Friday, December 7, 2012

Tested: 2009 Fuel Belt Revenge hydration belt

This week's review: the 2009 model Revenge hydration belt by Fuel Belt.

What it is: A wide elastic belt with hook and loop closure that carries three 7oz fluid bottles and one 5oz gel flask.

Laid out - the vessels range around your back.

Don't you love the el-cheapo vinyl floor?

Why you want it: You don't, but if you did it would be to bring fluids and nutrition on longer runs and races.

Detail of one of the bottles locked into its holster.

The side view shows the shock cord around the neck of the bottle.

Duration used: I've owned it since July of 2009, but only used it for a little more than a year.

Price paid/purchased from: I bought mine on eBay for about $30USD + shipping.

Removal step 1 - pop off the shock cord.

Removal step 2 - pull bottle out, trying not to accidentally open the valve.

Empty holster with loose, bouncy shock cord end.

What rawks: Very little. The hook and loop closure is sturdy enough not to come undone and the bottles don't pop out when inserted properly and locked down. The inverted carriage of the gel flask probably helps with viscous gels in cold weather, and it does have a lot of reflective accents so you might not get mowed down by a car.

Pull the strap aside.

Pull the flask out at an awkward angle.

What sucks: A lot. First, the valves on bottles don't like to stay closed when you're not drinking, but don't like to stay open when you're trying to get some fluids - the rubbery white pop-up part just doesn't have enough friction against the hard red plastic portion to stay put. Speaking of staying put, the belt doesn't; it bounces and shifts around, and has to be repositioned frequently. The elasticity of the belt portion is apparently sufficient to make it somewhat uncomfortable (and certainly unflattering if you have an ounce of body fat) to wear without being able to keep it from riding up. The bottles are in an inconvenient place to reach, but still manage to interfere with natural arm swing while running, especially after the belt rides up to just below your ribcage. Once removed from their holsters, the bottles take two hands to return, and even then it's not a sure thing - get the angle a bit wrong and they'll squirt right out through the bottom of the elastic. Trying to sort out this finicky business behind your back, or even just reaching around to one side, while running is not an experience I care to endure. The gel flask is just as bad, if not worse; in the images above you can see how the front (right-hand side as pictured) of the holster is folded over from trying to negotiate it back into the belt while moving, and the elastic strap was a nuisance both while trying to slot in the flask and to try to position properly when done. I'd run out of fingers and toes before I was able to count all the times I had to retrieve a dropped bottle or flask. Assuming you're able to remove, drink from, and replace the bottles, you still end up unbalanced because the weight distribution changes with every ounce of water you shift from the bottles to your belly. Even if everything performed perfectly, the belt's fatal flaw is its capacity - a single 24oz bike bottle used with an Ultimate Direction Fastdraw harness gives you an extra 3 ounces of fluid over this idiot contraption, and even the standard 20oz bottle probably delivers more hydration as it doesn't pop open and leak at the least provocation like the belt's bottles. The proportion of gel to fluids seems out of whack, too; I can happily get through 3 hours of running on 5oz of gel, but if I'm only washing it down with 7oz of water per hour I'm going to be in the hurt locker pretty quickly. If you're actually racing, you can grab extra water at aid stations, but I primarily bought this for long training runs that are typically unsupported. The bottles seem to hold a lot of flavour, too - I mixed up some Hammer HEED in one and every sip of water since has smacked of that sickly lemon-lime. In winter, I've never had any other bottle freeze up as quickly or as badly as the Fuel Belt bottles did; they were absolutely useless after just 20mins at -10c/14f. You'd think a gel flask would be hard to bugger up, but the valve on the Fuel Belt version contrives to both restrict the flow of gel and get gummed up worse than any others I've used. I actually prefer the flasks that First Endurance uses as the packaging for EFS Liquid Shot, and they're free! 

Inside of the gel flask has airflow mesh and is stiffened slightly.

The bottle holster areas get no similar treatment.

What I'd like to see: More and/or bigger bottles (there are 10oz Fuel Belt bottles available, but you should have the option to buy the belt with greater capacity from the beginning). Fuel Belt has since re-tooled the Revenge Series with airflow pads inside the holsters, which have also been re-designed for one-handed operation...but also look like they'd preclude the use of larger bottles, as they now have a rigid frame. The maximum capacity seems to be 4 bottles, for a total of 28oz - still not enough for a 2-hour run for me in hot weather. They ditched the gel flask holder, too, opting for a zippered pocket instead - I don't know if it is large enough to hold a gel flask, and my preferred nutrition (EFS Liquid Shot) is not available in single-serve packets.

Heading out for a training run with the belt plus additional water in the handheld.

Riding up to interfere with arm swing after only a few yards.

What I'm saying: As much as I tried to like it, I freakin' hate this belt and completely quit using it after about mid-season in 2010 when I finally sucked it up and bought an Ultimate Direction Wink hydration pack. I had hacked along as seen above by supplementing the anemic fluid capacity of the belt with a handheld - I'd drink the hand bottle first, then refill it from the tiny bottles on the belt - but I was basically just in denial about having wasted my money on a piece of gear that didn't work for me at all. I did use it for the 2009 Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half-Marathon, but had to supplement with additional water from the course and probably would have been better off just using the aid stations for all of my fluid and nutrition needs. The only use any part of this gets anymore is the occasional 5k trail race that Tanker does with me - he gets dry mouth quite badly, so will hand-carry one of the 7oz bottles with him to sip on here and there on the course. The rest of it sits mouldering in the bottom of my big bag o'bottles, waiting for the day I might be stricken with amnesia and give it another try. Anyone want to buy a used hydration belt, size medium?

Horror Hill 2012 - at least 1/5 of it gets used periodically.

For further edification: I can't find any other reviews of this particular model. I'm guessing everyone else spent their money more wisely, or got so frustrated they just took a match to the bloody thing!

1 comment:

Go on, have at me!