Victory Sportdesign – Bear II Review

Introduction
First heard about about Victory Sportdesign (Link) via the Trail Runner Podcast (link).  The podcast crew was interviewing Victor Ballesteros just after attempting to break a FKTs (fastest known time) around the Tahoe Rim Trail (link).  During the broadcast he mentioned designing a drop bag for ultra runners.  A “drop bag” is a bag, or any container you leave for yourself at some future point in the race with whatever gear you will expect to need.  For example if you know you are going to change shoes or need a headlamp around mile 60 then your “drop bag” will contain those things at that future spot or some aid station near it.  Most races do not care about the drop bag style, heck 99% of the time its a plastic bag or something disposable.  However, Western States 100 “drop bags must fit through a 6″x 8″ opening and can be no longer than 16” (link).  WS100 is the Boston Marathon of ultra running thus most things are done with the “big one” in mind.

Bear 1.0 (original) and put through its paces

Specs
Large Exterior Window for individualizing (style)
Top Flap Window for Race Number or Personal Identification
Interior Window Storage Pockets to quickly identifying Small Items
Interior Storage Pockets for medium sized items, but expandable for larger items
Detachable Clear Divider Pocket (velcro folds on itself, to keep from snagging stored items (Updated)
2 Insulated bottle holders, detachable
Glow in the dark zipper for night use
Interior loop for holding small flashlight
waterproof shell
Size: 6 x 8 x 16 (WS 100 regulation)
Fabrics: 250 Durahex Nylon Outer Shell + PU Coating, 210 Nylon inner, PE Foam, PVC

Version 2.0 has a slightly larger insulated bag for drinks

Use / Testing
First, disclosure, most of my use has been with the version 1.0.  The Bear II has been updated since my providing a thorough beating to the Bear I.  I had the pleasure of chatting with Victor about the updated bags and changes.  Victory Sportdesign stopped taking orders for a few months while the updates were implemented which delayed bag availability because he refused to let the quality of the bags suffer.  I ordered one of the new versions, not because I needed it (already have 2), but rather because it has become useful outside of ultra running and when gear had multiple uses its huge for me.

The Bear II (updated new version)

I have used the Bear at several ultras since purchasing them.  Although I expected that I would not need them when I had a crew for a race I was dead wrong.  The fact the bags are so organized not only made my life easier but crewing was substantially easier as well.

…Imagine your runner comes into an aid station needing the smallest more innocuous object you can put in a bag: chap stick.  A good crew will dig through the duffle bag searching until the fateful statement “we can’t find it.”  The runner goes on with parched dry lips into the wild.  Believing the first stages of dehydration are revealing themselves the runner drinks too much.  A few miles down the trail the crew sees the lumbering body slowly enter the aid station…GI issues and then the inevitable drop…

I am not saying lack of chap stick will seal your fate, but it is the little things that really turn our day around; a smile, a kind word and yes maybe even some chap stick.  Having an organizational tool like this allows the race to flow smoothly.  All of us have had that frustrating feeling knowing we packed something in our bag only to not find it when we needed it.  This design takes care of that with its ease of use and smart compartments.  My crew was able to find anything I needed quickly and without having to fumble towards the bottom of a duffle bag or backpack and making my transitions through aid stations a breeze.  For ultras, my favorite part of the bag is the insulated bottle holder.  I have used Vietnamese Coffee with great success for running and these pockets keep it cool and delicious for nighttime pick me up.

New version has extra clear divider pocket in the center

I also will use the bag for repeats or longer workouts.  I set it up in the trunk of my car and take off into the hills.  Rather than carrying all of my supplies in one shot, I run a route that will let me use the car as a pit stop.  The design of the bag helps me get in and out fast and not having to carry all the weight I more closely mimic race conditions.  Not only can I practice with the gear I will actually use on race day, but the fact it allows me to get in and out so quickly the temptation to cut the workout short is diminished.

So here is the important part; this bag is NOT ONLY FOR ULTRA RUNNERS.  I know the all caps may have been a little drastic but its true.  For anything other than class I generally reach for this bag.  Only reason is it does not fit a MacBook in there and I am not hip enough to own an iPad Mini (yet).  This bag replaced my gym / overnight bag.  Its dimension allow it to slide into most lockers and everything stays organized.  I no longer have to fumble for the shampoo or sandals, etc. its all there in its place.  As an overnight bag; toothbrush, toiletries, shaving stuff including my old man razor and shave mixing cup…its like moving my bathroom with me.  Result, I avoid the “walk of shame” look and no one is the wiser.

Conclusion
The bag works.  I don’t review things unless I have tested it myself and can either vouch for it or tell you to pass on it.  When I first ordered the bags for the Headlands 100 I thought, well I hope I can eventually use them for Western States.  I never really thought I would enjoy them so much or use them in other areas of my life.  So if you are a trail runner or just just want a bag that you can actually find stuff in then give it a shot.

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