[Editor’s Note: Soft flasks of all sorts have made a splash into the trail and ultra worlds over the past year or two. Below, our reviewer takes a look at a particular model. We welcome your feedback on this particular piece of gear, but would also love to hear your thoughts on soft flasks in general as well as other models.]
Ahh, handheld hydration. I love you. I hate you. You’re simple and convenient. Then, you’re lopsided and noisy. And, yet, no matter how I feel about you, I simply cannot help but purchase your most recent relative when it catches my eye. This was most certainly the case for the Hydrapak SoftFlask ($20 for the 500 mL version tested). Although I had been using a backpack for water-carrying in the past year, when I saw these on the shelf of my local REI (the only retailer carrying them at present), I had to give a handheld another try.
As with most handhelds, the SoftFlask aspires for elegant simplicity. In other words, it is as simple as possible while still providing the runner a few fun additions. The simple part of the SoftFlask is its basic construction. It is a soft bladder (which comes in 350ml, 500ml, and 750ml sizes) with a fairly standard bite-to-flow nipple on top. If you want to shed all weight in the handheld, you can strip the SoftFlask down to those two components with very little else.
And, those two components work very well. The nipple is Goldilocks. (Not too hard, not too soft.) The bladder is made of similar material to most hydration bladders on the market today. It’s rugged and can take a few scrapes, but won’t survive too many pokes with a sharp stick.
Hydrapak added a few small details to the SoftFlask to make it more user-friendly. It comes with a separate but tether-able nipple cover. The cover is made of hard plastic. I generally pull covers off with my teeth, so I would have appreciated a slightly softer material. In addition to the cover, there is a soft nylon finger strap. I found it to be a little generous for one thumb and just a bit too tight for my pointer and middle fingers. But, it worked great with the thumb. Some runners might prefer a full hand strap, which could be rigged using your own materials and the bottom loops. (See next paragraph.)
There are two other features that left me scratching my head a bit. First is the ‘on/off’ switch. The top fifth of the blue cap can be twisted to stop the flow of water entirely. I found this to be unnecessary as: 1) the nipple did a great job stopping leaks, and 2) twisting this small ring was incredibly tough. The other feature that is a bit odd are three loops on the bottom of the bladder. I assume this is to strap the bladder to something, but I haven’t found an application for them yet.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I have a difficult relationship with handhelds. Namely, my two big complaints are that they can feel lopsided and get noisy when they start to slosh. (I’m probably a bit OCD on that point.) The SoftFlask doesn’t do much to help the former concern. But, it completely eliminates the latter. As you drink from the SoftFlask, it collapses on itself like all bladders do. This eliminates all sloshing and allows you to stow the empty SoftFlask easily. In my opinion, a huge improvement over other handhelds.
The nipple provides great flow on a run. You don’t feel like you are going to collapse the back of your head trying to get enough water through it. And, it disassembles easily for cleaning. (You just pull it apart.) In addition, the bladder is top-shelf dishwasher-safe. So, it’s easy to avoid starting a sea-monkey farm in it. The entire thing is BPA-free, but does lend a mild plastic taste to the water until it’s been washed a couple of times.
Hydrapak has done well putting together a minimal handheld. The features tend to be on the light and simple side of things. And, even the odd ones, such as the on/off switch and loops, don’t add much weight or hassle to the bladder. I picked up the 500ml model for just under $20. This seemed a bit high, but when weighed against the other contenders in this field (Salomon’s Soft Flask) the price is justified, as the SoftFlask has a few more features comparatively. If you are in the market for a new handheld (or to just expand the collection in the garage), it certainly deserves a try.
Call for Comments (from Bryon)
- Do you ever run with some sort of soft flask? If so, why?
- Not into soft flasks? What keeps you using rigid bottles or hydration bladders?
- If you’ve used the Hydropak SoftFlask, what did you think?
- Found any other types of soft flasks that you like?