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.

inov-8 Race Ultra Vest 2015 – sneak preview

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Time flies and as the saying goes, ‘Its stops for nobody!’

This definitely applies to running shoes, apparel and accessories. Twelve months ago I received my first prototype of the inov-8 Race Ultra Vest. It was quite a moment, I remember thinking at the time, wow, this pack does everything I need and more.

After months of testing, I went on to review the vest and gave the product a glowing review. Arguably the best review I have ever given any pack.

‘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.’

I didn’t stop…

‘This product fits like a glove! I have yet to find anyone who has put this product and on not found it immediately comfortable. It just fits, pure and simple.’

And I finished off with…

‘I can’t tell you how many packs I have purchased over the years in the search for the ‘perfect’ pack. Just when I think I have found one, I find a reason not to be 100% convinced. I’d have to say that finally, in the inov-8 Race Ultra Vest I have found a product that ticks every box and makes me feel 100% confident in my choice and decision.’

My review was backed up with demand. inov-8 were inundated with pre orders, sold out stock and a series of awards that confirmed my review.

You can read that original review HERE

inov-8 awards HERE

‘100% confident!’ That is one bold statement and nearly12-months on I look back and think I was correct (at the time). I had 100% confidence in the pack and my review.

To my surprise, earlier this year at an inov-8 athlete retreat in the English Lakes I was provided a glimpse of what the future would hold for inov-8. I was blown away. New apparel that will push boundaries, a new Race Ultra 290 shoe (review HERE) and a series of new packs.

Mmmm, I was 100% confident of the 2014 Race Ultra Vest which technically would mean that the Race Ultra Vest couldn’t be improved on. I was wrong! The team at inov-8 and in particular, Matt Brown, have taken what was/ is a superb design and taken it up a level and then a little bit more.

I can’t give away too much at the moment other than many of those little niggles that was aired on forums and on my website are gone. The new packs, and I use the plural will provide everyone a pack customisable and workable for any race distance, feeding scenario and importantly, carrying scenario.

I’m still testing, looking at different configurations and feeding information back along with inov-8 team athletes. Rest assured, when this new range of products are released in 2015 they are going to be a head turner, just as the 2014 Race Vest was.

I will be looking to post a full review with images in September. This will allow me at least 3-months testing which I consider to be appropriate in finding out what does and does not work.

More information to follow…

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*****

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INOV-8 RACE ULTRA pack/vest review

Brendan Davies inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

Brendan Davies inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest/ Pack

Please note*

Please note inov-8 have now updated the fit of the Race Ultra Vest for production. This has reduced the width of the top front pocket, resulting in it no longer being able to hold the 500ml flat water bottle. It does, however, still have capacity to hold the 250ml soft flask available with the Race Ultra 0.25.

It used to be simple; get rucksack, add a few essential items, grab a bottle of energy drink and off you go! However, the rucksacks used were more often than not, developed for hiking and thus Issues arose. The packs had too much bounce, a lack of specific functions related to running and more importantly, the need to access items such as food and liquid whilst on the go was non existent.

A boom in rucksack development followed. Brands developed new ranges of product, initially they were a reworking of already existing packs. As demand increased, new lines and new ranges came to fruition and suddenly an array of run specific items came on the market. We were spoilt for choice.

If you are like me, you will have tried many of these products in the search for the ‘perfect product’. Some items have come close but ultimately I have always wanted to make a tweak here or a tweak there. Bottles, bladder or combination of both, the decision will split people. Small capacity, large capacity; ultimately you need both. So, when looking at reviewing any new product one has to take into account many options and variables and then judge a pack on those merits and how well it fulfills those needs and demands. Rarely does a product come along that you can 100% say, ‘this is the perfect pack’.

For many, the launch of the Salomon S-Lab 5ltr pack started the current revolution and design in form fitting, vest like garments that could carry essential equipment, provide immediate access to essentials whilst still being able to carry 2ltrs of liquid in a bladder or the option to also have bottles.

But I can hear you say, so and so did it before Salomon and such and such did ‘x’ with ‘y’ product. I am not going to disagree; I am just highlighting a key moment in pack design that has heavily influenced the current trend for ‘vest’ like products.

Of course, Salomon soon realized that 5ltrs was not enough capacity, particularly for long mountain races such as the TNFUTMB. So, when Kilian Jornet lined up at UTMB several years ago, he had a new, 12ltr pack. It was a key moment in pack development and design. For many, the Salomon S-Lab 12 ltr has been and currently is one of the most popular packs for any racing and/or training.

Step in inov-8 with new Race Ultra Vest.

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.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

Following current trends, the Race Ultra Vest is a pack that is worn like an item of clothing. It is extremely minimal in design and offers one large ‘stretchable’ mesh pocket on the rear that is open ended with a zigzag elastic cord on the exterior to adjust compression.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

The front splits into a left and right side and replicates pockets/function. Two large angled stretchable pockets hold two newly designed inov-8 ‘flat’ bottles that sit close to and under the rib cage offering easy access and importantly, no bounce!

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

They are held in place with elastic cords to eradicate the bottles falling out.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

Above these angle pockets are two large chest pockets that are ideal for storing large items OR they provide the option to house the two flat bottles in a higher position, freeing the angled pockets for storage. It comes down to personal preference.

In addition, two other smaller pockets sit on the chest section offering a place to hold mobile phone, camera, food, gels or other similar items and one pocket has an elastic cord to attach keys too.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

The product is light, open and has a unique adjustable fastening system. On both sides of the pack four straps attach the front to the rear and these are independently adjustable allowing for a perfect fit dependent on load.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

At the front, two chest straps have three ‘quick release’ fastening options (top, middle and bottom) that allow you to move straps higher or lower to ensure that you have restriction free movement.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

This is particularly important for ladies who will obviously require the option to adjust and control how straps fit in and around breasts…

Finally, the pack does come with a 2ltr bladder that sits within a temperature control sleeve and this easily slides into the rear open 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 3 liters of liquid; 2 liters in the rear and 1 liter at the front in two bottles.

IN USE

This product fits like a glove! I have yet to find anyone who has put this product and on not found it immediately comfortable. It just fits, pure and simple. The adjustably of the four side straps and two front straps does mean that it can fit pretty much any body shape.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

When running it does not move. No bounce whatsoever.

Accessibility to bottles is superb in either of the two storage places. I personally found that I liked the bottles lower, sitting under my ribcage. Depending on your body shape and size, you may prefer the bottles in the higher position? One drawback of the lower position is that your arms may rub the bottles as you move left-to-right in the running motion… not an issue I experienced. Removing bottles whilst running was easy, just pull the red cord, remove the bottle, drink, push back in and then re attach the cord over the neck of the bottle.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

Upper access pockets on the chest provided immediate access to anything I needed whilst running. I had a phone, camera, bars, gels, keys and money all at hand. Perfect.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

The rear pocket requires some thinking when packing, as it is just an open space. You push things in and keep pushing. The pack stretches and molds to the contents allowing what looks like a small space to become spacious. Pack this well and place a lightweight jacket or raincoat at the top and you can actually reach over your shoulder and remove the top item from the pack without stopping. A real bonus for the ‘racers’ amongst you. If you have fewer items in the pack, you can remove any bounce or excess room with the adjustable elastic cord.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

Poles or additional items can be added to the pack via several black nylon loops that have been added to the pack in strategic places. You may need to purchase some elastic cord and be creative with how you work this but it is a great additional way to get exactly what you personally need. For example, I added my poles across my chest allowing me the option to add and remove them at will. So much better than attaching to the rear and the complications this brings.

Unlike other vests, the Race Ultra does not get too hot. The main reason for this is the open design. Under the arms you have no fabric, just two straps on each side, therefore are flow is increased and importantly, internal heat can escape. In addition, the fabric and materials used are very light. This not only keeps the overall weight of the product down but it also does allow heat to pass through it. On your back you can’t help but have a hot spot. I have you to find a pack or vest that does not d o this, even those that have a framework that helps or reduce back contact.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

The big question is, can you fit all the required kit for a long 100-mile race such as TNFUTMB into the pack? The answer is yes, but you need to be creative and pack light/ small. Inov-8 have developed a whole new range of apparel that works in conjunction with this pack (reviews to follow) such as seamed waterproof jacket with hood, seamed waterproof over trousers, warm insulated layer, base layer, hat, gloves and so on. It would be fair to say though that for most people, with normal conventional run clothing and wet weather gear such as specified in the mandatory kit list at most long races, particularly for TNFUTMB, it would be a squeeze to get it all in. This is the only negative comment I have found in regard to this pack. But to clarify, with small, lightweight and ultimately expensive products, you can do it. It depends what is important for you and your specific needs, Remember the is called a ‘race’ product and as such, one would naturally assume that the user, male or female, will be looking to be as small and as light as possible.

inov-8 Race Ultra ©iancorless.com

Finally, taking up space on one of the quick release options on the front of the pack is a removable whistle.

CONCLUSION

I can’t tell you how many packs I have purchased over the years in the search for the ‘perfect’ pack. Just when I think I have found one, I find a reason not to be 100% convinced. I’d have to say that finally, in the inov-8 Race Ultra Vest I have found a product that ticks every box and makes me feel 100% confident in my choice and decision.

If I had one issue, it would be for longer races when high demands on mandatory kit are required. Unless you have the latest up to date smallest and lightest products, you will struggle to fit everything in this pack.

However, I can’t help but think inov-8 is already thinking about a solution for that!

Weight (pack stripped) 195g. In stores Feb.
Price £80. This includes two bottles, insulation sleeve and reservoir with insulated tube.

inov-8 website HERE news HERE

Many thanks to inov-8 for the opportunity to test and review. In addition, I would like to thank all the inov-8 athletes who made themselves available to facilitate the photo shoot. In this particular case, Brendan Davies was extremely patient while obtaining images of the Race Ultra.

Disclosure:

I attended an apparel test week in and around Chamonix at the invite of inov-8. I was supplied all products, apparel and shoes free of charge to test and review. I have used and tested all items for at least 3-months and my reviews are impartial based on the pros and cons of each specific item