I am often curious about the huge range of running products on offer. Why do some exist? How were they conceived? What problem are they there to resolve and what benefits do they offer the runner? Why do multiple products exist that offer the same advantages? How successfully do they achieve their aims? How do they evolve over time? What research is done into their need and use? Do they exist to improve the running experience or just to make money? As a geographer, the fact that the running experience is at the centre of the need, development and promotion of products make them so interesting to study. In a multitude of ways, running products reflect and provide insight into the experience of running.
So when I was offered the chance to review a product I had not considered to be for runners, I was immediately intrigued. The lovely people at KitShack offered me the chance to review a Buff. I was well aware of what a Buff was, I knew many people who had one, but they never used them for running. I saw the Buff as for activities more intense than my regular running routes – for rugged terrain, changeable weather, great endurance, high speed, and extreme sports. Gentle jogs around suburban London did not quite seem to warrant a Buff.
If not familiar with the Buff, it is a hugely versatile piece of clothing. It is made with Coolmax Extreme and is breathable, windproof, odour resistant, seamless, quick drying and wick-able. As demonstrated in this video if can be worn in 13 different ways, as neckerchief, headband, wristband, mask, hairband, balaclava, scarf, scrunchie, saharaine, pirate cap, beanie or bandana.
So why did KitShack want a review from a suburban runner? Which of these many ways of wearing a Buff is useful to running and what does it tell us about the experiences of running? While a case could be made for many of these uses, in my daily running I saw use three key uses: protection from heat, protection from sweat, and managing encounters with some seasonal pests.
I set off on a run through Richmond Park to Richmond and back along the river to Kingston with my Hopi Buff in tow. It was a warm summer’s evening, and being partly of Scottish descent, I wore the Buff as a neckerchief to prevent sun-burn. The Buff is extremely light weight and does not make running cumbersome. The first few miles are pleasant, with zero irritation from the Buff, I was slowly getting into my rhythm and feeling rather pleased with my new running accessory – more stylish than most and keeping the sun’s rays from my pasty skin with its High UV protection. However, when climbing the first hill of my run the Buff became the antithesis of what I was hoping. My body temperature was rising as I continued running and the added material acted to keep the heat in. I soon took to removing the Buff, wrapping around my wrist to allow some heat to escape. As documented in this excellent paper by Jacquelyn Allen-Collinson and Helen Owton, heat is one of many intense embodied sensations associated with running and something that requires constant management throughout exercise.
Emerging out of the park I rearrange the Buff once again. It’s early summer and the river is teeming with midges. Encounters with animals can have a significant impact on the running experience. Whilst most runners can recount a particular incident with an over-enthusiastic dog or perhaps a wayward sheep, I find encounters with flying bugs the most impactful on my run. The presence of one in the eyes, nose or mouth can cause a knee-jerk reaction of coughing, furious blinking and nose-blowing. The rhythm of the run is totally disrupted and it can take many metres to rectify the situation, just to run the risk of it happening a few steps later. Wearing the Buff on my neck and covering my mouth and nose, this is where I felt the Buff would be most useful to me – as a shield against the midges. The Buff’s breathability makes this an easy and highly successful tactic. That said, I did find myself once more becoming overheated. The Buff diverted some of my breath up onto my face, causing a profusion of sweating (something undoubtedly aided by my hour long run in the sun coming to an end). Luckily, the Buff has the solution for this also. After leaving the river and safe from the worst swarms of midges, I whip the Buff off my neck and refashion it into headband.
Overall I was rather impressed with the Buff. While it was good in all the roles I employed it, the fact that this was all possible in one product was fantastic. Something especially valuable for runners whose bodies are in a delicate balance when on the run, something which the addition of any weight can easily disrupt. My only reservation about the Buff is whether running really does the product justice. Suburban London doesn’t quite take advantage of all the possibilities of a Buff, or whether the issues it overcomes are pressing enough to purchase one. We must remember though that runners are not just runners, we do many other activities as well and I have since taken the Buff with me on a hike down the Samaria Gorge (where wetting and wearing saharine style was a particularly welcome respite from the dry Mediterranean heat) and worn it as a headband during tennis. Its clever design and huge versatility should ensure that any owner of the Buff will not find it wanting in the wardrobe for long.
The Hopi Buff I wore retails at KitShack for £16.00 and the complete range can be found at http://www.kitshack.com. I received no payment to write this review, nor will I receive any commission for anyone who subsequently purchases a Buff. I did receive a complimentary Buff to try out.