Gear Review Ion Hydration Vest

Hydration. Next to our PFDs and leashes,  our onboard, on bod water supply system might just be one of the most important pieces of gear we carry with us. And while CamelBak and others have been producing a variety of great hydration packs for other sports for sometime, designs for sup-specific bladders and packs always leave something to be desired.  Chaffing, incompatibility with traditional PFDs, bulkiness…these are some of the downfalls of many of the hydration packs on the market for paddlers.

I thought the Vestpac would be a great option.  Minimal, but with great compartments in the front for snacks, a camera or phone.  However it was just too minimal for me.  I never could get it to feel secure – it seemed to bounce around as I paddled. I was disappointed, even though I know many paddlers really like that particular design and product.

When visiting the Big Winds shop in Hood River, OR last month, the Ion Products Hydration Vest Comp caught my eye.  The design concept is similar to the VestPac but it’s just a bit beefier. And a little more functional, too, with a zippered pocket and another velcroed stash pocket in front. There’s even a bit of daisy chain webbing on the front too. I was able to get a hold of one to demo, thanks to the folks at North Sports, the North American distributor of Ion Products, located just across the Columbia in White Salmon, OR.

The first time I tried the vest was on my very first Viento Run down the Gorge. It fit nicely over the impact flotation vest I was wearing. It was almost as if the two pieces of gear were meant to go together.  I’d still like for it to be a little tighter on the torso, but it doesn’t seem to bounce around. It stays put. It even stayed put when I used in on a single track mountain bike ride.  I think it will be easy to wear this pack over a standard PFD when I switch over to that in the winter, when the water turns colder.  It does not at all impede my range of motion, or my ability to get back on the board if I go for a swim.

One of the biggest selling points of the Ion hydration vest is the flexible drink hose.  It’s wrapped in a bit of neoprene for insulation as well as wire so you can position the hose where ever you want or need it so it is always within reach.  This is the first hydration pack hose that I actually don’t have to use my hands to drink from.  That’s a huge plus for paddle training and racing.

I love wearing this hydration vest when I teach.  I can have my phone or radio stowed on the pockets on the front, along with my waterproof Baggie containing a pen, notepad and my camera.  It all fits comfortably and doesn’t interfere with my paddling.

The hydration bladder fits into a pouch on the back that has a clip to hold the bladder and closed with Velcro. It’s easy enough getting the bladder in and out of the pocket.  The bladder has a quick connect fitting, but like CamelBak, it is location at the bottom of the bag, so that’s not really all that convenient.  Backpack maker Osprey is the only manufacturer I ever seen that puts that connect at the top of the bladder, where switching bladder out without having to undo the hose from the pack is so much easier. Being able to switch out bladders easily during a long training run or a race like the Chattajack 31 is extremely useful.

The bladder is open at the top for easy filling and cleaning and it closes with a plastic slider that crimps down the bladder open after you fold it over once.  I was a bit skeptical of this style bladder but so far I have not had any leaks or spillage.

Gear Review Ion Hydration Vest

If I have one major complaint about the vest, it’s the size of the bladder.  It’s only 1 liter. Barely enough for a one hour workout, especially here in the South where we are in our Steamroom Sauna humidity season.  I am not sure that the infrastructure of the vest would be able to handle carrying two bladders for longer paddles or if it would accomodate a larger bladder.

Ion has been around since 2004 making wetsuits and other neoprene products for windsurfing, kite boarding, surfing sup and wake boarding. I think the hydration comp vest has the potential to be a great piece of paddle kit, especially for shorter paddles. Ion does make another hydration product called the Hydration Bag, that does carry 2 liter of water.  It does not, however, to appear quite as functional as the Hydration Vest Comp.

All in all, I am impressed with this product and find it to be extremely useful as well as comfortable.