Tuesday, 27 June 2017 09:10

Camelbak Ultra Pro Vest and Quick Stow Soft Flasks Tested and Reviewed Featured

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The Camelback Ultra Pro Vest is Salomon's latest minimalist offer, offering a litre of liquid storage with a total of 5 pockets for essentials.

Designed for medium to long-distance runs it's aminimalist pack but still has the capacity to carry a decent stock of bars and gels alongside the two, half-litre, hydration bottles.

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What the manufacturers say:

Ultra-light materials and a streamlined design make this vest ideal for long-distance training and elite-level racing. Available in multiple sizes and equipped with two Quick Stow™ flasks, the Ultra Pro vest puts comfort above all else. The vest is made with 3D vent mesh—an ultralight material that guarantees maximum airflow on sweaty runs. It also offers plenty of front storage pockets for easy access to fuel, water or salt tabs, along with a secure zippered pocket that fits most smartphones. The back features several stretch pockets that can store extra layers on cold days, but also accommodates an additional reservoir for longer self-supported runs. We’ve also added reflective accents throughout, so you’ll always be visible on early morning or late-night expeditions.

Camelback Ultra Pro Vest on Test:

When it comes to running gear, packs are a personal favourite of mine and over the years I have tried many, in a vain attempt to find the perfect one. Back in my mountain biking days, a Camelbak was always my pack of choice, and when I heard they were getting into the running vest market I was excited to try one out.

First impressions on opening the parcel from Camelbak were good. Inside was their new Ultra Pro Vest, aimed at those wanting a lightweight vest, able to carry the majority of kit you require in most ultra or trail races.

Before we get into my thoughts though, here is what Camelbak highlight as the key features of the Ultra Pro Vest:

Key features

- Two 500ml Quick Stow flasks that are lightweight, collapsible and feature a classic one-piece silicone bite valve for rapid hydration on race day. Packs down easily once it’s empty

- 3D Ventilated mesh offers multi-directional air flow and cushioning to maximise comfort and breathability

- Secure phone pocket conveniently located for quick access and includes a zipper closure for added security

- Dual adjustable sternum straps increases stability and offer a range of adjustments for customisation

- Stretch overflow pocket offers easy access to toss in a rain shell or stash extra gear

- Harness storage for all your run essentials offers organisation for fuel and gear (approximately 3.5 litres capacity), including specially designed Quick Stow flask pockets

- Reflectivity on front and back for early morning or evening runs

- Three sizes available based on chest measurement. This includes small (71 - 86 cm / 28 - 34 inches), medium (81 - 101 cm / 32 - 40 inches) or large (91 - 121 cm / 38 - 46 inches)

First impressions

The first thing I noticed about the vest was how light and stretchy it was, reminding me a lot of the Salomon vests and one of the key features I like about their line up. The vest I had been sent was a size large and with a 100cm chest this fitted me perfectly, with plenty of room to expand should I wish to wear additional layers underneath it.

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On the front of the vest are five pockets, two towards the bottom of the chest harness for stowing the two Quick Stow soft flasks, which are not included with the vest. More on these later.

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Above these pockets there is a single zipped pocket on the left shoulder, which Camelbak state could be used for your mobile phone. On the right hand shoulder are two smaller pockets, which could be used for small nutritional items, salt tablets etc. A whistle is also included, which is securely held in place, a nice touch, avoiding the bouncing you sometimes get on other vests.

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On each side, under your arms, there are two medium sized mesh pockets, which stretch to allow you to stuff a variety of things into them. These are open at the top, which concerned me initially as I was worried items may bounce out while running.

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Around the back you have two larger pockets. The first sits down the middle of your back with a flap over the top and is ideal for those mandatory items of kit you don't expect to need immediately to hand. If you're flexible you can reach over your shoulders and into the top of this pocket but in reality you would need to take the vest off to gain full access to this pocket.

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If hydration bladders are your thing, you could also easily place one into this pocket, with holes to route the tube out over the left or right shoulder as you prefer. It should be noted that if you do this, there would be little room for anything thing else in this pocket once the bladder was in place.

Finally across the bottom you have a large stretch overflow pocket. This runs the entire width of the bottom half of the back and can be accessed from either the left or right hand side. Again this is another feature I love about some of Salomon vests, and it was great to see this available on the Camelbak.

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Adjustment to the precise fit of the vest is made using two sternum straps, which you can move up or down and tighten or loosen to dial in the fit to your body shape and the load you are carrying.

The vest takes two Quick Stow; These are slightly thicker than the flasks you see from other manufacturers but this doesn’t compromise massively on the weight. The additional thickness adds insulation, which Camelbak claims should keep liquids colder for twice as long as a standard flask. In testing this was difficult to prove one way or the other but they were comfortable to use and hold in your hands when running.

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The single large bite valve at the top is self sealing, protecting you from unwanted leaks. A shut off valve is also included and a large neck makes them easy to refill and add powder should you need to do so.

The bottom of each flask has a tapered shape with a small hanging hole. This not only makes them easier dry but also push back into their pocket on the vest when running, something that can be a real faff with competitors flasks and vests, especially when neighbouring pockets are full.

On the run

So what is it like to use when running?

Well, after a few short trial runs I opted for a hot and hilly twenty five kilometres along the South West Coastal Path to give the vest a rigorous outing. The pack would need to be lightweight, breathable and able to carry all the fuel and water I would need for my journey. On paper the Ultra Vest Pro and its Quick Stow flasks seemed perfect for the job.

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Packing the vest for the run was a bit of a dilemma, specifically deciding where to stow my phone and other valuable items securely.

I have an iPhone 6s, which I carry in a waterproof case when running. While it is a large phone is not the biggest on the market but I found it impossible to fit this into the zipped pocket on the harness. I therefore needed to find another home for it. It needed to be readily at hand, so I could use it for photos and navigation, so the only other logical options were the mesh pockets under each arm.

With no zip to secure the phone in place I was initially concerned that the phone would struggle to stay in these pockets, especially when running fast downhill on rough technical trails. In reality it wasn't a problem and although it played on my mind initially it stayed in place throughout my run and I could easily access it as required.

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By moving the phone to the side, this did free up the zipped pocket to hold my keys and money. While not the most comfortable location, they were secure but for future runs I think I would opt to place these in a dry bag in the bottom of the rear pocket.

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Once on, it was clear that the vest is extremely comfortable to wear and hugged my torso like an item of clothing, with no bounce and holding my bottles and kit close to my body. So a big tick there.

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Once I started running however, I found that the sternum straps would easily loosen, especially with a full load of water on board. So much so that after spending the first 30 minutes of the run constantly re-tightening the straps, I ended up tying a knot in the tape to hold them in place. This resolved the immediate problem but did mean I lost some flexibility for future runs as I would be unable to adjust the fit without first removing the knots.

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The 3D Ventilated mesh, used throughout the vest, definitely lived up to its promise, being extremely breathable and stretching with my bodies movements. This was welcome relief as the heat rose and the gradient kicked up and down like a yo-yo, as it does along the SW Coastal Path.

The Quick Stow flasks are positioned fractionally lower than on some vests, however they were comfortable to carry and easy to remove and place back into the vest while running. One lesson I learned almost immediately was the need to tighten the opening to the flask pockets when carrying a full load of water. Due to the close fitting nature of the vest and the angle the flasks sit against the body, I twice had them fly into the air in front of me as I ran, making me look more like a juggler than runner to passers by.

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I've already mentioned that the flasks were comfortable to carry in your hands if required and I didn't experience any unwanted water leakage throughout my run. The flow rate of water through the valves was slower than I expected, although not problematic and this may have been by design, as Camelbak refer to them as easy bite and sip valves.

Once I worked through these issues and got into my run, I forgot about my initial concerns and frankly forgot the vest was there, a positive for any vest in my mind.

Despite the heat it fitted securely and there was no rubbing and in the main most items I needed were readily to hand.

Conclusions

Overall I would say that the Camelbak Ultra Pro is a good lightweight vest, which looks great, fits well and can carry ample kit for most training runs and all but the longest ultra marathons or those with significant mandatory kit to carry.

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After repeated runs I am yet to find a use for the smaller pockets on at the top of the right chest strap and personally speaking I would prefer to see another large zip pocket there. Likewise with the mesh pockets under each arm, I would prefer to see at least one of them with a zip to secure items within them, although I accept this would make the pocket harder to access.

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The running vests or backpack market is highly competitive, with a wide range of vests on offer, some with radically different styles or approaches. Like shoes, vests are quite personal things, with fit and pocket location making or breaking a pack for many of us. I would therefore encourage everyone to try before they buy if at all possible.

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While I found some issues during testing the Camelbak Ultra Pro I recognise that these are personal niggles in the main, which may well not be an issues or could even be positives for others. In general the pack was a great fit, comfortable in use and I would therefore happily recommend anyone looking for a new vest considers the Camelbak offerings.

Last modified on Friday, 30 June 2017 10:34