Having used the lightweight inov-8 Race Elite Vest for quite a few trail-running races in the past, I was really pleased to get my hands on a new Race Ultra 10 BOA recently.
The Race Ultra has a lot more capacity than the Elite Vest (10l), making it better suited to occasions where you need to carry a substantial amount of spare kit, food and drinks. My training is focused on the OtillO Scilly Isles race in June, so I haven’t had any long distance races to test it in yet, so I decided to just load it up with the kind of kit I would normally carry for a full day out and use it on some of my longer training runs to see how it felt.
The pack has one main carrying compartment (accessed through the top zip), in which you can very easily hold a lightweight set of waterproofs, a hat, gloves, maps and other essentials. It also has the volume to cope with things like a lightweight insulated jacket and plenty of food. There are zip pockets on the front that can take either soft gel flasks for fluids, or gels/bars and snacks that you can access on the go. There’s a bungee system on the back for holding hiking poles and stuffing with loose clothing and a compartment that you can also fling things you might want to access on the move, like your hat or gloves, without the need to take it off your back.
Hydration-wise, there’s a 2 litre horizontal bladder held in a compartment in the pack (through separate zip, to keep everything in its place) and the wide bore, insulated tubing can be neatly routed over either shoulder, in case you have a preference. The ‘BOA’ bit of the name refers to the click wheel tightening system that hugs the bladder and allows you to tighten it up as you consume the liquid, to prevent it sloshing around as you move. This does a good job of making everything feel stable and allowing you to fine tune the tension.
The fit of the pack is such that it rides quite high on your back and therefore it doesn’t require a waist strap. I found this very comfortable and it helped minimise any bounce. Even though the 2 chest straps look very thin, they don’t chafe or dig in because the shoulder sections are nice and wide and flat. The whole thing moulds to your body quite nicely, and whilst you’re never going to forget that you’re wearing a 10l pack, this bag makes the experience as unobtrusive as possible.
Some might argue that the zip for the main compartment could’ve been wider to allow you to rummage around inside for small items more easily. In some situations more storage capacity on the front of the pack would also come in handy, but of course, that’d also add weight and complexity, so it’s a trade-off. Finding faults with the pack feels like a bit of a nit picking exercise though, as it’s an extremely competent product that does what it sets out to do very well indeed.
It’s available in 2 sizes (S/M and M/L) and I tested the M/L. I’m about 176cm (5’9”) tall and weigh 70kg (11 stone) with a 38” chest. Though the pack’s fit was basically fine, I did feel like I was cranking the straps up really quite tight when it was less full, so might have actually been better off with the S/M in hindsight. I certainly think anyone smaller than me would benefit from going that way.
As is always the case with inov-8 products, the materials used, manufacturing quality and style are all very high quality. Ok so it's definitely not a ‘cheap’ product at £120 RRP, but is certainly competitive with other high-end packs and feels like it will last and go the distance which, at the end of the day, is the most important thing.
In terms of an overall rating, it gets a hard to fault 4.5 out of 5 stars from me and I’d definitely recommend it for any trail running or hiking situations where you need to carry more kit than a simple waist pack or race vest allows, but where a full on ruck sack is too much.