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: 

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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!

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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.