By Austin Bonds
Today I’m going to scrutinize the Long Haul Loaded vest by Road Noise. According to the Road Noise website, the vests were developed out of an inability to utilize in-ear headphones for a local relay race. Runners experimented with makeshift alternatives, but the Road Noise vest provided a viable solution to keep music available and simultaneously allow the ears to take in surrounding noises for improved safety. I’d like to detail my first two runs in the vest before proceeding to a more comprehensive review.
Run 1. After unpacking every piece of gear from the USPS box, I first consulted the instructions and noticed the recommendation to let the amplifier undergo a full charge before the first use. Accordingly, I decided to go for a ten-mile run with only the vest and the two flasks (at 250 mL each) for hydration (a one-liter hydration bladder is also included with the Long Haul Loaded). I slipped the vest on with ease and used the side straps to firmly secure it across my chest. As to hydration, I’ve typically favored a water bottle for runs of ten miles or less. This is my first time using a collapsible flask. I filled the flasks quickly at the kitchen sink but did need 7-8 extra minutes or so to secure them in the narrow front pockets. With repeated use of the vest, however, I anticipate a shorter amount of time needed to complete this tedious task as the pockets should have more give.
Today’s was run was blustery, but I suspect that autumn temperatures are behind this cold front drifting across the state. The Long Haul stayed in place throughout the duration of the run despite the strong wind gusts, and I didn’t experience any chafing or hot spots across my shoulders or around the armpits after returning home. I’d be curious to know if other runners have encountered this with other vests, but I wish to note this particular detail nevertheless. I liked using the flasks but quickly realized that I needed to shimmy them from side to side to tuck each one back into the snug pockets. This required me to slow down when I needed some fluid. Otherwise, I’d say this particular run was solid.
Run 2. With the amplifier fully charged, I flipped the power switch and connected an older iPod Nano (5th generation). I secured the vest across my chest and placed the amplifier in a vertical position in the front zippered pocket; next, I pushed it to the far-right side to make room for the iPod and facilitate ease of access for my fingers. Pressed for time this morning, I opted for a water bottle instead of the flasks, though I was more concerned with the music performance today than hydration functionality.
Since the iPod was out of sight, I decided to start a two-hour playlist and not bother with manually advancing the music player to other songs. This proved to be a wise decision as it allowed me to focus on the run and adjust the volume as needed. Speaking of which, I’d say that 90% of the run this morning consisted of highways and side streets. Wednesday traffic is usually less than other weekdays, but a steady flow of vehicles requires a higher volume to compensate for noisy engines and tires barreling down the asphalt. In other words, this literal road noise can lessen how much music you hear from the speakers on the vest. Runs on quiet streets in a neighborhood or in the wee small hours of the morning will provide minimal interruption from automobiles. Trails provide a quieter setting too.
In spite of the cackling cars, I didn’t experience any interruptions with audio playback. One song continued to the next and I easily adjusted the volume on the amplifier. Like the first run, the vest stayed in place and didn’t require any adjustments or modifications. I checked off nine miles for the day.
My first two runs in the Long Haul Loaded highlight a few of the accolades of this particular vest, but I’d like to single out the major bright spots with some additional remarks. Speaking of brightness, this is an ideal place to begin. The Long Haul Loaded is a bright green color, augmented by numerous reflective strips across the front and back side. With daylight growing shorter as the seasons continue to change, this vest is a welcome addition to a visibility package that is ideally comprised of multiple light sources (e.g. a headlamp, a flashlight, and a strobe light).
Loaded is a fitting descriptor for the Long Haul as it doesn’t lack in the storage department. Two deep front pockets hold the included 250 mL flasks while two pockets situated below the flasks provide supplemental storage for nutrition, keys, and other small pieces of gear. The amplifier is housed in the front zippered pocket, which is spacious enough for a smartphone or other type of music player, i.e. the iPod. The large back pocket securely holds the one liter reservoir, and two more small pockets along the bottom of the Long Haul make for a confident, equipped runner. A removable pocket with a Velcro opening, secured to the main vest, adds more trunk space. In summary, storage capacity is stellar, as is the bounty of fluid that can be carried for the miles ahead (approximately 50 ounces between the two flasks and the bladder).
And to music – the central feature of the Long Haul Loaded. After securing the vest across the chest and shoulders, the speakers are positioned to sit below the ears for an optimal sound angle. This keeps the ears free to listen to – wait for it – road noise. Literally. Be it a car engine, a horn, or a barking dog, there are many noises along a busy road that runners will contend with on a daily basis. Ears free of earphones will detect these sounds better and make for a safer run.
The amplifier has a simple interface. The left port connects to the speakers; the second port connects to a music player. A smart phone pairs by Bluetooth, and the first few bars of Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” indicates success. With all this said, I suppose that there’s nothing left to do now but fly. Take flight on the road or the trail. This classical masterpiece should quicken your pace.
As to any critiques of the Long Haul Loaded, two points of note readily stand out to me. Detailed more fully in my first run in the vest, I found the flasks to be finicky. I spent multiple minutes tucking them into the front pockets, and I also needed to slow down every time I lifted one up enough for a gulp of fluid. This is why I’m partial to the bladder (reservoir) as the hose provides easier access to water and little to no adjustments during the middle of a run.
The second critique concerns sound volume. If you run in a neighborhood or a trail, an adequate volume will likely be a non-issue; however, if you run on busy streets, perpetual road noise – meaning one car after another – will make it difficult to enjoy your favorite tunes as engines will be the overpowering sound. When I raised the volume too high levels, I noticed that the crispness of the sound began to diminish.
As an owner of a Camel Bak and Nathan vest, I can say without hesitation that the Road Noise vests are in a class of their own. The ability to listen to music with an amplifier that’s user-friendly is a major strength. Fit should be emphasized as well. Each vest is sized on the chest measurements, thus increasing the likelihood of a secure fit and no slipping. If your favorite race prohibits the use of earphones, or you prefer to run at dawn or dusk, or you simply wish to liberate your ears from dangling wires, look no further than Road Noise.
I’d like to thank Rob Stout and the Road Noise team for sending me the Long Haul Loaded to review for Believe in the Run.