Friday, January 25, 2013

Tested: SPIbelt small item carrier

Back to the product reviews: this week I'll examine the SPIbelt running belt.

Empty and zipped.

This will make some people feel all warm and fuzzy.

What it is: Per their website, SPI stands for "Small Personal Items" - it's an elastic belt with a stretchy pocket for carrying them.

Why you want one: Because pockets on running apparel are often absurdly tiny, if not completely absent.

The folds of fabric for expansion shown from the back of the pocket.

The bellows folds shown looking through the zipper from the front.

Duration used: 1 year (received in December 2012)

Price paid/purchased from: This was a Christmas gift from my husband (you're awesome, sweetheart!), but I suspect he paid about $20 from an awesome local running store. They're available from a large number of retailers, or direct from the manufacturer.

Six large single-serve gel packets.

All six tuck inside without issue.

Zipped up and ready to go.

What rawks: It's brainlessly easy to use and carries more than you'd think (see demonstration above). The elasticity of the pocket allows it to accommodate odd shapes and sizes of items, like a large bunch of keys or gel flask. It comes in a large variety of colours and styles, including ones designed for diabetics, with dual pockets, with gel loops, with anti-EMF/RFID shielding (to protect PayPass credit cards & suchlike - they also sell a shielded insert), with water-resistant pockets or retro-reflective pockets, or even one that you can add to an existing belt. They also have an "endurance series" belt that includes race number toggles, which you can purchase separately if desired. For the dog owners you can get regular or hands-free leashes with the same stretchy pocket for running with your pooch. While hand-washing is recommended, I have machine washed mine on delicate cycle and hung it up to dry with no ill effects. The soft, wide belt has not lost its elasticity through use, and the quick-release buckle fastens securely. Unlike many elastic belts that only permit adjustment at one end (skewing the position of any statically-held items like buckles, toggles or pockets), the SPIbelt includes adjusters at both ends so you can customize the way it sits, and they are designed so there is no trailing end to flap around and chafe. When fitted properly and loaded with the most common items, bouncing is minimal; you can try various placements and tensions to see what works best for your particular load and physique. I generally only put my BlackBerry Torch 9800 inside (protected from sweat or weather by a disposable plastic zipper bag) and find having the pocket positioned at the front of my left hip - approximately where my leg hinges - it stays fairly stable. I have also worn it in the small of my back with reasonable success.

Adjusters on both ends of the belt, but no loose ends.

Sturdy quick-release buckle has given no issues.

What sucks: It can be very difficult to get a single item out of a loaded pocket without other items leaping out, potentially to their doom. Even a lone item can be tricky to handle while moving; I managed to drop my phone on a crushed brick trail while trying to get it out to take a photo, and it landed hard enough that the back panel popped off. The pouch is far from bounce-proof, depending on the shape of the items inside (a single gel flask bounced like crazy), the material against which it rests, and the exact tension on the elastic belt. Even when the stars align and you get it right, a minor shift (from the side to the front of your hip to access an item, for instance) and it's bouncy time again. The pocket is not weather- or sweatproof, so sensitive items need to go in a plastic bag (SPIbelt will be happy to sell you one, but I prefer the no-name zipper baggie) - there is a version that is water-resistant, but the material is apparently much stiffer and doesn't breathe. Because the elastic needs to be quite snug, those with less perfect bodies probably will not find it a flattering look. Any sharp-edged or -cornered items will poke you through the pocket material, and may cause damage to the pocket itself. Oh, and you have to come to terms with wearing a glorified fanny pack.

The corners of the gel packets won't be terribly comfortable against you.

Definitely not a fashion accessory.

What I'd like to see: Perhaps some silicone dots to help it grip a bit better, and maybe a version with race number toggles that has the standard breathable pocket rather than neoprene.

What I'm saying: It's perhaps a bit overpriced for what it is, but what running gear isn't? It does its job adequately as long as precautions are taken with fit and positioning, and I haven't seen anything else that performs better. When I need to carry larger loads I'll turn to my hydration vest instead, but this suffices to bring along my phone and a snack when necessary. 

It'll do.

For further edification: See reviews by, Runner's Tech Review, Detroit Runner and Running Tangents

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