I did some research to determine which size would be best for my needs and then headed out to the local sporting goods stores. As luck would have it I stumbled on a good sale at The Sports Authority, where I picked up a model by The North Face called Bullhead for only $27 after tax. At that price I wondered if I might be getting what I paid for, but figured it was worth the risk.
Long story short, the Bullhead has served me very well. It's light weight and comfortable to wear, holds about a liter and a half (50 oz.) and is the perfect size for 10-15 mile runs. Here are some of the features that I like:
- The bite valve controls the flow of water very well. It also has a magnet attached to it so you can easily secure it while running.
- It has a generously sized pocket for gels, cameras, cell phones, etc. There's even a clip for your keys so they don't get lost in the pocket.
- The chest strap buckle doubles as a whistle, which could be handy if needed to signal for help.
- The bladder is removable, making it relatively easy to clean and fill up.
The only problem I've had with this pack is that I bit down too hard on the bite valve and tore it. Fortunately, you can also stop the flow of water by closing the swivel valve it attaches to, so it still doesn't leak. I don't attribute this problem to the quality of the bite valve. I just have sharp teeth! In any case, I contacted The North Face customer service and not only did they send me a new bite valve, but they included a magnetic swivel valve and clip, as well. For free! No questions asked! How's that for customer service?
One feature the Bullhead doesn't have that I wish it did is a bladder that could be turned inside out to make cleaning easier and more thorough. Still, I wouldn't consider that a deal breaker and would buy one of them again.
Finally, here are a couple of tips I have if you're considering getting a hydration pack:
- Don't fill up your pack all the way. Leaving a few ounces of space in the bladder will make it more pliable and allow it to better conform to the shape of your back. If you do fill it up all the way it is rigid and can make for an uncomfortable experience the first couple of miles.
- After you've finished filling up your bladder turn it upside down and suck out the air. If you don't the water sloshes around inside, which can get to be an annoying sound while running.