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REVIEW: Lululemon’s first day on the trails

Lululemon's first attempt at a hydration vest is all about learning

There’s a first time for everything. Whenever we try something new, there are learning and growing opportunities. Lululemon has just launched their first attempt at a hydration vest for runners–the Enlite Hydraffinity. It’s a bold transition from a company who arguably invented the concept of athleisure. Avid runners and trail runners are also always learning. We are learning how to be self-sufficient and safe in the outdoors while pushing our physical and mental limits. Retailing for $178 CAD, we tested the vest, and concluded that the brand has some learning to do before venturing into the world of technical gear.

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The warmup

As I opened the fancy box, I had never seen a hydration vest like this before. I was confused, and searching the box for an instruction manual. The vest is made from Ultralu fabric–a light, flexible, and supportive material that also is used for their Enlite bra. The vest zips up the front and covers the entire chest, while allowing runners to move freely while feeling supported. It molds well around one’s chest, while the hydration bladder fits snug on the back. It is comfortable and minimal, but minimal sometimes isn’t practical for trail runners.

The night before the run was spent trying to figure out how to put it on. I started to get worried about my run the next day, as we had an adventure planned and I was unable to find any compartments for storing supplies. Trail runners often practice being self-sufficient in the trails and mountains, yet I had nowhere to put food or any of the 10 (or 11) essentials. Forget the 200 calories per hour principle, as the pockets on the front straps are not big enough for a gel or an energy bar.

The trailhead

The warmup continued at the trailhead. I met half a dozen avid trail and ultrarunners and we spent another 20 minutes figuring out how to wear it. It made for excellent pre-run entertainment. Even trail runners who were also parents couldn’t figure it out. I felt bad for holding my friends up and delaying our run. It was not the day to practise self-sufficiency on the trails.

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At the trailhead. Photo: Niki Hurst

The rundown

Just like trail running friends support you no matter what, the Enlite Hydraffinity vest physically supports the chest. By the time we started running and climbing up the trail, it felt like I was wearing two bras. I felt very secure, perhaps too secure around my ribs, which is tough when running uphill and breathing deeply. But feeling secure is not the same thing as feeling safe and prepared, which is challenging with no space for essentials. We headed off for a few hours of trail exploration, knowing we couldn’t venture too far as I wasn’t carrying supplies to keep me safe. But at least I looked sleek and on fleek, even if it looked like I was wearing a bra over my shirt.

Luckily, the snug fit of the vest enabled me to carry a litre and a half of fluid on that rainy Saturday morning in the Pacific Northwest trails. I was hydrated, and the pack did not jostle around like many others. I felt guilty asking my friends to carry food and supplies for me, and I needed to carry my phone in hand. The vest does a great job of carrying water snug against your back without chafing.

The cool down

Although there was no chafing, I couldn’t wait to take it off. My ribs returned to their natural formation, and all was good in the world again. I am still scratching my head wondering what the purpose of this item is. I am also still confused about who this item is best suited for, as I am still questioning its practicality for the trails.

Finish line thoughts

The confusion with the Enlite Hydraffinity vest remains. I wouldn’t refer to this item as trail running gear, nor as something useful for urban run commuters. The emphasis of the vest seems to be on looking good, and for most trail runners, looking good is the least of our worries. We prefer practicality and function over glam and glitz. Lululemon has made leaps and bounds over the last few decades in the world of athleisure, and perhaps the transition to technical gear was a stretch (pun intended). Lululemon’s first day is hopefully a learning opportunity if they continue to make gear for avid adventurers.

As trail runners we are always looking for companies to push boundaries of gear to help us perform better. Lululemon might have missed the mark on this one, but we hope they can improve on this and help push the industry further.

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