After the plethora of racing that’s been going on recently, we thought we’d get back down to business with a good old-fashioned gear review. First up in this slightly quieter season of ultras is the new kid on the block as far as running packs are concerned, the Ultraspire Omega pack.
When you first grab hold of it, you’d be mistaken for thinking that this was a Nathan Endurance pack, such are the similarities in that there’s a similar shaped pack on the back, along with two side straps and a couple of bottle holders at the front. Indeed I couldn’t see that much difference on first glance (apart from colour), but as you start to explore a little more one difference does become very evident – its ability to hold stuff.
The Good – Acres of storage
The challenge that we as runners face is that we want nice light and fancy packs, but we want them to perform miracles too i.e. carry everything and be strong to boot – and this is where the cleverness of the Omega comes to the fore. Rather than putting the bladder in the large compartment at the back, there is a separate area for this that rests in between your back and that larger compartment. What they’ve also done is add a very clever bladder that splits into two tubes so that the bladder is no longer a mass of bulk, but a slender tube-like thing that sits neatly in that rear compartment, leaving that area in the back bit for all your gear.
Another great thing about this pack is its ability to hold copious amounts of fluid too, a big consideration for something like GNW. The standard bladder for this pack is two litres compared to the 1.5 litres you get with the Salomon S-Lab 5 and 12 packs. Although you can fit a 2 litre bladder in the Salomon packs, there’s a lot of fiddling around that you have to do to get it into the narrow compartment of the S-Lab. The ultraspire uses that clever tube-shaped Hyrapak I was talking about above.
Additionally, there’s plenty of room for a 600ml bottle to go into the front of the pack in one of the compartments at the front. However, like the S-Lab, this also has some side holders whereby you can add bottles too – plenty of fluid carrying capacity for even the thirstiest of drinkers.
There are also numerous pockets on the pack, including a magnetic electrolyte holder for your salt tabs or whatever else you use. This is certainly a good feature as I’ve had my bag of salt tabs fall out of other packs quite a few times before. And as if to prove that this is a great pack of choice for UTMB, there are also some pole holders too for those that like to use the lazy sticks.
In terms of carrying capacity, this pack has the edge on the likes of the S-Lab 12, given the huge amount of space in that back compartment.
The OK – Fitting could do with some work
As mentioned above, this pack looks and indeed fits just like a Nathan. The design across the shoulder straps is almost identical and it fits like a vest of sorts too. But here’s where things don’t quite work out so well for me. There are two straps, but both are placed where the two front pockets sit towards the bottom of the pack. This thing really does need a strap across the chest as I found the pack would start to slip down my back a little. Despite tightening the straps regularly, they continued to loosen some what and fall back. It’s not a major issue by any stretch of the imagination, as you do find this with most packs.
Indeed with most packs, the S-Lab included, the more you drink from your bladder, the more you need to re-adjust and tighten your pack to allow for this. The same goes for the Omega, but it sure as hell could do with a strap near the chest for the guys. Admittedly this pack was the brainchild of Krissy Moehl, so with the chicks in mind, I can see why the straps are a little lower on the chest so to speak. As a guy however, I’d like a strap much higher as I think it will help to keep the pack in a much sturdier position.
That said, the side straps, which are again very similar to the Nathan Endurance pack are elasticated and do move with your body. But for some reason, on my few outings with this I did find I was playing around with it a fair bit. No dramas however, all packs take a while to get used to and you do need to play around with them to get them right. It took me a good 15 hours or so on the trails before I was totally happy with my S-Lab 12 pack. Indeed after my first run with it, I was so frustrated I didn’t wear it for around 2 months after that – but a little application and time and I have come to love the thing.
The Not So Good – Dangly bladder hoses
For all the genius in having a great bladder and separate compartment for it, the actual attachment of the bladder hose around the front of the pack and onto the clip on the shoulder strap leaves a lot to be desired. Unlike the Nathan, there are no loops on the upper parts of the shoulder straps to loop the bladder through and keep it in one place. Instead you get bladder hosing not tied down and just one plastic clip to attach it too. Again, not a massive concern and certainly not a deal breaker, but to be honest, there could have been a little more thought gone into that one to prevent the hose from just ‘being there’. All it would need is a few stripes of fabric on the upper shoulder straps to pass the hose through and hey presto, the bladder is held down securely.
The Verdict – 3.5 / 5
This is a solid pack with bags of storage and holding capacity, even for the likes of the North Face 100 where you need to bring the kitchen sink with you! As mentioned throughout the review, it’s very similar to the Nathan Endurance pack, and I have three of these such is the quality of the pack I feel, so you know you’re onto a winner with this one too. A few slight changes on the fit and the bladder straps and this pack would be right up there in terms of the role of honour for back packs. If you’re on a long day out and want a durable, light and comfortable pack, you can’t go wrong with this one – just be prepared to play around with the fit a little and make some modifications to get it right.
If you’re keen, the good guys at Footpoint have these bad boys in stock, so give Tom a call. Footpoint also very kindly gave us this pack to review and we’ll be giving this away very soon as a prize on our Facebook page, so watch out! (Yes it has been washed and smells of roses!)