Thursday, March 08, 2018

Inov-8 Race Ultra 10 BOA Hydration Vest Review

by Jeff Valliere with Sam Winebaum

Inov-8 Race Ultra 10 BOA Hydration
10 liter capacity
1lb 4oz/567 grams
Sizes:  S/M - M/L

The Inov-8 Race Ultra 10 BOA Hydration pack, as the name implies, is an all day(and night) running pack/vest that offers several features that set it apart from many of the other competing packs/race vests on the market.  From BOA compression adjustments, a 2 liter horizontal water bladder (with insulated hose) and additional ultra race kit required items such as a soft cup and emergency blanket.

My initial impressions were that the pack was a bit on the heavy side at 1 lb/4 oz. or 567 grams, but was impressed by the ability to carry a good amount of weight, quality and overall carry capacity.  How does it perform in the field?

The Race Ultra 10 Boa has 10 liters of carry capacity, primarily in the form of a large rear zippered pocket that can easily hold a jacket, pants, headlamp, food, additional water, etc...  Overlaying the large zippered main compartment is a large outer kangaroo pocket that attaches at the top with a single clip, along with a hook on either side, intended to latch onto the bungees that criss cross the pack between the main compartment and the kangaroo pocket.  The outer kangaroo pocket is mostly stretch mesh and can hold additional clothing/gear or water bottles one might want handy for easier on the go access.  I can keep adding an impressive amount of gear, even when I think that the pack is maxed out, but with very few pockets/dividers, staying organized is a challenge.

The shoulder/front straps have additional storage in the form of a medium sized zippered pocket on each shoulder strap at mid chest height, where you can store any smaller essentials, such as gels/food, or smaller valuables.  My iPhone 6 in Lifeproof FRE case can ALMOST fit into either of these two zippered pockets, but I am unable to completely zip all of the way around the phone.  With some serious effort, I may be able to pull it off, but feel as though I would be risking ripping the seams or fabric, or damaging the zipper.  Certainly not a viable spot to carry or access the phone on the go for photos, GPS or whatever (unless you happen to have an older iPhone 5/5s or the smaller SE).

Sam: While not ideal, and why or why didn't they add a few centimeters more length, my iPhone X in a Tech 21 case fits and can be zipped in a bit further up than Jeff's. The zipper seems to lock well and I can stretch the opposite corner over the phone. As long as the zipper stays up, and so far it has, the phone is super well held. Of course I would prefer the pocket to close completely 
Jeff: Just below these pockets on either side are the BOA System adjustment knobs that cinch a series of cables which micro adjust the pack and compress the horizontal 2L bladder such that it does not slosh or bounce.
Sam: The lack of front storage is an issue with this pack. 
It seems to me that the rear kangaroo pocket  could be extended up to the reels and separated from the rear with a mesh divider to easily add front drop in storage, maybe even deep enough for soft flasks upfront, a place for which is all together now missing.

BOA System

The BOA System here is effective. In particular with a less than full bladder when turning the knobs I can feel the pack snug to my back with less side to side sway on the run the result. But to achieve this we have quite an elaborate system and one that to expose the knobs seems to preclude some front pockets. I might suggest mesh pockets over the knobs with a reach in behind the pockets to turn them. 

Here is how the BOA System in the pack works:
  • pull the knobs out with a snap to release tension
  • snap them in and turn to cinch the pack by retracting thin cables into the black reel
When turning the knobs (see below), the thin cables run in conduits in the area below the knobs and are buried in a dense coated nylon. They emerge towards the rear and the bladder (the lighted mesh area). The cables then wrap through loops on 3 webbing straps that head to the rear to go over the bladder. As you turn the the cables, they pull the straps back and up towards the knobs thus snugging the pack.

Jeff: The fit of the M/L is mostly sufficient for my 5'9.5" height, 145lbs and 38" chest, but I do worry a bit that if I were wearing more than a few thin layers, fit would be a little on the tight side.  As it is, when the pack is stuffed to the gills and/or I am stuffed to the gills after breakfast, fit is a bit snug.

Sam: Both Jeff and I initially received early sales samples. I found the early sample vest very snug and I am about Jeff size all around but a few pounds heavier.. Due to an issue with the BOA reel in the early samples we both received, I was subsequently sent a production vest. The fit was a touch more relaxed, a good thing as the first vest was very snug.  I am now easily able to comfortably wear it over a mid layer and shell. 

Jeff: The Race Ultra 10 Boa rides somewhat high, which in this instance seems to work well in terms of comfort and stability, but it is high enough that I am completely unable to access the rear kangaroo pocket no matter how hard I stretch (even though I am able, with a little work, to reach both rear pockets on my Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8L vest).

Sam: The rear kangaroo pocket is only useful and is actually very useful for retrieving an outer layer, jacket, etc... Grab an end and pull out. Any smaller objects or items will require taking off the vest to reach. The small hooks (see below) that hold the bungie net need to be un hooked to be able to practically stuff anything in the back on the go and there is no way to hook and un hook them without taking the pack off. 

Speaking of the bungie net and the hooks, I really don't see their purpose. If all you really have in the pack is water and a few essentials it seems all the cords do is make the nylon excess pack material look a little "neater".  Jackets and such can be stuffed in the kangaroo just fine without the bungie net assuming the hooks aren't used. If the main pack pocket is full the cords might stabilize it a bit but in the end I think Inov-8 could have dispensed with the whole bungie arrangement and made the outer flap a bit more substantial to provide structure or used 2 snap straps heading towards the shoulders instead of being in the center,

Jeff: In addition to the kangaroo pocket being difficult to reach, I find the small hooks used to keep the large outer flap secure, are difficult to keep in place and it is common for any shifting of the position of the pack, such as removing the pack to access gear, or filling the bladder can easily release them.

Jeff: At the bottom of the pack, is a hidden zippered compartment that stores the 2L horizontal bladder. Filling the water bladder works reasonably well in the comfort of my house, but takes a bit of work to fill the bladder and position it optimally in a symmetrically aligned horizontal position.  Also, to access the bladder/bottom pocket, I find it easiest to flip the pack upside down, however any items that are not zippered in, tethered or tightly compressed in the kangaroo pocket would almost certainly end up on the ground.  Under ideal circumstances (like at home), I can lie the pack flat on the counter pull out the bladder and easily fill, but when I consider all of the water stops I have used in the past, especially with a bladder, I always feel the need to keep the pack off the ground due to splashing water.  Most bladders are accessed from the top, so the chances of losing items is very much reduced when not having to flip upside down.  I also think this entire process it overly time consuming and futzy, not ideal if in a race situation or shooting for a PR.

Sam: The positioning of the bladder low and around the body, in combination with the high fit and the BOA system to cinch it down as needed is effective. I never had the sense I was carrying up to 2 liters of water. No sloshing, no swaying. Pocket and bungie issues aside, this is one heck of a great way to run with a lot of water and gear.  I will live with the somewhat awkward filling and stuffing of the bladder for the comfort on the run of water in this location. 

Jeff: The insulated hose is a nice touch and in my opinion does a better job at keeping water in the hose from going hot too fast vs. preventing the hose from freezing in cold temps.  It helps a little, but in either extreme will be of little use.
The two chest straps are secure, comfortable, have a little bit of stretch and are easy to adjust, but unfortunately do not slide up/down or have any option to be re-positioned since they are securely stitched in place.  The top strap is especially high (nearly to my neck) and I constantly want to slide it down some. 

Jeff: My pre production sample pack had a faulty Boa system, which I allowed them to fix at Winter Outdoor Retailer.  Turns out, according to BOA, that the samples' cables were cut to long causing a jam in the reel. After the fix, I have had no issues and a conference call with Boa/Inov 8 put Sam and I at ease that this problem has been resolved before being released to consumers.  In any case, if one had any trouble with the Boa mechanism, you would be able to send the pack to Boa for a fix if facing similar problems.

Sam: I had the same issues as Jeff with my pre production sample. My second vest, a  production version has had no issues whatsoever to date. 
The soft cup and space blanket that are required by some ultra races as mandatory gear are nice touches, but I would much prefer simply using a soft flask with a screw on top.

The mesh that lines the back panel and inside of the chest straps is breathable, comfortable and dries quickly.  Despite the breathable mesh though, with black being the only color option, this pack runs a bit on the hot side when used in sunny and warm conditions and would love to see lighter color options.
The Race Ultra Boa has pole loops at the bottom of the pack which are secure and easy to use, but the low hanging position of the poles are such that they swing fore/aft and bounce off of my butt when running.


Jeff: I wanted to like this pack more, as I appreciate Inov-8 as a company, like their products and respect their efforts to, well, "Inov-8".  I also like Boa and have found their lacing system to work very well in a number of shoes I have worn over the years.  But, I really have some concerns with this pack.  The BOA system is overly complex, there is very limited front storage,  the pockets cannot fit much more than a few gels each, chest straps that do not slide up and down, no other reachable pockets, no viable water carry options beyond the bladder (you can potentially store bottles in the kangaroo pocket, but they need to be tethered to prevent losing them and they are not reachable on the go).  The Race Ultra 10 Boa has good capacity with the rear pockets, but unfortunately, there is no good way to organize and untethered items can easily fall out of the kangaroo pocket.  The black color also really absorbs heat on warm days and would be very hot in the summer.  These concerns could be easily remedied and I suspect they will.

Sam: I share many of Jeff's concerns. The BOA system is a neat and effective approach eliminating distracting pack motion with a heavy load of water but it is complex and in the current version eliminates much needed front storage locations. On a hot day when you really need all that water, the black color is quite frankly not helpful.. As far as capacity this is one big pack and one that can comfortably carry a full 2 liters plus all the rest the rest will be in that big zipper pocket. The kangaroo pocket is for outer layers as far as I am concerned.  Lightly loaded it works fine as well and I don't fret the loose nylon main compartment and would like to see the tangle of buggies eliminated. 


Inov-8 Race Ultra 10 BOA vs. Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0 (RTR review here)- I feel as though this is a very unfair comparison, but for the sake of comparing, here we go.  The AK 3.0 holds more gear, is several ounces lighter, is more adjustable and fits better, keeps items much better organized with a LOT of zippered pockets and easily accessible pockets on the front of varying sizes and versatility.  All of this and more for $25 less than the Race Ultra 10 Boa.

Inov-8 Race Ultra 10 BOA vs. Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8L (RTR review here) - Not exactly a direct comparison, as a more appropriate comparison might be with an Advanced Skin Set, but I unfortunately have not used that line of packs.  I am familiar with the Sense Ultra 8L and would prefer it in most circumstances over the Race Ultra 10 Boa.  8L has very handy carry capacity and accessible storage, clothing like fit, extremely light in weight and unparalleled comfort.  But, the Inov-8 carries more water and handles heavier weight better, plus can hold poles (though you can add a quiver pole carrier to the Sense Ultra vest).

Jeff's Score:  7.0/10

-.4 for weight.  This just feels like a heavy pack and perhaps a touch overbuilt/over engineered.  It would be great if it dropped a few ounces at least.
-.7 for front pockets/front storage.  It would be great to have a few more accessible front pockets and for the existing pockets to be a bit larger to more easily accommodate modern smartphones with case.
-.3 for difficulty to fill bladder and no alternative way to carry bottles/soft flasks that can easily be reached.
-.2 for not being able to adjust front chest straps vertically.
-.3 for overly complicated Boa system coming at the cost of front storage.
-.3 for rear kangaroo pocket being difficult to access and keep secure with small hooks that easily detatch.
-.5 for price.  At $180, the Race Ultra 10 Boa costs more than it's direct competitors and does not perform as well.
-.3 for no color options.  Dark brown/black gets hot!

Sam's Score 8/10
-1 for overbuilt and complex, to many moving parts such as the bungie net and hooks
-1 for lack of front storage, including flask sized pockets, under sized phone pockets, and "missing" pocket over the reels.

The Inov-8 packs were provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere and Sam Winebaum
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