Friday, September 23, 2022

UltrAspire Bronco Race Vest Review. 5 Comparisons

Article by Mike Postaski

Bronco Race Vest ($130)

UltrAspire’s Bronco Race Vest was designed in collaboration with elite athlete Jeff Browning - he has won many, many ultras, specializing in the 100M distance as well as other long mountain adventures. If you watch their product videos on Youtube or the UltrAspire web page, you’ll see that the main design principle that Jeff was looking for was having access to all pockets and all gear at all times - without having to remove the vest.  Here there’s a total of 7 pockets, which are all accessible on the move.

[7 accessible pockets - 3 on each side of the front, plus the main rear compartment. I guess they don’t consider the rear zipper pocket accessible, but I was able to get into it on the move]

Intro, Features and Tech

Official Details

  • • Lightweight, soft, breathable, but strong, UltrAcool Light Mesh.
    • Silicone and PU coated feather-weight nylon fabrics resist water, abrasion and tears.
    • Max O2 Form™ for unrestricted breathing while maintaining a stable pack. Uses shock cord with good stretch for unrestricted breathing but also good rebound on the stretch for a stable ride. Patent Pending.
    • Plush feeling micro-fiber polyester edges, soft and non-abrasive against skin and clothing.
    • Sweat proof webbing—won’t absorb water or get saturated and heavy.
    • Safety stitched bar tack on all stress points.
    • Zig zagged stitching over elastic for ultra-durability, increased stretch and rebound.
    • Simple, fast, easy in and out bladder attachment.

Fit:  Unisex
Size(s): Small (30″-36″), Medium (32″-38″) or Large (34″-42″) Measure Chest Size
Color:  Pitch Black/Red
Hydration (not included):  Not Included
Bottle Compatible (not included):  UltraFlask 550, Formula 250, Human 20 oz 2.0, 1L Reservoir 2.0, or Collapsible Bottle
Capacity: 305 c.i. (5L)

Notable Features:

Soft foam flare along the top of the main rear storage compartment - this flare rides rather high and extends out from the vest, almost to the point of touching the back of your head. The flares allow you to reach your hand behind your head and it serves to guide your hand into the rear compartment.

I find the flare is a great new idea, and it really does work. I can easily reach behind and quickly pull out anything that’s in the top of the main compartment. I can’t quite get to the very bottom, but if I grab the flare with one hand, then I can pull up the vest slightly and fish anything out with my other hand. It’s definitely something new, and I can’t think of another vest where I can pull stuff out from the very bottom of the rear compartment. Typically I reserve that area for extra/emergency gear that doesn’t necessarily need to be easily accessible. No such distinction needs to be made with the Bronco Vest.

High-riding flask pockets - The flask pockets are situated high on the front of the chest, and are angled slightly towards your face. The bottle valves end up quite close to the top of your shoulders, allowing you to easily turn your head and take sips on the move.

I’ve actually transitioned to using a hydration bladder this season. I find that my running style seems to be a bit bouncy, and soft flasks tend to bounce around too much for my liking. In testing the Bronco Race Vest, I found the flasks to be quite well held, and they do ride higher than any other vest I can recall. Typically front bottle pockets tend to be situated either right on the front of the chest, or lower down towards the ribs. I’d say these pockets are about 1-3” higher than a regular front bottle pocket, depending on your body shape. If you find yourself uncomfortably bending your next to get a sip of water from your bottles, this feature should be appealing for you.

Bottom/side “saddlebags” - Very versatile storage pockets on the lower/side edge of the vest. They wrap tightly against the body and feature 4-way stretch material allowing you to securely store a variety of gear. There are no zippers, buttons, or magnets - but there’s a top bungee to keep larger items secure.

I am a big fan of side-body pockets in a running vest. It’s a good way to distribute weight evenly around your body, and also keep items handy without having to stash them somewhere less accessible in the rear of the pack. They’re also typically easier to access than most kangaroo pockets. The “saddlebag” pockets on the Bronco Vest are very well done. The fabric is tight, but stretches quite a bit. Also the top edge of the pocket folds back over itself so it wraps over and holds down items. It’s a great storage area for extra nutrition or small stuff like gloves, hats, buffs, lighting, batteries, etc.

[Top view of saddle bag (left side body). Notice the stretch bungee across the top at my thumb to hold larger items in]


[Notice how the rear mesh panel stretches and keeps contents tight against the body, while the upper edge “flares” out - providing an easy target when reaching behind your head. Also notice how high the top of the rear compartment is, and how high the bottles are]

Mike P: The vest rides higher on your torso than typical running vests. Most of your lower torso is exposed, which is great for ventilation and sweat evaporation. The lower back area is also sculpted upwards, which is a warm, sweaty area with most vests. The low body footprint, along with how high the vest rides on your torso is part of the guiding principle of having everything accessible on the go. The bottom of the main rear compartment is actually pretty high up in the middle or even upper part of your back. That’s why it’s quite easy to reach back there, assuming your shoulders are decently flexible.

[I took a “tuck and roll” spill on my first test run - no issues with durability. You can see clearly in the dirt outline on my shirt - how small the body footprint of the vest is]

Speaking of accessible - I even found the waterproof rear zipper pocket to be accessible on the go. 

The fabric of the pocket stretches horizontally across the back of the vest, so the zipper lies taught while you’re wearing it. I was able to actually unzip it and zip it back up while the vest is on. I’d be a bit careful doing that though, as you wouldn’t want to jostle anything important out without realizing it (it’s the only secure pocket).

[In this pic you can see how the top chest strap was getting pulled too tight for my liking. I couldn’t get it to adjust to my preference, or independently from the bottom chest strap. I also tried to store poles in the rear compartment, but it didn’t work on the run]

I do have a couple of gripes about the fit - I typically like UltrAspire’s MaxO2 bungee closure system, but with the Bronco Race Vest there’s a couple of issues. Firstly, I found that the top chest strap always wanted to pull much closer together than the bottom. This made the vest a bit too tight around my neck area than I wanted. Since it’s a single pull system from the bottom, I couldn’t figure out a way to keep the top hook/strap independently looser than the bottom one.

The 2nd issue is the plastic spring clips at the bottom of the vest that are used to tighten the vest as you pull the bungee cords through. They’re actually quite large, and when the bungees are pulled tight, those plastic clips get pulled against my ribs at such an angle where the corners start to dig into my ribs. It can be quite uncomfortable if I cinch the cords too tight, but if I keep them loose, I don’t quite get the tight fit that I’d prefer. I’m actually thinking about knotting off the MaxO2 bungee cords and adding some standard chest straps from another vest. That would also solve the issue of being able to independently adjust the tension of the top and bottom of the vest.

[When the shock cords are pulled tight, the bottom corner of those clips presses into my ribs. There’s a thicker edge of padding along the inside edge of the vest, but I still feel it.]


Mike P: This vest is called the Bronco “Race” Vest for a reason - that being - the emphasis on “racing”. All of the features, as outlined above, absolutely do work as described. If some or all of those features sound appealing - you won’t be disappointed. Everything in the vest is accessible without having to take it off. There’s a listed 5L capacity, but I actually think it’s capable of holding more than that. The rear main compartment is very stretchy and can bulge out quite a bit. The three pockets on each side of the front of the vest can also stretch to hold a lot of gear, depending on the shapes and sizes. 

[I can easily pull that jacket out, or if I pull the vest up slightly by the flare, I can use my other hand to grab anything else lower down]

The material of the vest, as in other UltrAspire vests, is a mono-mesh material which holds no moisture. The low body footprint also feels less restrictive and there’s less material to get sweaty and have clinging around your body.

That being said, there are a few, what I would still consider “race” issues to consider. There are no attachments for hiking poles, not a single bungee loop attachment anywhere. With the back compartment being rather short, you can’t even stuff them in the rear compartment. Also, with the back compartment riding so high, if you did try to put poles back there, they would be dangerously close to jabbing you in the back of the head. It’s pretty much a given that if you want or need to use poles, you will need to use a separate waist belt. I’ve seen Jeff Browning using this setup. Unfortunately for me, I find waist belts uncomfortable and also too bouncy, so this issue alone knocks the vest out of consideration for mountain running or racing. Definitely a big factor to consider based on your needs.

The second issue is the hydration bladder. UltrAspire provided a small 1L bladder for testing (not included with purchase), which I thought was curious since I didn’t really know they made such small bladders. When I tried to test with my 1.5L standard shaped Osprey bladder - I realized why. A standard sized bladder is too tall to fit in the shorter rear compartment, so you are really limited to a very small bladder. 

[Hybrid Body Bottles work well too. Notice how the middle pockets overlap the upper flask pockets - it’s difficult to get items in and out of those middle pockets with the bottles full, but anything in the lower area of those pockets is pretty secure]

There is a hanger for a bladder, but there’s also no dedicated sleeve area or anything to keep it from moving around. The rear zipper pocket serves as sort of a divider - but it’s so wide that it doesn’t really prevent the bladder from moving around. I tried the small 1L bladder, and it just felt like a round ball on my back, the weight of which was really affecting the fit of the pack. I wouldn’t recommend this pack if you plan to use a hydration bladder. The design is primarily oriented towards front flasks.

The final issue, and this is not just a “race” issue - is that there is no fully secure (zipper) pocket on the front of the pack. I don’t bring my phone when I’m racing, but I know for sure that a lot of people do - for safety as well as navigation, pictures, keeping notes, etc. The saddlebags are pretty secure, and the front pockets below the flask pockets are also secure when the bottles are loaded - but they’re still not sealed. I’d be concerned about keeping an expensive phone, satellite tracker, or other important piece of gear in a non-sealed pocket. There’s too much risk - either from a fall, or just having something fall out when frantically trying to get in and out of an aid station. I think the lack of any secure front pocket is a design miss. 


Mike P: The Bronco Race Vest is a very cool vest, with a very innovative design and some interesting new features. But it clearly has quite a narrow range of usage. It really is a “race” vest - IF (caps intentional) its specific features are what you’re looking for. The lack of pole attachments, hydration bladder usability, and lack of secure front storage I think will narrow the target audience quite a bit. Ultimately, this may be exactly the vest you’ve been waiting for, or you may be left scratching your head trying to figure out what exactly you’d use it for.

The Bronco Race Vest is not supplied with soft flasks. The 500 ML Soft Flask w/ Bite Cap ($22) is an excellent choice to pair with the vest.


Ultimate Direction Race Vest 6.0 (RTR Review)

Mike P: I’d say the UD Vest is more generally usable, but it has its own issues. The rear kangaroo pocket is very difficult to reach into, and the front bottle pockets are way too loose. Both of those issues are non-existent with the Bronco Vest. But the UD Vest is taller, and you can fit a standard hydration bladder in the rear, and a bladder out back is quite stable. It also has a front zipper pocket on one side. The rear pocket is also tall enough to stick poles inside. It also has saddle bag type pockets which work well, but they’re not as secure as those on the Bronco Vest. The Bronco Vest is much more streamlined with a lower body footprint and more breathable materials.

UltrAspire Basham Vest 

Mike P: This is another “race” vest from UltrAspire, but with a much lower carrying capacity . I find it much more usable for shorter runs and races with plentiful aid station access. The rear bottle pocket is awesome, there’s enough stretch storage to hold an extra jacket and a few small items. There’s also a zipped shoulder pocket and a square storage pocket with a bungee that holds any size phone quite securely. There’s no pole attachments, but races where poles were needed would likely require a higher capacity vest anyway. I find much more use cases for the Basham vest than the Bronco Vest.

UltrAspire Zygos 5.0 

Mike P: A high capacity vest for anything long, racing or otherwise. I wore this vest this year at both Standhope 100M and IMTUF 100M. It’s rock solid with a full hydration bladder, and full load of necessary gear and nutrition. In comparison to the Bronco vest, there’s rear bungees for poles (although I sewed on attachments for Salomon’s Custom Quiver), and a large front zip pocket. You can’t access the main rear compartment on the go, but this actually doesn’t concern me too much when racing in the 24 hour range. For my preferences, the Zygos works much better for long mountain races. To get the same capacity and secure storage with the Bronco Race Vest, I’d need to add a waist belt to my kit.

Patagonia Slope Runner Endurance 

Mike P: This vest is similar to the Bronco Vest in that it has a lower body footprint than some of the other comparable vests. It too features a mono mesh type material which is quite breathable. The rear kangaroo pocket as well as the main rear compartment and the outer zipper pocket are accessible on the go. There are a few different bungee options for poles, and the vest is tall enough to stash poles in the rear. The Patagonia vest accommodates either front flasks or a standard hydration bladder, both quite securely. Although it lacks a secure front pocket, the rear pocket is high up and on the outside/back. I think the Patagonia vest is much more versatile than the Bronco Vest.

Salomon Sense Pro 5/10L (RTR Review)

Mike P: Perhaps the pinnacle of long distance, high capacity race vests - you see variations of this vest (5L/10L) on many top ultrarunners. Secure, body wrapping fit, very lightweight, with lots of well arranged pockets, multiple pole attachment options including Custom Quiver, flask/bladder compatible, secure front pocket storage. This vest has it all. 

Perhaps the only downside is that the fabric does hold moisture and can feel a bit clingy on the body in comparison to some of the other mono mesh materials. This is one of my favorite vests of all-time and I typically throw it in the bag if I go on a trip with any possibility of trail running - it’s that versatile. 

The only reason I didn’t use it for those 100 milers is that I find the slightly bulkier Zygos to be more of a solid fit when fully loaded. Also the Zygos has a totally separate hydration bladder compartment which is easily accessible, especially when loaded with gear but the Sense Pro likely would have performed just as well for me. The Salomon vest has all of the features, while the Bronco Vest seems to focus on a smaller subset of them.

Mike Postaski currently focuses on long mountainous ultras - anywhere from 50K up to his favorite - 100M. 5'10", 138 lbs, midfoot/forefoot striker - he typically averages 70 mpw (mostly on trails), ramping up to nearly 100 mpw during race buildups. A recent 2:39 road marathoner, his easy running pace ranges from 7:30 - 9:00/mi. In 2022 Mike won both the Standhope 100M and IMTUF 100M trail ultras within a 7 week period - both extremely rugged Idaho mountain races. Mike's shoe preferences lean towards firmer, dense cushioning, and shoes with narrower profiles. He prefers extra forefoot space, especially for long ultras, and he strongly dislikes pointy toe boxes.

The Bronco Race Vest is available from our partners
Running Warehouse US HERE
Amazon HERE

Samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

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