Wednesday, June 4, 2014

UltrAspire Omega running pack

An overview:

- Pack volume is a little more than 8 litres
- A 2litre hydration bladder is easily accommodated in the pocket meant for the bladder
- lightweight at just over 450 grams (1 pound)

-light weight
-easily adjusted
-more than enough space for ‘stuff’ on long runs

A great pack for running or hiking. It is extremely versatile and well made. The strap system will allow this pack to fit on almost any body type.

The Review:
I have been promising a review on this pack for some time. So first, thank you for your patience. The delay in doing up a product review means I have had more time with the pack and gotten to know it fairly well. You might say it gave us time to bond! But before I go into the meat and potatoes of the review and explain all the highlights and lowlights (yes there were a few) I want to explain how this pack was added to my pack collection.

As you may recall in the Nathan VaporWrap review back in April last year I am a self-confessed backpack junkie. So it might not be surprising that I added this pack to the collection. However I blame someone else for the purchase!! Yes I was coerced, had my arm bent, compelled, pressured, urged….ok maybe it was just a friendly suggestion from a person who really know's what they were talking about and were providing me with a bit of sound advice, but I had to make my wife believe I was not solely responsible for purchasing the pack…although she did not believe me!!!!!! Anyway this zen master of pack information was Derrick Spafford of Spafford Health and Adventure who is an amazing ultra runner in his own right and along with offering coaching services also is a retailer of a number of running (and snowshoeing) product lines including the UltrAspire line. So in speaking to Derrick about the idea of running the Rideau Trail and using the Nathan pack he suggested that while the Nathan is a good single day product, the length of the Rideau Trail at 320km, and duration of a self-supported run, my plan being around 60 hours, meant that the Nathan would not carry a minimum amount of gear that would be needed for safety let alone any items to make the run a bit more comfortable…ha 320km and 60 hours of running what would be comfortable??? But Derrick’s point was very relevant and his own experiences on running the Rideau Trail as well as other long runs meant he knew what he was talking about. So out came the credit card and within 24 hours the pack was at my door.

Once the box was opened and the pack thrown on my back it was time for a short 20km run with the water bladder filled and a couple of short sleeved shirts thrown in the main compartment to help fill up the space. My first impression was how light the pack felt even with 2 litres of water on my back and another water bottle on the shoulder strap. UltrAspire claims on their web site that the pack is “Feather weight, large capacity pack” and at around 450 grams it is certainly light. But don’t think light is synonymous with cheap or fragile. The material on this pack is very strong nylon and will take a lot of abuse before showing any signs of failure. The other surprising item of note is how easy the pack is to adjust while out on a run. I have experienced many packs that take a bit of time to fit properly. The UltrAspire Omega, on the other hand was easily adjusted on the initial run early on which also meant that putting on a jacket or removing a layer would not result in long periods of re-adjustment by trial and error to get a good fit. Why more pack designers don’t do this I will never know.

Anyway, a number of subsequent runs occurred with the pack and the more I used it the
more I knew Derrick’s suggestion was spot on. The UltrAspire pack is not without its little faults which I think would be appropriate to highlight now. The first is that the Omega is not great pack empty. Maybe it was just me (and in speaking with Derek it seems that he has not experienced the problem so I might consider this as a personal issue and not something inherent with the packs design) but I found the pack likes to be loaded and takes on a bucking bronco persona without any weight. Even a run with full bladder may start out ok but as you drink the water or sports drink the pack begins to bounce. To be fair it was never a significant issue and never resulted in chaffing or discomfort so it may have been more a mental annoyance than anything else. The second nagging issue, and I raised this with the Nathan review as well, is why do companies have running packs with a bottle holder on the shoulder strap and don’t supply the darn water bottle? Again more of a minor annoyance than anything that should stop you from owning the product.

What I liked about the UltrAspire pack is more than would be appropriate to cover in a review blog since most things are subjective so what works for me might not work for you but I think the three big pluses make this pack a clear winner. My first highlight of the Omega is the adjustment. Again looking at the Nathan review, that pack is severely limited by the shoulder strap design and inability for adjusting. The UltrAspire Omega is equally secure when properly adjusted with the added very important benefit that you can add layers or remove layers and still have the pack fit perfectly. Another highlight of the pack is the storage capacity. UltrAspire on their web site does not indicate the capacity of the pack but some other reviews on the web indicate it is around 8 litres. This is a perfect size for most uses and would even be a great pack for someone looking for something that can double as a day pack around town where you might want to carry a jacket, camera and food, or for the runner looking at carrying a bit more than just some water and their id. I used this pack for most of my runs home from work where I carry a number of items including a blackberry, keys, work id, spare t-shirt, rain jacket, iPod and the odd time my kobo electronic reader. All these items along with the bladder fit securely and comfortably in the pack with plenty of space for a few more items if needed. Finally the single water bottle holder, ‘Magnon Electrolyte Pocket’ and front zippered pocked add important easily accessible pockets on the shoulder straps.

So my final verdict is if you are looking for a lightweight, high quality, multi-purpose hydration pack for running (snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, cycling, fast hiking, looking overly cool on urban adventures) then you really need to consider the UltrAspire Omega. If you are looking for a first running pack I would certainly recommend the UltrAspire Omega over the Nathan VaporWrap. The Omega will give you a larger range of practical uses and even if you find running with a pack is not really your thing the Omega will still be usable for other outdoor pursuits. The Nathan is a bit more focused and thus would have less value for other uses should it not be used for running. So if you are looking at purchasing the UltrAspire Omega or one of UltrAsire’s other hydration products check out Spafford Health and Adventure or one of the many UltrAspire retailers.