Pros and Cons
Filed under:Accessories, Gear reviews, Hydration Systems, Arc'teryx Norvan 14 Hydration Vest
KEV FOSTER TAKES TO THE TRAIL WITH THE NORVAN 14 HYDRATION VEST FROM ARC'TERYX
The Arc’teryx Norvan range of products are positioned as “high performance trail running systems for extended high output in challenging terrain”. The Norvan 14 Hydration Vest, like other products in the range, appears to have been designed to occupy a slightly different space in the competitive ultra distance running market.
As you would expect from Arc’teryx, the pack looks and feels well-constructed. At 256g without the hydration reservoir, its weight is comparable to other lightweight packs of similar capacity, although the weight creeps up to 417g with the (empty) reservoir. The pack has been designed to feel more like clothing than a pack, with a body hugging “bounce free” construction that has sufficient capacity to carry everything you might need for long distance trail runs or all-day mountain adventures. The 12L main storage compartment is weather-resistant, with a dry-bag style closure. Other than a small mesh zipped compartment for keys or wallet, there is no means of organising things within the main compartment, but this can be easily overcome with good packing. The compartment cannot be accessed without taking the pack off, but is great for securely carrying more bulky items such as spare clothing, first aid kit etc.
It is worth noting that the rip-stop material has taped seams and is highly weather-resistant, but is not fully waterproof. Accordingly, if you are anticipating prolonged or heavy rain then I would recommend packing sensitive items in additional dry-bags.
In terms of hydration, the pack comes with a 2L reservoir, which fits in a sleeve next to the wearer’s back. This means the reservoir can be removed or carefully refilled without emptying the contents of the bag. The pipe is routed from the bottom of the pack, following the line of the straps via elastic loops under the armpit and can be positioned below your mouth near the upper sternum strap. The routing is practical, but does require tilting your head down to drink which can tricky in fast/technical terrain. The position of the reservoir next to the wearer’s back results in the water becoming quite warm. Furthermore, despite being contained in a separate sleeve, the pack must be removed to refill and depending on how full the pack is it can be fiddly to re-stow the reservoir. The reservoir refilling challenge is shared by almost all hydration packs and is the reason that many trail runners prefer the flexibility and speed of having soft-flasks.
The Norvan 14 appears to have the soft-flask option covered, with two mesh pockets up front that are stated to be compatible with 500ml soft flasks. However, Arc’terxy do not supply compatible flasks, and we found the pockets too short for the 500ml Salomon flasks and too narrow for the Ultimate Direction or Tailwind flasks. On long distance runs I manage my nutrition, hydration and electrolyte balance using 500ml soft flasks, so for me personally, this is a deal-breaker.
Ability to store soft flasks aside, the pack has a total of four stretch mesh pockets up-front and two additional zipped pockets; they are easy to access on the move and perfect for energy bars, gels and quick access nutrition. The zipped pockets are good for cash, cards, keys and small valuables. The larger stretch pockets are big enough to securely hold a smartphone and GPS, with all of the mesh pockets having a flap that effectively stops things bouncing out.
There is a “dump pocket” on each side of the pack, designed to carry collapsible trekking poles, which are held securely in place an elastic shock cord loop on the upper part of the pack. The pockets seem to hold compact poles well, but it is necessary to take the pack off to attach and detach the poles, which can interrupt your flow. In terms of keeping the contents of the pack stable, there are two compression straps at the base of the pack near the dump pockets. These are effective in stabilising the poles and items in the bottom of the main compartment, but not the top. With careful closure and compression of the main compartment, using the dry-bag style closure system it is possible to maintain a stable load. However, it does feel like an opportunity to add further external storage and compression has been missed here.
Given the positioning of this pack for big days in challenging terrain and ample capacity to carry the quantum of nutrition, clothing and technical equipment required, it is disappointing that no ice axe carrying system is included. I managed to adapt the pack to take an ice axe, which for me is an essential piece of equipment on early summer alpine trail runs.
In terms of sizing, I am normally Medium for Arc’teryx, but found that the correct pack size for me was Large, in order to use the pack to capacity.
The Norvan 14 Hydration Vest is an impressive entry into the mountain running pack market. The pack performs well in many areas and will appeal to somebody wanting a hydration pack with sufficient comfort, capacity and support to run in technical mountain terrain.
More info at: www.arcteryx.com