Sunday, January 19, 2014

Running in the CamelBak Marathoner Vest

Let's stick to a theme here... when I review stuff, I've run in it. Not just shoes. So "Running in" means it's a review..

I hate, hate, hate carrying stuff while running, and I hate the very idea of water/fuel belts. I've previously run with a handheld bottle. I actually threw it away in the middle of one Half Marathon, and ended up replacing it because it was only $10. But, with some very long runs in my future, I needed a means of carrying fuel and hydration. Very shortly into my search, the CamelBak Marathoner Vest caught my eye...  along came Christmas money, and I ordered it!

I received the vest during a bit of taper week, so it took a while before I finally got to try it. Here, I tried it on the night I got it...

Front View
Side View (almost flattering, isn't it?)

My immediate impression was that the vest was comfortable. I was very impressed by the number of adjustment points. There are two adjustable buckles across the chest, the top is fabric, the bottom is elastic. There are adjustable buckles at the sides, which zig-zag between 3 points of contact. The straps are actually attached by velcro, so you can elongate or shorten at the shoulder. 

The vest has several reflective strips, which is wonderful (visibility is SO important). There are two large pouches on the front, one on each side. These could easily hold fuel, an extra water bottle, gloves, a neck gaiter, etc. Above these are mesh storage, covered by a small overlap, which is great for something like your keys or cell phone. The tube comes over your shoulder, under two straps, and then has two available clips. The front also features and integrated safety whistle. 

On the back, you have some additional reflectivity, a zippered flap that allows access to the reservoir, and a mesh and elastic pouch that is perfect for storing an extra layer. 

Just messing with it that night, I was very impressed by how easy it is to adjust each strap. Even with gloves on, it is easy to either grab the extra strap and pull, or lift up on the buckle to let a little out. I was, and remain, confused by the whistle. It doesn't seem to come off, despite having an elastic strap. But if it remains where it's attached, I physically can't bend my head down to use it if needed. Maybe I'm missing something, but I probably will go ahead and snap the plastic soon, just so I can use the whistle if I ever need... hopefully I never do need it, but I'm glad it's there!

Front View
Back View
I can't figure out this whistle...
Ok, so, finally it was time to USE the vest! I had a 12 miler on my schedule and I was ready to go. I purchased the CamelBak Elixer in Berry, and premixed it in a different container, then poured the mix, plus additional water until the reservoir was full. When I first lifted the full vest, I was a bit concerned about the weight, but the wide shoulder straps do a great job distributing the weight. Even with a full vest, three Island Boost packets, and my phone, the vest felt pleasantly light. 

Take the time to mess with the straps. One thing I learned very quickly.. leave everything just a bit looser than you think you'll want. I started out with everything pulled snug, and quickly realized it was too restrictive to breathe properly. I loosened everything just a touch and it was perfect. Unfortunately, my first outing with the Marathoner Vest was short-lived. I only got about 3.65 miles in. Why?  Well... at mile 1.5, I realized my tube was frozen. At mile 2.5, I was thirsty, so actually stopped, removed the vest, and tried to tuck the tube inside so my body heat would thaw it. At mile 3.65, I gave up and called the husband to pick me up. Then I called REI in the hopes they would have the insulated tube.  (They did.)

In the picture above, you can actually see the insulated tube is attached. I went back out today, and the insulated tube worked well... no more freezing. I am both annoyed and OK with this. I understand the extra cost involved if CamelBak just gave the insulated tube with the Vest, but it is frustrating to buy a $100 hydration pack, and then need to spend another $20 for a new tube. Not to mention, I have no idea what I'm going to do with the old tube. Store it in case the insulated one breaks? Except, if the insulated one breaks during Michigan winter, the old one would do me no good.

Frustration aside, I was very pleased with the vest. I found it easiest to leave the tube outside of the upper clip, and just use the lower clip, but I had no problems clipping it in or out... all very easy to do while running. Again, it is very easy to adjust the straps while running, so don't ignore them; play with them and get things set right. I love the side straps, which allow for a personal, snug fit.  It is weird initially to hear the water sloshing around behind you, but I surprisingly didn't feel it. In fact, after a while, I barely felt the vest, which is great.

My biggest frustration with the vest is that everything seemed, well, long.  I am about 5'6", 140 lbs. and everything was long. The straps were long enough that I occasionally hit them on the arm swing, the hose was a bit long, so I had to sort of curl it toward me.  The length of the actual vest was fine though, so I guess I can't really complain.   You do feel a bit warm on the back, but this time of year, I'm not complaining!

Overall, I do recommend the Marathoner Vest. I wish it was a bit more affordable. Maybe $100 including the insulated tube.  If you're running anywhere it's regularly below freezing, just bite the bullet and buy the insulate tube. Don't worry that the package says it will keep your drink cold, it will work to prevent freezing. Save yourself the frustration, and get it all at once. Ultimately, if you're going for long runs or hikes, want hands-free hydration and plenty of storage, it is a good investment.


  1. Here's one tip you'll thank me for: you don't really need the insulated tube. After drinking, just blow back the water in the tube into the reservoir. That's it. Happy running!

    1. Great tip Antonio! I'd heard that from CamelBak as well. I actually tried it during another frigid run and must not've done it well enough because those little bitty drops of liquid left still froze. Solid. And clogged the mouthpiece. I blame Michigan ;)

  2. You look awesome in that vest, Stacey! And it comes with adjustable straps and buckles, as well as large pouches. How cool was that? These would surely come in handy when you go on those long walks and marathons.

    Paul Cherry @ VestPac