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March 3, 2011

Hydrapak E-Lite Hydration Vest Review

Although they’re a relative newcomer on the scene, Hydrapak is progressively becoming a major player in the hydration pack business.

When I reviewed their Flume pack last summer, I described how the company established itself by making top of the line cycling packs, but was gradually introducing products with crossover appeal to runners as well. While the Flume didn’t quite hit the mark as a running pack, I mentioned that if it were a little bit lighter (it weighs 16oz) and incorporated some front storage, those would be two huge steps in the right direction.

Well, guess what? The E-Lite vest weighs in at 9.9 oz, and has two separate front storage areas. I’d like to say I had something to do with that - but most likely, it’s just another innovation from a company that’s continually raising the bar on product development. The E-Lite also carves out a new niche in runner’s hydration packs: a bare-bones unit that carries just enough liquid for mid-range outings when a single bottle holds too little and a full hydration pack holds too much.

Hydrapak E-Lite hydration vest

Fluid capacity with the E-Lite is 1L (40 oz), which is the equivalent of two 20-oz bottles, but it rides much more smoothly than any dual bottle carrier I’ve ever worn. The primary effectiveness of the E-Lite’s design – as well as the main drawback, depending on your point of view – is that the main compartment is intended for the sole purpose of carrying the fluid reservoir; it’s basically just a pouch with practically no room for anything larger than a light pair of gloves. If you’re looking for a place to stash a headlamp or stuff a windbreaker, you’re pretty much out of luck with the E-Lite.

Long zippered pockets and 4 holsters; CLOF Bloks sticking out of holster on L

The front side of the pack has zippered pockets as well as 4 holsters that are integrated into the straps. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but the inner holsters happen to be a perfect size for a pack of CLIF Bloks. The expandable zipper pockets (one of which has a key clip) are big enough for a flip phone or a couple of gel packs, but that’s about it. A chest strap connects the two shoulder straps, and is a convenient place to attach the Quantum Clip (more on that in a second) for ease of use. Five adjustment points on the various straps allow you to dial in a customized fit as necessary.

Adjustable chest strap with Quantum Clip magnet attached

As with any Hydrapak product, the strength of the E-Lite is its fluid reservoir: Hydrapak makes these to be pretty much indestructible, and they turn completely inside out to make cleaning and drying a piece of cake. The 1L version that accompanies the E-Lite has some nice additions that I haven’t seen on my previous Hydrapak models, such as a Plug-N-Play (not to be confused with these guys) connector that clips the drink tube into and off of the main reservoir almost effortlessly, a Quantum Clip magnet that attaches the tube to the chest strap very securely, and a Surge Bite Valve that twists open and shut with two small flared pieces on either side. Each of these is a nice upgrade from previous versions, and confirms why Hydrapak might be the best in the business when it comes to reservoir construction (yes, even compared to CamelBak).

Plug-N-Play attachment; bite valve with flared plastic for easy twisting

Clearly, the E-Lite is very well designed and constructed; the bigger question in my mind is when I would pick this pack over a single bottle holder or a standard 70-oz hydration pack. Eventually I identified two primary conditions where the E-Lite would be my first choice – as well as a third that’s somewhat unconventional, but still pretty useful from my standpoint.

For conventional purposes, the “sweet spot” for the E-Lite is when I’m running for a duration of 90 minutes to 2 and a half hours in somewhat predictable weather conditions. Shorter than that, and I’m OK with a single bottle; longer, and I want a larger fluid volume. And if I’m not sure whether or not it’s going to rain, I’ll go with a larger pack so I can stuff a light shell into it.

Fully loaded with fluid: no room for excess gear (but note CLIF Bloks in holster again)

The second ideal use is if you’re really looking to push the pace while carrying a sizeable volume of fluid. This is perhaps the most appealing aspect of the E-Lite, in that it manages a full liter of fluid with very little bouncing, allowing a much smoother stride with lower overall weight than you experience with a dual bottle carrier. As its name implies, I think that high-level trail racers would really appreciate how the E-Lite enables them to keep fluids close at hand without sacrificing too much speed.

Finally, the unconventional use I’ve found is that the E-Lite is almost perfectly sized to be a children’s hydration pack for hiking. My 9-year-old daughter has worn this very comfortably on recent day hikes, and the fluid capacity is ideal for someone with little legs to be responsible for carrying. That probably won’t show up in the company’s promotional material, but for our family it’s been a nice discovery.

Now that I've told you all about this pack, I have to confess that I'm not sure what exactly is happening with it. In the period of time since I received this product for review, the E-Lite is listed as out of stock on the company website, and is only available from a few online vendors, including ZombieRunner.com, where it retails for $50. I suspect that it's either been discontinued or amazingly popular - and since I haven't seen very many of these packs around, I'm guessing it might be the former. If I find out about an updated version or additional vendors, I'll update this post accordingly.

*Product provided by Hydrapak
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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Stephen Boulet 3/4/11, 8:29 AM  

To simplify things, it seems like you can get a larger hydration pack and just fill it up half way.

ken michal 3/4/11, 1:53 PM  

I'm a huge fan of the E-Lite Vest! I wore one for most of the time during a 26 hour run in high temps and +90% humidity and it was super comfortable! I hardly knew it was there!!! Really glad to see this review...

All Day!

The Dude 3/5/11, 7:59 AM  

I don't understand why they would give you a pack to review if its going to be discontinued...but then again, I don't do any product reviews, so I don't really know what I am talking about. Thanks for the review! Looking forward to the RSOB.

wirehairedrunner 3/5/11, 9:19 PM  

When I emailed Hydrapak with some design feedback a few months ago, they responded that they were updating the e-lite vest. I think it will be around for awhile anyways. Also, Nathan is rumored to be bringing back a revised version of their 028 vest from a few years ago, which is very similar to the e-lite, but had better pockets.

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