CamelBak FlashFlo '03

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One of several redesigns for 2003, the popular FlashFlo has become even better and is destined with the changes to become even more popular.

Always a product that was particularly attractive to women because of his compact waist-hugging shape as well as to men who wanted a smaller-capacity hydration system, the FlashFlo now incorporates a bit more storage as well as CamelBak's external fill reservoir with the wide screw-cap opening.

At 45 ounces (we've actually managed to squeeze in 48 ounces), you're good to go for up to three hours, give or take, depending on the weather and your personal hydration needs. The unfilled pack weighs about a pound, with a filled pack just shy of 4 pounds. It is a tidy 8-by-9-by-4 inches.

We weren't at first totally convinced about the external fill Omega wide-mouth system -- it seemed so heavy and clunky -- but it didn't take more than a couple of long runs and hikes for the FlashFlo to become our best friend -- partly because of that very system that allows mid-trek refills without taking apart the entire pack and then trying to re-stuff it.

Other attractive add-ons from the old FlashFlo include small inserts of stretch mesh on the waist belt on each side of the main compartment that serve as extra pockets for easy-access to food and other small items, as well as an external zip pocket on the outer flap that is big enough to hold quite a few extra items such as food, gloves, lip balm, sunscreen, ID, cell phone and the like.

The breathable waist belt helps wick sweat and never feels clammy, even on hot days, although the inside of the belt is rough enough that users should make sure they have clothing between themselves and the belt otherwise rubbing and chafing could be the painful result ... as one tester inadvertently learned after a two-hour hike.

Side-cinch compression straps -- often ignored by users -- kept a load stable even on the smallest of users and works divinely. If you want extra storage, we've found small pocket systems can attach to the front of the waist best to pack additional stuff on longer outings. You can even carry an extra bottle with a hand-carry strap and attach it to your waist belt when it's empty.

One component that lacks is some sort of bungee system or stretch cord to attach a small vest or jacket to the pack. We found that without it, a user tends to lace extra apparel under the outer pocket-flap and snap it closed as normal. That maneuver holds the item in place but shifts the weight of the pack just enough to make running more awkward and the pack more wobbly.

When we use the FlashFlo, we get admiring comments from other runners behind us and, in fact, we have several friends and acquaintances who own the old one but are coveting our new one.

4.5 hands clapping

Suggested retail: $40
1-800-767-8725
www.camelbak.com

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