By Mathias Eichler
Winter, trails, darkness, and all the weather.
One last hurrah before the end of the year. Runners, get ready for a fun and festive holiday treat along the trails of Squaxin Park.
Hardly a week goes by with me not seeing a new, or new to me hydration vest by a gear company not previously in the market of producing and selling them.
What once started out as a niche product made by very specific companies (Ultimate Direction, UltraSpire, CamelBak, Nathan) focusing on hydration is now a product offering peddled by Mammut, The North Face, Patagonia… everyone, even REI is making their own.
With the growth of our sport and the overall media attention it’s no surprise backpack makers (to frame that term loosely) would say ‘hey, we can do that too’. But I would suggest something else is the driving force here: ‘brand and logo placement’. The vest, once an obscure specialty item for ultra runners who weren’t cool enough to just run shirtless with two handhelds is now a hot item every runner has to have. Even if more and more races are requiring runners to carry gear and thus vests becoming a necessary piece of gear to carry said required gear I believe the main driving force here is that the vest is the most prominent and outward facing item a runner wears, even more prominent than their shoes. So, if a gear company is in the pro/influencer sponsorship game they will have to offer a vest just to place their logo prominently on their athletes and in their marketing shots.
Gone are the days when runners had a shoe sponsor and a separate clothing and a gear sponsor.
NNormal has to sell a race vest so Kilian doesn’t have to wear his old Salomon vests in product shots and at races.
Adidas was one of the first gear companies that had their trail team fitted out from head to toe in branded gear. So does The North Face and of course Salomon. But Salomon had been in the game for several years while The North Face and Adidas are still fairly new to the ‘race team circuit’.
Hoka doesn’t have a hydration vest yet, but as a shoe company they have been outfit their sponsored athletes very prominently in head-to-toe HOKA clothing over these last two years but when Jim Walmsley ran UTMB in 2022 he wore a pack with no brand name on it. So I assume one can expect a HOKA pack in the near future, maybe in time for this year’s UTMB. And one can hope it’s a better offering than this piece of weird branded product.
It’s kind of funny to think that new product iterations, (I won’t call it innovations), might be more driven by marketing desire for logo placement than the need to sell good product. Heck, some of the vests might not even need to be sold, just made for their athletes.