Friday, September 7, 2012

Gear Review: Soft Flask Gel Carrier

As I mentioned in my earlier post on changing the wrist band on my Garmin, I am a firm believer in the statement "it's the little things that make a difference." I have found that in running the littlest things can become major annoyances, and the longer the run, the more annoying those things can be.

One of those little things which really annoys me is when my hands get sticky during a race or long run. I HATE that! It seems no matter how hard I try to be careful when using packets of gel, eventually I will mess up and get it on my fingers, or my shorts, or my top, or my hair... You get the idea. Besides that, there is always the question of what to do with the empty packets, especially on training runs or trail runs.

Like many runners with the same problem, I switched to a regular plastic gel flask. That went a long way toward solving my sticky finger problem, but with most of the flasks I tried, gel still seemed to get on things from the nozzle. Plus this new delivery method brought its own problem, as I discovered this past winter: it's super hard to get the gel out of the flask when the weather is cold.

At the Yankee Springs Winter Challenge Trail Marathon last year, my gel was literally moving "like molasses in January." It is pretty frustrating to be running on uneven, frozen trails, with your elbow in the air and your mouth facing the sky, trying to get a bit of gel out of the flask. Eventually I just ended up walking and taking the lid off the flask to try to get some out and into my mouth, which ultimately led to the same sticky hands problem I had been trying to avoid with the flask in the first place! 

That is why I was so excited when I was surfing the web looking for a new hydration pack and found  the Soft Flask. The Soft Flask is put out by a company, Hydrapak, that makes an E-Lite Vest  that I was interested in giving a try. While checking out their web site, I came across the Soft Flask, and it was love at first sight. I watched their promotional video and was hooked:

I had to try it, so I wrote to the company to ask if they would send one for me to review. They graciously agreed.  I was super happy when it arrived in time for me to take it on my Leading LadiesMarathon adventure 

As you can see in the video, the Soft Flask is made of a soft and flexible plastic. Although it is very supple, it also feels very durable. It works on basically the same principle as a toothpaste tube. You put the gels in and then can squeeze the tube down to dispense the gel more effectively. The top is a bite valve, similar to what one finds on a hydration pack rather than the hard pop up tops seen on most gel flasks. The bite valve also seems very well made and durable. The flasks come in two sizes, 5 oz and 8 oz., so can hold up to 5 or 8 gels, respectively. I used the small one for my marathon and loaded in 4 gel packets without any problem. The mouth is wide enough for the gel to go in easily without spilling.

My original plan was to tuck the gel flask into my race belt in the spot where I would normally tuck gel packs. Unfortunately when packing for the race, my belt was nowhere to be found. I hoped to find one at the expo, but no luck. I had no choice but to decide to carry the flask in the back zipper pocket of my running shorts. I was a little nervous about this because I had not had time for a test run with the flask. I couldn't help but wondering whether I was going to have sticky buns instead of sticky fingers!

I need not have worried. The flask did not leak -- at all -- not even after being sat on once in the bus (hey, it was 4 a.m. -- I forgot to take it out) and being pulled out of and shoved back into my pocket repeatedly during the marathon.  

When I got home, I did remember where I had put my race belt, though, and tested it out. The flask works perfectly in the gel holder section of the belt, and that will probably be how I will carry it for future marathons. For the ultras, I will use the larger flask and carry it in the pocket of my hydration vest. Because the container is flexible, it could also fit into most fanny pack pockets.

On the run the flask functioned just as it was supposed to and just as I hoped it would. The gel comes out by biting and sucking. However, I soon discovered that with thick gels you will need to suck, not just bite. The gel does not squirt out when it is thick. It is not as easy to take in as using the packets, where you can squirt them into your mouth, but it is also not as messy. The gel comes out of the mouthpiece at about the same rate as with my hard flask, except that by rolling and/or squeezing the Soft Flask, I can get the gel down and into the mouthpiece immediately.  It would be nice if the gel were thinner and came out faster, but I still think the bite valve is a superior type of nozzle when compared to the hard nozzles on other flasks. 

One complaint a few other reviewers have had is that there is no way to know exactly how much gel you are taking in. This was not a problem for me, as I never used the marks on the hard gel flask as a guide anyway. I just take a good mouthful of gel when I feel I need it. I don't measure. However if you are the type of runner for whom having that visual measurement is important, the Soft Flask may not be for you.

Cleaning the Soft Flask is easy. The top is wide enough for me to get a finger in to wipe out, and because it is flexible I can get my finger to all parts of the interior. I squirted hot water through the bite valve and it cleaned out nicely. The directions say to air dry, but I used a paper towel to dry the inside of mine. I just twisted the paper towel into a little tube, pushed it inside, and then because of the soft sides was able to get the entire inside dry.

Soft Flasks are priced slightly higher than a typical hard plastic flask, but only by a dollar or two. However, in my opinion the extra cost is well worth it. I have already thrown all my other gel flasks into the bin that I use for running gear that does not work the way I want it to. The Soft Flask is now my gel dispenser of choice. It  is one of those things that make you say, "I wonder why nobody thought of this sooner."  If you are looking for a way to carry your gel conveniently for a fall marathon this fall, you might want to give this a try.

Update 9/26/12:
I just wanted to add a little extra information here. I used the larger flask last weekend at Dances with Dirt Hell.  The large flask was perfect for the 50k, but it lead me to discover an additional tip. The gel I was using was particularly thick. I diluted it with about a tablespoon of warm water (into the flask after the gel was in). I mixed it up well by kneading the flask. This thinned the gel down just enough for it to come out more easily.


  1. Hi. Funny that I am looking for a flask for the Yankee Springs 25K and the first site I find is yours and you mention doing that race last year (I'm from GR; did the half there last year after 22 years off from running). Does the 5 oz. HydraPak Soft Flask fit comfortably in the back zipper of typical running pants/tights? I'm assuming the 8 oz would not - or maybe could but would stick out?

    I also may try the HydraPouch, a 1 oz pouch that you fill up to 6 oz, sip, empty and then clip to your tights/shorts. Have you seen that one?

    Mark VanTongeren

    1. Mark,
      Glad you found the blog. I have done Yankee Springs, both the winter and summer versions, and enjoyed them both. The 5 oz did fit in a back pocket on my shorts, but I think it is a bigger pocket than on a normal pair of tights. Because it is flexible and squishy, you might be able to get it in if the fabric is stretchy. I have not seem the 1 oz pouch. I will check it out. I can tell you that the flask will work with a race belt in the spots that would normally hold a regular Gu packet. That is my preferred method for carrying it. If it is really cold at Yankee Springs, I do recommend that you dilute your gel just a bit with warm water to help it through the bite valve. Good luck!

  2. Yes, I like fixing the little details too 8)

    I always mix some water and shake until they are dissolved with my gels so they flow easily. i don't get as many gels in a flask doing that (lose about 1/3 volume to water) but they go down so much easier. I just carry two flasks to make up for that.

  3. Paul,
    That is a great suggestion!! Since we have to take water with them anyway, might as well make it easier to get them out of the flask! They probably get shaken up even more when you run as well. Thanks for that!


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