You didn’t drop $200 on athletic gear for it to be awkward and clunky. But that’s generally how people feel when they carry around a hydration pack, according to Lululemon’s research. In case you are unfamiliar with this contraption, a hydration pack is designed for athletes who need to have access to water on the go. They usually take the shape of a backpack filled with reservoirs that are technically called bladders and comes with a straw that telescopes around to your mouth. There’s nothing sleek or empowering about it.
Not anymore. Women: Lululemon has created a running vest that contains an almost imperceptible 1.5-liter reservoir of water on your back so you can stay hydrated on long runs. The vest was specifically designed for female runners, but the brand expects that it will be used in many different contexts, like long-distance biking and hiking. The product, dubbed the Enlite Hydraffinity Vest, costs $178, and launches today on Lululemon’s website and in stores.
Surprisingly, Lululemon’s designers weren’t actually setting out to make a beautiful hydration pack when they began creating this product two years ago. Audrey Reilly, Lululemon’s SVP of women’s design, says that the goal was to create a vest that would provide more breast support during a run. Most running bras are very constricting, which many women find uncomfortable when they are going about their day before and after exercising. “The idea was to create a layering system,” Reilly says. “Women can wear a more comfortable, less constricting bra, then add on the vest before they head off for their run.”
Lululemon created this vest using Ultralu, a proprietary fabric designed to stretch with the body, rather than constrict movement. The material is soft and smooth and is designed to be elasticized enough to mold to the body while also giving it support. There are also cross straps on the back that balance out movement between breasts, and are fully adjustable so that women can tailor the fit to their own body. “We focused extensively on breast support,” says Reilly.
As they began to sketch out the vest, Reilly and her team discovered that they could add many other features that would enhance a woman’s running experience. They added reflective tape so women could stay visible on night runs. They also added strategically placed pockets on the front and back for things such as money and keys. But then, as they were considering the many needs of female distance runners, it occurred to them that they had the opportunity to respond to women’s need to stay hydrated on the go. As they were sketching out designs, they began to think about how they could subtly incorporate a water tank in the vest.
That was a tall order: Creating a water reservoir that did not look bulky and did not impact running was a challenge for the design team. Rather than creating a bulbous tank, they wove storage into the gaps between the straps, so that the water would spread evenly throughout the back of the vest, laying relatively flat. And to keep things hygienic, the whole reservoir can be removed and washed in a dishwasher. The vest itself is machine washable as well. If a woman doesn’t want to use the hydration function, she can easily remove the tube and spout, turning the garment into a regular vest.
Lululemon tested the product extensively with runners. But as they were asking women about their needs, they discovered that many women would like an easier way to hydrate on the go, even in big cities. Reilly believes that some women will wear these vests on their commute to work or on their travels. I personally can’t imagine walking around with a water tank attached to my back for easier hydration. If it was filled with white wine, on the other hand, I might reconsider.