They say that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles power was in their shells, they were the original heros of the half-shell. Fearless. Agile. Able to overcome any obstacle and defeat any foe. I remember, as a young boy, pretending I was Leonardo with swords drawn running around the garden fighting off Shredder and his evil villains. Granted it was all in my imagination but I fully believed it was real, even if my ‘swords’ were just sticks and my ‘mask’ an old cut up blue shirt. I felt free, invincible, courageous, able to tackle any adventure. Never did I expect to feel like that way again, that was at least until I put on the Camelbak Circuit Hydration pack. All of a sudden those images and memories from my childhood came rushing back in like a flood and it suddenly hit me, I finally had my ‘half-shell’. Instead of running around the garden defeating Shredder and his posse I was now running over mountains defeating rock monsters and roaring winds, imagination still alive and kicking
As Trail Runners we are often frowned upon by our cousins of the tar with our back packs bulging with food and water bottles, trucker caps, buffs pulled over our faces, waterproof jackets and bearded faces. This reminds me of one particular morning in early winter a few years back where a few of us set out from Fish Hoek beach to run the Old Fishermans Trail to Hout Bay. It was a chilly morning and the weather on top of the mountain was looking wet and windy. While running the tar section to the trail head we passed some road runners out on their morning jog, them in their flimsy vests and 2 inch Split Polly Shorts, and us? We were kitted out head to toe for the usual gnarley winter mountain weather. I remember them chuckling to themselves as they passed us but what our cousins of the tar failed to realise is that support is a critical part of being a successful trail runner. Unfortunately most people starting out in Trail Running also take this for granted and a scary experience while venturing out unprepared can ruin the beauty and purity of running in the mountains. (If you missed it we discussed why the mountain is so unforgiving here and why it will chew you up six ways to Sunday if you are not prepared.)
One of the key ways of being prepared is ensuring you have adequate kit, water and fueling with you to safely complete whatever route you are attempting to do, this is where hydration packs come in. They make it massively convenient for you to carry your water, energy food, cell phone, extra kit or anything else you might want to take with you. Unfortunately they can be also quite cumbersome and uncomfortable at times, which really ruins the fun factor. It is horribly frustrating being smacked from behind by your Llama Bars while trying to run and your phone is jabbing you in the ribs, yes Llama Bars give a could kick but they shouldn’t have to literally kick you. This has taught me that you can also be over-prepared (although this is a whole let better than being under-prepared). It is this reason why I am so thoroughly enjoying my new half-shell, the Camelbak Circuit. It has just enough space to ensure you are safe in most situations yet at the same time you are limited in packing space to ensure you remain light weight and agile. There is no doubt about it, this pack is a lightweight, race your face off, hydration and fuel when you need it kind of pack. It does not mess around. It is so comfortable and snug fitting at times you will forgot you are even wearing a pack, don’t get me wrong I have a few niggles but we will get to those a little later.
Camelbak Circuit Review
The pack sits perfectly between the shoulder blades, high up on the back and completely out of the way of your elbows as you run. This for me is one of the reasons why the pack is so comfortable. You will struggle to have it weigh in over 2.5kg fully loaded and I found that having it sit so high up put a lot less pressure on my lower back than other packs I use that sit lower down on the back. What this does for stability and confidence on the trail is massive, not once did I feel the pack throw me off balance as I shifted sharply on the trail. Where I went, the pack went. The Hydration Pack is so snug it literally feels as a part of you as your shoes do (provided they fit properly).
Many packs have a ‘ventilation’ pad at the point where the pack makes contact with your back, often you don’t really feel the difference but with the Circuit it is very obvious early on that you have a lot more breathing room than normal. I always find it so ironic when the pack that is meant to keep you hydrated causes you to sweat more because it doesn’t breathe well enough which causes overheating and dehydration. This is not the case with the Circuit. As you can see from the image below, the vents are large and numerous which aids in keeping you cool. Especially if you have ice in the pack, it really helps to keep you cool through the vents on really hot days.
So what about packing space and access to it all out on the trail? Call me crazy but the one thing that makes me feel like an Ultra Runner is having bottles on the front of my pack, I don’t know why but I feel badass when I run on the trail with bottles nestled nicely on my chest, there when I need them, looking cool when I don’t. The Camelbak Circuit has space for not one, but two bottles in the front of the pack, that is if the 1.5L reservoir is not enough for you. This enables you to comfortably carry 2.5 liters out on the trail (I found 500ml bottles fitted best, 750ml felt a bit top heavy for me). If you only need one extra bottle you have an extra pocket to store a buff, energy bars, gels or even a rain jacket.
The reservoir has a wide opening for easy cleaning and also features hanging clips which speed up drying after use, there is nothing worse than your reservoir going gunky cause it stays wet in your cupboard, thankfully the developers at Camelbak thought of this.
Depending on the distance and duration you are heading out for you will need to be creative in how you pack your kit to maximise it’s effectiveness. For example, this last Saturday I was out running with the pack for about 7 hours on Table Mountain. Water is scarce up there at the moment but I opted to leave the bottles at home so I could carry my TNF Verto Storm jacket in one of the mesh pockets and enough food to last 7 hours in the other. I only needed to refill the bladder once and found it really easy to do with the reservoir still in the pack. The opening is very large and the pack clips nicely behind the opening making it quick and easy to refill.
If you need to carry less food, there is a smaller envelope type pocket which fits about 2 or 3 bars and a gel giving you the space in front for the extra bottle. Each person is different and their nutrition requirements out running are different so you will need to find what works for you.
There is also a great, sweat proof, pocket with a zip on the front of the pack which is perfect for your keys, card, phone or anything else you don’t want to lose out on the trail. It is small though, an iPhone 5s fits perfectly in there but if you have a larger phone you are going to struggle to get it in there. If you are fortunate to have a waterproof storm jacket that folds up into it’s pocket the mesh pockets on the pack are perfectly sized for holding your extra layer should the weather make a turn for the worse.
This is Camelbak’s lightest pack available, a mere 270g (pack only) yet what surprised me the most about it is that it is not only for a short run. This pack can go the distance, a massive distance, if you are clever with how you pack and have a good refueling strategy. So if you are needing a lightweight pack that will enable you to stay nimble and agile but has the features to cover proper distances then I would suggest looking at getting this pack. I am interested to see how far one can go with this pack, I intend to test that out at the 80km Puffer in August.
Right so as I mentioned earlier I have one or two niggle with this pack, nothing major but issues that for me would make a great pack even better if adjusted. First one is very small but the dual sternum straps which are very comfy and keep the pack fitting snug have no clips or loops for the slack that is left in the strap after pulling it tight. This means that they ‘flap’ around a lot as you run. This probably won’t bother most people but it bothers me, it’s not that fun being tapped on your chest by a lose strap for hours on end. That being said it is an easy fix, I just used some elastic hair bands to secure them down.
The other issue, and it could be because the pack is still relatively new, but it is a little too difficult for my taste to get the PureFlow tube out of the clips when you need a drink. Like I said it could be because it is new and hopefully the clips will loosen over time but running along technical rocky sections tugging at the pipe with both hands while watching where you are going can be risky. As a temporary fix I just looped the pipe through the chest straps which works really well.
All in all I really do rate this as one of the better packs I have run in, light, fast, comfortable, and great looking. Camelbak have been making packs ever since I can remember. My first memory of them is as a boy, my dad had an early generation Camelbak Classic that we used on our missions together in the mountains, must have been about 15 years ago. It was a great pack then and I am happy to see that they are still one of the worlds best masters of hydration.
If the Turtles’ power was in their shells, then a runners power and strength is directly effected by their Support / Hydration pack. It is well said that Ultra running is basically an eating and drinking contest with some exercise thrown in the mix. That being said any decent trail run is essentially an eating and drinking contest. The technical terrain and radical elevations that you are covering is so taxing on the body you burn through calories faster than Michelangelo burns through 6 large Pepperoni Pizza’s. If you don’t hydrate, you die. Thankfully the Camelbak Hydration Pack, has your back!
- External fill
- Sweat-proof phone pocket
- Stretch overflow storage
- Fits 30″-46″ chest.
Designed to Carry:
- Water bottle
- Extra layer
- Hydration Capacity: 50 oz / 1.5L
- Total Capacity: 1.5L Reservoir
- Total Weight: 9.5 oz / 270g (pack only)
- Dimensions: 17 x 13.5 x 2 in
- Torso Length: 30 cm
- Back Panel: Air mesh
- Harness: Fixed harness with cargo pockets and dual slider™ sternum strap. Fits 30″—46″ chest.
- Fabric: 70D reverse chain nylon.
Check out this video to see the pack in action: VIDEO
Thank you to Cape Cycle Systems for sending us the pack.
Stay classy fans of BBTR!