Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Reviews: UltrAspire Magda XT 20L Adventure (& Run) Pack, Spry 3.0 Race Vest & Speedgoat 3 Waist Pack

Article by Ryan Eiler, Canice Harte, Jeff Beck, Michael Ellenberger

UltrAspire Magda XT ($160)


Ryan: 20L capacity, 464g / 16.4oz

Unisex in emerald blue (one color)

Recommended uses: trail running, mountain biking, mountaineering, hiking, fastpacking,  etc.


Ryan:  A traditional, top-loading pack at the rear, the Magda XT offers 20L of storage, plus a quick-stash outer pocket and a zippered pocket on top.  

Six additional pockets on the chest, waist, and hips provide fast access to bottles and bars.  Ergonomic chest straps hint at the fact that functional design was a top priority in bringing this to market.  As these straps are wider than most, they cover a relatively large section of the chest, making this feel more like a fitted vest, and less like a simple backpack.

The two primary fabrics used throughout are a ripstop nylon, which is light and effective, and a diamond-patterned spacer mesh which contacts the chest, back, and hips. 

A length of “XT fabric” (i.e., thicker ripstop) along the inner compartment and bottom of the bag improves abrasion and puncture resistance.  It comes in ‘emerald blue’, or… too bad, hope you like emerald blue. To my eye, it’s a handsome, neutral color that most folks will appreciate.

Along the outside of the pack, strong cinch cording does a great job of reducing its effective volume, making it feel as small as possible.  I tried running with a range of loads in the back – lightly packed with only a pair of trainers, all the way up to bulging, maximum capacity.  I’ll vouch that this pack can cover the whole field, and functions well packed with 2L up to 20L. They engineered the outer quick-stash pouch with a stretchy, sheer mesh which works extremely well for bonus volume and allows for a quick assessment of your inventory.  While the waist belt isn’t bolstered with extra padding or structure, it does help complete the fully-enveloped feel of this pack. I found that it reduced movement when I loaded it with any more than two pounds of weight.

Also helping to scrunch everything into place are grey cinching straps, which run vertically along the back, pulling the ‘hood’ down toward the base of the pack.  As a kicker, they included stabilizer straps at the tops of the shoulders which I felt helped to both dial in the weight distribution, as well as to bring the overall center of gravity closer to my back.

For those looking for a pack that will be used mostly for commuting, this probably isn't your best option.  While its capacity is impressive, it has almost no padding (I wouldn't want a laptop bouncing against my back), and minimal compartmentalization in the main storage space.  Unless I was running to work with a bag full of garments, I'd prefer a more structured bag for commuting. As Canice mentions in his review, this isn't a running-specific pack -- it's best thought of as an adventure bag, capable of handling running speeds.

My wife's 5'5" frame found it comfortable and secure, although she had similar thoughts on how far she needed to tighten the chest elastic to lock it down.  She's probably at the lower limit of their "fits most" sizing range.

While this doesn’t come with a built-in hydration system, there are enough stretchable pockets for a variety of bottles.  It isn’t compatible with a hydration bladder, since there isn’t a bladder pocket or an access port for a drinking tube. UltrAspire makes similar packs, such as the Epic XT, if you want something more focused on hydration.

Adjustable elastic cords with toggle locks help to tighten the front/side pockets and the chest straps, and while they are basic, they work well for holding bottles.  Hip pockets proved easy to use with their bright red plastic pulls, and are large enough to hold several energy gels or a cellphone.  

A small, red zipper pocket sewn inside the main storage compartment is a nice touch for holding smaller accessories.

Canice: Ryan covers the features very well so I’ll weigh in to say I really enjoy the two water bottle pockets on the sides of the pack. They’re angled perfectly so it’s easy to reach back and grab one and just as easy to stow it in place when you’re done.

During a short hike I don’t find myself using the chest pockets on the shoulder straps much but on longer adventures they become incredibly useful. I’ve placed quick grab items here like a gps and/or food to extra water in soft flasks. I have had two 26oz bike bottles in the side pockets and they were easy to remove and place back in while on the go. Up front I had a 20oz Katadyn BeFree soft flask and a 500 ml Salomon soft Flask and both fit great. All in all there is lots of storage capacity here.

The waist belt is nice for keeping the pack from bouncing but don’t expect it to hold weight. Not that it’s meant to hold weight, you just want to know this going in and you’ll find it performs incredibly well stabilizing your pack.


Ryan:  The first thing I noticed upon wearing this pack ended up being my favorite thing about it: the chest straps.  Their ergonomic cut prevents them from impinging arm movement, and reduces any chance of excess friction near your shoulders.  Their sensation is more of a distributed hug, in contrast to the harsh lockdown that some less engineered straps provide, making this feel like one secure, cohesive unit.  Highly ventilated spacer mesh is used on all parts of the bag in contact with your body, minimizing heat and moisture against the chest and back. As a result of this thoughtful design, the pressure is well-distributed, airflow is good, and any weight you’re carrying feels completely under control.

Grey cinch straps on the back and atop the shoulders were surprisingly helpful when carrying a heftier haul.  While they only add a few grams of weight, they are usually a feature on large, traditional hiking backpacks and contribute to stability in a big way.  The waist belt also does its job well -- of preventing unwanted vertical jostling, which chest straps alone can’t provide.

I have a small gripe about the elastic used for the chest straps, which didn’t seem robust enough.  This stretchiness is part of their “MaxO2” system, intended to avoid impairing natural breathing. Having a medium-small chest, I had to cinch down the elastic to near its limit, which resulted in the excess elastic cord flopping around during my run.  This isn’t a major issue, and I resolved it by tucking it into the chest pocket, but I would’ve liked to see a less pliable material used here.

A tiny nitpick about the chest strap buckles: they don’t self-align as well as a traditional buckle does, and while they’re small and weightless, they can initially be a bit tricky to buckle, especially if you’re on the move.  Otherwise, securement was adequate and nicely distributed when I took the time to dial in all of the straps correctly. This is the most secure running pack I’ve ever used.

Canice: Big picture I find this to be an incredibly lightweight and comfortable pack that I love to adventure with. The pack stabilizes my gear and performs well in a wide range of conditions. My only real knock on this back is if I adjust the pack body high enough on my back to use the “load lifting” straps on the top of the shoulders then the waist belt rides up and straps across my floating ribs. If I lower the pack body so the waist belt sits on my waist then the shoulder load straps ride too far down my back to be of use.

This is not the end of the world and I have settled into using the pack with the waist belt across my waist and given up on the shoulder load straps. I use them but they don’t do much. But luckily every other strap, pocket and feature works great and this is a brilliant solution for a wide range of adventures.


Ryan:  It’s apparent that this pack has been thoroughly prototyped, tested, and refined by the brains of both designers and competitors especially Magda Boulet, an Olympian in the marathon and a winner of the Western States and Leadville 100.  It feels durable and secure without being overbuilt, and the build quality is impeccable. I keep circling back to the thought of this pack as a miniaturized, unstructured version of the huge 80L hiking back I use for overnight camping.  It has a similar set of straps and layout, but is light enough to function as a high performance piece of gear.

For someone looking for versatility, and the ability to squeeze many pounds of gear into a one pound bag, this is likely your ticket.  Highly adaptable, it can store enough gear for a long day on the mountain, or can be cinched down to feel like a minimalist racer pack.  Its overall feel is one that envelops your upper body in an ergonomic way, but stays fairly breathable through its smart choice of highly ventilated mesh.

Canice:  Ryan’s summary captures the Magda XT incredibly well. This is not a runners pack but a great adventure pack that can carry a lot of gear. So while there’s nothing stopping you from running in the pack, which I have done and it runs well, it is great for fastpacking and long unsupported and fast paced efforts. You dream of the adventure and the Magda XT will take you there.

By Jeff Beck

Spry 3.0 ($70)

Specs: One size fits most, 6.4 oz/182 grams, 13”x 9”x3”


Jeff: The Spry 3.0 is a minimalist race pack that is going for that “barely there” design. Listed as 0.4 pounds, the Spry makes other lightweight packs look and feel burly and overbuilt with its ultra thin material. But, even with the light weight, if it didn’t hold enough gear, it wouldn’t be worth putting on. The Spry can accommodate up to a 1 liter bladder in the back, but it is clearly designed with soft flasks on the chest in mind. 

In addition to the angled soft flask holsters, the Spry has a pair of gel/trash pockets beneath each of the soft flask holders, a water-resistant magnetically closed pocket (great for stashing salt pills), as well as a stash/phone pocket on the upper left - giving a total of six stretchy pockets on the front. 

Photo: UltrAspire.com

In the back, you have a very limited pocket for a bladder (UltrAspire's 1 liter), in addition to a small valuables pocket that has a zipper closure. Lastly, the back has an exterior cable that crosses the pack several times, great for securing a light jacket.


Jeff: The Spry 3.0 is far and away the lightest and smallest vest I’ve used, and some of its ingenuity should be considered the new standard, while others feel like solutions that have created bigger problems. First and foremost - hydration. While I appreciate UltraSpire keeping the cost down by not including a bladder of soft flasks, I never had a good fit trying the wide assortment of bladders and soft flasks I had from other vests. I guess it is designed for UltrAspire own flasks and bladders.

The angled front pockets that are designed for soft flasks could accommodate Camelbak, Salomon, or Hydrapak soft flasks, none of them fit well and it was very clear that I was trying to fit an oval into a circular hole. Luckily, both pockets come equipped with a drawstring/clamp closure system, to lock everything down (three of the six front pockets have some variety of drawstring closures), but those bring their own issues. 

Between the pocket closure drawstrings and the front closure drawstrings, this vest has cables with small bits of plastic bouncing all over it. While that’s a minor nitpick, they all create enough noise with every step that it’s possible to drive you crazy after a couple of hours. You can find places to stash each of the cables, the best I found was in between the vest and a soft flask, which means every time you take a drink you need to rework them in some fashion. It’s complicated enough to drop me from a run to a walk, which really isn’t the type of thing you’re going for in the middle of a run, let alone, in the middle of a race. 

The small gel/trash pockets at the bottom of each side hold their contents well, but they do not have much room. There’s some stretch, but don’t attempt to stash more than two or three gels or when you start running or it’s going to look like a yard sale. On the upper portion of each side, you’ve got the water resistant pill pocket and the stash/phone pocket. The pill flap (which is held shut by a magnet) works incredibly well. Rather than stashing a few salt pills in a plastic baggy and fishing it out each hour, I could dig one out with a thumb, and despite sweat, rain, or spilled water, none of the contents had seen any moisture. The other side didn’t work so well for me. After a few minutes of rubbing my phone against my collarbone, I relocated it to the rear zipper pocket, and all problems went away. No extra bouncing, just limited access to the phone. Not a big deal for most runs, but if you are doing any kind of exploring where you want to access online maps, this wouldn’t be the vest to choose. I wasn’t able to test a bladder with the Spry, as all of mine are at least 1.5 liters or greater, and it was very clear that the narrow pocket was not going to work. However, it is closed with another robust magnet, and has a nice hanging clip for your small bladder to dangle from. That said, without a place to stash the bite valve, I could see running the Spry with a bladder being another one of those “Technically it works, but it isn’t great” features that comes from using an item in a way that it isn’t explicitly designed for.

Lastly, the chest closure system works well. It has very adjustable straps on the sides that allow you to bunch the front portion together, if that is your style, or you can separate them by a few inches if that’s what you prefer. The hook and loop closure works well, and it is very easy to use - even if you’ve been running for a few hours and your small motor functions aren’t perfect.


Jeff: While I appreciate the ultra lightweight design and materials, this race vest over complicates some of the simple design features and under performs in others. The massive number of cables with clasps on them will bounce around, encouraging runners to keep their headphones in. The closure system is flexible and lets the user adjust every element to fit his or her body perfectly. If you want to use both soft flask pockets for hydration you will find very little front storage room as the main available pocket lines up perfectly for the collarbone. But this is a race vest, and should be treated as such - take only what is absolutely necessary from each aid station, and you’ll be fine. And if more companies could integrate a water-proof pill pocket, I wouldn’t complain a bit.

Watch UltrAspire’s Spry 3.0 Demo Video here

By Michael Ellenberger

Speedgoat 3.0 ($90)

Capacity: 1.75L Fit: Universal (28″ – 40″)

Michael: Ultraspire calls the Speedgoat 3.0 “[legendary 100 mile runner, and the “speedgoat” himself] Karl Meltzer’s signature long distance waist pack.” And for good reason! This pack is fit for a racing legend - it’s lean (.92 pounds, or 417 grams) and quite small, even on my small frame (9” × 8” × 3”). It holds two 550 mL water bottles, which are nicely angled opposite each other to provide stability and even the weight distribution. Of course, the Speedgoat carries more than just fluids - it has 2 mesh, 4-way stretch pockets (one front, one back) that can hold something as large as a cell phone (and my iPhone 11 fit without issue). 


Michael: As noted above, the Speedgoat 3.0 is loaded with storage space without bulk - making it ideal for faster runs (or races), or runs where you need essentials, but not more. Fortunately for me, that’s most runs - the dual water bottle holders (in sum allowing for a carry of about 36 fluid ounces) provide more than enough hydration options, and the pair of pockets (one zippered) can easily hold a phone and a GU (or two) for mid-run fueling. Slide a credit card in there, and you’ve got a foolproof long run (or long trek!) loadout - all carried without issue.


Michael: I’ve been burned so many times by waist packs before that my first run in the Speedgoat 3.0 was actually on the treadmill (fortunately out of view of any snickering bystanders). Why? I didn’t want to be stuck on a 15 mile run with a chafing, flapping, bouncing, or just somehow uncomfortable pack… and I’m happy to report no issues on the treadmill, or on any subsequent run thereafter. The Speedgoat is so smooth on your back that you will forget about it, even if it’s fully loaded up. Yes, I think (as with all waist packs) that if you have two fully-loaded water bottles and jammed pockets, it can feel uncomfortable to really cinch the waist belt in to minimize slipping.


Michael: As a primarily urban runner, with dreams of open trails and exploratory jaunts, the Speedgoat 3.0 is the most practical waist pack - and most practical running pack, period. It carries everything you need (and perhaps a little more), but it does so in such a simplistic and well-balanced way that you would dread needing to pull it out. I didn’t test anything larger, but I know that I could not have used - or wanted - more space. In that regard, the Speedgoat 3.0 is an excellent, extremely well-constructed pack that I’ll be reaching for on runs, hikes, and (hopefully!) cross-country skis for a long time.

Tester Profiles

A hopeless soccer career led Ryan to take up running, and after taking a decade-long break from competing, he is back racking up mileage whenever he can.  He calls the 2018 Boston Marathon the hardest race of his life, where he finished in 2:40, barely remembering his name at the finish line.

Ryan decided to forego his Wall Street job to be a gear junkie, and is currently the fledgling entrepreneur behind his company, Bridger Helmets.  Most days, you'll find him loping along the Charles River in Boston.  Of all the places he's run, Central Park NYC and the New Hampshire coast top his list.

Canice is a 2 x finisher of the Wasatch 100, the Bear 100, Moab 100, Western States 100, and Leadman as well as many other Ultras. He regularly competes in Expedition Length Adventure races with his longest race to date 600 miles as well as traditional road races and triathlons.

Michael is a 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago, with an interest in patent and intellectual property law. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43, and was the top Illinois finisher in the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:33:03, 82nd overall). He recently secured a 2:31 marathon PR at the Austin Marathon. 

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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Anonymous said...

Which size bottles (flasks also?) can fit in the side pockets? Is it secure and easy to reach?

Anonymous said...

I (Canice) had two 26oz bike bottles in the side pockets and they were easy to remove and place back in while on the go. Up front I had a 20oz Katadyn BeFree soft flask and a 500 ml Salomon soft Flask and both fir great.