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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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