A budget race vest that most people will be familiar with and wondered if it’s really worth the low price tag.
Most of the time, I race in my Ultimate Direction AK vest/pack which is very small and fits exceptionally well and has served me flawlessly for 3 years but as we were heading to the mountains of Romania to take part in the Transylvania 50k the compulsory kit list was a little longer so I tried the budget Kalenji Trail Bag available from Decathlon for £25.99.
As we were heading to the mountains, I also bought a pair of poles (£7.99 each). Can £40 for a pack and poles really compete with a Salomon vest and some higher end poles that would cost four or fives more?
Aesthetically, it’s not a bad looking pack but it’s definitely from the budget end when placed next to a higher priced brand name pack
Most people will look at this pack and sensibly conclude it’s basically a low price attempt at a clone of the very familiar vests from Salomon/Inov8/etc and at the price it’s certainly tempting because the jump from £25 to more than £100 for a brand name vest is significant.
I’ve always felt you can make running as cheap or expensive as you like with 2 exceptions – don’t skimp on your shoes and buy the best waterproof jacket you can. However, as I race more longer distances that require carrying certain mandatory kit I’ve gone through a range of packs and I think adding the best fitting race vest/pack you can afford is also an investment you won’t regret.
As soon as you get the pack in your hands, you’ll see in several places the difference between this and a more expensive pack. The strapping is certainly on the cheap side both on the shoulder straps and also the chest straps/loops.
The main straps tighteners are a bit “agricultural” in their design, materials and fit
The actual pack is made of reasonable quality webbing/mesh material although not as stretchy in places the pack does expand via a zip all the way around from 9 litre capacity to 14 and it’s got a drawstring around to pull it all tight.
Despite the cheap strapping materials and buckles, they hold reasonably well although I do wonder just how long they’d last over the period of a few months as they’re obviously cheap and may not be durable enough in the long term for a point of high stress when constantly adjusting and pulling on the straps as your pack contents shift during runs.
Quality wise overall you can see in several places why the pack is £25 and not £100 that’s for sure but overall it’s pretty reasonable material and build quality for the money.
I absolutely have to have a pack that doesn’t move around when I run, I find nothing more annoying than something wobbling around on my back which is why I love the AK vest I normally use. It’s snug and stays exactly where you put it when you start.
Sadly I found that while this pack was perfectly comfortable during the Transylvania 50k which we power hiked with full compulsory gear in it, when I’ve done test runs locally on shorter trails, it does wobble around a lot if you don’t pull the straps very tight and I did find myself adjusting them on a fairly regular basis (although the chest straps held well) and looking at the quality of the strap loops I do wonder how long they’d stand up to continual adjustment over a period of a few months.
A fully loaded pack was comfortable though as is a half loaded pack which I’ve used to also run-commute to work carrying just my change of clothes (I keep spare shoes etc at the office) so it’s not a bad option for this too.
The shoulder strapping and chest pockets held a water bottle and gels comfortably with no wobble which is essential. They do sit quite high on the chest but I didn’t mind too much and they don’t get in the way particularly.
Most of the negatives of this you could reasonably counter by saying “it’s only £25” and you’d probably right. I could live with some of the cheaper components like the strap toggles but in the back of my mind I’d probably have to accept at some point they might break when you pull too hard on the main strapping to adjust your pack which isn’t ideal but “it’s only £25” I guess.
It does wobble at pace if it’s full. This for me is probably a bit of a deal-breaker, if the pack is full to capacity and you’re moving fast it can wobble around which for me is no good. I also got this pack because I needed to carry poles and the pole loops on one side were perfectly secure but while they held the poles fine, they are just a couple of lycra loops on the side of the pack so the poles will wobble around when running. Again, less than ideal compared to the more complex pole storage/loops seen on other higher priced vests.
The biggest annoyance for me however was that the opening in the top of the pack is tiny.
This is a massive design flaw as it’s only about 7cm across which on a pack that can hold 14l is stupid. You pretty much have to pack a drybag inside first then put the contents in bit by bit. Once it’s inside the opening there’s plenty of room in the pack itself but I found this insanely annoying having to pack and unpack a lot more than should be necessary just to access things.
Didn’t pack the shoes of course but everything else fits fine
The price and the fact that it looks a lot like one of the older Salomon model S-Lab packs will draw many people in, especially those looking to get into longer races where you need to carry some additional mandatory kit and it’s probably not a bad option for a first pack if you’re on a budget but to be honest if you can afford to (or can save for) a bigger name pack from Salomon etc then you’ll probably get more from it longer term in terms of quality fit, materials and durability but for the money it’s not a bad pack and will also give you an idea if a race vest style pack is for you or not.
It’s definitely got its limitations, particularly if you have to use its full capacity for mandatory kit or a long day out and also carry poles and I think on balance I’d personally save my money longer term and invest in a higher quality pack that I know will just fit that bit better and allow easier and quicker access while racing quickly but for a first pack or when you know you’ll be moving slower it’s absolutely fine for what it is – a £25 budget option.