With summer temperatures heating up across the country, race season is fully underway. As temperatures continue to rise with each passing week, it’s important to keep hydration at your disposal. Handheld options provide you enough fluids to maintain short-term performance without excess additional weight to slow you down. We tested the following products during a high-volume spring marathon buildup in the foothills of Salt Lake City, running in temps ranging from 16 to 85 degrees, and here’s what we found:
Camelbak Quick Grip Chill 21oz ($28)
Camelbak’s legendary hydration options have been well known in cycling and hiking circles for years. They’re better known for their vests, but the company also has a strong assortment of belt and handheld fluid options. Their Quick Grip Chill handheld is available in either the 21oz version we tested, or a smaller 17oz version. The setup features one of CamelBak’s Podium Chill hard plastic bottles with a zippered pouch surrounding it. Tie down straps hold the bottle to your hand and leave room for your thumb to poke through the top for a more ergonomic fit. This pouch had plenty of room for keys and nutrition on mid-length runs, but we found that adding our phone (iPhone 13) to the pouch was difficult. The added temperature resistance of the Podium bottle was a nice touch and kept our water/nutrition from freezing during testing in the heart of the winter. In the summer, the insulation has the opposite effect and keeps cold fluids cold. We liked the ability to quickly remove the bottle from the pouch for cleaning, and the wide mouth allows for ease of pouring drink mixes while on the go. A drawback to this bottle setup was that the Podium series bottles are fairly large – think bike bottle – and holding them over a longer period of time became less comfortable than other models. Camelbak bottle valves operate on a JetValve system which means locking and unlocking the bottle does take two hands. We did not find this to be an issue during our runs and it prevents leaking extremely well.
Available at www.camelbak.com.
Ultimate Direction FastDraw 500ml & 300ml ($29.95/$24.95)
Ultimate Direction is the pioneer in running-specific hydration systems, having crafted their first handheld bottle packs back in 1985. Their handheld category has undergone a vast number of updates and innovations, and the FastDraw 500 and 300 are a part of the company’s ultralight collection. The 300ml version is intended for having a bare minimum of fluids nearby, while the 500ml version is more suitable for longer runs. Both the 500 and 300ml bottles are semi-rigid plastic with a small amount of give to them.
The 500ml features a wide mouth opening, while the 300ml version is much smaller. The 500ml version features a large pocket that accommodated our iPhone with a clear touchscreen window that allows you to use the phone without removing it from its pocket – this worked easily for basic functions such as skipping songs or basic unlocking, but texting was clunky, especially with sweaty fingers. The 300ml version features a stretch pouch pocket that was well-suited for a couple of gels or a set of keys. One downside to these handhelds was that the one-size strap system felt big on our tester’s hand, even when tightened down.
Available at www.ultimatedirection.com.
Nathan QuickSqueeze Lite 12 oz ($27)
The QuickSqueeze Lite is an insulated square bottle that sits in a stretch fabric pouch covering the bottom third of the bottle. A strap attaches at the neck via a thin and flexible neoprene collar and then at the bottom with an adjustable cinch strap. When the cap is removed there is a large opening that allows for quick and easy filling on the go. Their push-pull bite valve provides easy access and simple cleaning when using a nutrition mix. We liked the minimal use of material which reduces the weight and bulk, but the minimal pouch can hold a car key and not much else. A cool innovation with this bottle is placement of rubberized grip on the rear that helped us hold onto it during sweatier runs. A great feature of the QuickSqueeze Lite is the three points of reflective material on the small handheld to help with visibility on dark mornings or sunset runs. Available at www.nathansports.com.
Naked Exopower 500ml ($29.99 available mid-summer)
As the company name might suggest, Naked is squarely in the middle of the minimalist section of the handheld lineup. The Exopower version we tested features a 500ml soft flask (made by Hydrapak) and a minimalist “glove” attachment. Naked sells the Exopower for a specific hand, and we tested a left-handed large version which fit surprisingly well. Once the glove section is on the hand, two elastic loops attach to the neck and bottom of the soft flask and keep it securely in place in the palm. The rear of the glove has a small pocket for trash or a gel, and contains a small whistle. Our tester liked this model specifically on longer tempo efforts where weight is a concern. Some downsides are its lack of adjustability to different hand sizes and its specificity of left versus right. We would recommend sizing down if you are between sizes and picking your most dominant hand. Available at www.nakedsportsinnovations.com.
Amphipod FreeForm Thermal Luxe 500ml ($42)
Born from the idea of letting nothing stop you from getting in a great run, Amphipod has a robust lineup of hydration options to choose from. We put their FreeForm Thermal Luxe 500ml handheld through the ringer during our winter marathon training. The base consists of a semi-hard plastic bottle encapsulated in a reflective thermal sleeve. A hard, plastic collar fits between the cap and the neck of the bottle to secure the hand strap in place separately from the thermal sleeve. The strap has soft material against the back of the hand and can be ratcheted down for a snug fit. The reflective logo on the hand strap makes this the most visible option for dark, early morning runs. One area for improvement on this bottle is the cap, as the plastic collar can interfere with creating a proper seal on the threaded cap; you have to be attentive to make sure the closure is secure, which could be tricky during aid station flybys. Available at www.amphipod.com.
UltrAspire 550 Pocket handheld ($24.95)
We tested UltrAspire’s new 550 Pocket handheld this spring. The 550 Pocket features a 550ml UltraFlask, their patented soft plastic flask, which gives the perfect amount of structure while being easily squeezed. The bottle cap is a simple push/pull stopper with a medium size opening that proves easy enough to add drink mix to while on the go. The fabric section of the handheld is built with their UltrAcool Light Mesh which provides excellent breathability in warmer weather. The handheld is secured in place with a strap across the bottom of the bottle and provides a snug fit when tightened. A four-way stretch fabric makes up a pocket on the front with a vertical zipper. This pocket easily stores keys, a credit card or a few gels on the run, but is not designed for use with a cell phone. One thing we noticed with the Pocket 550 is the propensity for the bottle to slip out from the bottom fabric cradle when not tightened down. Available at www.ultraspire.com.