After my first 200km of running in the Aonijie Withwind 5L hydration vest, I’m a fan of its thoughtful design features, and impressed by its comfortable stretchy fit.
At this early stage of testing, I’m not sure I can recommend you spend more on other hydration vest models, unless you are a staunch brand supporter. The vest does offer exceptional value for money at under R1,000 (pricing in July 2018).
The reason I say so is that I cannot distinguish between the quality of materials used, and the lightness of the hydration pack, compared to higher-priced brands. Only time will tell as far as durability goes, but as you’ll see later, the quality of materials and stitching appears to be as good as any I’ve used in recent years.
Here’s a visual overview of the features of the Aonijie Withwind 5L hydration vest:
There are just two zips on the Withwind 5L. Both look and feel as good in quality as I’ve seen on similar backpacks. The first is used for the 14cm-long semi-concealed zippered pocket in the front, on the left chest. The second is the semi-circular zip on the compartment that holds the optional 1.5L hydration bladder/reservoir on the back of the pack.
I found the front chest pocket to be my favourite place to stash either my car keys or house keys, wrapped in a small plastic bag to prevent moisture damage. I knew I liked it when I realised I was using it for all storage barring first aid kits or a windproof jacket (which went into the main compartment on the back).
This flat pocket is not water-resistant, so wrapping electronics in something water-resistant or preferably water-proof to prevent moisture damage is important.
You could also stash a small cheap cellphone here during races that require a phone, but a regular-sized smartphone like an iPhone 6S will not fit in this pocket. I wrapped my smartphone in a Buff or beanie and then protected that within a larger plastic packet in the zippered back compartment.
Before closing the front pocket zip, I always made sure to stow the 35mm-long orange plastic Aonijie-branded whistle in the pocket, to prevent it bouncing around. It’s secured by a stretchy cord, and could also stow behind the left chest soft flask holder, but I found the zip compartment more reliable at keeping it from working its way free and making a nuisance of itself. I tested it, and it’s loud. Hopefully I’ll never need it for an emergency.
The zippered chest pocket can hold up to three 40g-60g energy bars as well as a small set of keys.
Other front pockets
Also in front are two elasticised 19cm-deep sleeves for two 500ml soft bottles (sold separately or as part of a combo deal). Situated in front of each of the bottle pockets are elasticised pockets that can be used for nutrition like bars or gels. The pockets are not very deep, and to give you an idea of size, each will hold a medium-sized apple, but no more. I would not use these pockets for stashing anything of value. It might be tempting to wrap unused sunnies in a headband and put them here, but I would not trust the pockets to hold them over very bumpy terrain. These will be good for stowing gels and empty gel wrappers you’re going to dispose of at the finish or next aid station.
The final pouches are situated left and right between the water bottle pocket and the rear compartment. This will be good for carrying things like bananas for sort distances, like when you’d refuel at an aid station and need somewhere to put items you can then retrieve while on the move. You might even put a headlamp here provided it’s pushed down to the bottom. The border of the pouches are not zippered or drawstring-secured, so there is a chance of items bouncing out of them over rough terrain.
There are two plastic rails on the inside of the two vertical mesh straps. The mesh straps hug the outer half of the collarbone, run over the chest, and curve back at the rib line for a snug yet comfortable fit. This allows running with little movement of the pack if it’s been packed sensibly. The two plastic rails allow a total of 16.5cm in adjustment to the two stretch cores that clip on alternate sides. I found that I slid them to the ends of both sides to create a fit with less localised pressure. The top clip strap is a single, and clips on the right side (from the wearer’s viewpoint). The bottom has two sliders on the right chest side that join to a single clip on the left. This does give the wearer a good range of fit choices to maximise comfort.
I have a badly knitted collarbone due to a bicycle crash nearly 20 years ago. I appreciate the fact that the pack strap doesn’t run over the centre of the clavicle. Its placement to the outer half of the collarbone makes its comfort better anyway, whether you have a gammy collarbone or not.
The pack is festooned with 20 reflective details. There are six on the back (four material loops, plus the top hang loop, and the Aonijie logo itself). On the front, there are 14 reflectors (excluding the logo). That gives more than adequate nighttime visual warning to a vehicle user from any direction.
The red trim that runs the entire border of the pack is elasticated and is what gives the grey webbing its stretch. The webbing itself is not elasticated, but does have a small amount of stretch. It looks identical to the webbing used in other brands’ vests, including Salomon’s Advanced Skin 5 Set. The top of the two bottle holders is trimmed with the same red elasticated border, and the black material of the holders themselves is made from nylon stretch fabric.
Bottles in front
Scott Snell’s Youtube review reveals that he replaced his unit’s soft flasks with children’s rigid bottles after the first soft flask developed a leak after around 200km of use. Soft flasks are a great concept for people who refill them while still seated in the pocket, but I find replacing them when completely full to be frustrating if they’ve been removed to do the refill. Either the pocket opening feels too small for the bulging bottle (imagine this: trying to push a huge squishy caterpillar into a tight elasticated sock attached to your chest), or the opening is fine, but you can’t get the bottle all the way into the pocket, which leaves the bite valve protruding. (This is my last reference to wriggly creatures, but imagine that the caterpillar’s head is left outside of the sock and bounces about, narrowly missing your face as you run. Not much fun!). If that is your experience too, it may be a good idea to remove the vest and fit the bottles while the vest is not stretched taut around your body.
It’s understandable that soft flasks (from any brand, so far) don’t last as long as runners would like. They are pushed, squished, and twisted in our efforts to put them back into their respective pack’s holders. Little wonder their seams give up the ghost. Maybe a different approach would be to have pockets that don’t rely on elasticated pocket openings, but closed snugly with Velcro, if weight wasn’t the ultimate consideration of the end user?
Bladder access at back
Leaving the caterpillars of the front pockets behind, let’s take a look at the rear of the pack. This reveals an Aonijie-branded zip that opens a compartment that opens on top, via a 19cm wide entrance on the M/L model. The zip has extremely fine plastic teeth, and when zipped closed, leaves what looks like a nearly dust-proof seal. The quality of the zip and its attachment to the water-resistant nylon outer looks extremely good, as does the stitching everywhere on the pack. I didn’t find any stitching with a loose thread or that didn’t look professionally executed. This gives me confidence that this pack may last for a good length of time.
The bladder compartment
What I particularly liked about the back zippered compartment is that not only is it two-chambered to help you divide things, but the mesh extends around 32cm all the way to the base. This gives you two sizeable compartments, one for a 1.5-litre reservoir if you choose to use one, and the other for things like a first aid kit, and apparel. I was surprised by how much I could fit during some of my long runs, especially since I was running in winter and taking along warm clothing.
I fitted a waterproof rain jacket with hood, wrapped into a large plastic packet, plus an ample first aid kit (I measured mine at 18cm by 12cm wide by 7cm thick). The mesh divider has a 13cm wide by 12cm deep mesh pocket sewn into it which could fit the provided space blanket and a small cellphone if required. An iPhone 6S is just a tad too long to fit in here (I tried it wrapped in a Buff), but smaller phones will fit well. Remember to protect electronics against sweat moisture them by putting them into a plastic or Ziploc bag.
Inside the top of the bladder compartment is a Velcro loop that allows you to attach your hydration bladder. This keeps it upright inside the compartment, preventing it bunching up at the bottom as it empties.
Also inside the compartment are a few labels. The big outer one states:
- Fabric: 100% nylon
- Inner fabric: 100% Polyester
Your 1.5-litre hydration reservoir’s pipe can be channeled over the left or right shoulder, exiting the bladder compartment concealed for several centimetres under the outer rip-stop material, then travelling 13cm to double loops on both sides. It’s good to have the option, and the loops help secure the tube. To round it off, the magnetised tube clip to hold the optional bladder drink tube in place is another very welcome feature.
A third feature you don’t see on all packs are loops for trekking poles. These allow the securing of telescoped/folded poles onto the back of your pack when not in use. It’s especially unusual to see them on a pack sold at under R1,000 like the Withwind 5L is, so well done to the designers at Aonijie for including this.
Some things about products only become apparent after a year or two of use. For example, recently I saw a South African runner remark on Twitter about another brand’s pack that developed seized zips after storing for a while.
This is an unfortunate and avoidable condition. The zipper head becomes corroded with what looks like a powdery white coating. That’s the corrosion on the inside of the head that is preventing you moving the zipper along the zip teeth. It’s jammed in place, and sometimes you can wrestle it free with a few squirts of lube and a brush to remove the corrosion. Other times, though, you just have to accept that it won’t budge, and write off that compartment.
This demise of zips happened to me with the same brand too, but in fairness it might not be a brand-specific issue. I think it’s mainly the result of sweat corrosion after the pack most likely wasn’t thoroughly washed and dried and the zip lubed with graphite or an oil like Q20 before storage.
Still though, it would be good if premium brands did ensure that this kind of corrosion did not happen, by using more corrosion-resistant zips, and educating users on proper maintenance and storage. This could be done using the packaging the packs come in. There’s always space for visuals and text on the cardboard hangers and swing tags.
(XYZ? Polite code for “Examine your zip.”)
Aonijie reviews and comments on the internet
Linked to Amazon from Scott Snell’s page, where it’s sold as the Triwonder Hydration Pack Backpack 5L Lightweight Deluxe Marathoner Running Race Hydration Vest.
Australian reviewer Mark Donohoe says they remind him of Salomon’s S-LAB Advance Skin pack but didn’t go into much detail about differences.
- S/M 78-90cm chest size
- M/L 88-100cm chest size
- L/XL 98-108cm chest size
Pack size: 380mm x 390mm