It's a rare female trail runner who has found a hydration pack that she really likes. Many – perhaps we could be so bold as to say "most" -- are just too clunky, too bulky, too big or, primarily, too long to feel comfortable for the long haul, be that 5 miles or 50 miles.
Such a pack needs to be compact and close-fitting, with highly breathable straps and webbing, yet needs to carry a reasonable amount of water, say up to about 60 or 70 ounces. You want room to schlep along a few things -- such as energy gels, a small sandwich or other munchies, necessary meds or emergency blister aid, maybe a small headlamp, and the like – but not so much room that the pack becomes a bouncy balloon on your back. Oh, and having easy access upfront to a few necessities ain't bad either.
We have tested a lot of packs over the years, both allegedly women's-specific as well as unisex ones companies told us would fit the bill. We've worn them, but haven't ever found one that we would get into a tug o' war over if someone tried to take it.
Well, get ready to tug. The Nathan Performance – now Nathan Human Propulsion Laboratories – has arrived with its Intensity pack, available in stores since February 2006, along with four other women's-specific hydration systems.
Nathan became a force in truly technical hydration packs and bottle carriers when Ultimate co-founder Bryce Thatcher came aboard a few years after Ultimate had been sold to Sierra Designs and he moved on.
One thing that sets apart the Nathan packs from Thatcher's older designs at Ultimate, which continue to be the choice of many trail and ultra runners, is the harness system that eliminates the need for a waist or hip strap, but still manages to snug the pack down around your body, keeps it from flopping around AND from pinching and poking in all the wrong places on a women's body, if you get our drift. The harness is a TPE molded piece on the center bottom of the back of the pack that allows some give and freedom of movement without being bouncy-bouncy elastic. We found that whether galumphing along slowly on truly epic 25- to 40-mile trail runs to picking up the pace a bit on shorter workouts, the pack stayed snugly secure. That's not to say we'd want to do 5-minute-mile sprints in it but, then again, we didn't try that because, well, we can't, and most trail runners won't.
The rigging also allows a user to move the front straps more to the front or more to the side, depending on her … ummm… fit needs, as well as simple wearing preferences. For example, if you are biking, you may want them out of your way to the side since the front pocket on each one could be in the way.
The Intensity easily holds a 2-liter reservoir (about 65 ounces for the metrically challenged) but one could squish a slightly larger bladder in also. It has lightweight mesh straps, a back zip pocket that is large enough for all the schlep-along stuff named above as well as – we love this – a pocket on each of the front straps to stash things for immediate needs without mandating a stop (one is designed to hold a gel bottle if desired). One can also stash things in the reservoir pocket if needed.
One thing it direly lacks, however, is some kind of bungee system to hold a lightweight jacket or vest should you want to layer down or layer up during an outing. We've tried various ways to get one to hang on, and it either dangles annoyingly or falls off, leaving us with a sweat-inducing wrap around our waist.
Oh, and to be politically correct and make the use of any brand's reservoir possible, there are no hooks or loops inside to hold up the reservoir, relegating you to safety pins so it doesn't sag to the bottom.
But even without the bungees and reservoir hook, this thing sits so nicely on the body that we won't trade it in for anything. Oh, and we suppose it doesn't hurt that it's also kind of girlie pretty in a light but not frou-frou lavender!
SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested retail: $70
For more information:www.nathansports.com or 1-800-523-2844