inov-8 Race Ultra Vest 2015 *New Product Review

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The 2013 incarnation of the inov-8 Race Vest was a revelation. It was arguably the most simple and minimalist pack on the market that fit and functioned perfectly for the task at hand. It had a unique design, the ability to carry 2-bottles and/ or bladder and in addition it had a series of really useful and importantly, ‘usable’ pockets. No pack is perfect, however, I did say the Race Vest was close.

Many agreed. The pack sold incredibly well and it won awards.

However, it did have some restrictions. In reality, the pack was perfect for 1-day races when minimal mandatory kit was required. But if you where doing a longer event such as UTMB then the original pack had limited space. I actually was able to put all my mandatory kit in the pack but I had to be creative and yes, I had to have the smallest and lightest kit available.

©iancorless.com_S0152108RaceUltraVest2015I personally don’t think this is a fault of the pack! The original Race Vest had a use and if used in the scenario for which it was intended, then it was arguably one of the best packs available.

When the product became available to purchase (early 2014), a few tweaks had been made from the original prototype, which I was using. The key change was in the upper. My pack would allow the 2-bottles to fit low (near the rib cage) or high on the shoulder straps. After testing, many people commented that the shoulder straps rubbed around the neck, so, Matt Brown, the designer, reworked the design, narrowed the straps (which did provide a better fit) but unfortunately this meant you couldn’t fit the bottles in the upper position. A real shame in my opinion! More importantly, original retail samples had a couple of question marks on durability. Many runners complained of some less than perfect construction. This was soon nipped in the bud but as we all know, this is never a good thing.

Below, the original Race Ultra Vest with bottles: 

For_web_Race_Ultra_vest

Jump to the inov-8 athlete retreat in the English Lakes, spring 2014. A weekend of running: looking at new shoes, apparel and accessories for the coming year (2015). Needless to say, as a running aficionado, I love this. I love to see how a brand takes past and current ideas, develops them and comes up with something new. The new apparel looked incredible, new shoes were promising; particularly the new Ultra 290 shoe and then we saw the packs… the new Race Vest.

Similarities could be drawn to the original 2013/2014 model but boy oh boy. This was a complete overhaul taking all the features from the original, adding tweaks and then coming up with something new. inov-8, Matt Brown and the rest of the team had pimped their packs!

No longer was one pack available but three: 5ltr, 10ltr in this style and a larger 24ltr for mountain marathon or multi-day events. Using the ‘vest’ fitting system, these new packs in one word are awesome.

I said in my original Race Vest review back in 2013 that ‘This new product from UK company; inov-8 may very well be the next key moment in pack design stripping away complication and providing a pack that would almost make a perfect accessory for Batman.’

It was a bold statement and one that I still hold. However, that unique innovation has moved up a step and lessons have been learnt.

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So, what is new?

  • Larger capacity (3 different sizes)
  • Pole fitting attachments
  • Redesigned vest
  • New soft flasks with extended drinking straws
  • Dump pockets
  • Zipper pockets

I have 2-packs for testing, the 5ltr and 10ltr. They are exactly the same, obviously the only difference being capacity. For the purpose of this review, I have tested and photographed the 10ltr as I feel this will be the most popular option. However, I will say that the 5ltr does have far more capacity than the original Race Vest despite them being arguably, on paper, the same size!

My test product is a prototype and I am aware of some tweaks that will be made based on my review and the feedback I provide. So please refer to this review and I will update with any key changes and revisions that may happen over the coming weeks/ months.

The vest fits like a glove. I never expected anything else. You put it on and immediately it is like adding another piece of well fitting clothing. Unlike the original Race Vest, this pack will not have adjustment straps on the side. Therefore, the pack will come in a variety of sizes so that you can get the product that fits you! I believe this will be S/M and M/L and fit has been tweaked under the arm to a better fit under the arm from my prototype.

Why no side straps?

Well, two large ‘dump pockets’ have been added to the pack. It made sense. This was an area not utilised in the original design and now you have 2-easy access pockets for food, clothing or any other item you may need.

For me though, these dump pockets make the ideal location for storing the new soft flasks. This wasn’t the original idea of designer, Matt Brown. However, after 1-week of testing, I contacted Matt and told him of the way I was using the pack. It made perfect sense to me. It had the bottles in an easy access and comfortable place, the new ‘extended straws’ meant that I could feed as and when I wanted without removing them and if I needed to refill, I could just pull them out, take off the top, fill and replace. In addition, you could still use the dump pockets for additional storage either under or over the soft flasks. I typically put my gloves, Buff or other essential items in this area. Being a photographer, I have often replaced one soft flask with a camera. Yes, they are that adaptable.

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On the front of the pack, you have zip pocket on either side. These pockets are for the soft flasks, however on my prototype they were a little too small and tight. For me, they are perfect for valuable items such as phone/ money/ credit card or similar. Matt Brown has confirmed for me that the zipper pockets have been re-designed and made larger accommodating the flasks with ease and comfort, ‘I used the updated sample at CCC and kept the bottles in the zipper pockets, a lot easier to remove and get back in again,’ said Matt. So, the choice will be yours? I do recommend you try options and see what works for you.

Several other stretch pockets are available that work well for keys, food and or gels.

 

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The front fastening system has also changed from the original. This pack no longer uses the quick release system that some found fiddly on the previous vest (I didn’t). Now it has 2-fixed straps, upper and lower and both use the classic male/ female quick release fastening system.

The rear of the pack has 2-zippers: one on the outside of the pack that allows access to an uncluttered open pocket.

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On the reverse, the part of the pack that would sit against your back, has a zipper that would allow direct access to a bladder should you wish to use one.

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Of course, this is perfect, especially in long events when you are carrying mandatory kit. You don’t want to be pulling kit out to get to a bladder. In addition, elastic cords have been added to the top and bottom to attach poles.

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The large open pocket (10ltr version) held with ease:

  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof pants
  • Buff
  • Gloves
  • Base layer
  • Compass
  • Gps
  • Phone
  • Arm warmers
  • Beanie
  • Gels/ bars

And I still had space to squeeze other items in. No question, it’s perfect for a UTMB style event or similar. Should you carry fewer items, the adjustable bungee drawstring on the pack will allow you to compress unwanted space.

The pack has an optional (purchase extra) 2ltr bladder that sits within a temperature control sleeve and this easily slides into the rear zipper pocket. The feed pipe is insulated and can be used on the left or right hand side of the vest. Ideal should you require the option to carry 3ltrs of liquid: 2ltrs in the rear and 1ltr at the front two soft flasks.

IN USE 

It may come as no surprise that I find the pack perfect. I have yet to find an issue with any aspect of the design.

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The soft flasks with extended straws are a revelation and make ‘on the go’ drinking a breeze. It also makes refilling very easy.

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The vest fits like a glove, does not bounce and is extremely comfortable even when filled to capacity.

Fabrics are light and breathable as the original. Of course with any vest, you are going to get a hot spot on your back. You can’t avoid that with this style of product. Having said that, I have yet to find a pack that doesn’t do this…

10464062_10152436307373891_1576851184164900850_nThe rear large zippered pocket requires some thinking when packing, as it is just an open space. You push things in and keep pushing. I recommend if using a bladder, add this first and then pack. Place the items you are likely to need less at the bottom and then work your way up leaving the most essential items at the top. It’s not rocket science but good to think ahead. Once the bladder is in place, you don’t need to remove it as it has a separate zipper access thus allowing refilling as and when required. It works really well. As mentioned previously, you can fit all mandatory kit (UTMB requirement) in the spacious pocket.

You can attach poles to the rear. I tried but didn’t find this to be a good option for me. More often than not, the new folding poles such as Black Diamond or Leki are shorter in length. This makes fastening more awkward and problematic. To resolve this, I attached two adjustable bungees to the shoulder straps and I store my poles folded across my chest; works for me and makes storing and access to the poles easier. It’s a personal thing.

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The multiple front packets provide immediate access to anything I needed whilst running. I had a phone, camera, bars, gels, keys and money all at hand. Perfect. The front zipper pockets add extra security if not used for the soft flasks.

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I used the two large dump pockets for my soft flasks and then placed gloves, buff and some snack items on top. This works great but you need to think when coming into an aid station… if you just pull out the soft flask, what is on top will hit the deck!

 action photos ©marcuswarner

Conclusion

I raved about the original Race Vest (2013/14 model) and hailed it as arguably the ‘perfect’ pack. In refection, I was wrong. It was perfect to a point. The new range of packs (in 3-sizes) have addressed the issue of storage (or lack of) and with the addition of soft flasks with straws, these packs offer everyone the opportunity not only to get the right size to fit them but also the correct capacity for your needs. For me, if you were only going to purchase one pack, the 10ltr would be the most logical option.

Although we haven’t done a full test from a female perspective, initial feedback has been good. As I am sure you can imagine, this very much depends on the lady and the chest size.

We will update this review with a female viewpoint ASAP.

Finally, inov-8 has come up with another winner. I’d recommend this pack to anyone and everyone. The 10ltr does have some strong competition from many other key brands so ultimately it will all come down to personal taste. But if you are ordering online without seeing the product have confidence, you won’t be disappointed.

Check out inov-8 HERE

Availability? This pack is a 2015 model and as such will retail in early 2015. Pre orders and enquiries should be sent to inov-8

Price? 5L £110 / 10L £120 inc bottles

Note: I was asked on Facebook about a lack of negative comments. It’s simple really, I don’t have any. My comments re the zipper pockets being too small and tight was my big gripe which ironically made me look at storing the soft flasks in the dump pockets. Matt Brown, the designer has reworked these pockets and as he says, he personally used the pack for CCC with no issues. I do hope to get a couple of images from Matt to show this tweak to the design.

42 thoughts on “inov-8 Race Ultra Vest 2015 *New Product Review

  1. Great review Ian. Personally the lack of a dedicated ice axe loop is a problem for me – Apart from that the pack looks great. Not sure I need the long straws on the bottles though, kind of defeats the purpose of a bottle, turning it in to a hybrid of a bladder. Storage looks good, on a par with UD and the overall look of this pack seems stronger than the original signature line. I’d be first in line for a 10ltr IF it had the ice axe loop! That’s a deal breaker for me, but I guess running on névé is a niche activite so it won’t affect most people.

    • I agree with Nick on the fact that putting two soft flasks in with “straws” which are basically cut off hydration bladder tubes makes it more of a hybrid blatter than a bottle pack. I have heard many good things about the soft bottles, but it still looks to me that they would be a bit hard to refill at an aid station. I just ran a 50K this past weekend and would pull the wide mouth cap off my UD bottle at each aid station to refill the bottle with Tailwind Nutrition (powder) before I topped off the water. These soft bottles look very small and I imagine hard to get any powder mix into the mouth/opening. Does anyone have any experience with this? Thanks!

      • Brad, I agree and disagree. Firstly, the soft flasks by nature are ‘soft’ and therefore can be tricky to put in and take out of any holder, so, the straw allows you to drink without this constant hassle. That’s a plus! In an aid station, I would agree with you, the mouth is smaller and therefore less fiddly than say a 500ml bottle. It all comes down to to distance you are running, how fast you are running and how competitive. For many, a little longer to fill won’t be an issue for the pluses. But that is my opinion. You could always use soft flasks without straws. Feedback I have had and I agree with is that soft flasks are so much nicer to wear against the body because they are soft… No perfect answer here just options and personal choice.

      • Excellent review Ian! And thanks for the reply to my question about the soft flasks. Everyone that I know who has used them say they really like them, so I may need to pick some up and try them out.

  2. Hello Ian,

    Curious if you had any weight specs. I am also interested in the 20L as a fast packing vest. Do you have any tidbits on that particular size?

    Thank you for your time!

    • I don’t have weight specs yet as mine is a prototype and therefore will be a little heavier than the 2015 model. The larger pack is 24ltr not 20 and comes in one size but has a vest fitting. I hope to get a sample soon.

  3. Nice to see where inov-8 is going with the next version of this vest. I recently picked up the ’13-’14 version and like it so far. The soft flasks look like they may offer a bit more arm clearance than the bottles. Can they be used without the straws? I must admit, I am a bit skeptical about the fit as I really like the side straps.

    Thank you for the early review. Can’t wait to see the final product.

  4. Really looking forward to seeing the larger version for solo mountain marathon, although I’d have preferred to see an 15 or 18 ltr as 24 is just going to be massive. However I do appreciate that this is a much more niche product thus having a full range of sizing options may not be cost effective. Make no mistake though, a race vest large enough for mountain marathons is exactly what I have been waiting for.

    • Chris, your dreams answered. Matt the designer confirms: an 8, 16 and 24L race elite vest will be available. Race elite vests have side/front adjustment like the original race ultra vest. The race ultra 5 and 10 are the only packs with two different sizes (as I tested)

  5. Ian
    Thanks for the great review. I resisted buying the 2013/14 model because of its smaller size and I am now glad that I did because the new model looks like the perfect race vest for me. Roll on 2015 and the release date!

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  7. Thank you for the review/preview. Will the bladder from the 2013/2014 version work with the 2015 editions?

    I’ll second the request to see your pole setup.

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  10. Hi Ian,

    I just received my pack in S/M size. My build is slim but the pack feels very snug when water bottles are filled. Also, both chest straps are extended to the max. I’d be concerned when the pack is filled completely that it’s too tight.

    Do you think i’d be better with the larger size ? I realize pack is meant to fit like a vest but interested to hear your thoughts.

    • 64 million dollar question. Only you know the answer I guess. Ultimately you have to ask, if you put a rain jacket on or additional layers, will the pack still fit?
      I don’t like any movement in a pack when running, so I would prefer snug.

  11. Hi Ian
    Loved the review. I’ve just received my RU10. A few things I’ve noticed. I’m only 5’7″/40″ chest, but the M/L is still fairly snug! Also the zip flask pockets are ok when the vest is off, but trying to shove the flasks in even with the chest straps undone is a total pain. Its a shame as the dump pockets are great, but using them for the flasks seem to be a bit of a waste. I’ll keep with it though. I think! Great bit of kit other than the pain with those pockets!!
    Thanks again
    Si

    • Hi Simon, I had a prototype for my review and the zip pockets did not work at all for the soft flasks so I came up with the dump pocket method and it’s the way I now use the pack and the way I prefer. inov-8 did confirm for me that the zip pockets would be re-designed and the pack designer, Matt Brown did use the pack at one of the UTMB races with changes made. So many vest products available and the inov-8 is a great item, however, I have just reviewed the Salomon S-Lab 1L and 3L and they are incredible. Review on my site.

      • Hi Ian
        Thanks for the reply. It’s my first vest type product so it difficult to compare. It is a nice product. Sizing may need tweaked. I’m only 40″ chest, but broad and many of the others I researched and issued re sizing. The dump pockets certainlyake using the soft flasks a lot easier. I think the problem may be the material of the flasks-its so grippy! Coupled with the material of the pocket it’s a struggle. A solution maybe changing the inside of the pocket maybe. Making it slicker. Think I’ll have to stick with it anyway.
        Thanks again
        Si

    • Just my pennies worth, but I have to agree with Si. Just received my pack today. The bottles in the dump pockets seems a waste as it could interfere with other gear you may want in there. It was a fiddle to use the bottle in the zipped pocket as well. The material needs to be smooth for easy in and out for these soft flasks. I tried the flasks supplied, the new UD body bottle plus and a Salomon flask and all were awkward due to having to try and force the flasks in to place where they would stay. Also the straws, if the bottle is in the zipped pocket the straw is waving around in front of you like a cobra. Therefore you would have to cut this to fit if you really wanted them there. The actual pack I thought fitted well, although it will feel really snug when fully loaded. Obviously the amount of kit whilst wearing is going to be personal thing to the wearer and what they feel is comfortable or not. The pack is worth checking out though, but unfortunately for me the flask/pocket issue was enough for me and sent it back. I will stick with my UD PB vest 2 with the new UD body bottle plus flasks for now. This works great and no issue with removing or replacing them in front pockets.

      • Apologies for kinda hijacking the review Ian. Neil what size did you try in the Ultra? How does it compare to the UD PB2? I think the Inov8 is great, it really is. The pocket issues and the fact it was just not comfortable for me meant that I ended up sending it back also. If it fits and you can live with pockets etc then I would def recommend it. Awesome deign and attention to detail.
        Si

      • Same for me Simon, just sent mine back. Bottles when full were rubbing against me and i’d need to remove back to place a full bottle back into that pocket. I also found that the main compartment sat very high up by back and could have been distributed better. It’s a pity as i was so excited after reading this review !

      • Graham and Simon. You will note my concerns re the zip pockets and I was told they had been modified. This has been confirmed for me by the designer. The designer has also commented and I think this is a very valid point, and I quote:
        On the sizing, it’s becoming more apparent we need a third ‘XL’ size.
        32-36” S/M
        36-40” M/L
        40”+ XL
        I believe some of the problem will be from people having vests that are too snug to access the pockets.

        I must say, that if the vest is too small and too snug on your body, you will struggle getting any pocket and this is probaly the issue with the soft flasks.

        Lets face it, soft flasks are great BUT they are not easy to add/ remove in any pack.

        Thanks for the thoughts and feedback

      • The straws waving around could easily be fixed with magnetic clips from Hydrapak, or Camelbak’s clip, or even the humble key/ID retractor..
        hope this works for you..Cheers!

  12. Hi, great review.
    can you send a picture with this technic?
    “You can attach poles to the rear. I tried but didn’t find this to be a good option for me. More often than not, the new folding poles such as Black Diamond or Leki are shorter in length. This makes fastening more awkward and problematic. To resolve this, I attached two adjustable bungees to the shoulder straps and I store my poles folded across my chest; works for me and makes storing and access to the poles easier. It’s a personal thing.”
    Thanks

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  15. Great review, I have this and like it, however im finding the end of long drinking tubes will not stay in the shoulder when running. Is there a set way to fit them? anyone else have this issue?

    • The straws waving around could easily be fixed with magnetic clips from Hydrapak, or Camelbak’s clip, or even the humble key/ID retractor. Else, you could get a bungee cord too, though I think over long distances the extra effort will somewhat take it’s burden on your hands (I had cramps in my thumbs when replying messages on my phone after an ultra due to taking out and replacing my Camelbak hydration tube to its magnetic clip..LOL)
      hope this works for you..Cheers!

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