and hide the rest of the lace and prevent it from dangling around that could lead into getting snag on some roots and branches.

It has an anti-debris mesh (screen protector) on top of the tongue that is sewn right underneath the lace hooks that prevents unwanted objects like twigs, pebbles and rocks from getting in to your footbed. The tongue has a decent amount of padding for cushion to prevent hot spots in the event you overtighten the lace.

The heel collar is surrounded with a good amount of padding that doesn’t irritate and cause no chafing on my heel. Like the toe cap, the heel cap (lock) is solidly built, it’s firm and robust that provides a snug hold preventing my heel from sliding out especially on the ascent when I start to push off with my forefoot.

Salomon loves their SENSIFIT™ technology, it’s a great feature that cradles my foot providing a precise and secure fit. So how does it work? One of the issues I have on some of the shoes I tested was that my foot tends to slide forward especially on a downhill regardless of how snug and tight I do my laces. This helps eliminate that issue and never did I experience my big toe stabbing the top of my shoe.

Just look at the lugs profile, their aggressive! This is where the S4 shines. Make no mistake, the traction of the S4 is one of a kind that will surely keep you planted on the ground. Whether you’re going uphill, downhill or side hill, you’ll be confident that you’re not going to slip and slide… you just plant and go! Thanks to the deep-set of lugs (chevron) measuring 6mm that are strategically placed (directional opposing lugs) all over the soles. The front lugs are positioned to provide traction when going uphill, while the lugs on the heel area are angled for downhill traction. Regardless of the soil condition even with slippery leaves, the sole will claw its way to give you that outstanding grip, balance and stability.

The Ride
I ran with these shoes right after a full week of heavy rain at Hidden Falls where the soil was still muddy and slippery. Despite the condition, these shoes just stick wherever I landed my feet. Going uphill was a breeze as the front of the toe just digs right thru the soil. The traction was even more impressive as I ripped the downhill section without sliding even an inch.

When it comes to weight, I found this shoe on the heavy side but that’s because of the molded EVA that they inject to deliver that cushy ride to absorb the impact of the soil, which is more crucial in my opinion especially for longer or ultra-marathon races.

Note that Salomon did not incorporate a rock plate protection on this shoe due to the fact that the bottom sole is solidly built and can handle any sharp or pointed rocks. The stiffness of the sole is sufficient enough to protect my feet from sharp edges. So, no worries on that matter. However, the stiffness of the sole can backfire. I had a hard time at the gravel section, it was a challenge maintaining my balance the fact that the bottom sole is so rigid and it just floats on the rocks, it’s a little bit unsteady in my opinion. So just be cautious not to trip or twist your ankle when you get into this kind of section as you might need to find a good balance.

When it comes to the lateral stiffness, the shoe is excellent and it didn’t cave in even when approaching a fast turn and twist on the trail. One thing that really surprised me most is its forefoot flexibility (despite the sole being so rigid) that I thought it would need to be broken in first. Nope not at all.

When it comes to breathability, I never had any issue with it (but in fairness, it was cold when I tested it). I’m not sure how will this perform when the temperature starts to rise. I’m guessing that it will not ventilate well due to the density of the material used.

My Verdict
There is no question that Speedcross 4 is built to tackle tough terrains regardless of its condition. These shoes are made where traction is all that matters, whether it’s mud, grass, leaves, steep ascent and decent, side hills and rock cropping these shoes are stellar. Some may find the lugs too aggressive especially for those trails that is not too technical to traverse. For some who loves technical trails then these shoes are for you.

The Speedcross 4 comes with a price tag of $130 but Salomon slashed the price down to $91, with that price, there’s no reason not to get one. I highly suggest that you take advantage of it and bring the joy with you as you blaze the trail with these shoes. You can purchase it directly on their website or at retail stores near you.

Is a simple piece of fabric that wraps around the ankle to keep the debris from getting in. There’s nothing more annoying than getting something stuck inside your shoes while running. The Salomon gaiters come in two distinct sizes, the high and low gaiters. Depending on what type of running and where you normally run will decide which one you should get. I personally prefer the high for extra protection.

This is a “wrap-around” gaiters that utilize a Velcro system for closure. It has a reflective logo and two padded areas to protect the upper bones of the ankle from accidental brushing from stones or trail hazards. It has a very robust and dense rubber that goes underneath the shoes for security. Unlike other gaiters, these don’t have a lace hook closure on the front and velcro for gaiter trap. Instead, Salomon used the elastic fabric to make it secure around the shoes and the ankle to have the closure. Take note that these gaiters are left and right specific, and the markings can be seen on the tag.

Running can sometimes be complicated and I love that Salomon didn’t add anymore complication on that. Simplicity is what this gaiter is all about. I was really impressed with how it performed and provided the protection that I really needed. Getting it on and off the shoes is a breeze and once it’s on, it stays on. It simply disappears out of my mind that I was wearing it.

These Gaiters sells $42 and $32 respectively.

Below are some of my in-depth reviews on Salomon products that I reviewed in the past.
·      S-Lab Light Jacket
·      X-Scream 3D shoes

I love to hear your feedback so be sure to let me know what you think of the shoes and the gaiters. Thanks again for reading…run fast but be safe!