Gearbox: In-Vesting in Off Season Training

It’s no secret that ski touring is physically demanding. More fitness equals more fun—both breaking trail uphill and cranking powder down. Because the best ski tours last for at least a few hours, your body needs to adjust to that duration of exercise—sub-one-hour workouts don’t induce the needed adaptation. Trail running provides one of the most translatable off-season training activities. Spending hours and miles on trails, both uphill and down, is the perfect fitness prep for the first tours of the new winter. A trail running vest comfortably carries all the water, snacks and clothing needed for longer mountain runs without the annoying bouncing associated with standard backpacks. These six vests cover a range of capacities, so you can choose the one suited to your dryland tours. Winter’s coming—run some trails.

(Weights measured without included reservoirs or flasks.)

Arcteryx Norvan 7

While rated at a mid-sized seven liters, the Norvan 7 comfortably carried sizable loads, “getting the most out of its size” according to one tester.  The stretchy mesh lower back pocket expands to fit larger jackets. The clever, water-resistant 1.75 liter upper back pocket is there when you need it to keep rain off your gear, and rolls up when you don’t, leaving a tester to comment, “I love the convenient function of the extra rain pocket.” As with all the vests reviewed here, the Norvan 7 carries two half-liter flasks on the front and a hydration reservoir in the back, including the large capacity, two-liter Source that comes with the vest. The array of crossing elastic cords compresses large and small loads to snug them closer to the runner’s back, preventing any bouncing. Side straps and buckles adjust the fit around the ribs. Pole storage loops and straps round out the solid list of features.  All the testers agreed the Norvan 7 carried loads securely, but one commented that the stiffer material could feel “slightly abrasive against bare skin.”

$169, arcteryx.com

9.4 ounces (medium) — unisex

Black Diamond Distance 4

With the smallest volume in this review, one tester was concerned the Distance 4 wouldn’t measure up; however, the simple, well-thought-out design easily packs everything for half-day runs. “My favorite short-run option, they’ve optimized the size,” another tester went on to comment. The single back zip pocket carries a reservoir and the two vertical front pockets hold the included 500 ml Hydrapak Softflasks. Depending on the fill level, the top of the Softflasks created a pressure point when tucked under the top edge of the pockets. One tester solved this simply—ponytail elastics through the loop on the top of the pocket secure the top of the flask above the pocket. The lumbar pocket, extending from side to side, stows a jacket for convenient, quick on-the-run access.  Four additional stretch mesh pockets, two on the sides, two on the front, hold snacks and other small items. The dual zip chest pockets are large enough to hold a small- to medium-sized phone. The pole-carrying system is more adjustable than others and can be removed for no-pole outings. A tester summed it up: “carries snugly, and lower volume means less weight on your shoulders.”

$150, blackdiamondequipment.com

7.4 ounces (small) including extra removable pole carry (0.7 ounce) — unisex

Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 12

The women’s-specific VaporHowe 12 L is the lightest vest reviewed, yet still packs one of the largest volumes. Its secret is the thin, light, stretchy outer fabric over of all the pockets—it expands for larger contents and still securely holds smaller ones. To provide structure, the next-to-skin vest layer isn’t stretchy.  Side-webbing straps and buckles cinch the sides for additional adjustment around the lower ribs. The combination prompted one tester to deem it “one of the most ergonomic vests, fits like clothing.” But, another added, “With less structure, you need to balance the load, front and back; too much weight in the back will pull up the front.” The VaporHowe includes an insulated 1.6 L Hydrapck, “keeping your water cool and back warm on chilly dawn starts.” Additional bonus: one tester declared the deep, stretchy front pockets as “the hands-down favorite for comfortably carrying bear spray.” The VaporKrar 2.0 12L provides the same design and features in a men’s version.

$200, nathansports.com

7.1 ounces (small) — women’s

Osprey Dyna 6

Osprey brings its long pack heritage to the design of the women’s Dyna 6. It carries the most like a pack—in a good way—leaving one tester to comment, “It ran the same full as empty—no movement.” Another couldn’t seem to dial in the fit and found it hard to distribute the weight. Vertical compression straps at the shoulders cinch down all three rear pockets, and the large rear pockets provide options to organize larger items. Side straps and buckles fine tune the fit at the lower ribs. The Dyna 6 includes a 1.5 L Hydrapak reservoir. The 3D mesh on the back, sides and shoulders kept the runners’ backs drier than most of the other vests. A left-side zip pocket holds any sized phone. Poles are designed to be carried vertically, one on each side in the back. The heavier fabric and overall stoutness of construction prompted one tester to add, “It’s a couple ounces heavier, but I can see the Dyna will win the durability competition.” At $110, the Dyna is one of the best values in trail running packs.  The corresponding mens’s vest is the Duro 6.

$110, osprey.com

11.0 ounces (medium) — women’s

Salomon Adv Skin 12 Set

The Adv Skin 12 Set might not have a smooth name, but testers still found it sleek on the trail. The 12-liter vest garnered comments like, “When running, I thought about it least [of all reviewed packs],” and “everything is within reach.” Another commented, “The stretchy, long sides from underarm to below ribs really work to hold the vest with no movement and keep it comfortable.” The large stretch zip pockets swallowed up a day’s worth of snacks. The removable insulated bladder sleeve thermally insulates cool water from hot, sweaty backs—“worth the one ounce weight to improve comfort over a long, hot run,” per one. The generously sized lumbar sleeve can stow even relatively bulky jackets, eliciting a bad pun from one tester: “This vest had my back.” You can stow poles vertically on the front or back, sideways on the back with the movable elastic straps that can be threaded through a variety of sewn-on loops. The Adv Skin 12 Set is supplied with two 500 mL Hydrapak Softflasks. Given that, one tester went so far as to commit, stating, “It’s the best overall, my favorite.”

$165, salomon.com

10.6 ounces (medium) including removable insulated bladder sleeve (1.0 ounce) — unisex

Ultimate Direction Adventure 5.0 17

The Adventure 5.0 was voted most capable of replacing a pack, with a tester commenting, “It carries the most, the best.” Another added, “Anything you want to pack, they’ve thought of a pocket for it.” The large hydration pocket is matched by an equally large zip pocket. Upper and lower open, stretchy pockets round out the set of rear stowage space, and both can be secured with an elastic cord.  A rain fly is ready and waiting to cover the entire back when a storm pops up. The front features four zip pockets, a bottle pocket and two open pockets, leading one tester to add, “These pockets are awesome, as long as I can remember where I put things.” While the 17-liter Adventure is perfect for big days in the mountains, one tester noted it didn’t “hug as snugly with light loads as some of the other vests.” The Adventure is supplied with a single BodyBottle II, complete with a thoughtfully angled top that didn’t dig into testers’ chests. The bottle claims to be “taste free” and testers agreed, noting the absence of plastic smell or taste. Poles can be stowed front or back. The Ultimate Direction also makes an Adventure Vesta 5.0 model, which is tailored to a women’s fit.

$180, ultimatedirection.com

9.4 ounces (medium) — men’s

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