I have been a fan of handheld drinks bottles for many years, starting to use one back in 2013 when training and racing in the West Highland Way Race. I think, at the time, I picked up a simple Camelbak handheld strap and drinks bottle that was in a bargain bucket in a local shop; I have been using it ever since.
I like to use it in races where you have support or the kit requirements mean that you don't have to carry a full race pack, but I especially use a handheld bottle on training runs of up to about 2 hours where, again, I might not use a pack but still want to keep on top on my hydration, equating to at least one run a week when I make use of a handheld.
Over the last couple of years I have become a big convert to soft flasks in my race vests but have always had to carry a traditional bottle in hand. I was pleased when Camelbak, offered to send me one of their new Ultra Handheld Chill Flasks for a review.
The product includes both the "holster" and a rather clever insulated 500ml soft flask.
The holster has a nicely padded and ventilated mesh as the palm contact point which insulates your hand from the cold but equally allows sweat to dissipate on hot days. There are also double pockets, both of which are made of stretchy mesh and can accommodate a surprising amount, including a phone in the zippered pocket, though this obviously adds to the weight. I usually put a few electrolyte tablets in a pocket on hot days.
What I really like is the criss-cross elastic strap configuration which is used to hold the product on your hand. Traditionally, a handheld simply has an adjustable loop through which you slide your hand, giving no alternative options to readjust your grip. The Camelbak has four elastic straps that criss-cross each other giving numerous options; changing grip is useful over long runs.
The straps also have a thin rubber strip on the back, meaning that the holster grips your hand rather than you having to grip the bottle. I like that, it's so much more comfortable than a traditional handheld.
The soft flask is a 500ml bottle with a slightly wider top than some flasks meaning that refilling is easy and even adding powders/tablets/electrolytes is simple.
In addition to a normal bite valve, there is an extra twist locking mechanism to prevent leaking. This may be a bit of over-kill, but it certainly works well. I generally run with the lock set to open all the time.
What makes this flask special is the insulation which keeps your drinks cool for longer. I'm not a big fan of warm water when running, give me a nice cool drink every time. It should be noted that, with the insulation layer, the actual volume of drink that you can get in the flask is slightly less than the 500ml advertised, especially important to remember if you are mixing powders to a specific concentration.
The flask is really well made and feels robust. I've given it a pretty good bashing over the last six weeks and the whole product still looks like new.
My only real issue with the Ultra Handheld Chill, other than the slightly smaller capacity, is that I found it difficult to remove and replace the flask. It is a tight fit in the holster which is obviously needed to give that security I was talking about previously where you don't even have to grip the bottle, this is a trade off against the ease of which you can swap bottles. When on longer runs, I usually just dip the bottle in a stream, keeping it in the holster. I have two of the Camelbak Quick Stow flasks but as I've tried to move from an empty flask to a new full one it's been quite a battle. I have come to the conclusion that, in an ultra race, I would run with the Chill flask in hand and a Quick Stow flask in my vest pack, just filling up the handheld without taking it from the holster and sipping from the Quick Stow when/if needed. I'm probably going to use this system in anger in the Hardmoors 60 in mid September. I understand the need for the tight fit, and not everyone will be swapping flasks mid race, but I like to on occasions.
With it's light weight and really comfortable grip, I love this handheld flask and grab it by instinct as I head out the door on those medium to long runs. It is such an easy way to stay on top of your hydration for the minimum amount of effort.
The Ultra Handheld Chill Flask can be found at wiggle.co.uk with a SRP of £39.99