Fuel Belt Hydration Packs

August 8, 2008

There have been a lot of attempts at providing better and better hydration options in recent years. But most of them have to do with refining the tried-and-true CamelBak style hydration pack. There's a problem with this though, and that is that having a pack on your back in the middle of a race is suffocating. Sure, it's probably fine for an early morning trail run. But in a race? Your back would be soaked before the first mile. So if you want to stay hydrated during an endurance race, the only other option has been a fanny pack from MountainSmith or something that has slots for 2 bike-style water bottles. Those have their place, but in a competition you'll be bouncing the hips on every step! And you'll always be re-tightening the belt strap after every 10 steps. Enter Fuel Belt --- the real runner's best option to stay hydrated during an endurance race. There are other similar approaches, such as the ones by Ultimate Direction and Amphipod, but the Fuel Belt is an excellent option for the serious runner. First of all, the model of Fuel Belt I tried out is cut very trim ---- no extra straps hanging off. It is made of high-durability elastic, reinforced with welded neoprene. This makes it a snug fit (which is good -- because the less bounce the better). But beware --- this means if you are usually a 32- or 33-inch waist jean like me, you'll have a snug fit in the Medium. The Medium fits 30-33 pretty well, but not much larger than that. Go for the Large if you are 34-inches+. Another thing that reduces flapping straps is the closure --- which is simply a large & wide swath of VERY strong velcro. No snap buckle to pinch your middle over the top of a plastic buckle. The velcro is very comfortable, very secure, very lightweight and foolproof. The model of Fuel Belt I used had two 8 oz. squirt bottles in the kidney area of the belt, and a single zip pouch (for either keys, blister kit, or a few envelopes of energy gel). This is a great setup, since the bottles don't bounce on your frontside (there is a model with four 8 oz. bottles, including 2 in the front, for ultra-long endurance runs). Also, having a little spot for the keys saves you the swing-and-slap of having them in a front pocket of your shorts. The design of the bottle itself is one of the key successes of the Fuel Belt, in my opinion. By flattening the dimensions of the bottle it makes it more ergonomic, and feels more like just part of your body --- rather than an attachment. The other cool thing? I've found that those little 8 oz squeeze bottles are perfect for sliding into a laptop bag or even a ski jacket pocket. I love gear like this that can do double-duty for regular daily use, as well as performance utility for race or high-action situations. These little 8 oz. hydration bottles are great little flasks for energy drinks when you don't want to wear a pack -- though I wish there were a more secure closure for the nozzle for those kinds of uses. As I ran with the Fuel Belt I really enjoyed having hydration right at hand without the sweat of a backpack or the bounce of a fanny pack. Ideal for a race. The only trouble I had was with replacing the bottles into the kidney area of the Fuel Belt. Since the elastic straps are quite secure around the bottle, it's a little tough to fit the bottle back in while running at standard pace --- I had to reduce my cadence a bit for a moment to get it slipped back in. Once or twice I had to reach back with both hands and use one hand to hold the elastics open while slipping the bottle back in with the other. However --- whatever seconds you lose by lowering your cadence to replace the bottle will likely be regained tenfold by keeping yourself properly hydrated to keep attacking late into the race. All told, the Fuel Belt is a great hydration option for runners. But that's not all -- Fuel Belt has also made some bottles and fuel gel boxes for cyclists and other pursuits as well (see my photos at right). Check them out at BUY NOW: Click here to check out deals on other hydration packs.

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