I've used the great looking Enduro Plus Hydration Pack from The North Face for my last two ultras. It only arrived two days before the Lakeland 100 where it did a great job through 38 hours of effort. I then took it to Chamonix for the 60 mile CCC where it again behaved flawlessly.
It's a very short and squat design that sits low on my back and does look a bit strange when fully laden. However it is incredibly comfortable and I've had no issues with chafage or the pack bouncing. My back bears permanent scars from racing with packs with a longer back length but in 165 miles of racing in extremes of heat and 'dampness' I've not had a single problem.
I like my comforts so had it stashed pretty full for both races but with a bit of work its 9.5 litres should accommodate a very lightweight mountain marathon set up. its just a wee bit small for working in the mountains (bothy bag, first aid kit, spare jacket etc) but I'm finding it ideal for most of my own running and cycling adventures
For me the Boa anti slosh tightening system to secure and compress the water bladder worked as it should but solves a problem that doesn't really exist. Certainly the water bouncing and sloshing about is not something I've ever worried about in any other pack as expelling the air before sealing the reservoir also does a pretty good job. The wire and dial system adds weight and complexity and I had a few issues on the Lakeland 100 when with cold and wet hands kit was snagging on the exposed wires.
I used the mesh pocket on the back for a water bottle on the Lakeland 100 and for my windproof on the CCC and it worked very well being easy to locate with a bit of practice. I find the side pockets on some race packs, which are placed up towards your arm pits, rub against my arms when I'm running but are awkwardly placed when trying to grab a drink or replace your bottle. Placing this feature on the back of the pack makes far more sense ergonomically. On this pack some form of closure would be useful for when carrying gloves, arm warmers etc and a second staggered holder would also be an interesting development.
The included water bladder was very good with a two litre capacity and a large opening. The valve was about average in terms of water flow but it didn't feel like hard work to suck even when working hard and the nifty little magnetic holder for the tube is a great innovation and worked incredibly well. If it's a faff to drink while racing then you won't so little design features like this work incredibly well in the real world. I'm not usually a fan of racing in the heat but coped surprisingly well on the first day of the CCC remaining well hydrated throughout which I can probably attribute to this pack.
The website mentions stash pockets on the chest harness but I think they meant on the waist belt which features two spacious pockets. The lightweight floating harness did get twisted when putting the bag on but once everything was secured then the pockets were perfectly positioned and a pretty good size. An internal loop in th epockets for clipping compasses / GPS would be a welcome development.
The fashion is currently very much for race vests but if you are looking to carry a bit more equipment and like a more traditional pack with some very modern features then the Enduro Plus is certainly worth a look.
For the last few weeks I've been testing a new jacket from The North Face, the innovative Alpine Project Wind Jacket and after a dubious start it's really grown on me. At first glance I struggled to identify where it would fit in to my clothing system. Was it a soft shell, an insulated jacket without the insulation or a heavy weight windproof. The best description is probably all of the above as it's one of those pieces of kit that just seems to work. I must admit I've been using this jacket for a number of activities that probably exceed what the designers had in mind for it but layered over a thin thermal it's kept me comfortable fell running, bouldering, mountain biking, climbing, scrambling, hill walking, road biking, marshaling on a mountain challenge and even a photo shoot for Trail Running magazine.
'Rage against the wind in The North Face Men’s Alpine Project Wind Jacket a new pull-over anorak styled, hooded nylon micro ripstop mountain shell. Coated with a DWR water shedding finish. This wind shell has map accommodating twin alpine pockets and a chest pocket that’s handy for a compass, phone or gps device. The hood adjusts at the back. Simple and rugged ,The Men’s Alpine Project Wind Jacket offers effective wind shell performance as one would expect from a technical, athlete test Summit Series™ jacket.'
Designed as a technical and durable windproof it has proved surprisingly waterproof when caught out by yet another shower at the start of our traditional Lakeland summer. I would still carry a lightweight waterproof with a bad forecast but generally I've been very happy to use this as my shell. The double layer of ripstop nylon has proved very successful at blocking everything the elements can throw at me. There is an extra layer of insulation over the torso provided by an internal thin fleece scrim. However this doesn't extend down the arms which means the jacket doesn't bind when you're trying to put it on over a damp thermal, a great design feature which really makes a practical difference on the hill.
The jackets hood is one of its best features. It's a great fit, feeling comfortable, unrestrictive and turns with your head but offers far more protection than many other wind proofs. The slightly stiffened peak sits just in the right place to deflect the worst of the weather but doesn't restrict your vision. The only adjustment on the whole jacket is a cord at the back that clinches the hood in snug to your head. This also means there are no toggles to whip you in the face. However the price you pay for such a well fitting hood is that it won't fit over a climbing helmet.
Having raved about the hood there are however a couple of significant niggles. There is no way to secure the hood when it’s not in use which means it flaps around in a very annoying manner. Then if you place anything in the chest pocket while the front zip is open then there is a tendency for the hood to be pulled around to the left ending up perched on your shoulder. A simple Velcro strap would transform this jacket for faster paced activities. The second hood issue occurs only with a following wind when the drumming of the fabric over your ears drowns out any other sound (rockfall, climbing partners etc). I suspect this is due to the lightness of the nylon fabric and or the lack of hood adjustment but for whatever reason this is probably the biggest weakness of the jacket. Some reinforcing over the ears or an adjustable draw cord may go some way to helping prevent this?
The rest of the jacket gives a very roomy and comfortable fit. There were plenty of venting options with a long front zip and the lycra bound cuffs could easily be pulled up to your elbows. I get the feeling it would have been brilliant for last months ski touring trip to the Vanoise. The extra water repellancy would have been ideal for my frequent crashes!
Tunnel pockets used to be very popular in outdoor clothing but have pretty much disappeared from use. Here they work extremely well giving loads of room which is accessible while wearing a harness and having a deep lip to help prevent items from escaping if you forget to zip the pocket up. The chest pocket is small but will take a smart phone or compass.
For me this jacket makes a great multipitch cragging top offering lightweight insulation and weatherproofing. A couple of sessions on the very rough gabbro of the Carrick Fell boulders has failed to inflict any damage on the surprisingly tough lightweight fabrics. The jacket is designed to stuff into it's own pocket however one minor design flaw is the lack of an internal loop for attaching it to the back of your climbing harness.
After my initial confusion I think this jacket has identified it's niche offering a weather resistant shell that's just that bit more practical for UK conditions than a traditional soft shell and compliments my existing system of thermals, Primaloft insulation and hard shell waterproofs. A wee bit of fine tuning and this could become a classic multi activity jacket.
Member of the Rab & Lowe Alpine Test Teams & former reviewer for The North Face