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Silva Strive Mountain Pack and Strive Ultra Light Running Vest Review

© Dan Bailey

Perhaps best known in the UK for their compasses, Swedish brand Silva also make a variety of other equipment relevant to walkers and runners. New to the lineup is the Strive series, a small range of running vests and packs that could be of interest to anyone hitting the hills at pace.

Using the 17 litre Strive Mountain Pack on a traverse of the Cairngorm 4000ers  © Dan Bailey
Using the 17 litre Strive Mountain Pack on a traverse of the Cairngorm 4000ers
© Dan Bailey

Both the vest and the pack come in a choice of sizes. I'm looking here at the Strive Ultra Light, the lightest and smallest capacity of the vests, and at the smaller of the two Mountain Packs.

While the vest is, of course, only likely to be relevant to runners, I'd argue the pack has a lot of merit for summer hillwalking too, where the cool feel and close fit of a running pack might actually be just the thing. Most hill runs involve a fair bit of walking, while hillwalking doesn't have to be done slowly. Why typecast yourself, or your gear?

Strive Ultra Light Running Vest - £49.99

Silva's lightest, simplest running vest (and also the cheapest), the Strive Ultra Light is mostly made of stretchy mesh for a cool, close and comfy fit. With quite a number of pockets, there's capacity for water, food, electronics, and a thin jacket - enough stuff for a mid-distance run, at least in milder conditions.

It's close-fitting without feeling restrictive  © Dan Bailey
It's close-fitting without feeling restrictive
© Dan Bailey

Weight

Weighing just 161g, the Ultra Light lives up to its name, comparing favourably with similar vests from other brands. It's not a weight that's ever going to trouble me, even with added water and other bits. It feels pretty robust too.

Capacity

For days when you want to carry more than the minimum, two larger versions are available: the Strive Light 5 (5 litres, £74.99) and the Strive Light 10 (10 litres, £89.99). While Silva haven't given a capacity for the Strive Ultra Light, it is clearly a lot smaller than 5 litres. Its stretchy rear pocket has room for a lightweight jacket. Various small stretch pockets offer space for hat, gloves and snacks. You can carry a 500ml soft bottle on each side of the chest. Added all together I'd guesstimate the total capacity (including water) at less than 3L.

The open mesh is cool and breathable in warmer weather  © Dan Bailey
The open mesh is cool and breathable in warmer weather
© Dan Bailey

Fit and comfort

Thanks to its stretchy fabric I find this a really comfy vest, which hugs the torso without feeling restrictive. Made completely of this open mesh, it's also really cool and airy, so sweatiness is kept to a minimum, and it seems quick drying too. The breathability is only noticeably affected by whatever you chose to carry in the various pockets (a waterproof shell scrunched up between the shoulder blades doesn't do wonders for sweat reduction, for instance).

The Strive Ultra Light comes in three sizes, XS/S (chest measurement: 74-86cm), M (87-100cm) and L/XL (101-114cm). There's a size chart on Silva's website, but I only found it when writing up the review, and by then I had already chosen the largest option. At 1.83cm tall, with a 96cm chest, it looks like I'd have been better off with a Medium. The L/XL is officially a bit big for me, and though the mesh is all close fitting around my back, sides and shoulders, I need the two chest buckles done up tight. There's still some play in the lower buckle, but ideally I'd like to cinch the top one a centimetre or two tighter than I actually can. In practise this doesn't much seem to matter, and the vest stays nicely in place with no bounce unless I'm carrying lots of weight exclusively up front (you can generally spread the load thanks to the availability of side and rear pockets as well as the front-mounted bottle holders).

Good for a quick hill hit, when you're only carrying the minimum  © Dan Bailey
Good for a quick hill hit, when you're only carrying the minimum
© Dan Bailey

Features 

For a vest this light there are plenty of places to stash bits and bobs.

The two bottle holders mounted on the shoulder straps are big and stretchy enough to each take a 500ml soft bottle. When the bottles are full there's minimal bounce as you run, and the addition of drawcords at the top of the bottle sleeves means you can tighten things up when you start drinking the contents, so bounce doesn't become an issue as the bottles empty. This is a feature that the vest benefits from, but the pack (below) inexplicably doesn't.

There's a soft bottle holder on each shoulder strap  © Dan Bailey
There's a soft bottle holder on each shoulder strap
© Dan Bailey

The lower pockets are easily accessed on the go  © Dan Bailey
The lower pockets are easily accessed on the go
© Dan Bailey

Overlying both the bottle holders is a small stretch sleeve, each just enough for a cereal bar or a gel or two. Lower down, sitting under the arms both sides, is a spacious stretchy mesh pocket. One of these is open but feels like a secure place to carry hat and/or gloves; the other has a zip, making it the obvious phone pocket. My iPhone 8, a modest sized unit, fits here, but I'm not keen on the way the unpadded pocket holds the hard-edged phone against my ribs, and on a long run I've sometimes ended up transferring it to one of the bottle holders. Silva's product info lists this zipped pocket as waterproof, but it's actually the same airy mesh as the rest.

On the back you get a large stretchy sleeve. Adequate for one lightweight windproof/waterproof jacket, it feels crowded if you want to carry two layers. The rear pocket is open, and I'm not sure why Silva didn't add some sort of basic closure for security.

Besides all the pockets you also get a little whistle for emergencies, and it's nice that this comes included since it's something I might well forget to take running otherwise.

Summary

Light, airy, and with decent carrying capacity for its minimal weight, the Strive Ultra Light is a neat little running vest at what seems a very reasonable price. A good summer option, though in winter I might want more space.

Strive Mountain Pack - £79.99

A substantial rucksack in running terms, the Strive Mountain Pack - which comes in either 17L or 23L size - combines a close and comfy fit with a good range of pockets and other features. Despite a few criticisms, I like it, but I actually get on better with it as a walking pack than when running.

Descending Cairn Toul with the Strive 17  © Dan Bailey
Descending Cairn Toul with the Strive 17
© Dan Bailey

Weight

If lightness is your first priority then you can probably look away now. At 565g in size M/L (Silva wildly underestimate at 485g) the Strive 17 isn't exactly lightweight for a running pack, and similar sized alternatives are available that weigh considerably less. Stripping out the foam back sheet will save you around 80g, but at the cost of some of the comfort and support that I think are among the better features of the Strive pack. So far I've preferred to leave it in and meet the pack on its own terms. Thanks to its comfort, close fit and well-balanced feel I can't say the relatively high pack weight has really troubled me - but then I'm used to lugging overnight backpacks or climbing gear up hills.

Its 17L size is good for a long summer hill day. I wouldn't personally want much less  © Dan Bailey
Its 17L size is good for a long summer hill day. I wouldn't personally want much less
© Dan Bailey

Though the tissue-like Nylon fabric is very thin, it seems sufficiently tough for a running pack, and Silva are confident enough to offer a 2-year warranty. It's also fairly weatherproof.

Capacity

The larger 23+3 litre version of the Strive Mountain Pack might be a good option for minimalist overnights such as an adventure race. I'm not into events, and can barely bring myself to utter the term 'fastpacking', let alone actually do it, so I went for the smaller 17L+ capacity.

I've found this size well suited to spring and summer on the Scottish hills, for big-ish day trips where you want to carry more than the absolute minimum. There's enough capacity here for an in-case warm jacket, windproof, waterproof top and bottoms, hat and gloves, emergency shelter, torch, and as much food and drink as you can reasonably expect to need. That's a lot for a runner maybe, but standard issue for walkers, and generally represents my safety-conscious bottom line in more remote areas, whatever speed I'm aiming at. On top of this lot I've also managed to cram in a bulky DSLR and mini tripod - not things the average lightweight day will include, but essential tools for a gear reviewer.

It's close-fitting and feels nicely balanced for running... at least until you start emptying your bottles  © Dan Bailey
It's close-fitting and feels nicely balanced for running... at least until you start emptying your bottles
© Dan Bailey

Fit and comfort

Two back lengths are available, XS/S and M/L. At 1.83m tall and not what you'd call skinny I went for the larger option. But though Silva is a Swedish brand, and Swedes aren't stereotypically small, the back length here is incredibly short. If it's going to take any weight off the shoulders you'd expect the belt of a pack to run over your hips. Silva describe this one as a 'waist belt' (which taken literally implies it's meant to come higher than hip level), but on me it's actually more of a stomach/rib belt, sitting well above the navel. There's an outside chance I have a mis-labelled XS/S bag, but if not then the smaller size must be truly petite.

I feared this would be a show stopper for a review, until I just went and tried the pack regardless. In actual use the truncated back length didn't prove nearly the issue I'd first assumed. The belt takes absolutely none of the weight, but then with a 17 litre load I doubt you'd ever need it to anyway. Neither does it seem to restrict my breathing, something I'd wondered about. It does, however, help keep the pack in place on your back, so even on me it has some value. Note too that the fit illustrated on Silva's website looks very high, so when all's said and done perhaps it's meant to be this way?

That high belt helps to stop the pack shifting around, but clearly doesn't take any weight  © Dan Bailey
That high belt helps to stop the pack shifting around, but clearly doesn't take any weight
© Dan Bailey

The 'Embrace' back system consists of a two-part belt, which sports wide fins connected by webbing to a separate stretchy winged layer that wraps close around the torso, while the shoulder straps are similarly broad, and sculpted for a flush fit. As you'd hope from a running pack, the whole thing hugs to the body. I find the pack moves with you as the torso flexes and twists, giving a well-balanced and unrestrictive feel, with minimal bounce.

A height-adjustable double sternum strap helps keep the fit close, but on me the arrangement could be better. Ideally I'd like to be able to tighten the upper clip more than I can, while I also find the lower clip has a tendency to gradually creep up the slider on the shoulder straps.

Aside from the removable foam frame sheet there's no padding on offer, but the wide straps really don't need any. Everything in contact with the body is made of breathable mesh, so even when working hard on a warm day it's bearably cool and un-sweaty. Despite my niggles the comfort on offer here is good, whether you're running or walking. I can only imagine how much better it might be if the belt and chest clips did 100% of their job.

Features

The roll-top closure of the main body of the pack might be mildly more faffy than a zip, but it offers a reasonably weathertight seal. Clipping into adjustable webbing on the sides, it also helps you compress the top of the pack if you're only partially loaded. An elaborate elastic drawcord system provides further compressibility lower down. Able to be set in various configurations, this shock cording might also give you somewhere external to stash a rolled-up jacket, but I'm not sure how secure that'd be. I find the stretchy cord arrangement a bit fiddly, and generally ignore it.

As with the running vest, the Strive pack has loads of pockets secreted around, to give access to snacks, drink, hat, gloves and gadgets on the go, without having to stop and remove the pack.

The hip pockets are generous, but a bit hard to reach  © Dan Bailey
The hip pockets are generous, but a bit hard to reach
© Dan Bailey

Two chest straps, but the lower one does tend to creep up  © Dan Bailey
Two chest straps, but the lower one does tend to creep up
© Dan Bailey

Two generous zipped pockets on the belt give you a secure place to stow things like suncream, sunhat, phone and jelly babies. As per the generally undersized fit of the belt, I find the zips are positioned a little too far to the back for easy reach. A stretchy wand pocket on each side of the pack is good for keeping things like a windproof to hand, or to secure a pair of poles. Inside there's the obligatory water bladder sleeve. You also get a small internal zipped pocket. I've been carrying car keys here, because otherwise there's nowhere particularly safe to put them, and I do think it'd benefit from the addition of a key clip because my loose keys have already managed to hole the fabric. However official role of this pocket is actually to hold a remote battery for your headtorch. This is something you're only likely to consider in super cold conditions (Silva being Swedish). While it's not my area of expertise, I imagine that at that point I might be thinking more along the lines of keeping the battery inside my clothing, not the pack.

The twin bottle holders each take a 500ml soft bottle, and are easily used on the go  © Dan Bailey
The twin bottle holders each take a 500ml soft bottle, and are easily used on the go
© Dan Bailey

Up on each of the shoulder straps is a deep stretchy sleeve easily big enough for a 500ml soft bottle. In my opinion this is generally a more satisfactory setup for drinking on the go than a bladder and tube, but in this case the sleeves might be if anything too loose, and with no way to tighten around the neck of the bottle everything can start to bounce and shift around as you drink the water and the bottle becomes looser-fitting in the pocket. The Strive Ultra Light Vest gets around this issue by simply adding drawcords, and I think it's an oversight that Silva didn't also put them on the pack.

To complete what amounts to a pretty full set of features on such a small pack, there's a small emergency whistle on one of the chest clips, and some reflective trim for night time visibility.

Summary

Though heavy for its size, this is a decent running pack, with a close and comfy fit despite the oddly high position of the 'waist' belt. From lacklustre sternum straps to uncompressible bottle holders, I've found fault with several niggly details, but a bit of refinement to the design would smooth these out. Despite these small irritations it's a nice pack at a competitive price, and worth considering for summer walking as well as running.



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