Harrier Curbar 5L Race Vest Review

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.

photo of runner wearing the Curbar 5L race vest

Curbar 5L race vest

On test:

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.

photo of soft-flask on the Curbar 5L

Soft-flask storage

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.

photo of zip pocket on the Curbar 5L

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.

photo of pockets on the Curbar race vest

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.

photo of chest straps on the Curbar race vest

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.

photo of Harrier Curbar race vest

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.

photo of Harrier Curbar race vest

main compartment

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.

photo of rear pocket on Harrier Curbar race vest

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.

Harrier UK Curbar 5 litre Race Vest

RRP £54

Available from Harrier https://harrierrunfree.co.uk/products/curbar-5l-race-vest


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

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Coros Apex Pro Review

Have you heard of Coros sports watches?

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.

photo of the Coros Apex Pro multisport watch

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.

First Impressions:

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.

Coros Apex Pro box

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.

Coros App:

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.

photo of Coros app showing details of run

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.

photo of the Coros Apex Pro watch

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!

photo of Coros app fitness levels

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.

Workouts on Apex Pro 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.

data screens on Apex Pro watch

data overload!

photo of Coros Apex Pro screen

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.

picture of Coros app workout designdesigning 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.

comparison of Coros and Garmin watches

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.

photo of Coros Apex Pro

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!

Apex Pro can have buttons on either side

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.

photo of Coros Apex Pro optical heart rate sensor

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.

Coros app showing Running Power

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.

photo of Coros Apex Pro battery warning

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!

If you found this review useful you can buy me a coffee to show your appreciation!

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Sawyer Mini Filter Review

I’ve started to take a Sawyer Mini water filter on some of my runs. Here I look at how and when it can come in useful.

For most of my runs I don’t take any drink with me, I’m happy to hydrate before and immediately afterwards. However for longer runs (2 hours plus) or on very hot days I tend to take a soft flask or maybe two. In high upland areas such as Scotland and parts of Wales and the Lake District I’m happy to refill or drink straight out of flowing streams but I wouldn’t do this in the Peak District.

This summer I did quite a lot of running on the Pennine Way where there were plenty of water sources although not many that I’d be happy drinking from without first treating it. I also supported on a couple of Bob Graham rounds where I wasn’t 100% comfortable with the quality of the water that I could refill with on route. As a solution to this I bought a Sayer Mini water filter, a neat little filter that only weighs 65g and comes complete with a straw, 490ml pouch and a cleaning syringe. Larger pouches can also be purchased if needed.

photo of Sawyer Mini with pouch, straw and cleaning syringe

Sawyer Mini comes with pouch, straw and cleaning syringe

There are several alternative filters such as the Katadyn Be Free and Salomon XA where the filter is housed within the soft flask itself. These are great if all you want to use them for is drinking from the soft flask but they aren’t as versatile as the Sawyer which can be used in a range of different ways. With an “in flask filter” such as the Katadyn and Salomon if your flask springs a leak then your filter system stops working (unless you have a spare flask). These systems rely on the filter being used only in conjunction with the soft flask. Also, with the Salomon XA be aware that the filter cap doesn’t fit onto Salomon’s existing wide mouth flasks! The threads are slightly different so you can’t just buy the filter, you need the dedicated flask too. In comparison the Sawyer Mini is much more versatile.

The Sawyer Mini is very versatile:

If you want to just take a quick slurp as you go past a water source then the Sawyer with straw attached lets you do that. You could drink straight from a puddle or trickle of water if you were desperate! I can think of a situation on the 2018 OMM Mountain Marathon where I would have done just that had I had the filter!

photo of Sawyer Mini filter and straw

drink straight from a source with the straw

For hill walking or mountain biking or where you prefer to use a conventional bladder system rather than a soft flask then the Sawyer mini can be used with your existing Platypus, Camelback or similar. Simply remove your bite valve and plug in the filter. You could even cut the tube and fix the filter “in line” if you still wanted to use the bite valve.

photo of rucksack and Sawyer Mini filter

using the Sawyer with a conventional bladder


photo of Sawyer filter with a bladder

swap the bite valve for the filter


photo of Sawyer Mini used "in line"

using the filter “in line” with a bladder

For wild camping or similar where you wanted to filter a larger amount of water you could fill up a large bladder, attach the filter and drink from that as well as using it for cooking. The Sawyer Mini screws directly onto plastic bottles too so these can be used in place of a bladder. To filter water simply invert the bottle or bladder and gravity will do the rest. I haven’t used the Sawyer 490ml pouch yet as I prefer the methods mentioned here instead but it is very lightweight and rolls up easily so is handy to take along if needed.

photo of Sawyer filter with plastic bottle

filter screws onto standard plastic bottles

You can adapt the Sawyer to be used with soft flasks if you have flasks with straws – just remove the bite valve and plug the filter in. If you push the straw down into the flask then the filter will be positioned in an ideal position to drink from. Obviously this depends on your running pack / vest but I found that my Ultimate Direction vest holds the filter snugly in place with no bouncing as it has an elasticated loop that can be used to hold the filter against the shoulder strap (see photo).

photo of Sawyer Mini filter and soft flask for running

using the Sawyer with soft flask on Ultimate Direction vest


photo of Sawyer Mini filter on running pack

elastic loop fits over top of filter


Versatility – the Sawyer Mini can be used in a wide range of scenarios.
Size and weight – easily fits into a small pocket and weighs only 65g.
Easy clean – comes supplied with a plunger to rinse the filter.


Not as easy to use as a dedicated soft flask filter.
Doesn’t screw directly onto Platypus bladder or branded soft flasks.

RRP £35

Can be found cheaper here https://amzn.to/2HY7L9j

Verdict: A really lightweight and versatile piece of kit that is useful for a range of situations, not just fell running.

Full details of the Sawyer Mini here

Note affiliate links: I get a small payment if you purchase via these, it doesn’t affect the amount you pay.

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Anquet Outdoor Map Navigator (OMN)

Outdoor Map Navigator (OMN) by Anquet is a digital mapping platform that allows you to access maps on your phone and computer.

An annual subscription gives you full GB OS 1:25,000 Explorer and 1:50,000 Landranger maps whilst Harvey 1:25,000 Superwalker and 1:40,000 British Mountain Maps can be purchased individually. Once the free OMN software is downloaded and you set up a cloud based account you then have access to all of the maps on your PC and also on your phone via the OMN app. There are lots of benefits to having mapping on your computer and phone, here are some of the ways I use it.

image of Anquet route planning

Screenshot of Anquet OMN software

On a Computer

Printing Maps

Rather than take a full map out on your walk or run Anquet allows you to select and print the relevant section and just print that. You can print to accurate scale or enlarge it if your eyesight requires. I tend to print the section I need on A4 paper and either laminate it or seal it in a plastic wallet to prevent it getting wet. That way there’s no battling in the wind trying to find the right bit of the map and it is easy to fold and carry the map or put it in a pocket. If the section gets tatty I just print another rather than having to buy a whole new paper map.

photo of map section

Printing the section you need is easier than battling with a full map

Planning a Route

The OMN software is excellent for planning routes on a computer. It’s easy to find accurate grid references and so create waypoints (for example race checkpoints or hill summits) and draw routes between them. The software automatically calculates distance and elevation for each leg so you can decide which route suits you. You can enter your estimated pace (with additional time for climb as with Naismith’s rule) so that you can get an accurate idea of how long a run or walk will take. The software shows you the bearings for each leg which can be really useful as it saves you having to take a bearing off the map – if you were trying to do this in bad weather or whilst in a race there’s more likelihood that you’d make an error than if you’d plotted the bearing beforehand. This picture shows a comparison of two route choices; the long way round or a shorter but steeper direct route with distance, ascent and estimated time for each.

picture of Anquet maps

Comparing route options for Edale Skyline

In 2015 I was course planner for the Rab Mountain Marathon in Snowdonia. I did most of the planning using Harvey maps on Anquet software. One great thing about having the maps on a PC was that I could zoom right in to identify subtle features and get accurate (10 figure) grid references which I plotted as waypoints on the map. At a later date I went out to visit these locations to see how viable they were as “Controls” for the event. Once all the controls were marked it was then possible to plot the most likely routes that competitors would take and thus get a fairly accurate distance and elevation for each course. It was also possible to then predict the winning times.

picture of map with checkpoints

Control planning for the 2015 Rab Mountain Marathon

Reviewing a Route

Another use of the software is the ability to look back on a route, maybe a walk or run and see exactly where you went – it might not always be where you had planned to go! OMN allows you to import a GPX trace, e.g. from a Garmin or similar sports watch and the trace will show your exact route. This image shows 2 routes (downloaded from my Garmin watch) of different ascents of Elidir Fach on Paddy Buckley rounds. These were both done at night and it is interesting to see slightly different route choices each time. Sometimes at night you don’t know exactly where you’ve been!

picture showing different routes on a map

Slightly different routes on the Paddy Buckley Round

Map Updates

Depending on the subscription level you take out you can get Ordnance Survey map updates as often as every 3 months meaning that your map never goes out of date. The new fence lines shown on the updated map below would be really useful if you were navigating across Cartledge Bents in the fog!

comparison of 2 Ordnance Survey maps

Spot the difference? New boundaries and paths on the updated O.S. map

Any map updates, plotted routes or imported routes can be synchronized with your cloud account so that they are available on different devices such as your smartphone.

On a Phone

Note – please do not rely on using just your phone to navigate by, especially in remote areas. Learn to use map and compass and use the phone alongside these.

As well as using OMN on computer you also can use it on a smartphone via the OMN app. With an internet signal you can access everything in your account; maps, plotted routes, waypoints, tracks etc. As you wouldn’t want to rely on having internet access whilst out in the hills you can download the maps that you need to your phone and use them without an internet or mobile signal. With your phone’s location settings enabled you can get an accurate fix showing your current position and grid reference (I opt for 8 figure in settings) and you also can record a tracklog which draws a trace on the map showing where you have been. Be aware that having your phone’s screen on for prolonged periods will drain the battery as will using it in cold weather – see note above!

Planning a Route

As on a computer, it is possible to plot a route by using the touch screen on your phone although for ease and accuracy it I’d recommend doing this on your computer then uploading it to your phone. Cold, fat fingers are a lot less accurate than a big screen and a computer mouse!

Recording a Route

If you want to go for a walk or run and look back afterwards to see exactly where you went you can record a tracklog on your phone. You simply open the app and start recording when you set off. The route (track) that you take will appear as a line on the map. When you finish, stop the tracklog and details such as time, distance elevation etc will be saved and you can look at the traced line to see where you went. This image shows me using the phone app during a run – the red circle is my current position and the pale blue line shows my route.

photo of map on a smartphone

Using OMN app on smartphone

Following a Route

If you have uploaded a route to your account, either by plotting it on the map or uploading a GPX file, it is then very easy to follow it using your phone. The route will show up as a coloured line on the map as will your current position (via satellite) which shows if you are on the route or have deviated off it. I work on events such as Skyline Scotland where all the race routes are marked out with flags for the runners to follow. This involves placing flags over many kilometres of mountain terrain, sometimes in bad weather yet it is vital that the race route is marked accurately. Having the exact route on a phone which can be checked whilst placing the flags helps ensure that the race route gets marked correctly. This picture shows the Ring of Steall race route (purple line) loaded onto my phone for use whilst course marking.

photo of map on mobile phone

Ring of Steall race route shown on phone

Race Recces

Being able to see an accurate trace of where you’ve been and where you are can be very useful in helping you prepare for certain races. The High Peak Marathon is an overnight race across some remote and pathless Peak District terrain and “reccying” the route by trying out different route options can make the difference between getting a dry line and ending thigh deep in bog. This image shows how I looked at two different route options for one particular section of the race. As the use of GPS is not allowed during the race I needed to know accurate bearings and timings which I was able to take from the tracklog I recorded.

picture of map and GPS route

Looking for a dry line! Trace showing recce of different routes

As a Learning Tool

GPS devices and maps on phones get a lot of negative press but if used correctly they can be valuable learning tools. They can actually help you improve your navigation. I use phone mapping on my navigation courses to allow people to review their decisions and check the accuracy of their navigation. The following image is from a night navigation course where the participants were trying to follow a bearing from A to B across open moorland. They should have been heading on a southwesterly bearing at all times but the blue circles show that on two occasions they were actually heading due west. Being able to show them their actual route immediately afterwards was quite enlightening for them as they swore that they had constantly been heading SW. The satellite doesn’t lie!

image of GPS trace on a map

Using GPS track to review a navigation exercise

Using the Map

Although you are somewhat limited by the size of the screen you can simply use the map on your phone as you would a paper map. Putting the phone into airplane mode will prolong the life of the battery. I actually use an old phone without a sim card that has maps installed onto it that I use when practising or teaching navigation. One advantage is that you can really zoom in to see subtle contour features, particularly useful if you usually need reading glasses. This image shows a screenshot from my phone where I’ve zoomed in to see fine detail compared to the same area on a paper map.

photo of map on smartphone

You can’t zoom in on a paper map!

Anquet Oudoor Map Navigator is great for printing maps, planning routes, reviewing walks or runs and to aid navigation. It can also be very useful as a tool to improve navigation skills. Various subscription levels are available, click on banner image below for full details:

Harvey Map extracts used with permission are the 1:25,000 Superwalker map of Snowdonia 


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Short Runs in Beautiful Places

Short Runs in Beautiful Places is a guidebook of 100 trail runs on land maintained by the National Trust.

Known for their previous trail running guidebooks, Jen and Sim Benson have produced another well researched and beautifully presented guidebook. It is full of colour photographs and each route has details of how to get there (by car and public transport), easy to follow route descriptions, maps and some interesting facts and bits of history along with suggestions of other things to do or places to visit in the local area.book - short runs in beautiful places

The guidebook covers Great Britain with routes ranging from the coastal paths of Cornwall through Wales, Scotland and even includes a couple in Northern Ireland. There are routes for everyone from parents with buggies to those seeking more challenging technical trails. Woods, parks, meadows, beaches and more remote uplands are all included.

Short Runs in Beautiful Places is a great book for planning runs in new places and is ideal for families who want to plan a day out that maybe combines a run with other attractions.

RRP £12.99 Published by National Trust Books

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The Rise of the Ultra Runners – Book Review

Until relatively recently completing a marathon was seen as the pinnacle of a runner’s achievement.

Once they had completed the 26.2 miles runners tended to then strive to do it faster, but not many chose to run further. However recent years have seen a boom in “Ultra Running” with runners swapping tarmac for trails and often covering 30, 50 or 100 miles and in some cases even further over several days. In his book The Rise of the Ultra Runners (A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance) Adharanand Finn looks into what is behind the desire to go further, to push on for longer and to endure what was not long ago thought to be mad or even impossible.

The Rise of the Ultra Runners book

The Rise of the Ultra Runners

The author was already a fairly experienced road runner when his work as a journalist led him to take the step into ultra running; The Financial Times wanted an article about the Oman Desert Marathon, a multi day stage race and Finn decided that it would be an adventure. This led him on a journey to find out what motivates people to take part in such events and also, having survived 100 miles in the desert, to wonder how far he could push his own physical boundaries. So from there he set about accumulating enough qualifying points to enter and then complete the Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc. Along the way he delves deep into the ultra running scene, interviewing and spending time with some of the sport’s top runners and competing in races in the UK, Europe, South Africa and the USA.

The book gives an interesting insight from two fronts  – there’s the journalistic aspect where Finn interviews some of the sport’s biggest names (including Kilian Jornet, Sage Canaday, Zach Miller, Elisabet Barnes, Damian Hall) and also a personal one as he recounts the highs of finishing and the lows of pain, suffering and hallucinations that he experiences whilst taking part in various races. Finn touches on the questions around doping in the sport and also discusses why – when the marathon running world is dominated by Kenyan and Ethiopian runners – there are no East Africans on the Ultra Running scene.

The Rise of the Ultra Runners gives a fascinating insight into the world of ultra distance running. You don’t need to be an ultra runner yourself to enjoy it but it will certainly appeal to anyone interested in running further than 26.2 miles.


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Last Women Standing – The Barkley Marathons Film

The Barkley Marathons is a notoriously tough, ultra distance race which only 15 people have ever completed since it was first staged in 1986. No Woman had ever completed it.

Last Women Standing is a film by Summit Fever Media following Inov-8 ambassador and ultra-running record holder Nicky Spinks as she takes on one of the world’s most notorious and secretive sporting events.

The 100+ mile race takes place in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee and requires the competitors to navigate 5 laps, each involving around 10,000ft of brutally steep, obstacle-laden, muddy mountain ascent through thick woodland and vicious, spiky undergrowth that shreds both clothing and skin. The park surrounds Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, a now derelict maximum-security prison. The impenetrable surroundings have accounted for several failed jail breaks.

The film gives an insight into Nicky’s build up, from the unique application process to the hours before the race where her preparation is made more difficult because runners don’t know the exact time the race will start. Competitors are told of a 12 hour window during which race organiser “Lazarus Lake” will blow a conch – that signifies one hour until start time. Competitors then have 60 hours to complete the 5 laps, ripping out pages from books en-route as proof that they have visited the correct checkpoints. Asked by the film crew if he thinks this will be the year that a woman completes the race Laz replies with a chuckle “No!”

image from Barkley Marathons film

Laz checks Nicky out at the start of a lap

Frozen Head is notorious for its bad weather but the race begins in hot conditions before nightfall sees the temperatures plummet and the runners battling against wind, rain and snow. As other runners drop out (signified by the sound of a bugle) Nicky teams up with fellow female ultra-runner and Barkley veteran Stephanie Case from Canada and the race “virgin and veteran” work together in an attempt to become the first women to complete the grueling challenge. Will they be successful or will the bugle sound for them?

You can watch a trailer of the film here:

The film will have its online international premiere on Tuesday November 19th. Sign up now with inov-8 to watch the free online film premiere: www.inov-8.com/last-women-standing

Osprey Duro 15 Review

The Duro 15 is the largest of Osprey’s three backpacks designed for trail running.

Having already tested and used the smallest pack, the Duro 1.5, I was keen to look to the other end of the size scale to see what the 15 litre version had to offer.

The first thing I noticed about the Duro 15 was the number of storage options; the pack has no less than 8 zipped pockets and 5 mesh pockets, all of various sizes! The main zipped compartment on the back can easily hold items such as spare clothes, emergency shelter, waterproofs etc. whilst a rear stretch mesh pocket with clips gives faster access to items; useful when it’s an on – off waterproof day. A smaller rear, zipped pocket has a retaining clip for keys and can fit a wallet or phone. Two decent sized side zip pockets are big enough for hat, gloves and food and are just about accessible without having to be double jointed! I found that these side pockets are also deep enough to hold rigid water bottles without them bouncing out whilst running.

photo of Osprey Duro 15

rear side pockets can be reached without being double-jointed!

The zipped pockets on each hip are easily accessed on the run and provide another option for smaller items such as snacks, gels, compass, car keys etc. Finally a zipped pocket on one side of the chest is just large enough to fit a phone although it’s a tight fit if you have a full soft-flask on the same side.

photo of Osprey Duro 15

zipped hip pockets are easily accessible


photo of Osprey Duro 15

2 mesh pockets and a zipped chest pocket holds a phone

On the front straps there are two deep, mesh pockets that house the soft-flasks or can be used as storage (another option for accessible phone storage). They also have elastic retainers for the soft flasks and an emergency whistle. Two smaller mesh pockets below these would hold a compass, gels, electrolyte or salt tablets etc. There are also two elasticated pole loops on the top shoulders for carrying lightweight hiking poles when not in use. To be honest I didn’t try to use these as I don’t have any poles, but I can’t see that they would be particularly easy to access whilst wearing the pack.

The Duro 15 offers versatile hydration options coming supplied with two 500ml soft-flasks with straws and a 2.5 litre bladder that fits into a dedicated zipped pocket with clip to keep the bladder in position. The bladder has a wide mouth which makes refilling and adding energy or electrolyte powder easy and the hose has a clever disconnector which allows the bladder to be removed whilst keeping the hose in place. This is really useful for mid run refills and stops you having to unthread and re-thread the hose and also makes for easier cleaning. The hose has a bite valve with a twist closure to prevent accidental leakage. Whilst running the hose can be kept in place by a strong magnet that attaches to the sternum strap. This does a surprisingly good job at keeping the hose in place but has the downside that you need to keep your compass well away from it! The magnet is easily removable if this is an issue and I’d recommend taking it off if you are using a compass.

photo of Osprey Duro 15 bladder

wide mouth 2.5L bladder and hose connector

If you don’t want to use the bladder, then two 500ml soft-flasks (supplied) can be stored in mesh pockets on the front of the pack on the lower chest. The long straws make drinking on the go fairly easy, however I found it quite difficult to get the full bottles into their pockets as the fit was too tight. Also it wasn’t possible to put the straws behind the straps designed to keep them in place without bending them in half (something I’m not sure is good for the straws). Osprey do make smaller 250ml flasks which are a better fit.

photo of Osprey Duro 15

500ml soft flasks: tight fit and the straw is difficult to position

The Duro 15 is a unisex pack that comes in two sizes, Small / Medium or Medium / Large, mine being the smaller version. There is lots of scope for adjusting the pack with tensioning straps on the front, hips and waist plus elasticated straps across the chest that can be unclipped and attached in a number of positions.

photo of girl wearing Osprey Duro 15

unisex fit in 2 sizes

photo of Osprey Duro 15 adjustment straps

straps allow the pack to be adjusted to fit

The elasticated straps allow your ribcage to expand and so don’t restrict your breathing. The chest straps can be unclipped single handedly although I found them a little tricky to fasten at first. The back is slightly padded with a mesh design to help breathability and I found the pack comfortable, although as with any pack without a “back plate” you need to pack carefully to ensure that nothing hard digs in and causes discomfort.

photo of Osprey Duro 15

adjustable, elasticated chest straps and magnet for hose

At a touch over 500 grams the Duro 15 isn’t a super-light pack, but this means it is more comfortable and has more features than a lighter pack. With an RRP of £140 it isn’t cheap, but it feels like it is built to last.

What would I use it for?

The Duro 15 isn’t designed as a lightweight race vest, it is more suited to longer days on the hill where you need to carry more equipment, for example mountain running in winter or in bad conditions. It would also be a good choice for multi day races and it has become my go to pack or for supporting long distance challenges, using it on the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley Rounds where I needed to carry equipment for someone else as well as my own. I would also use it as a summer walking pack.

wearing the Duro 15 on Bob Graham support

wearing the Duro 15 on Bob Graham support


Loads of storage, good hydration options, comfortable, durable.


Not cheap. Difficult to get the 500ml bottles into their pockets!


A comfortable pack with lots of storage and hydration options. Ideal for long, remote runs, multi day events or runs where slightly more carrying capacity is needed.

RRP £140

Available from Osprey https://www.ospreyeurope.com/shop/gb_en/duro-15-2019

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Veloforte Energy Bars – Review

Veloforte offer a range of energy bars designed to fuel endurance athletes whilst using natural ingredients.

I’m always keen to try different products to fuel my long runs and races and I much prefer to eat things with “real food” in them rather relying on gels. Veloforte offer just that, tasty products using natural ingredients. Inspired by the Italian Panforte – a special food that was reputed to fuel the Roman Legions – Veloforte bars are now hand made in the UK. The bars come in three flavours; Classico, Ciocco and Di Bosco and each have their own distinctive taste. The Classico has a slightly Christmas cake taste with its candied peel and orange zest, the Ciocco a deep cocoa whilst pistachios and berries flavour the Di Bosco bar. (I personally prefer the deep, dark yet not too sweet chocolate taste of the Ciocco bar.)

photo of Veloforte energy bars

Veloforte, Italian inspired energy bars

The bars come individually wrapped as a 70g serving with just less than 300Kcal per bar so contain plenty of energy to fuel long days on the hill. The bars are quite dense and chewy so are more suited to use on ultra type events or long training sessions rather than as a quick fix during a shorter race. All three bars also contain almonds and have around 5g of protein so make a good post run snack to help recovery.

photo of Veloforte Ciocco bar

datey, nutty, chocolatey – tasty!

As well as being available as individually wrapped bars Veloforte also offer a Mixed Bites bag. This contains all three flavours of bar but pre cut into bite sized pieces. This is ideal if you want to eat little and often and solves the problem of what to do with a half eaten, unwrapped bar. The bite sized pieces come in a handy zip lock type bag which is ideal for stuffing into your bumbag or running pack pocket for easy access on the go.

photo of Veloforte Mixed Bites

handy bite sized lumps in the Mixed Bites bag

Verdict – Tasty with good blend of Carbohydrate and Protein and using natural ingredients, Veloforte bars are ideal for fueling long distance endurance events. I’d include them in my nutrition for events such as the High Peak Marathon or the Bob Graham Round where the pace is slow enough in places to allow you to chew and breathe at the same time! They also make a good post race snack.

photo showing Veloforte nutrition information

Veloforte nutrition information

Veloforte energy bars are available here: https://veloforte.cc/

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Copper Clothing Compression Socks

I’m a fan of compression socks, so was interested to come across these from Copper Clothing Ltd which have copper infused into the fabric.

Although there is mixed evidence that compression clothing leads to a performance benefit and aids recovery (see here and here), I still think that the jury is out, however, I choose to wear compression socks or calf guards for certain runs. In cold weather I find that they help keep my calves warm, particularly important if I’m doing faster training or hill repetitions. They also help protect my legs if running through bracken or heather and they can also help prevent tick bites in summer where the advice is to cover the skin in known tick habitats.

photo of runner wearing Copper Clothing compression socks

Copper Clothing compression socks

What’s so special about copper? According to Copper Clothing’s website copper has anti-microbial properties which can kill off any bacteria and so help prevent problems such as fungal infections and athlete’s foot. If you’ve ever left a pair of damp running shoes in a warm place for a couple of days the smell will tell you that there’s something starting to fester in there! Wet feet are a fell runner’s occupational hazard all year round, whilst in summer, sweaty feet and moist shoes are are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria – have you ever seen a fell runner with nice feet?! So a pair of socks that help keep your feet healthy sounds like a good idea.

photo of running in puddle

wet feet – a fell runner’s occupational hazard

On test – I’ve been testing the socks for a couple of weeks now and have worn them in some pretty soggy conditions. I like the fit which is snug but not too tight and they aren’t too tight across the foot which makes them easy to get on. I had three wet runs in them before washing them, I just hung them on a chair near the radiator to dry out and they didn’t smell! Copper Clothing claim that washing the socks doesn’t diminish the properties of the copper so hopefully the benefits will last for the lifetime of the sock. Time will tell how durable they are.

photo of Copper Clothing socks

snug fit but not too tight

When would I wear them? As well as in the conditions previously mentioned I think these socks would be worth using on long runs when your feet are going to get damp – that could be most of the time in the UK. Or on long runs when your feet are going to get sweaty – which is the rest of the time! They would be ideal for a long “Round” such as the Bob Graham, pity I didn’t have them last year on the Bob Graham Round where I spent 21 hours in the same pair of wet socks!

RRP – £15.99 available here:


Verdict – Although I’m not convinced of the benefits of compression in itself, I do like to wear long socks for certain runs. These Copper Clothing socks are comfortable and affordable and hopefully will help keep my feet healthy – quite a challenge considering the amount of time I spend running in wet, muddy conditions.

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