Sunday, 15 February 2015

Gear Review: Ultimate Performance Malham Waist Pack

One of the great joys of reviewing new kit is that you get to try out stuff you wouldn't ordinarily buy (in my case, because I have a multitude of waist and back packs already).  When Lou from Run Stuff asked if I'd take the Malham Waist Pack out for a spin, I'll admit I wasn't really looking forward to it.  I've been running with incredibly light-weight gear lately, and the Malham looks a bit bulky hanging on the peg in the shop.  But, the idea isn't to review stuff I think is pretty, it's to review new lines, so I packed the bag up into my suitcase and headed to Texas to try it out.  (OK, I was going to Texas anyway, but it seemed like a good idea to take it out in the warm weather).


The pack is a bit bigger than I usually wear, but it somehow matches our club colours very nicely!
When I started to pack up the bag with stuff just to test it out, I started to notice its features a bit more.

Two zipped main pockets, one with a 1L bladder (included), and two side mesh pockets give plenty of storage space.

First, the 1L bladder that comes with the pack is square, so it fits reasonably comfortably against the back.  The main pocket, which holds the bladder, has quite a lot of storage space for food, rain gear, lights, etc.  An inner, waterproof zipped pocket has more than enough room for a smartphone, and the outer zipped pocket will comfortably accomodate a few bars, a wallet, and keys (and it has a key clip).  So, for most runs, everything you need will fit easily in the pack.

Loads of space in the main pocket.
I threw in an extra 600ml of water, just to make the pack extra heavy for my test run.  At this stage, I looked at the pack in dismay - how would something this deep be even remotely comfortable for the 2 hours I was planning to be out?  Then, I noticed the compression straps, and tightened them to prevent those extra water bottles bouncing around.  Without those straps, I'd have to say the bag would be unusable.  What a difference they make!

The little blue compression straps make all the difference on this pack!
I popped a few bars in the side mesh pockets and headed out for a nice long run to see how the Malham fared.

The Fit

The Malham has a centre-buckle with a fit adjustment on either side.  The left side of the belt is your "static" fit - get it right the first time and leave it alone.  It took me a little work to get the sizing adjusted the way I wanted, but once I did, it didn't move.  The right side of the belt is for on-the-move adjustments (like when you've eaten/drunk most of the contents of the pack and it needs tightening).  It was easy to tweak while I was running or walking.  To my surprise, the pack was quite comfortable and didn't feel particularly bulky, in spite of the 1.6L of water I had in it, although the extra water did cause a bit of bounce on the run.  Once I'd removed the extra water, the pack sat well and bounced very little.  I was out for over 2 hours on a warm, sunny day, and never had any comfort issues with the belt, bladder, or pack.  I also took the pack out for the day while crewing Nic's Rocky Raccoon 50.  I wore it for the best part of 8 hours, including a few short bike rides and a lot of walking and standing.


The pack is comfortable for wear on the front for a while, too, like when you're crewing someone else's race and they ask for the can of fizzy water you've cleverly stashed away...


Things I Like

The pack has a lot of pockets, so it's easy to divide up your kit based on how much access you need to it.  The compression straps are easy to adjust, so as you re-arrange things due to weather, eating, drinking, etc., it's easy to keep the contents from bouncing about and causing problems.

I expected this to be a bulky, bouncy pack, but found it sat very well and was quite comfortable.  In its basics, this is a well thought-out and well designed piece of kit.

Things I'd Like to See Improved

There are 2 zippers on each of the main pockets, which makes them easy to open/close.  Unfortunately, it also means the 2 tabs clap together as you run.  That kind of thing irritates me to distraction, so I managed to find a way to tuck them away into the mesh pockets.  I also often see 2-zip pockets at races that aren't as closed as runners think they are, which is less of a problem than you get with a single zipper.  Using the zips was very easy and convenient, but I think a single tab would be a big improvement.

The bite valve is great if you're not wearing a jacket over it with a lot of junk in your pockets.  But, I found that when I had pockets of food/water sitting on top of the valve, it wasn't too hard to accidentally pull it open and cause a slow trickle of water down my leg - really disconcerting if you forget you're wearing it!  I've had another bladder of the same construction, and I prefer a bite valve that twists open rather than one that simply pulls.  It's a pretty minor complaint, and wouldn't put me off using the pack, but it's worth bearing in mind when you decide where to place the valve during your run.

It would be nice to have some mesh pockets over the sides of the belt, to give more easy access to food, but that's definitely a nice-to-have.  The current mesh pockets are pretty easy to get to, and getting into the main pockets is not a problem, especially if you quickly turn it around so you have everything in front for a couple of minutes.

Overall

Much to my surprise, it's a pretty nice pack.  I expected to hate it, but in the end I appreciated that it's a comfortable and efficient way of carrying a lot of kit.  I would certainly say it's more comfortable than some of the Inov-8 packs I've got hanging in the closet, which was a real shock.

Would I Recommend it?

If you're after a small belt for fast and light racing, this isn't for you.  But if you want to have everything you need for a comfortable few hours out on the run, this is a really nice pack.  









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