You know I’m a gear junkie and basically only run so I can justify buying running-related gear, but sometimes I come across a product that disappoints or even fails miserably. Usually I quietly sweep the memories of those failures into the dark recesses of my mind, but today I will parade them out into the harsh light of 2014, in hopes that you do not have to experience similar pain and suffering at the hands of these inferior products.
It was tough to pick only three winners, so while I’ve mentioned the products before, they were new to me in 2013 and might not be on your radar, either. The losers are products I’ve tried and did not like, for one or more reasons. As always, I’m not affiliated in any way with any of these companies.
- Vespertine reflective gear – Vespertine is a small NYC-based company that makes high-end (and kinda pricey) reflective gear such as vests, coats, and jewelry geared towards cyclists, but a lot of their stuff works for running, too. I think their accessories are cute and effective, which is always a great combo. In terms of sizing, I got my first vest in a large (since I wear size large running tops), but it turned out to be way too big (and I had to use safety pins to clip it to my shoulders so it wouldn’t slip around and rub my neck). I got my second vest in XS, which actually works for me (small might be better, since the XS doesn’t quite wrap around my chest like it probably should, but I worry a larger size will rub my neck like the large size did). I also love the leaf pin/clip and the leaf bracelets, and they are fully reflective to boot.
- Level Flip Belt – I’ve been wearing SPI belts for several years now, and I still like them a lot, but lately I’ve been reaching for my Level Flip Belt as the best solution to carry my large-ish phone on the run. The Level Flip Belt does keep you warmer than a SPI belt (since it’s a double-layer tube of fabric, like wearing a scarf around your waist), so I might switch back to SPI as the mercury climbs, but it carries my phone without any bounce, which is a pretty good trick.
- The Chawel – You might already know my deep love for the Chawel. I didn’t know this product existed until 2013, when it saved me from having to sit in wet gear during Ragnar, since it allowed me to change in the van while we were still moving. In full disclosure, Chawel sent me this newest sports Chawel to try (the sports Chawel is nice and compact and I can’t wait to use it for my next Ragnar), but I already loved them before I had any contact with the company. The Chawel makes for a nice, compact travel blanket, too. As we learned in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a towel “is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.” If Douglas Adams were still around today, he might amend his choice to the Chawel.
- Fabletics Running Tights (loser runner-up – Gap running tights) – Fabletics is a subscription-based athletic clothing company that sends subscribers a new workout outfit every month for about $50. Usually the outfit is two pieces (shirt and pants) but sometimes it’s three (e.g. shirt, jacket, tights) and sometimes it’s more than $50. I tried one month with them (3 pieces for $40 with coupon) but after wearing their tights I have no plans on trying them again. The tights look fine and feel soft and everything seems peachy when you first put them on, but then … they do not stay up. The second I start walking in them, the crotch starts creeping down, and after 10 seconds of running I look like Justin Bieber in London. No matter how many times I yank them up, they immediately slip down again, and are perhaps the most frustrating article of clothing I’ve ever owned (and I once owned a sequin dress that gave me a rash all over my arms… ok, that was worse than the tights). Other online reviewers rave about Fabletics, so maybe I just got the one solitary bad item they sell, but I also thought their jacket was so thin as to be useless (I haven’t worn it yet, since I have not found an occasion or weather for which a useless jacket would be appropriate) and the t-shirt to be blah. The only other pair of tights I own that fall down like the Fabletics tights are my Gap tights, but they don’t get the official “loser” title because they have handy reflective stripes on them and only cost $12 on sale (and they don’t fall down quite as badly as the Fabletics tights). Strangely, my Old Navy tights do not fall down, even though ON is the same brand as Gap. If you want quality tights, I’ve really enjoyed my Zella “Live In” Leggings (available in plus sizes, too) and my go-to CW-X tights.
- Nathan Water bottle hip-belt – Apologies for not knowing the exact name and model of this water bottle carrier (I think it’s the Nathan Swift Waist Pack), and I’m sure I bought it before 2013, but 2013 is the year I realized how badly this product works for me. Since I almost exclusively wear CW-X tights in the summer, the fabric around my waist is always a bit slippery. This belt cannot abide slippery, and proceeds to spin around my waist like an electron, no matter how tightly I try to cinch it. The water bottle also makes a sloshing noise whenever it isn’t completely full or entirely empty, and the noise bugs me as it makes revolutions around my waist. This belt might be fantastic, and only just unsuited to me, so I plan on passing it along to a running friend with adequate warning (and full license to toss it in the trash if it’s unacceptable to him, too).
- MeCam – This tops my list for Loser of 2013, and probably the decade. I was so excited when I first discovered this product, since the concept was perfect for a blogging runner – it’s a small camera that you can wear like a pin (the whole thing is 2 or 3 inches across), and at the press of a button it captures either still shots or video. The problem is, the quality of the photos is so terrible they are not worth taking, plus you can’t tell if the photo will be crooked since the device is round and not well-marked. Also, the product itself is so shoddy it snapped and fell apart the second I tried to open the pin back (which is just a giant safety pin on a tiny plastic hinge, hence the breaking – it’s not like the pin is incorporated into the plastic housing in any meaningful way). I quickly returned the product only to be met with the most unpleasant and horrible customer service (from the owner of the company, no less), and not only did I have to pay for shipping both ways, they charged me an exorbitant “restocking fee” despite my timely return and their product’s complete worthlessness. The MeCam company is a nightmare and their product is total garbage. Unfortunately, I’ll have to stick with pulling out my cell phone if I want a mid-run photo, or wait until another company develops a small, lightweight wearable camera (GoPro is too bulky for me for a daily basis), or until the day we all have smartwatches that can take photos (or Google Glasses, or bionic eyes).
The best part about 2014 is all the new gear that’s out there, just waiting for me to judge it. I plan on rewarding myself for finishing the Holiday Run Streak with a new Garmin, so I’m particularly excited for that. Now I just have to actually get outside and start running again!
Subscribers, check out the site for photos of the gear. What were your gear winners and/or losers from 2013? Did you run outside during the Polar Vortex? Share in the comments!