inov-8 RACE ELITE 24 pack review

1-Race_Elite_24-845x1024inov-8 continue to push the boundaries and after the successful launch of the original Race Ultra Vest (3L) and the recent launch of two larger capacity and re-designed RACE ULTRA VESTS vets; 5L and 10L, the UK innovators have introduced the RACE ELITE 24.

Grounded in the fells of the UK, inov-8 has long provided mountain marathon runners with the perfect footwear to tackle mud, rock, bog and scree. The addition of very specific race apparel and packs have afforded the discerning runner with a one-stop shop for all that is required to race (not sleeping bags or tents). inov-8 packs have been popular in mountain marathon, fast packing and overnight adventures for some time. However, the introduction of the new RACE ELITE 24 is almost certainly going to turn a few heads.

FIRST LOOKS

If you look at the pack from the rear, it is at first glance a very simple design. Almost duffle bag like in shape, the pack is a long black tube with a two-way zip that splits the pack in two. Adorned with adjustable bungee that moves from the outer edge to the middle in a zigzag shape. The bungee passes at the bottom of the pack and mirrors the opposite side. The two elastics then meet in the middle of the pack at the top (above the zip) and here you pull the elastic tight to compress the pack and remove any excess space and/ or fabric. As you look at the pack from the rear, attachments are available on the left for running poles but most importantly, this pack is ice axe friendly! I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked when doing a pack review, ‘can it hold an ice axe?’ Ice axe compatibility may well make the RACE ELITE 24 the new ‘go to’ pack for those who like to travel fast and light in the mountains without compromising on carrying capacity.

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The front of the pack is the revelation!

inov-8 have taken the ‘vest’ from the Race Ultra Vest and added it to the RACE ELITE 24 potentially making it one of the most form fitting and comfortable 20+L packs on the market. Pretty much all brands now incorporate a vest or vest like system when designing new packs. Why? Well, it works, pure and simple. The design is more comfortable, it distributes the weight of the packs contents and it adds additional storage.

IN USE

Joe Grant running with RACE ELITE 24 ©inov8

Joe Grant running with RACE ELITE 24 ©inov8

The main compartment of the pack is split down the middle with a zip that has two zipper pulls. When open, you have a wide-open space to add contents. The pack has no dividers, pockets or clutter. So, add your kit, zip it up and off you go. This design is particularly good as it provides immediate access to all contents. It’s possible to divide contents in waterproof dry bags or plastic bags and therefore ease of use is a real plus. If you are using the pack with less contents, then all the weight will go to the bottom of the pack. Excess fabric and space can be removed by tightening the adjustable bungee. The pack is long and for me, this may well be a stumbling block for some users. This has nothing to do with a person’s height but torso length. If you have a short torso, the RACE ELITE 24 may well be too long for you? I understand why inov-8 has made the pack the length it is. If you are doing a mountain marathon, you will be carrying a tent and therefore the tent poles will need to fit inside. I guess it may be possible to attach poles to the outer but in my opinion it wouldn’t be ideal.

The front of the pack as mentioned has the vest fitting system with an upper and lower chest strap to retain the pack in place. There are also upper and lower side straps that provide fine tune adjustment so that you can have the pack as tight or as loose as you require against your torso. This system is particularly useful, as it will allow you to wear additional layers and still have the pack fitting. A whistle is provided and the left side mirrors the right with an upper larger stretch pocket, a smaller stretch pocket and then a large zipped pocket. The large zipped pocket will take inov-8 500ml soft flasks with extended straws so that you can drink without having to remove the bottles. The straws fit through an upper and lower elastic loop on either side of the pack.

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

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

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.

The front fastening system has also changed from the original. This pack no longer uses the small quick release system that some found fiddly on the previous vest. Now it has 2-fixed straps, upper and lower and both use the classic male/ female quick release fastening system that is much easier to open and close should you be wearing gloves.

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. However, you can hold an ice axe on the rear of the pack and as mentioned previously, this will be a huge plus for many!

I personally would like inov-8 to design a front pack that could be added as an optional extra. Front packs are a little like Marmite; some love them, some hate them! For me a front pack can often balance the weight of the rear and provide some equilibrium. It also means that you have additional on hand storage for essential items. Looking at the bigger picture, with some tweaks in the design, the RACE ELITE 24 may well be a great pack for multi-day self-sufficient races such as Marathon des Sables.

inov-8 athlete Joe Grant has been using the RACE ELITE 24 during the winter and recently said,

‘I started testing the Race Elite 24 pack last winter, mainly for running and some winter climbing. For these activities, I needed a pack that would be runnable, stable and light, but still able to hold a decent amount of gear.’

 

‘Again, the vest system worked really well at keeping the load stable and allowing me to run on sections of trail that I’d typically have to hike with a conventional style pack. I’d carry a camera, water and food up front for quick access.’

Conclusion

If you are racing long distances, heading to the mountains, fast packing or racing a mountain marathon, the RACE ELITE 24 is without doubt worth checking out. The pack really embraces fast and light with minimal clutter. If you are looking for bells, whistles and multiple pockets in the main compartment, then this pack is not for you. If you like a pack that can hold plenty of kit: clothes, jacket, waterproof trousers, sleeping bag, tent, cooking equipment and food in a space that is easy accessed. Then the RACE ELITE 24 is for you.

The vest fitting system is a revelation for a pack of this size. The multiple pockets provide storage and access for on the go items such as food, gels, camera, phone and the two 500ml soft flasks provide easy on the go hydration.

Recommended!

Pros:

  • Simple design.
  • Very light.
  • Vest fitting.
  • Adjustable bungee.
  • Easy access to main compartment.
  • Soft flasks with straws.
  • Ice axe compatible.

Cons:

  • May be too long for some?
  • Only capacity for 1L of water unless you add a bladder to main compartment.
  • Main compartment has no structure, which may be an issue for some?

Product weight 330g

Price TBC

Availability TBC

Check out inov-8 HERE

inov-8 logo

SALOMON S-LAB SENSE ULTRA SET and SALOMON S-LAB SENSE SET

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A new year and new products! Nothing is more eagerly awaited than a new offering from Salomon and today I take a look at two new race vests from the French brand, the S-LAB SENSE ULTRA SET and the S-LAB SENSE SET.

Race vests have become the norm in racing now and it’s east to see why. When the product works (and some don’t) they fit like a piece of clothing, they don’t move, they cause no chaffing and they provide easy and immediate access to everything you need while still pushing the pace. I honestly don’t know who first came up with the ‘vest’ concept, what I do know is I always remember Kilian Jornet finishing and winning UTMB and holding his vest above his head!

Salomon vests and the S-LAB ADV SKIN HYDRO 12 SET can be seen in long distance races all over the world. Tweaked from one model to the next and the current incarnation has moved away from using a bladder to front mounted soft flasks. With a huge capacity, it’s often considered as one of the most ideal packs to hold all mandatory kit for a long distance race. The pack is lighter and utilises all the key features that one needs including that snug form fitting hold on the body. However, 12L capacity is not needed for shorter and faster races.

Enter the S-LAB SENSE ULTRA SET and the S-LAB SENSE SET.

It’s unusual in a review that I would review two packs at once, however, these two packs are so similar that a separate review is not necessary. So, I am reviewing the SENSE ULTRA SET and I will note comments and changes as appropriate for the SENSE SET.

So what is the difference? Simple: weight and capacity. The SENSE ULTRA SET has a 3L capacity and weighs a  110g. The SENSE SET has a capacity of 1L and weighs 90g. I am pleased to say that my two test packs are different colours, the 3L is black and the 1L is red. That’s going to make things easier.

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Both packs are identical at the front and differ at the back. This is where capacity is removed or added, so, let’s look at the front first.

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This is a really sweet pack! The layout is great, comfort is awesome and the capacity is ideal for any run when mandatory kit is minimal.

Key features:

Two 500ml soft flasks in two stretch pockets.

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Two dump pockets (open ended but elasticated at the top) at the bottom of the soft flasks

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Two zipper pockets (on each side) with large capacity made from a stretch fabric.

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Open ended stretch pocket on the left shoulder strap above the bottle.

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Zipper pocket on the right shoulder strap above the bottle.

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Adjustable fitting system (left to right) with three upper and lower settings.

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Whistle.

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In Use

I have the M/L fit and it’s quite simply the most comfortable pack I have ever worn. The pack hugs the body, it does not rub and importantly under the armpits and around the neck area the cut is wide to avoid any nasty rubbing.

The soft flasks sit on the chest and do not bounce. You can drink from the bottles without removing them when required, however, I haven’t been able to do that running. I need to stop, lean over, bite the bottle, take a drink and then push on…  Soft flasks and tight fitting stretch pockets make for a tricky combination. The soft flasks and the way they fit on the body are perfect, but trying to add a full bottle back to the pocket can be tricky. With practice it does get easier and a tip is to blow back into the bottle once you have taken a drink. This inflates the bottle and makes it more rigid. I personally have always preferred bottles over bladders and soft flasks and Salomon’s positioning make this combination the best I have tested.

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The upper zipper pocket will fit a phone or a gps device. I personally use and old style waterproof phone when racing and that fits perfectly. However, on training runs I have taken an iPhone 5 in a waterproof casing. So, capacity is ideal. The pocket is tight and stretchy and therefore whatever you put in is held tight with no bounce, another plus!

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On the opposite side the open ended stretch pocket is also large enough to hold a phone but is ideally suited for maybe food items or a music player.

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The two open ended dump pockets on either side of the pack below the bottles are large enough to hold multiple gels and bars and/ or items such as gloves, hat, buff or anything similar. To give you an idea of capacity, I could fit a beanie and gloves in one side and four/ five gels or bars on the other side. Ultimately it means you have plenty of room for energy when racing. Access is dead easy. Just put your hand in and pull the items out.

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The two zipper pockets are the secret weapon on both packs. I am amazed at how spacious these pockets are. Depending on the race you are doing and also dependant on your own personal preferences; the zipper pockets will actually hold a taped seam waterproof jacket in one side and taped seam waterproof trousers in the other side!

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Salomon provided me the  S-LAB HYBRID JACKET and S-LAB HYBRID PANTS (both medium) to test (review to follow later) and these items folded up and fitted in both packs perfectly.

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Considering the SENSE SET pack is only 1L capacity, this is remarkable. Lets just look at the facts, you can fit in:

  • Jacket
  • Trousers
  • Phone
  • 1L of fluid
  • 4-10 bars or gels
  • Hat and gloves
  • and then other extras such as Mp3, space blanket or other small items.

The SENSE ULTRA SET adds extra capacity at the rear in the form of two pockets. The SENSE SET is just a highly breathable and lightweight pack with no extras.

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A ‘kangaroo pocket’ on the on the lower third of the rear of the pack provides an easy access open ended pocket that can be added to or taken from whilst moving. The pocket is quite small and would take a windproof jacket or food items.

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The mesh back panel is actually two layers and makes an open ended deep pocket that can actually be accessed without removing the pack. It’s surprisingly roomy and should you decide not to add a jacket and trousers to the zipper pockets, this pocket can hold both items. Yes, it’s that roomy!

When running, it was easy to reach over, place my hand in the pocket and pull out my jacket. Of course, it was easier to do this if I stopped BUT this vest is very much designed about moving fast and light. It’s a performance product and as such, should you have the need to be quick… this product will allow you that comfort!

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I have reviewed many products and last year I reviewed the stripped down inov-8 race vest (review here). This for me was a great product. I loved the feel of it, I loved the capacity and I loved its usability when running. For me though, Salomon have upped the game with the SENSE ULTRA SET and the SENSE SET and produced two sublime products that are a joy to wear and use.

Considering the minimal differences between the two vests, I would almost certainly recommend that the SENSE ULTRA SET is the ideal purchase. From Salomon’s perspective, it almost feels an indulgence to have a 1L and 3L version. The added cost and added capacity of the 3L makes far more long term sense for me and lets face it, if you are running really long races, you will probably have the 12L product (or similar) anyway.

On a final note, I am seriously impressed with the capacity of both packs. The SENSE SET at 1L holds a ridiculous amount of kit for something so minimal that I question if 1L capacity is correct? The SENSE ULTRA SET wouldn’t hold all the required items for a race like UTMB but it wouldn’t come far off if you were keeping items to a minimum. That said, the SENSE ULTRA SET makes a perfect and ideal pack for racing any distance (even 100-miles) when all you need is some liquid, food, jacket, trousers, hat, gloves, space blanket, phone and a few other small items. It’s arguably the perfect pack!

Pros:

  1. Soft flasks are a dream
  2. Capacity on the front of both packs is incredible
  3. Zipper pocket is great for valuable items
  4. Open ended dump pockets great for items that you need all the time – food, hat, gloves and so on.
  5. Zipper pockets have amazing capacity
  6. You could wear the products against your skin
  7. On the SENSE ULTRA SET the rear capacity is superb and a real eye opener
  8. Weight is amazing
  9. Price is good £100 for SENSE ULTRA SET and £85 for SENSE SET

Cons:

  1. Soft flasks can be tricky to get back in the open ended pockets
  2. I am not sure how the pack would fit for lady users. The bottles would potentially sit in just the wrong place?
  3. The ‘kangaroo’ pocket on the SENSE ULTRA SET is small
  4. These are lightweight products and durability ‘may’ be an issue?

Conclusion:

I love these two packs. They actually make wearing a pack a pleasure rather than a chore and that is a real bonus. Capacity is quite mind blowing in both products and the SENSE ULTRA SET makes the most logical purchase choice as it provides more usage options. I actually found it difficult to come up with ‘cons’ for these packs they are that good!

Check out Salomon HERE

 

Salomon LogoSALOMON S-LAB SENSE ULTRA SET

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Ultra-lightweight running pack designed by Salomon Athletes. The Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra Set weighs in at 110g and is designed to carry the bare essentials in absolute comfort with a 3L capacity.

  • Motion fit trail
  • Sensifit
  • Soft twin link
  • 2 zippered pockets
  • 1 chest pocket
  • 2 soft flask
  • Zipper phone pocket
  • 2 stretch pockets
  • Back compartment
  • Kangaroo pocket
  • soft rim
  • Reflective
  • Whistle

SALOMON S-LAB SENSE SET

©iancorless.com_Salomon-7759

Ultra-lightweight running pack designed by Salomon Athletes. The Salomon S-LAB Sense Set weighs in at under 100g and is designed to carry 1L of the absolute bare essentials.

 

  • Motion fit trail
  • Sensifit
  • Soft twin link
  • 2 zippered pockets
  • 1 chest pocket
  • 2 soft flask
  • Zipper phone pocket
  • 2 stretch pockets
  • soft rim
  • Reflective
  • Whistle

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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The North Face FL Race Vest

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The North Face FL Race Vest is a race vest that has been well over 12-months in the making. I first had a look at this pack in November 2012. It was a prototype that had been created in preparation for Jez Bragg‘s epic run on the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand.

FL prototype 2012

FL prototype 2012

FL prototype 2012

FL prototype 2012

You will see the above images are a more minimalist version of the current FL Race Vest, however, lessons were learnt from the prototype and with feedback from Jez Bragg and Lizzy Hawker, the current model has been developed and tweaked with the TNFUTMB and similar long distance races primarily in mind.

I picked up my current vest just days before the 2013 edition of the TNFUTMB and it was reassuring to see that my vest was exactly the same as the ones being used by Rory Bosio, Jez Bragg and the rest of the TNF team.

Rory Bosio wearing the FL Race Vest after dominating the 2013 TNFUTMB.

Rory Bosio wearing the FL Race Vest after dominating the 2013 TNFUTMB.

Race vests have become the ‘norm’ in regard to race packs. All the leading brands are developing new systems, new sizes and new designs in the quest for the ultimate product. Certainly, Salomon have very much paved the way recently with S-Lab 5lt and 12ltr. In addition, my recent review of the inov-8 Race Ultra Vest had me 99% convinced that in my opinion, this new product by the UK brand was currently the ‘best’ available of its type.

The North Face FL Race Vest sits between the inov-8 Race Ultra and Salomon S-Lab products. Although the inov-8 product is supremely comfortable and perfectly designed, it may just not be big enough for a tough or long race when mandatory kit will stress a packs capacity. By contrast, the Salomon S-Lab 12ltr has been designed with long racing in mind and offers an excellent form fitting pack that many swear by. At 8ltr capacity, the FL Race Vest sits nicely in the middle ground and actually may very well be the perfect size for a mountain 100-mile race like TNFUTMB or similar.

Like all current vests, the FL comes with a bladder that sits inside a mesh pocket within the main compartment of the pack. However, if you are like me, you may very well prefer bottles or soft flasks? The front of the FL has two upper drawstring pockets that can accommodate bottles/small soft flasks or other items. I initially tried two 500ml bottles but found the ‘balance’ all wrong. When running they would feel far too close to my face and noticeable bounce from the weight was annoying. However, replacing the bottles with two smaller soft flasks that could accommodate 250ml each, this irradiated bounce and made the whole system not only infinitely more comfortable but also more practical.

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On the outside of the upper pockets are small stretchy mesh pockets that would hold gels or similar products.

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The lower part of the front vest has two Velcro closure pockets that may be useful in holding valuable items such as phone, keys, gps, camera and so on. Equally, you could add any food products for easy access on the go.

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Behind the Velcro pockets are two larger mesh stretch pockets. They are capacious and ideal for gloves, hat or buff type products. In actual fact, they are so spacious you can add soft flasks to increase liquid capacity.

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The rear of the pack has an upper zipper pocket that can hold a phone, keys, camera or any other item of value .

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Directly below the upper zip pocket is a capacious stretchy open pocket that can be accessed from the top or the left/ right side. This pocket has been designed so that you may add or remove essential items while still moving… gloves, hat or jacket!

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Two smaller zipper products have been added to the left and right hand sides of the larger rear mesh pocket. These pockets may also be accessed without removing the pack. They are small but ideal for money, keys or similar sized items.

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On the upper right hand side of the rear of the pack, is a blue bungee cord designed to hold ‘poles’ when not in use. Equally, at the bottom of pack on the rear is another blue bungee to hold the opposite end of the poles.

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A key feature of the pack is the adjustability on the side and the front. Underneath the arms are two independent straps that may be lengthened or shortened to get just the correct fit.

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On the front are two adjustable straps that have quick release buckles. The straps may be moved up and down independently to get the correct fit based on your morphology.

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A key point, particularly for ladies, above the pockets on the front are soft panels that stretch and adjust dependent on the size of your boobs/chest. When testing the pack, we ensured that we cross referenced everything with a female perspective. The feedback? ‘The best and most comfortable pack I have used for the female form’.

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One of the key elements of the pack is the inside of the main compartment. Instead of one large space, it has been compartmentalized to provide storage space for specific items. Of course, this is open to personal taste but as you will see fromm the photographs, this is a great help for a long race when one needs to carry a jacket, over trousers, space blanket, elastic bandages, cup and so on.

The zipper for the main compartment is full size, allowing the pack to be opened completely. This makes access very easy. On the back panel is a large mesh pocket that would hold the ‘bladder’ if this was your chosen method of hydration. I personally use this for space blanket, elastic bandages, cup, first aid and other mandatory items.

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The other side has a larger mesh pocket that is open ended, I add my hat and over trousers here and above is an internal zipper pocket.

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The open space between the front panel and back panel is roomy and ideal for a bulkier item such as a fully waterproof jacket.

This FL has been thought out to minute detail. It has perfect storage space built around the needs and desires of a long race when mandatory kit is required. It has also been designed to make access easy and stress free. The added combination of ‘on the go’ access to key areas of the pack while running makes this a serious and top contender for those looking for a fast, light and responsive pack that will allow the user to run stress free.

IN USE and TESTING

The FL has been on many runs and tested over the last 4-5months. On faster sessions of up to 90-mins and long days in the mountains, this pack holds firm against the body and is a pleasure to wear.

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I had no issues on it’s storage capacity. I could fit all my required kit in the pack and it still retained its form and comfort, even when fully loaded.

If I added the bladder to the rear compartment, this certainly did eat into storage space and one had to be a little more creative with packing.

As mentioned previously, I would always prefer to use bottles to a bladder and this may very well be the stumbling block with the FL. Two 250ml soft flasks are not adequate liquid capacity for any long run in the mountains, even when feed stations are on the route. Adding additional soft flasks in the lower stretch pockets on the front of the pack is possible but it feels like a compromise. I did add 500ml flat bottles to these pockets for one run and I thought I had found a solution. However, after an hour my ribs started to hurt with the pressure placed on them. I never did find a full solution for the problem other than, if I was out for a longer time, I used the bladder! Of course this worked and it worked admirably. So, this is very much a personal comment. If you like bladders, this will not be an issue for you.

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Running with the pack is a dream. It fits close to the body and does not move or bounce. Access while ‘on the go’ is excellent and you can certainly get food, gels, gloves, hat and even a jacket without stopping if you pack with those objectives in mind.

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The side adjustable straps offer on the go adjustment and unlike some other vests that are one size, with the FL if you add or remove layers, you can adjust pack tension while on the go to ensure you maintain a comfortable fit.

The front of the pack with two adjustable straps allows for customised tensioning and as mentioned, the upper stretchy mesh panels will be popular with lady users!

CONCLUSION

The FL is a great pack. It addresses many of the problems we all have when mandatory kit is required. The pockets, internal and external allow you to customise the pack for your own personal needs ensuring that you have stress free training and race days. At 8ltrs, the FL is not ‘too’ big that you can’t use it in training but more importantly, it is not too small that you can’t use it for racing. Certainly, if you only wanted to purchase one pack, this may very well be the ideal purchase.

In use it is extremely comfortable and the ‘open sides’ allow increased airflow providing a more breathable and cooler running experience, certainly in comparison to the Salomon S-Lab.

Verdict? – Very highly recommended.

  • Cost – £85 tbc
  • Availability – Feb 2014
  • The North Face HERE

The female perspective… by Niandi Carmont

Niandi is South African born, a former resident of Paris, she now lives in the UK. A runner for over 20-years; Niandi has completed Comrades Marathon 13-times, Washie 100 2-times and has finished well over 100 marathons and ultras  all over the world. Currently residing in the UK, Niandi splits her work life between the UK and France.

Niandi

 

The North Face FL Race Vest

This was my first test run with a race vest. Although no stranger to trials of varying distances ranging from 22km to 160km, I had never found a race vest to my satisfaction and had always resorted to the “safer” choice of race pack. The reasons for this choice are multiple, but basically:

  • Uncomfortable fit and inadaptability to the female morphology
  • Lack of breathability
  • Chafing which can also be linked to female specificity
  • Hydration strategy limited to bladder

In contrast the The North Face FL Race Vest addressed all the above issues:

  • Comfortable fit and perfect adaptability to the female morphology.
  • Very lightweight, breathable mesh back panel and front vest, covering very little surface area but offering maximum storage capacity.
  • No bounce, no uncomfortable rubbing or pull from the straps.
  • The upper front pockets can be used to carry 2 small 250ml bottles with either water or energy drink in addition to a TNF 2L bladder in the back for longer self-sufficiency races. Personally, I find this ideal as I can fill up the bottles on the go at the feed-stations and know exactly how much I am consuming. The bladder can be used in addition to the bottles as a safety measure for races which require more autonomy.

So when I tried the FL Race Vest in my training run I was pleasantly surprised to find I actually forgot I had it on. It wasn’t even a question of getting used to the vest. I instantly felt at ease in it. The front vest fitted perfectly over my chest – a sort of stretchy material which meant it never felt too loose and never to tight allowing the diaphragm to expand naturally and not causing any chafing issues.

The 8L back pack has a storage capacity suitable for any trail distance between 30km and 160km. There is absolutely no bounce – it sits comfortably in the middle of your back – no sagging to the waistline or bouncing from side-to-side. Two sets of independent straps underneath the arms and 2 sets of buckles/ straps on the front allow you to adjust the vest to fit perfectly. No unnecessary and complicated irritating, dangling straps you find on so many back-packs.

Another bonus is that the vest and pack covers very little surface area thus ensuring better breathability and less over-heating and chafing should you be a heavy sweater.

Hydration-wise as mentioned above the race vest is multi-purpose and depending on the length of the event and frequency of the feed-stations, you can carry bottles in the upper front pockets and/or bladder.

Speed is less of an issue for me but for runners wishing to waste as little time as possible, reaching around for a rain jacket, gloves, hat, head-lamp, Kleenex, energy bars; there are two lower zipped pockets on the vest and behind each of these two mesh pockets. I like this not only because it’s a time saver on technical terrain. In the dark it is also a stress-free option – nothing worse than groping behind you to get hold of a bar when your body is tired and aching all over or you are slipping around on a rocky, muddy descent in the dark. And it saves begging the runner behind to pull out a bar (or tampon) for you!

The back pack is equipped with a small zipped upper pocket – great for mobile phone and a lower mesh pocket for a jacket or over-trousers.

Inside is the bladder compartment, which can also be used for carrying race kit should you prefer, a central compartment and another pocket – so great for compartmentalizing!

Finally, my last pre-requisite – upper and lower draw strings to attach poles diagonally when not in use and the compulsory whistle on the front, should your navigation skills be as poor as mine!

Conclusion

I want it for my next 55km self-sufficiency event at night AND AT £85 it’s a bargain!

Ultimate Direction, Ultra Vesta by Jenny Jurek – new ladies products

Ultra Vesta ©ultimatedirection

Ultra Vesta ©ultimatedirection

Designed by Jenny Jurek with help from the Women’s Collective, the Ultra Vesta is ergonomically shaped to fit perfectly and perform flawlessly. The plan was to select the best features from all the Signature Series vests, combine them into one great product, then re-design the shape to specifically fit women.

Jenny Jurek in the English Lakes, 2013

Jenny Jurek in the English Lakes, 2013

The result is front strap-mounted holsters that offer quick, immediate access to twin 10 ounce water bottles, which are concave against the body, are positioned higher on the chest, and can be folded flat when not in use. The larger volume pockets located low in the front keep your phone, camera, salt tablets, or gels within easy reach while on the move. The main compartment will accommodate a 2L bladder and plenty of gear, and there is an additional horizontal pocket in the rear for quick organization of special items. External and internal bungee cords stabilize the load while the two sternum straps and side adjustment straps give you a customized fit and eliminate bouncing. Moisture-wicking Air Mesh keeps you dry, provides support, and is soft to the touch for all-day comfort. Also included are an ice axe loop, two trekking pole loops, and reflective accents for low-light visibility.

Ultra Vesta Front ©ultimatedirection

Ultra Vesta Front ©ultimatedirection

Ultra Vesta Rear ©ultimatedirection

Ultra Vesta Rear ©ultimatedirection

Specs and Details:

Features (Front):

  • Two 10 oz. bottles are ergonomically positioned
  • Bottle pockets fold flat when not in use or accommodates a camera or phone
  • Large storage pockets are located below the bottles for phone, gels, ect.
  • Two sternum straps slide for custom fit
  • Cool Wick Air Mesh wicks away moisture and is soft to the touch
Features (Back):
 
  • Side adjustment straps allow for customized fit
  • Two vertical zippered pockets in the rear, plus a third horizontal pocket offers ample storage
  • Easily accommodates a 2 liter reservoir or any bottle
  • Ice axe (1) and trekking pole loops (2)
  • External and internal bungee cords stabilize varying capacities
  • Reflective accents for easy visability
Sizing At Chest (Women’s):
 
  • XS/SM: 26 – 38 in. / 66 – 97 cm
  • M/L: 32 – 41 in. / 81 – 104 cm
  • Measure wearing the clothes you intend to wear
  • A vest full of gear will fit smaller

Specs:

  • Volume Capacity: 245 in/ 4L
  • Fluid Capacity: 2 x 10 oz. bottles / 2 x 295 mL
  • Weight: 9 oz. (11 oz. with bottles) / 255 g (312 g with bottles)
  • Height: 11.75 in. / 30 cm
  • Width: 8 in. / 20 cm
  • Depth: 2.5 in. / 6 cm

Materials/Design:

  • Cool Wick Air Mesh: Wicking mesh is lightweight and breathable for optimal ventilation and moisture management
  • 150D Rip Stop: Lightweight fabric provides durability and protection
  • Power Stretch Mesh: Provides versatility with a supportive stretch material that expands for variable capacity

All content ©ultimatedirection – Review to follow

Website HERE

UltrAspire SPRY race pack

Every now and again you get a product to test that ticks all the right boxes and you say to yourself “no way are you being sent back!”

This has just happened with the UltrAspire SPRY race pack. A really awesome solution for being minimal on your runs but not skimping on the essentials. You can read the review here