It’s that time of the year when most of us are sifting through race websites, UltraSignup, and other runners’ race reports, trying to determine what our race calendar will be like for 2017. I don’t think that ultrarunning was always like this. Tucking away over a thousand dollars in race-entry fees during the holidays has never been helpful for marriages, but that is the state of the sport, and there certainly are worse things in the world. While you’re doling out C-notes to torture yourself this summer, remember that this is the time of year to get your gear sorted out. Why not impress your spouse or partner with the latest and greatest in high-tech French running gear. Oui, oui!
Raidlight is a French company founded by ultrarunner/orienteer/adventure racer Benoit Laval that makes clothing, packs, shoes, and accessory gear for trail and ultrarunning. As a company they have become progressively more on my radar as their gear and packs continue to evolve with the help of their sponsored team, including French runners Nathalie Mauclair and Antoine Guillon. Laval himself is no slouch, having finished top five three times at Diagonale des Fous. All of this input over the years has resulted in Raidlight’s Made in France collection of well-designed packs that have incredible weight-to-volume ratios and several game-changing pack features.
With 10 liters of capacity and weighing only 190 grams (6.7 ounces), the Raidlight Gilet Responsiv 10L ($160) is the most comfortable pack that I’ve ever worn. Probably the best pack comparison is the Salomon S-LAB Advanced Skin 3 12L pack, which weighs in at 9.5 ounces and feels much more rigid on the run. The Raidlight Gilet Responsiv packs, of which there are multiple carrying capacities as well as a women’s-specific range–feel like they are part of you with absolutely no bouncing and a relatively high flask placement compared to most packs on the market. Part of this comfort has to do with an innovative fit system that allows runners to dial in pack fit like never before. But, this also has to do with the laser cut Ripstop fabric that has flat seams throughout the vest.
Raidlight Gilet Responsiv 10L Fit
With a 38-inch chest, I ordered a size medium for testing as indicated by Raidlight’s sizing chart. The pack arrived and I was very surprised at the soft pliability of the materials. They reminded me of the Salomon Ultra Set vest, but slightly more robust and durable feeling. Initially, I was worried that everything on the vest seemed very elastic and stretchy as this usually means that I’ll experience a lot of bouncing. During my first outing in the vest I didn’t take the proper time to understand how the vest worked and really dial in the fit, and I mostly just adjusted the front straps as I would in almost any other vest. I experienced some rubbing and a really insecure fit, which was disappointing.
On my second outing I packed the vest and spent some time playing with the Micrometric Adjustment Systems on both sides of the pack. If you remember Boa lacing systems on old The North Face shoes, then you get the idea. The Micrometric system consists of a small dial attached to a network of durable cord on each side of the vest that, when turned clockwise, cinches the vest down tighter on the body. It almost feels like you’re being hugged, and a simple turn the opposite direction gives you a great deal of slack to adjust again. The really cool thing is that you can adjust on the run to get a precise fit without having to fiddle with the front straps all the time. As my pack would empty throughout a mountain run, I could re-dial in the fit in seconds.
As I stated before, the Gilet Responsiv 10L rides fairly high on the chest, which provides great access to bottles. This took a little bit of time for me to get used to as the vest I’d been running in all summer, the Ultimate Direction TO Race Vest, has flasks that sit pretty low. With Raidlight’s Eazyflasks, you do get the extended drinking-straw tops, which even come with little insulator sleeves, but I found that with the vest riding high, these straws mostly just got in the way. I used a variety of soft flasks with this vest and they all fit securely. If I wanted to drink on the run I just positioned my head slightly down and the bite valves were right there. It was very nice not to have to remove the flasks to drink, and I found that getting full flasks back into the vest proved to be much easier than with the Salomon Sense Ultra Set.
Raidlight Gilet Responsiv 10L Storage
At first, I was disappointed by the lack of zippered pockets on this vest and I feared that I would lose things and have difficulty securing heavier items. These fears were unwarranted and stretchy ripstop side pockets have a double flap and you can really overstuff them with gels and other smaller items. There are five total pockets on the vest besides the side pockets, including the two flask pockets with elastic bands to secure the drinking straws, a large 10-liter water-resistant pocket that can take a 1.5-liter bladder, and a stretchy and easily accessible lumbar pocket. I never used this vest with a bladder and I could shove a lot of gear into that 10-liter pocket without worrying that it would get soaked due to the water-resistant nylon covering, and as the pack gets full it really hugs the body thanks to the fit system.
Poles can be stored on the back of the pack through an elastic band with the tips of the poles fitting nicely into a stretchy ripstop pocket on the bottom of the vest. This decreases that I’m-gonna’-fall-and-stab-myself feeling I sometimes get while running with stored poles.
This is a fantastic pack, and I think that the fit system is revolutionary and something we’ll be seeing more in designs from other companies. You can really sense a pride in workmanship with this pack on the soft edges and laser-cut flat seams. At $160, it’s a bit pricey, but my pack shows no wear after a season of racing and training. In fact, I’m impressed with its durability, and despite the pack’s light weight, it does feel fairly robust.
Though the final determination for any pack on the market really is fit and bounce… or lack thereof. The Raidlight Gilet Responsiv 10L has the least amount of bounce of any pack I’ve ever used, and the ability to adjust on the fly and have it stay put, is worth the spousal grief when you drop a bunch of cash to make 2017 your year.