Friday, November 16, 2012

Tested: Ultimate Direction Fastdraw Plus handheld water bottle

This week's review: taking a look at the Fastdraw Plus handheld water bottle from Ultimate Direction.

Default hand position while using the bottle.
Front view.

What it is: A beverage bottle with a harness that doesn't require you to grip the bottle, and a pocket to carry small items. Probably the most commonly seen handheld at ultrarunning events.

Why you want one: Staying hydrated on long or hot weather runs and racing.

Reflective strap with lots of room for adjustment (or really big gloves).

Duration used: 3 seasons - purchased some time in 2010.

Price paid/purchased from: I think I paid $20 from a retailer at a race, but I'll be stuffed if I can remember which race or vendor.

Finger divots
Thumb divot, with a bit of texture for grip.
What rawks: This thing just works, to the point you never really need to think about it. Fill it up with water, electrolyte solution or sport drink and go - the wide mouth of the uncapped bottle makes it easy to get whatever you want in there, including full-size ice cubes. The harness fits all sizes of hands, has a reflective stripe on the strap for visibility, is incredibly simple to use and fits standard bike bottles as well as its own proprietary bottle. The pocket will fit two of even the largest gel packets (eLoad or Hammer), and the zipper has proved as incredibly durable as the rest of the product. The kicker valve is easy to operate and is one of the best features of the bottle; even when fully open, it doesn't leak under most circumstances. When kicked to one side or fully retracted/closed, it's just about bombproof - I'll happily chuck this bottle in my gear bag with the valve in the fully closed position, confident it won't soak anything. The finger loop on the lid is awesome for quick refills at aid stations - with the strap around my left hand and the loop held by my left index finger, my right hand is completely free to grab cups and dump them in while still moving. You're able to control the amount of beverage you get by modulating pressure on the bottle and the valve, and the thumb and finger indents provide a sure grip. While the kicker valve has iced up on me a couple of times on extremely cold (-10c/14f) runs, gnawing on the silicone valve a bit has broken up the ice enough that I was still able to drink from the bottle. The harness comes in a range of different colours for the fashionistas, and there are larger (26oz) bottles available with the kicker valve if you don't just want to use a 24oz bike bottle (UPDATE Nov 1/13: I've since purchased and used a 26oz bottle, and freakin' hate it. See further explanation below.). If you're concerned about your drink getting warm or your hand getting cold (the latter of which does happen - I've never noticed the former), they sell a version known as the Fastdraw Extreme that features a neoprene wrap for the bottle. The mesh construction of the harness doesn't hold moisture for rainy runs, and allows your hand to breathe well. I've worn the bottle innumerable times with gloves and had no issues, and the harness is machine washable. The bottle itself has no intrinsic taste or smell, doesn't hold on to flavours from sport drink as much as other bottles, and cleaning the valve is accomplished easily with the assistance of a baby bottle brush (which every endurance athlete should own, since they're the best damn thing in the world for cleaning the valve on any kind of bottle). Despite taking a tumble at Horror Hill last month and landing partly on the bottle (putting my hands down to save myself), there's been no damage - the Fastdraw takes as much punishment as I've been able to mete out in almost 3 years and just keeps coming back for more.

Valve closed/retracted - you can just see the cross cut in the top that allows fluid to exit.

Valve fully open.

What sucks: My thumb sometimes goes a little numb in my default hand position, but that's alleviated by moving it a bit. Some people may not like having to bite the valve or squeeze the bottle to dispense liquid, and I've occasionally bashed myself in the mouth trying to open or close the valve. The bottle can squirt out a bit of beverage when screwing the cap on if you fill it right up, but you can reduce the effect if you open the kicker valve before putting the lid on. The strap occasionally loosens off a bit and needs re-tightening, but this may have to do with my washing methods since it never did that before its first trip through the laundry. The pocket isn't big enough to hold a smartphone or gel flask and the material isn't the softest in the world - would irritate skin if used to wipe away sweat. Heat does transfer between hand and beverage due to direct contact with the bottle (resulting in cold hands in winter and warm drink in summer), but this can be alleviated by using the Fastdraw Extreme version. Updated Nov 1/13: the 26oz bottle is bloody annoying to use as the bottom strap of the harness is non-extendible, meaning too much of the weight sits above your hand when the bottle is full. Until you drink at least 1/3 of it, the balance is awful and it does a lot of torquing on your wrist as you run. When you do drink it down - particularly when the bottle is close to empty - the additional airspace inside (vs. the 20oz bottle) seems to mean you need to squeeze the bottle even more to get a decent drink. I actually prefer using a standard 24oz bike bottle instead if I need more capacity than the bottle with which I purchased the strap, despite not having the kicker valve. Yes, it's that annoying.

Outside of the pocket, zipper undone.

Looking in through the zip - one Hammer gel in there, with space for another.

What I wish it had: I really wish I could purchase a top that would fit a standard bike bottle that had the kicker valve, but the 26oz bottle is inexpensive - I just need to get around to buying one (UPDATED Nov 1/13: I finally found one locally, bought it, and hate it. See above). I'd love it if they brought out a version with a pocket big enough to hold a standard 5oz gel flask, as that would allow me to carry everything I need for a 25k/3 hour trail race in one tidy package. I could, however, use their clip-on gel flask holder.

The reflective extends around the bottom of the bottle for visibility while drinking.

What I'm saying: This is my go-to bottle for everything from an hour-long training run in hot weather up through a 6-hour ultra race. It's held everything I need it to, doesn't weigh me down with anything useless, and has performed so well that I'd have to run right out and buy another immediately if mine were lost or destroyed. I tried versions from other companies prior to purchasing the Fastdraw Plus, but have never looked back.

Business end.

In action at Vulture Bait 2012.

For further edification: Philosopher Runner, What Finish Line? and Running on the White Line have reviewed this bottle with similar conclusions.

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