The Inov-8 X-Talon Ultra 260 Version 2 is a wider fitting shoe offering aggressive grip for muddy conditions.
Inov-8 X-Talons have long been a favourite shoe for runners seeking good grip in muddy conditions but most of the versions are tight fitting and maybe don’t suit the runner with a wider foot. The Ultra 260 is a wider fitting shoe and as its name suggests is designed for longer runs where aggressive grip is required.
X-Talon Ultra 260 V2
Whilst branded as an X-Talon the Ultra 260 V2 doesn’t share the same appearance as other X-Talons. Noticeably the tread pattern is different and it actually looks very similar to the discontinued X-Claw 275 (remember them?) The lug depth is still a super aggressive 8mm, but the studs are wider and more triangular shaped than on other X-Talons. The compound is StickyGrip™ rubber rather than Graphene.
X-Claw 275 – spot the similarity?
The Ultra 260 have a width fitting of 4 on Inov-8’s scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the widest). This not only makes them wider but gives more volume in the toe box. The heel cup is well padded and there is more underfoot cushioning than on other X-Talons, making the shoe more comfortable on longer runs.
cushioned heel cup and 8mm drop
The shoe has a much firmer toe bumper than other X-Talons, offering excellent protection for the toes. Whilst they do offer some flexibility there is noticeably less than on other versions of the X-Talon such as the G235 and 212.
sturdy toe bumper
Prolonged wet conditions in the Peak District gave perfect conditions in which to test the Ultra 260 V2s. As expected the 8mm lugs gave excellent grip in the muddiest of conditions and the shoes were a great choice for proper wet, boggy, fell running terrain.
great grip in the mud
Coarse gritstone rock allows most shoes to grip, so running around the rocky Dark Peak terrain posed no problems. The wet flagstone paths offered a sterner test. I found that for the most part I could run with confidence although every so often a wet, smooth, slightly lichen covered slab was slippy. I don’t know of any shoe that would offer a grip on wet, smooth, greasy rock!
testing on wet flagstones
I found that the width 4 fitting meant there was too much room in the toe box for my feet. I prefer a tighter fitting shoe offering more precision, certainly for races or fast training runs. However the extra room in the toe box allowed me to wear a thick, waterproof sock which would otherwise have been a bit of a squeeze in a narrower shoe; this makes the Ultra 260 a good winter shoe for me.
Weight 260g, Drop 8mm, Lug depth 8mm, Compound STICKYGRIP™, Midsole Powerflow Max with stack height 16mm /8mm, Fit scale 4
The Inov-8 X-Talon Ultra 260 V2 is a shoe offering aggressive grip for soft conditions whilst catering for the runner who needs a wider fit. The extra width also allows the shoe to be worn in winter conditions combined with a neoprene or thicker waterproof sock. The new Ultra 260 would be an ideal shoe for longer runs or races on soft, muddy terrain such as the Spine or Marsden to Edale (Trigger). They would also be a good choice for a very long run on wet or soft terrain; the Bob Graham Round for example.
The video gives a quick look at the X-Talon Ultra 260 V2
The Cimalp Blizzard is a running jacket specifically designed for use in cold conditions.
Although not widely known in the UK, the French company Cimalp have been producing specialist outdoor clothing for over 50 years. With the weather taking a turn for the worse in recent days it seems like a good time to review their Blizzard jacket.
Our winters tend to be mild and wet and for most of my runs I’ll wear a long sleeved base layer plus a waterproof jacket if needed. However, occasionally we get very cold days where staying warm is more important than staying dry. What to wear on days like these? When the Arctic wind blows, a thin waterproof or windproof jacket might not offer enough insulation and a more substantial jacket is needed. The Blizzard fits that bill.
Cimalp Blizzard jacket, at home in the cold
The Blizzard is a mid-weight jacket; my size S men’s weighed 404g. Don’t confuse it with a thin, ultra lightweight windproof that packs down to the size of an apple, that isn’t its purpose. The CIMAFLEX material is slightly stretchy and has a warm, fleecy feel on the inside with a smoother finish on the outside. The shoulders and upper back have panels of more durable Cordura offering protection from abrasion when wearing a rucksack or race vest. It has a full length zip and there is a reasonably sized zipped, outer chest pocket that will take a folded A4 map, compass, car keys etc. Thumb loops allow the sleeves to be held snugly in place and a high collar helps keep your neck warm. The collar also houses a hood which can be zipped away if you prefer. Reflective details front and back allow you to be seen when illuminated by headlights or head torches. The jacket is wind resistant and breathable and performed well at wicking away perspiration when I was working hard (slogging uphill in deep snow!) My version is blue with black trim, it is also available in red / black.
a warm jacket on a cold day
I’ve worn the Blizzard for several winter runs in very cold conditions. I’ve found it to be comfortable; my size small is quite a snug fit with the stretchy material providing sufficient give so as not to feel restrictive. It really does offer some thermal protection from the biting wind and I like how the high neck keeps the cold out. The CIMAFLEX material repels water and I noticed that snowflakes simply brushed off rather than melting and soaking in although you would still need to wear a waterproof shell in heavy rain. As well as being a good jacket for cold, winter runs the Blizzard would also be a good choice year round when you need a bit more insulation, for example on overnight Bob Graham support where you might not be moving fast enough to stay warm. It would be fine to use for hill walking and its stretchy nature would make it a good choice for climbers too. It also looks good, i.e. not like a running jacket, and I’ve worn it just as a casual jacket.
high neck keeps out the cold
The thing I least like about the Blizzard jacket is the hood; it just doesn’t fit. I’ve only got a small head and yet the hood only covers three quarters of it! Whilst the rest of the jacket is a snug fit the hood is loose. If you face into the wind it blows down straight away!
the hood doesn’t cover my head!
The Cimalp Blizzard jacket has some good features and it offers much more protection from the elements than a lightweight windproof jacket. It is great for cold and windy conditions where it is best used as a top that you know you are going to keep wearing for the duration of your run, rather than putting on and taking off as needed. I really like it – apart from the hood which is useless!
The Nitecore UT27 is a lightweight Dual Beam head torch ideally suited to trail and fell running.
Following on from the UT32, Nitecore have produced another lightweight, dual beam head torch; the UT27, available from November 2021
The UT27 is simple in its design with the battery housed in the same unit as the lenses. Having the battery on the front of the head rather than in a separate rear housing can sometimes make head torches feel “top heavy” and unbalanced but not this one. The UT27 weighs in at a remarkably light 75g including battery. This is one of the lightest head torches that I have come across, at least that can realistically be used for fell running. The main body of the torch is plastic and although lightweight it doesn’t feel flimsy. The torch has two separate lenses mounted side by side; floodlight and spotlight and operation is by two buttons (W and T) on the top of the torch which control each of the beams respectively. I don’t know what W and T stand for, F and S would make more sense! The UT27 has an IP66 rating so should be water tight even in really bad weather! The battery compartment glows in the dark after it has been illuminated – theoretically that could make changing the batteries easier but it would still be a tough challenge without a second light source and not something I’d be wanting to try whilst out on the fells in bad weather! The torch comes supplied with battery, recharging cable and a small carry bag that acts as a diffuser which is useful when in a tent.
Nitecore UT27 Dual Beam head torch
The UT27 is versatile in that it uses both a rechargeable Li-ion 1300mAh battery pack (supplied) as well as standard AAA batteries. The pack is recharged via the supplied USB-C cable and can either be removed from the torch or left in place with the battery compartment open during recharging. An LED on the battery pack turns from red to green when fully charged.
Claimed battery life ranges between 6 (Spotlight HIGH) and 13 hours (Floodlight LOW) although I haven’t fully tested this claim yet.
USB-C rechargeable Li-ion battery or 3 x AAA
Each lens has two settings; simply high or low. Floodlight High gives 200 lumens, Low 55 lumens. Spotlight High gives 400 lumens, Low 100 lumens. There is also a Turbo mode where both lenses are illuminated giving 520 lumens. Two single LEDs also give either constant or flashing red light, useful for emergency signalling or when you only need a very low setting. These red LEDs also indicate how much battery power is remaining. Each button controls each beam i.e. one button (marked W) for the floodlight, one (marked T) for spotlight. A long hold switches that particular lens on after which another press toggles between high and low brightness. To switch to the other lens simply press the other button. A quick double press of either button turns on turbo mode which automatically turns off after 30 seconds to preserve battery life if you forget to turn it off manually. The red LEDs are turned on by double clicking either button from when the torch is off. The torch can also be locked off to prevent it being switched on by accident.
a button for each lens
I found the Nitecore UT27 easy to operate. The twin buttons on top of the torch are reasonably easy to use whilst wearing gloves and the sequence of presses is fairly intuitive. The two beams are noticeably different, the floodlight giving a white light whilst the spotlight is a much warmer yellow light. This yellow beam is unusual compared to most other head torches that I’ve used and does take a bit of getting used to although I do find it better for map reading as there is less harsh, reflective glare than with the white beam. In spotlight mode on high power the beam gives an impressive throw of light; 128 metres according to Nitecore’s statistics.
floodlight setting, high
spotlight setting, high
The torch can be angled down through a number of positions as far as 90 degrees (useful if tying your laces or looking in your bumbag) and the ratchet is firm enough that the chosen position stays fixed, even when running on uneven ground. It is comfortable to wear and the light weight would mean that it would remain so for extended periods, you hardly notice the weight.
head unit angled to 90 degrees
Overall I’m very impressed with the light weight and ease of use of the Nitecore UT27. It’s a great little torch for fell running and takes up very little room in a pack. It would be a good option for camping as well as running.
Very lightweight, easy to operate, versatile battery options.
Not the cheapest, yellow light takes a while to get used to.
Claimed 74g including battery and headband (75g on my scales)
The Nitecore UT32 is a dual-light head torch designed for trail running.
The UT32 is an interesting torch with a unique feature in that it has two lenses; a standard white light and a warmer, yellow coloured light which is designed for use in poor visibility such as fog or drizzle. The theory is that the warm white light is better able to penetrate in poor visibility.
The Nitecore UT32 feels well made; the compact aluminium housing is reassuringly rugged without being heavy and two large buttons turn the torch on and control the settings. You need to press both buttons together to turn it on and the torch can be swiveled to prevent this happening accidentally. The torch is designed to be worn horizontally on the forehead and fits easily into the plastic head strap mount. It also comes supplied with a clip which allows it to be removed from the head mount and fixed elsewhere, for example on a rucksack strap or belt. It can also be used a hand held torch. An additional “over the head” elasticated strap is supplied for additional stability although I didn’t feel the need to attach it. The buttons and lenses are at one end of the torch, to switch between the cool white and warm white lenses you simply rotate the body of the torch 180 degrees and press the relevant button. Twisting the body of the torch allows you to adjust the angle of the beam up or down. The torch itself doesn’t have a recharging port, the batteries need to be charged separately. A battery may or may not be included – check before you buy (mine came with the NL1835R). The UT32 has a waterproof rating of IP68 (2 metres) and is shockproof to one metre and comes with a 5 year warranty. A spare O ring seal and button covers are also supplied.
Nitecore UT32 head torch
The UT32 uses either one Rechargeable Li-ion 18650 or two CR123 batteries. These are easy to fit by unscrewing the end cap of the torch. The torch might not come supplied with a battery, mine came directly from Nitecore and included an 18650 (3500mAh) Be aware that you can’t use any 18650 battery, I tried one with a flat top but it wouldn’t work, it needs to have a “button” top.
No – Yes: flat top batteries don’t work!
The torch itself doesn’t have a USB recharging port so you need to charge the battery independently. I got Nitecore’s own NL1835R battery with USB port; you simply plug a standard micro USB charging cable directly into the battery.
Nitecore NL1835R battery with USB port
The settings on the UT32 are straightforward; there are two buttons, one for each lens and a single press scrolls through Low 70 lumens, Medium 200 lumens and High power 410 lumens. A long press gives a maximum brightness Turbo mode 1100 lumens which automatically drops down to the previous setting after 30 seconds. There are also two strobe settings; SOS and steady flash which are activated by three quick presses. Claimed battery life on high power is 3hr 45mins although I haven’t tested this.
I’ve used the Nitecore UT32 for several months including wild camping and a 5 hour overnight run supporting a Paddy Buckley round. I found it to be comfortable and stable. Despite all the weight being up front (the torch unit itself weighs 85g) it didn’t bounce around and I didn’t bother with the overhead strap.
horizontal mount, single head band
The big buttons are easy to locate and operate even whilst wearing gloves. During the Paddy Buckley run we did find ourselves in cloud on some of the summits and thus reduced visibility. This gave me chance to try out the warm yellow light. To be honest I didn’t really notice much difference other than the colour of the beam which is noticeably orange. In conditions like that I simply take the torch off my head and hold it closer to the ground which gives much better visibility as the water droplets aren’t illuminated directly in front of your eyes.
in bad visibility I hold the torch low to the ground
The shape of the UT32 does make it easy and comfortable to use as a hand held torch so that is how I used it in the “clag”. The design of the lenses means that the warm light mode gives a slightly further illumination distance as can be seen in the photos:
high power cool light
high power warm light
During the Paddy Buckley run I used the torch on the medium power setting and there was plenty of charge still available when I switched it off (if you unscrew the cap as if to remove the battery then screw it up again the torch flashes, the number of flashes indicating how much charge is left). As stated, the warm light setting is noticeably yellow / orange compared to the usual head torch setting and it takes a bit of getting used to. Having said that I find it preferable for use in a tent and around camp where it is much softer than the harsh, white, standard torch setting.
Easy to operate, comfortable, build quality, versatile, long warranty.
Not convinced of the effectiveness of the warm light setting in bad visibility.
Torch & battery 83g (125g worn weight inc. headband)
Route 40 claim that their graduated compression socks are the world’s most advanced!
The socks, with their different levels of compression throughout, are purported to increase circulation, reduced soreness and lead to faster recovery. I must admit that I’m always pretty cynical when I read claims like this, for a couple of reasons. Firstly I’d like to read the scientific study that backs up the claims and see it reported in a recognised Sports Science or Sports Medicine journal. Secondly, if true I’d expect to see all of the world’s top runners wearing them!
Route 40 Graduated Compression Socks
Having said that I do wear long socks for running so if I don’t believe that they will improve my performance would I wear them? Two reasons mainly; warmth and protection.
In winter or on cold days I like to try to keep my calves warm and so long socks are my choice. I find that a decent pair of long socks works better, even if wearing shorts, than a pair of ankle socks under a pair of tights. In summer I’d still wear long socks if I knew I was heading into deep heather on my run. On navigation courses we often seek out the more remote and pathless parts of the Peak District and this inevitably means some “heather bashing”! Here long socks are vital to prevent scratches. Another problem with running on the fells in summer is the bracken which not only scratches your legs but also is home for ticks whose bites can cause serious illness.
long socks for bracken bashing!
And then there is the dreaded midge. I remember waiting for the start of a race one warm, still, summer evening and being eaten alive, wishing that I was more covered up. So again long socks are a good idea and you can always roll them down once you are out of the vegetation or away from the midges.
you can always roll them down
The Route 40 socks are a Polyamide, Elastodiene and Spandex mix and have a nice soft feel to them. Unlike other compression socks that I’ve worn they don’t feel too tight and they are easy to get on and off. They look good (well I think so), I thought they were black at first but as they stretch the blue / teal color shows through. I found them very comfortable, the flat toe seam prevents rubbing and the anatomical shape means that the socks hug your feet so there is less likelihood of your foot sliding around in the sock. I do like them and will wear them throughout the year, I just don’t expect them to lead to improvements in my running!
long socks – big claims!
Pros Comfortable, offer warmth and protection, easy to put on, reasonably priced.
Cons Not sure about the claims of increased performance!
Fans of waterproof socks will be pleased to know that 360DRY® have added to their range with a version of the ankle sock in black.
360DRY® waterproof ankle socks in black
These waterproof and breathable socks have the same soft feel as the blue Merino wool version but in a different colour. Like the blue ankle socks they are slightly thinner and softer than the full length version and I like how they don’t “feel” like a waterproof sock. I choose the long, slightly thicker socks for really nasty conditions or if I know I’m going to be out for a long time. The shorter version are good for less severe conditions such as wet grass and snow rather than deep, waterlogged ground, although I gave them a stern test in bad weather recently. My feet were slightly damp afterwards but I did run through a stream where water came over the top of the socks! Even so my feet stayed warm and there was no sensation of the heat being flushed away when running through cold water, as is often the case with non waterproof socks.
Harrier UK offer a range race vests for trail and fell runners. Here I take a look at the Kinder 10 litre vest.
Kinder 10L race vest
I recently reviewed the smaller 5L Curbar vest (here) and the Kinder shares many of the same features. The front of the vest has the same design, boasting an array of pockets of various depths and sizes and is designed to carry two 500ml water bottles (optional extras). As with the Curbar the water bottles are quite a tight fit so it isn’t an easy job getting full bottles fully seated into the pockets. However once there they stay in place and the elasticated loops keep them secure and prevent longer straws from flapping about. The zipped chest pocket offers secure storage for a medium sized mobile phone, but it can be tricky to extricate it again once in place; you aren’t going to lose your phone, but if you want to whip it out to take a photo or answer a call it would be better in a different pocket. The lower stretch-mesh and side zip pockets allow plenty of storage options for snacks, hat, gloves and compass etc. All zipped pockets have a long tab which makes them easier to locate and unzip whilst wearing gloves. This feature along with the integrated whistle shows thoughtful attention to detail. Double elasticated chest straps with clip buckles can be arranged to several different positions to get the best fit for your body shape.
The Kinder vest is designed with fell and trail runners in mind and caters for ultra distance runners with some interesting pole storage options. The same bungees that are found on the Curbar mean that poles can be carried in 3 different positions. I found that the position with the least bounce was vertically on the front and this was also the easiest to arrange, without the need to reach awkwardly for the bungees. I don’t use poles myself and so the bungees were surplus to requirements so I removed them. You can carefully prise open the plastic so they can be re-attached if you don’t want to cut them.
pole storage 1
pole storage 2
pole storage 3
The main difference between the Kinder and Curbar vests is the rear storage and this is where the extra five litre capacity of the Kinder is found. The Kinder just has one large compartment with a horizontal zip at the top. Inside there is a storage compartment and securing clip for a drinks bladder if you prefer that to soft-flasks, and the hose can be routed out of the bottom or over either shoulder. There is also a small mesh pocket with a clip for securing your keys. The fabric of the rear compartment is water resistant and feels quite robust. Elasticated cord keeps everything tight and can also used as additional storage if you are happy to tuck your jacket under it and have it on the outside of the pack.
rear storage with bladder option
Again, sharing some of the well thought out features of the Curbar, the Kinder has elasticated race number toggles on the front bottom as well as lots of reflective tabs and logos so that you stand out in the light of a head torch or car headlights. The vest is available in four chest sizes ranging from 29 to 41 inches. This, along with the elasticated chest straps and slightly stretchy fabric results in a snug yet comfortable fit for a range of sizes. The Kinder is available in a choice of red or navy.
The 10 litre capacity makes it an ideal size for a winter run where you might want to carry a bit more equipment or a summer bag for a longer day in the hills.
Cost. Lightweight and comfortable. Plenty of storage options and attention to detail. A small, UK based company offering an alternative to the bigger brands.
Fiddly phone pocket. Hard to get full soft-flasks into their pockets.
Another fantastic value for money vest from the small Derbyshire based Harrier UK. The Kinder offers enough storage for a longer day out in the hills yet is small and light enough to use on shorter runs. It offers more features than some of the vests from the bigger brands and I would happily recommend it.
The North Face Flight Vectiv™ is the first trail running shoe built with a carbon-fibre plate.
The past year has seen a lot of interest in running shoes with carbon plates built into the sole, but these have been designed for road or track running, not for off road use. Then in January 2021 The North Face released the Flight Vectiv™ a carbon-plate shoe designed specifically for trail running. I’ve been testing it for the past month on the Peak District trails, these are my thoughts:
The North Face Flight Vectiv™
First Impression – They’re white! Not what you’d expect from a trail shoe and not a colour that they would remain for long in the UK in January! To be honest I hadn’t really associated The North Face with trail running, but a bit of reading revealed that the brand is popular in the US and there are some elite trail runners wearing their shoes including Pau Capell, the winner of the 2019 Ultra Tour Mont Blanc. So they are definitely a credible alternative to the more familiar trail shoe brands.
Design – I won’t go into all the geeky technical specifications of the shoe (that’s all available here), but rather describe what I think are the most important details.
The Flight Vectiv™ are designed as a long / ultra distance trail shoe, balancing cushioning with energy return using a carbon-fibre plated midsole. Probably their most noticeable design feature is the “rocker”. That is the distinctive bend in the sole (imagine the bottom of a rocking chair) designed to enhance momentum and propel you forwards.
What you can’t see is the carbon-fibre plate which lies on top of the midsole which is claimed to help with energy return and forwards propulsion. The plate makes the shoes quite rigid and there is almost no upward or sideways flex in the sole. Viewed from the side the midsole looks thick and well cushioned although they don’t feel high and “tippy” when worn. Heel to toe drop is 6mm and the sole has 3.5mm lugs.
The uppers are made from a breathable knit material using Kevlar®, polyamide and Matryx® fabrics which should offer abrasion resistance. However the reinforced part of the upper only covers the back and sides whereas at the forefoot and above the toes the material is softer. This makes them comfortable but possibly more prone to wear in the non reinforced zone. There is a slight rand / toe bumper but this isn’t very firm and wouldn’t offer much protection if you stubbed your toe or kicked a loose rock.
lightweight upper & soft toe bumper
Rather than a tongue the shoes feature a one piece upper that is elasticated and hugs your upper foot and ankle. This feels snug and comfortable and also has the benefit of acting as a debris sock, preventing small stones from getting inside your shoe. It does make getting the shoes on a bit more tricky than with a traditional tongue. There is no gimmicky lacing system, just the usual shoe laces, so it’s a case of double knotting to prevent them from coming undone.
one piece elasticated upper
Vital stats –
Weight official weight 570g / pair (my pair of UK 6.5 = 526g) Drop6mm (25mm – 19mm) RRP £180
Sizing – I take a size 6.5 UK in most shoes and that is the size I tested. I found them a little bit roomier in the toe than normal – more like a size 7 in length, although they were snug and not too wide across the midfoot. So for me my usual size was fine.
On test – To be fair the shoes are designed more for a summer tour of Mont Blanc than the Peak District winter, and they aren’t suitable for most of the wet and muddy terrain that I usually run on at this time of year. Having said that there are enough hard packed trails close by for me to test them out on. I’ve used them for the past 4 weeks on runs ranging from 40 minutes to two and a half hours. These included easy runs, steady paced runs and some faster 10k pace intervals and strides. All of these runs were on hard ground, mainly paths and trails but also some tarmac. I also tried them on wet grass and snow just to see how they coped.
ideally suited to hard packed trails
less suited to wet grass and snow
I found the Vectiv comfortable straight out of the box (although this is subjective as my foot shape and running style will be different to other people’s). I didn’t suffer from not breaking them in before wearing them for a two hour run. Although they are designed as a long distance shoe I found them snug and responsive whilst running fast too.
The grip was as expected – fine on dry and firm terrain but not great on wet grass and mud. They coped fine with wet flagstones and wet tarmac.
So, what about the carbon plate? I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to wearing the Vectivs. Would it feel like I was running on springs or a trampoline? Would my long run become effortless? Would my 1km repetitions be ten seconds faster than last time? Sadly, or maybe reassuringly, not! They felt like.. well a new pair of trail shoes. Maybe a little stiffer than some of the others that I wear but not too noticeable. If I hadn’t known there was a carbon plate in them I wouldn’t have guessed, although I did notice that when running over stones I couldn’t feel them on the soles of my feet. It felt as if the shoes had a rock plate, which I suppose is what the carbon plate is acting as.
the carbon plate acted as a rock plate
But in terms of energy return etc. I didn’t notice anything different to my other shoes. There was certainly no feeling that I could run for ever in them and after two and half hours I had slightly tired legs and a sore knee! My interval session felt just as hard as usual, and checking the data I noted that my heart rate and split times were pretty much the same as the last couple of times I’ve done the session in different shoes.
This doesn’t mean that the shoes don’t help with energy return and forward propulsion, just that I didn’t notice anything. Maybe a faster runner will get a better return or maybe you need to be doing much longer distances for it to become meaningful.
Pros – Lightweight, comfortable (for me), might possibly give you more energy return than other trail shoes.
Cons – Expensive! Not guaranteed to give you more energy return than other trail shoes.
Verdict – The North Face Flight Vectiv™ is a lightweight trail shoe designed for longer distances and is the first trail shoe to feature a carbon-fibre plate. This is an interesting concept although I can’t honestly say that I noticed any performance benefits whilst wearing them. They are more suited to drier European and American trails than wet British ones and they are definitely not a fell running shoe. The new technology is reflected in the price.
I take a look at the 5 litre Curbar race vest from Harrier UK to see if it can compete against the bigger brands.
Once upon a time you carried a bumbag if you wanted to take extra stuff with you on a trail or fell run. However in recent years running backpacks, also known as race vests, have gained popularity. They tend to be more comfortable and less bouncy than bumbags especially when carrying drinks or more kit than just the lightest of waterproofs.
Harrier offer vests in two capacities, here I look at the Curbar 5 litre vest.
Curbar 5L race vest
The Curbar is compact and lightweight (my size S weighed 230g on my scales) yet offers a variety of features and storage options. On the front at each side there are two small upper pockets just large enough for a couple of energy gels with one pocket containing an emergency whistle. Below these are two deeper pockets designed to house soft-flasks (sold separately). Just above each of these pockets there is an elsaticated band which holds the drinking straw from the soft-flask in place and prevents it from flopping around. I did find it a bit of a struggle to get a full soft-flask into the pocket, it takes a bit of jiggling around to get it fully in, however this means that once in, the flask is nice and secure and less likely to bounce about when you are running. If you are simply preparing for a run then this is just a minor irritation but it could be more annoying if you are trying to top up water during a race when time is critical. Note that I have also found this problem with some very expensive, global brand race vests too! If you don’t intend to carry soft-flasks then the pockets are the ideal depth to carry an A4 map rolled up.
Beside the left hand of these pockets is an additional zipped pocket which is just big enough to hold a mobile phone. It isn’t too difficult to get your phone in but getting it out is more problematic. The zip is hard to pull down as it is somewhat hidden by the soft-flask pocket. If you are carrying a soft-flask in that pocket you would need to remove it to get access to the zip. All this means that once your phone is zipped away it is a bit of a faff to get it out again. That isn’t a problem if you just want to carry your phone as an emergency item but if you want to use it mid run to take photos or use it for mapping / navigating then you will need to carry it in a different pocket. I found the solution was to carry one soft-flask and use the second soft-flask pocket for my phone. The phone drops deep inside the pocket leaving me confident that it won’t bounce out yet it still fairly easy to get to when needed.
zipped internal phone pocket
Below the soft-flask pockets are two wider mesh pockets which I found great for stashing hat and gloves, compass and a bit of food. The stretchy mesh material makes it easy to get items in and out of these pockets. There are numerous little tabs in various places on the front of the pack all of which can be used to attach a compass string before tucking the compass into a pocket.
Then to the side of each of these mesh pockets and located above beneath your armpits are two zipped pockets. They are in that odd position; just out of sight and just about accessible if you are fairly flexible at the elbows! I wouldn’t say that unzipping them whilst on the move is easy but it can be done, helped by the fact that the zippers have extension toggles attached making it easier to grab them even when wearing gloves. Again you could use these pockets for hat, gloves, food or your phone.
lots of pockets! also note the zip extender, bungee and race number cord
Across the front of the pack are two elasticated sternum straps with click fasteners. These can be moved up or down to eight positions in order to get the best fit. This feature might be more useful for female runners, I’ve simply left mine in the place they came in. The elasticated straps can be easily tensioned by pulling the elastic.
As well as altering the fit of the vest by adjusting the chest straps it should be noted that the Curbar vest is available in four different chest sizes ranging from 29 inch to 41 inch. (Isn’t it odd how we still know our chest and waist measurements in inches rather than centimetres!) The whole of the vest itself is made of slightly stretchy material which gives a snug fit whilst still allowing freedom of movement for example when bent over or reaching up to scramble up rocks or climb over a stile.
adjustable chest straps
Moving to the back of the vest, this is where you find the main storage compartments. There are three options, two of which are accessed from the top of the vest. Think of them as three layers, one close to your back, one on the outer side of the vest and one sandwiched between the two. The compartment closest to your back is designed to hold a drinks bladder (not supplied) although it could be used to carry clothing etc. It has a clip buckle at the top to attach to the bladder to prevent it from dropping down and the hose can be routed internally over the left or right shoulder. There is also a hole at the bottom to route the hose down then up if you prefer.
optional bladder with shoulder or tail hose route
The second or middle compartment is again accessed from the top and is the ideal place to carry your waterproof jacket and trousers. The compartment has a simple velcro type tab to keep it closed. There is no support material or rigidity to the back of the pack so you can feel items against your back as you run. I found that it was best to pack my waterproofs loosely, simply stuffing them in and having them flat against my back rather than rolling them up tightly. There is also a key clip and small pocket for you car keys etc.
The third, outer compartment is accessed by a short zip at the bottom. This pocket is best suited to more angular items such as a head torch, first aid kit or emergency bivvy, with the softer clothing in the middle compartments preventing these from digging in your back. I found that the zip was a bit too short to give easy access to this pocket and even though the compartment is large there are some things that you can’t get in it because of the length of the zip. A full length zip would be much more useful.
zipped rear pocket
Finally, below the rear compartments there is a strange “kangaroo pouch”, basically a hole that goes straight through the bag. I can’t see the purpose of it as I certainly wouldn’t want to carry anything in it for fear of it falling out. You could loop your jacket through it and tie the arms together but I don’t know why you would!
If you use poles whilst trail running then the Curbar vest allows you to stash them when not in use. There are four elasticated bungee straps on the bottom hem and two more elastic tabs, one on each chest. That allows the poles to be carried horizontally across the back or your hip and vertically on your chest. Personally I don’t use poles and they aren’t actually allowed in fell races so for me the bungees aren’t needed. This might seem a bit pedantic or fussy but when running, the bungees flapped about and made a noise and occasionally brushed my hand which I found to be really annoying! I was reluctant to cut them off just in case I might use them in future so I carefully prised open the plastic tab and took them off without damaging them. I think it would be better if they were attached via a “larks foot” then they could easily be removed if surplus to requirements without the danger of slicing your fingers open!
At the front bottom the vest has two short elastic cords with toggles. These are for attaching a race number so that it isn’t obscured by the vest itself as it would be if your number was pinned to your chest. Good idea!
The tabs on the vest and the writing / logos are highly reflective meaning that you will be easy to spot in a head torch beam or by car headlights if running on the road.
The size and capacity of the Curbar make it an ideal race vest where you need to carry more kit than just the absolute lightest of waterproofs. I have been using it for winter runs where I want to take a bit more safety kit than I would in summer. It would be a good choice for a summer Bob Graham Round where you don’t need to carry too much kit (that’s what your support crew are for!) but want quick access to drinks either from soft-flasks or a bladder. If you wanted a larger capacity vest check out the Kinder 10L also from Harrier.
Cost, lightweight, comfortable with loads of storage options and some clever touches. A small, UK based company offering an alternative to the bigger brands.
Fiddly phone pocket, hard to get full soft-flasks into their pockets, needs a longer zip on the rear pocket.
Fantastic value for money! Packed with features and storage options and available in different chest sizings. I found that the Curbar performed just as well as similar specced yet much more expensive vests from established global brands.
Harrier UK is a recently emerged Derbyshire based company specialising in equipment for trail runners and seeking to offer value for money by cutting out the middle man. Read more about them here
If you take a quick look at the wrists of runners you’ll no doubt see the majority of them wearing some type of Garmin sports watch. There may be some Suunto and Polar in there, but that is about it in terms of “serious” devices specifically designed with running and other sports in mind. Well now there is another brand to consider – Coros. Here I take a look at the Apex Pro.
the Coros Apex Pro multisport watch
Based in the United States, Coros launched their first sports watch in 2018 and have continued to expand their range. The Apex Pro was launched in September 2019.
This review isn’t intended to look at every single function of the watch, (the Coros website has lots of info and videos) rather I’ll talk about it from a trail / fell / mountain runner’s point of view discussing what I think are the useful features and my experience of using it. I’ll also discuss anything that could be improved to make my experience of using the watch better.
Straight away Coros make a good impression with their packaging; a box in a box in a box like some elegant Russian doll! I’ve been using the Garmin Fenix 3 for the past three years and whilst it would be unfair to Garmin to compare it like for like, when I saw the Apex Pro it did make me realise just how heavy and bulky my Fenix is! At 58g (on my scales) with an outer diameter of 46mm the Apex Pro feels sleek and the Titanium Alloy bezel and Sapphire glass screen give the impression of a quality product.
boxed like an elegant Russian doll!
The other thing I immediately noticed was that the watch only has three buttons. One is solely for the backlight, one is the lap, back and settings button whilst the larger knurled knob is used to start and stop recording and to scroll through the screen displays.
In order to get the most from your watch you need to first download the (free) Coros app. Most of the settings on the watch are controlled via the app so you need an up to date smartphone with sufficient storage to download it. If you don’t you won’t be able to adjust any settings or see details of your activities. This probably isn’t a problem for the tech savvy generation but it might not suit everyone. You also need the app in order to upload your activities onto Strava or similar platforms. Once you’ve finished an activity the watch will upload the details to the app as soon as the app is opened (the watch needs to be in close proximity of your phone with Bluetooth turned on). You can enable integration with 3rd party platforms such as Strava and Training Peaks so that your data automatically uploads to these too. Note that unlike Garmin Connect there is no website on which to review your data, everything is on the phone app. The app allows you to dig into the details of your activity with various graphs showing your data.
example of some details as seen on the app
Immediately after finishing an activity the details appear on the watch screen and you can look more closely at your data but oddly this display disappears after a couple of minutes. If you want to see the information again you can view it by going into AI Trainer in the settings on the watch. It isn’t very intuitive but once you know where to look it’s fairly straightforward to view your history.
data displayed immediately after finishing
If you use a 3rd party platform that isn’t supported by automatic integration you can manually upload your files. You could even upload data recorded on your Coros watch to Garmin Connect if you’d got really used to that platform and didn’t want to leave. However, unfortunately you can’t plug the Apex Pro into your computer and access the files as if it were a mass storage device. The computer recognises the watch and sees the folders… but they are empty! So rather than being able to export / import mass files you need to go to the app and export each activity one at a time as a .fit or .tcx file then import them to your preferred platform. Again I think this is a bit disappointing, meaning that you are very reliant on the app.
As with other platforms such as Strava and Garmin Connect, the Coros app acts as a training diary showing all of the activities that you have recorded with the watch. Over time the Apex Pro records your training and ascertains your fitness levels which are then displayed on the app. I’m not sure how it does this or how accurate it is; it shows my Lactate Threshold pace and heart rate to be what I think is reasonably accurate, my VO2Max is shown as Superior even for someone twenty years younger (must be correct!) yet my Fitness Level is only in the mid range for a recreational athlete. I generally treat these things with some scepticism, race results are a better indication of fitness than numbers on a watch!
Elite VO2 Max with a mid pack fitness level!
The app is very good at some things though. There are over twenty activities to choose from (anyone for speedsurfing?) and for each one you can customise your data screens. You can have up to six screens, each one displaying up to six data fields – that’s thirty six different bits of information at your finger tips whilst you run! I find that four data fields per screen is plenty, any more and it’s hard to see at a glance whilst running. On the app you simply select which data to display and press save. This automatically syncs to your watch.
there are running options too!
Despite all this choice there are some things I think could be improved. For example, heart rate can only be shown as beats per minute. I prefer to use percentage of maximum heart rate so glancing at my watch and seeing 169 bpm means much less to me than 94% max. I don’t want to be trying to do mental arithmetic whilst wondering if I should slow down on my threshold run! For interval training, Last Lap time, pace and speed can all be added but no Last Lap distance. This is a useful metric to have when mountain running or hiking to assist with navigating so I’m surprised that it isn’t an option. It is certainly more useful to me than stride rate or stamina which are options.
4 data fields shown
Personally I feel that most runners overlook many of the features of their watches. It seems that recording time, distance and elevation and then uploading to Strava are the only functions that many people need! However, modern sports watches have features that can help you train more effectively and the Apex Pro is no exception. Take workouts for example, the app allows you to easily design training sessions and upload them to your watch. These workouts can be as simple as time or distance of the effort and recovery or more complex with heart rate, pace, cadence or even power zones set. It’s quite straightforward to design these sessions on the app and then sync to the watch. Then when you want to do the training session it’s just a matter of selecting the workout on the watch and pressing start. The watch will beep as you approach the end of each section of the workout and then vibrate as you hit the required time or distance. If you have set certain zones for pace, heart rate etc then the watch will beep if you fall out of the zones prompting you to speed up or slow down. The image below shows how a workout can be designed using time, heart rate and pace.
designing a workout on the app
You can also use the app to upload a training plan to your watch so that you know exactly what run to do each day. This could be one you’ve designed yourself or that a coach has created for you or one of several training plans that you can freely download from the Coros website. This doesn’t just include running, there are lots of strength exercises available too and the app shows a Muscle Heatmap to help you target and record your training of specific muscle groups!
Apex Pro in use:
I’ve spent six weeks testing out the Apex Pro, getting strange looks for wearing a watch on each wrist in order to compare performance with my current watch. I found that Apex Pro was very quick to pick up satellites, in over 30 runs I have never had to wait more than 30 seconds for the watch to acquire a signal. The Apex Pro usually recorded slightly less distance than my Fenix but every so often it recorded slightly more! There didn’t seem to be any pattern to this and it’s difficult to know which watch was correct. I used the Apex Pro in GPS + GLONASS setting.
the Apex Pro usually recorded less distance, not today!
The Coros also consistently recorded more elevation gain than the Garmin, again hard to know which one to believe but out on the hill the Coros more accurately matched the elevation on the map and didn’t need re-calibrating unlike my Garmin. The Apex Pro has both GPS and barometric altitude sensors.
One of the first things to get to grips with is that rather than pressing buttons, the various display screens are accessed by twisting the knurled knob rather like winding up an old wrist watch (youngsters ask your grandad!) I found this a bit strange at first but soon got used to it. It isn’t too difficult to do with gloved hands either as you can scroll with one finger rather than needing to grip the knob between finger and thumb.
twist to operate
However, if you are recording an activity then you don’t need to rely on twisting the knob, the watch face can be used as a touchscreen so you simply swipe up or down (see video below) You can turn this feature on or off in the settings. I think that is a great idea as it is much easier than trying to twist or push buttons, especially whilst you are running fast. Similarly in Navigation Mode, touchscreen allows you to pan and zoom in order to see the route.
A great feature is that you can choose to have the buttons on either the left or right side of the watch. Basically the watch inverts the display so you put it on upside down. The straps can easily be removed without tools and swapped round if you don’t want to have to buckle it the wrong way round. This is really useful for people who want to wear the watch on the right wrist but want the buttons on the left. I like it because by wearing it on my left wrist but with the buttons on the left it prevents accidentally stopping the watch when you bend your wrist back. I’ve done this numerous times with other watches, usually when scrambling down rocks or climbing over gates etc and it is really annoying, especially if you don’t realise you’ve stopped your watch!
choose which side you want the buttons!
The Apex Pro has a wrist based optical heart rate sensor. I record heart rate on most of my runs and I’m not a fan of wrist based sensors. Not only are they known to be less accurate and reliable than a chest strap they rely on being in contact with your skin. If I am wearing a long sleeved top or jacket I wear my watch over the top so that I can see my watch at a glance. I don’t want to be digging down under layers of clothing to see how far I’ve gone! This isn’t a criticism of the Coros, the same applies for any brand using a wrist based sensor. There is a simple fix as the Apex Pro can be paired with any Ant+ heart rate strap so I just paired mine with my Garmin Run chest strap. So, not a problem but it is extra cost on top of an already expensive watch. The sensor on the back of the watch is almost flush with the case and doesn’t protrude or add thickness unlike early version optical sensors on other brands of watch.
the optical sensor doesn’t protrude
Also using the optical sensor the Apex Pro has a Pulse Oximeter. This measures your blood oxygen saturation levels, the idea being that it can alert you if these are becoming dangerously low. Designed with high altitude athletes in mind I’m not sure how useful it is for your average user. It has the same issues as the heart rate sensor in that it needs to be worn next to the skin and won’t work if you are too dark skinned, hairy or bony! I have only managed to get it to take a reading once and that was in the comfort of my house, not 3000m up a mountain! It might be a selling point for a small number of people but it is certainly surplus to requirements for your everyday athlete.
Something that I hadn’t come across in a watch before was Running Power. The Apex Pro uses inbuilt accelerometers, GPS and gyroscopic sensors and scientific wizardry to determine how many watts you are producing whilst running. For most recreational runners this is meaningless but for the more technically inclined it might be a metric to use in structured training or racing. I’m not knowledgeable enough to understand how a wrist based sensor can measure how much force your feet are putting through the ground but suffice to say the watch can tell the difference between fast strides and hill sprints! If you can build up a picture of your various power readings at different intensities it might be more useful than training by pace or heart rate.
Running Power during hill sprints
The Apex Pro doesn’t have the capability to display maps, any routes are shown as a simple breadcrumb trail. That isn’t an issue for me, I’d much prefer to navigate using a paper map and not have to rely on a map on a tiny screen. Loading and following routes on the watch is very straightforward, you simply import a GPX file to the app and sync it to the watch. To follow the route you just select it on the watch and press start. The watch displays the route and your current position and also shows the route’s elevation profile. You can also see how far you have left to go. If you deviate from the route the watch beeps a warning that you are off route. I found that the warning kicked in once I was about 30 metres off course. In this mode the watch enables touch screen which allows you to move around and zoom in and out of the route displayed on the screen. As with other watches the Apex Pro has a “back to start” feature that enables you to follow a breadcrumb trail back to where you started. This will work in any mode, not just if you are following a route.
Multi day racers might like the Resume Later feature on the Apex Pro. When you finish an activity you have the option of Finishing by saving it (a 2 second press of the main button) or resuming later. This allows you to continue the activity several hours later or even the next day. So you would end up with one long activity rather than different activities that you would need to look at separately.
The thing I really like about the Apex Pro is its battery life. It is way better than any other watch I’ve seen. After fully charging it I ran every day whilst recording runs with either optical or chest strap heart rate enabled. It wasn’t until the 12th day that the low battery warning came on. Charging is quick and straightforward, back to fully charged in two hours. Although I haven’t tested it on one long continuous run I’m confident that it would easily last 24 hours (Coros claim around 40 hours in normal recording mode) so ideal for your Bob Graham Round! For anyone thinking of doing ultra ultras you can switch to Ultra Max mode which conserves battery life by reducing the number of GPX fixes it plots.
exceptional battery life
Another neat feature is that the backlight automatically illuminates when you turn your wrist but only between the hours of sunset and sunrise. Basically the watch knows when it’s dark and senses when you are looking at the watch face so illuminates it! I found this really useful when night running as it means I don’t need to look directly at the watch to illuminate it with my head torch in order to read it. You can also set the backlight to automatically stay on during a workout. Both these features can be turned off if you don’t like them.
My only real disappointment with the Apex Pro is that it doesn’t show a British grid reference (BNG). This would be a deal breaker for me if I was choosing a top of the range watch. If I am running or walking in mountains or remote locations then having access to an accurate grid reference is vital. When I ran the Charlie Ramsay Round I spent hours alone in the Scottish mountains in the dark. I had the peace of mind of knowing that my watch could give me a very accurate grid reference at the touch of a button should I need it. Not only would this be an extremely useful feature to aid with navigation, it is also a vital safety feature should you become lost or need to pass your location on to rescue services. Whilst it is possible to get a latitude and longitude position from the watch that won’t help you locate yourself on a map and it requires digging around in the watch settings, definitely not something you want to be doing whilst lying hypothermic on a hillside! My old Garmin Forerunner 305 that I owned 8 years ago gave a 10 figure grid reference so hopefully this is something that Coros can fix with a firmware update.
RRP – £449.99
This compares favourably with the similar specced Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire at £529.99 and Suunto 9 Baro at £539
The Coros Apex Pro is a very good sports watch suited to recreational and professional runners alike. It is packed with features and offers tremendous battery life. Light, sleek and with quality materials yet costing less than other top of the range watches, it is a genuine alternative to the more established brands.
Being critical, I think it is a little too reliant on the app and whilst it boasts features that only a small number of users would realistically use it lacks a few features that would be really useful for many people. In order to be seen as a serious rival to the likes of Garmin and Suunto for people heading into the mountains, it needs to offer a British grid reference function. Hopefully future firmware updates can fix these issues.
Don’t be surprised if you start to see the Apex Pro appearing on more runners’ wrists soon!