Sunday, February 12, 2023

Camelbak Zephyr Pro Men's & Women's Race Vest Multi Tester Review

By Jeff Valliere, Robyn Lesh and Sam Winebaum

Camelbak Zephyr Pro Race Vest ($160)

12L, One Size


Jeff V:  The original Camelbak Zephyr, despite a few minor flaws (floppy flask storage and an impractically shaped zippered pocket) has become one of my favorite vests because of its fit, lightweight comfort and well thought out front pockets.  The Zephyr Pro builds upon the Zephyr with some key improvements with a lighter material, more secure flask storage, a reconfiguration of the front pockets including the addition of a 2nd zippered pocket, a pass through rear pocket and a removable pole quiver.

Features and Specs:

First Impressions and Fit:  

Jeff V:  I first saw the Zephyr Pro last June at Outdoor Retailer and was immediately impressed, as Camelbak had fixed a few of my minor gripes from the first version, such as securing the flasks better, making the zippered pocket a more reasonable shape that could better accommodate a phone, plus they added a matching zippered pocket on the opposite side!  Additionally, Camelbak added the option of a pole quiver on the back that can easily be removed and stowed away when not in use.  I find fit to be versatile and comfortable, easily cinching down when I am wearing just a tee or adjusting out when wearing multiple layers and a jacket.  The materials are soft and vest feels very light.  I am not a huge fan of the light green color which is the same for men’s and women’s and if I had one request it would be to add a few alternate colors (a simple gray like the previous model would be ideal).

Robyn: The Zephyr Pro has a great fit. It has a few odd pocket placements/design decisions balanced with some clever features. 

Let's start with the pluses:

  • Awesome fit. No rub points and super comfortable. After putting it on, I frequently forgot I was wearing the pack during my test runs!

  • Simple adjustment system. The slightly stretchy sternum straps are nice and can be moved up or down via a superlight string & clip system. Side adjustment which seems to have a huge range. Very customizable.

  • A trash pocket on the front right! Much improved from the prior version. Lined & reversible for easy emptying & cleaning which is pretty clever!

  • Zippered pockets on both left & right sides. An option for a small amount of nutrition and a medium-average or smaller sized phone.

  • Key clip in the right side zippered pocket.

  • The left zippered pocket is larger than the right side with a stretch side so is the most effective spot for nutrition. (it holds max X# of gels, less if bars or real food. This gets into my main gripe with the pack but I’ll come back to this!)

  • Both high & low pocket options for water bottles have bottle top holders! (the little bungees that go around the tops of bottles & keep them from sliding down into the pockets as they empty) An awesome feature!

  • Stretch pocket on the back, a very nice feature. The pack has to be taken off to get into this pocket but it’s fast to stow & to find things. Quick stow & relatively quick access to things like headlamp, extra layer, wind jacket, gloves. 

  • Kangaroo pocket across the back. Kangaroo pockets are amazing! So I have to mention its existence as a positive. However this one could be a lot better. (more in the negatives)

  • There is some unusual side access to the bottle pockets. I had a hard time using this for nutrition. Maybe better luck with gloves, hat, buff, or other small removable items?

  • Two front bottle location options. While this might be nice for some people I think it compromises nutrition storage space (if bottles are in the upper pockets, the lower pockets are too deep for nutrition or a phone & seem a bit useless)

  • Kangaroo pocket shape. 

  • Sadly this pocket is higher in the middle (see pic above) to accommodate the pole quiver storage pocket (next point). This makes it much less effective. Unless stuffed full with puffy things like a jacket things can fall out. So close to good but not quite there!
  • Pole quiver storage pocket??! With the pole quiver being removable I’m not sure how this pocket would be used. I would likely simply have the quiver on the outside of my pack all day, or leave it at home. 

  • A janky option could be to use this pocket for extra storage of quick access things like a headlamp or a hat/gloves but though it closes with snaps it’s downward facing shape would cause me pause before I test the snaps thoroughly. In summary, I have yet to figure out why this pocket is a good feature.

Sam: Lots of front pockets! I count 9 including 2 zippered ones. I can easily carry a flask, rescue blanket, Insta360 camera, car keys, phone, light gloves and more in them. Yes as Robyn says once you put flasks in the rear pockets things get a bit tight but all in all I really appreciate the flexible storage.

Note also in the picture above that we have the safety whistle and reflective straps at the shoulders. If loaded (phone, safety blanket and flask)  the small right side pocket behind will hold one light glove but not two!

Fit is between a more structured race vest with single layer fishnet more rigid mesh (Ultraspire Bronco) and clothing like (Salomon)  as we have soft materials throughout but also a touch of structure from the 3D grid mesh. 

I particularly like the smooth comfort, standoff, and very light structure of the 3D mesh at the back, at the shoulder straps and behind the front pockets.

The fit via the side straps and stretchy sternum straps, a bit too stretchy as they require a tug now and then, allows for wearing the vest with everything from a t- shirt to a puffy with ease, even with the puffy hood in the way!. 

As far as the rear capacity, if you stuff with a bit of force you can carry several layers. Above and contributing to the snug fit of the kangaroo load, a shell, the quiver remained in its lower back pocket.

All of this outback in the picture above: Ibex Wool Aire Hoodie, Inov-8 Stormshell, Sportiva gloves, Ibex hat 

I will note the outside stretch pocket becomes more effective, less loose and insecure if the main zip rear compartment is loaded. I do wish the kangaroo pocket wasn’t narrowed at the center back as it was difficult to stuff the shell without pulling it from the other side.

Jeff V:  The main rear compartment and outer back stretch stuff pocket look similar to the previous version, but on closer inspection, the outer stretch stuff pocket is a little smaller to accommodate the pass-through kangaroo pocket just beneath.  

Also, inside the main compartment of the previous version, there was a small zippered pocket, which no longer exists in the new version.  One other difference is that the divider within the main compartment only extends half way up the compartment.  I find the more minimized divider makes it more difficult when stuffing items into the main compartment, as I invariably stuff items onto the divider instead of either side of it as intended.

There is now a pass-through pocket along the lower rear of the pack which is handy, as even my not so flexible self can reach it.  

It can easily accommodate an extra flask or is even (with a little care) a good place to store poles in a pinch if you don’t have the quiver along with you, or just prefer putting them here for less bounce.

The pole quiver, which has its own stow pocket (seen below the poles above), can easily be snapped into place either left or right oriented, to hold a thin pair of race poles.  It took me a bit of practice to place the poles into the quiver, but once I learned the technique, it became easy.  While running with poles in the quiver, there is some movement, but it was overall not bothersome.  

I do not stow the quiver in its designated stow pocket, but instead just leave it home most of the time, or install it if I need to carry poles.

The changes to the front pockets to me are the biggest improvements for the Zephyr Pro.  Starting with the bottle pockets, which have been dialed in to better hold the flask and additionally have a stretch cord to secure the bottle, which was problematic in the last version.  This bottle pocket is also open at the bottom, so you can stuff some items there (carefully though, as this bottle/pass through pocket does not close at the bottom).

Instead of one zippered pocket, there are now two, one on each side with the right one having an inner stretch pocket for organizing smaller items, plus a key clip.  Both pockets are now voluminous enough to store about any smartphone.  

Between the zippered front pocket and the bottle pocket, there is a generous deep pocket here for food and other items, but it can be difficult to access with a full flask and nearly impossible with a full flask AND phone in zippered pocket.  

If you have a bottle and a phone on one side, the middle pocket is of minimal use, but with just a bottle, you can easily load the middle pocket and zippered pocket with food and other small items.  The way I use the front pockets varies depending on the run, where I have to make decisions to maximize utility.  

For shorter runs in Winter (2.5 hours or less), I will likely carry no water flasks, put my phone in a zippered pocket, stuff my Microspikes or EXOspikes in the front middle pockets, maybe a gel of snack and my car key in the other zippered pocket.  For longer runs, I may have one bottle up front, phone in zippered pocket on opposite side, then have plenty of room/flexibility to stuff food, beanie, gloves, lip balm or any other small items I want handy in the remaining pockets.  

For all day runs, I would likely be wearing shorts with ample waistband storage anyways (such as the Ultimate Directions Schlarb short review ) for phone and other small items, so that I can maximize the front pockets of the vest to carry water (maybe even adding a 3rd flask to the rear pass through pocket and keeping other small essentials or more food up front.  Either way, there are a lot of great carry/organization/access options here depending on your needs.

There is also a newly configured stretch stash/trash pocket with a water resistant lining:


Robyn: Super comfortable, awesome material, it  looks like it will wear well. It has capacity and ample space for a full day out, even in winter conditions. I comfortably fit Safety Gear (emergency layers, first aid kit, joint wrap, emergency bivy), spare puffy jacket, and a rain jacket along with food and water. Besides my two main issues: the lack of space for nutrition up front with bottles and the effect of the quiver storage pocket on the utility of the kangaroo pockets (which may not be issues for everyone!) this is a great pack.

Jeff V:  I really enjoyed the Zephyr and am even more impressed with the Zephyr Pro, as it is lightweight, versatile, comfortable, easy to adjust like the last version, but Camelback have greatly improved the pockets on the front, added a rear pass through pocket and added a pole quiver.  I find storage to be very well laid out, providing many easy to access and organize storage options and carries the weight well with minimal bounce, as the straps snug the vest up nicely.

Sam: Good for a short run with minimal stuff on board or a full day, the Zeyphr Pro is light, comfortable and has a multitude of storage options. Increasingly I wear it in winter instead of stuffing my jacket and pant pockets with gear and for sure will be using it in summer for hydration on the run and hiking. Only other pack I might also reach for…the Camelbak Octane 25 with a similar design but yet more capacity.


Jeff V:  I have found the Zephyr Pro to be a nice improvement over the previous version, with key improvements such as more secure flask storage, two zippered front pockets with an improved shape that can accommodate a phone more easily, a rear pass through pocket and pole quiver.  There are many ways for which you can choose to carry/arrange essentials and have them easy to access, which I appreciate.  If I could suggest any improvements, it would be to offer a color variation (the green here is still not growing on me) and to have a main compartment divider more like the previous version that is taller and has an inner zippered pocket (with key clip here instead of being located in the front zippered pocket).  This is for sure at the top of my favorite run vest list and I will be reaching for it frequently for short runs to all day adventures.

Robyn: I really wanted to love this pack. It’s made of super light technical material, it fits well. It’s a good size for an all around pack with space in back for emergency kit and an extra jacket.

Unfortunately, there are two design decisions which are deal breakers for me.I highly prioritize being able to access nearly everything I need for a mission without taking off the pack unless I need emergency gear or other things stored more permanently on the inside.

#1, missing accessible nutrition storage. With the double water bottle pockets up front there is minimal space to store enough nutrition. Camelbak tried to create accessible storage on the back with the rear kangaroo pocket but unfortunately, because of the pole quiver stash pocket, the kangaroo pocket is the wrong shape and things fall out. I couldn’t find anywhere to store nutrition except awkwardly in the sides of water bottle pockets, squished into & zipped into the front pocket that wasn’t holding my phone, or in my waistband (separate from the pack). This seems like an odd decision on a larger pack hypothetically designed for longer outings.

#2, the pole quiver storage pocket. WHY?? This pocket in itself isn’t really an issue. There’s not necessity to use it. If I forgot about it entirely it is built lightly and only adds a tiny amount of weight to the pack. My biggest issue with it is that the opening to this pocket makes the rear kangaroo pocket a weird shape (higher in the middle) which makes things fall out.

I love kangaroo pockets and this one is so close to being right! The edges are slightly grippy, the material is great, it’s just the wrong shape! If stuffed full with jackets and bigger fluffy objects it would probably be fine but on two occasions I’ve lost nutrition out of this pocket thinking it was stowed well. I wouldn’t trust it with essentials like a headlamp or anything that doesn’t STUFF into this pocket.

If you have other solutions for nutrition storage or don’t mind taking your pack off to access the inside pocket during missions these gripes shouldn’t be issues for you. Ie, if neither of these issues sound like problems for you, then awesome!

Sam: The Zeyphr Pro is focused on maximum storage versatility (and for such a light vest also high capacity) and lightweight bounce free comfort. It largely succeeds. 

I have typically used it with a relatively light load so far of a single flask (2 Quik Stow 17 oz flasks are supplied with the vest), phone, emergency blanket, Insta360 camera, and Kahtoola Nanospikes out back and it has been brilliant,  fitting as easily over a puffy as a t-shirt.  And if need be it can also take a considerable rear load. I just as easily reach for it for an hour run or a multi hour adventure be it run, hike, nordic ski or snowshoe.

I particularly appreciate the 9 front pockets, so many of them! allowing for easy organization and quick retrieval.  I would like to see the comfortable stretch sternum straps have a bit more grip as they tend to stretch on the go although re tightening is easy.

I agree with Robyn that the quiver storage pocket is a weak point as it, along with the stitching of the outer mesh pocket, interferes with the kangaroo pocket stuff through and capacity while making the top external stuff pocket awkwardly short and not super useful unless the inner zip back compartment is full. Just include the quiver with snaps as now, a great idea, and let users put it where they wish. 

The Zephyr Pro Vests for men and women are available now from our partners

Running Warehouse US SHOP HERE

Road Runner Sports SHOP HERE


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Tester Profiles

Jeff Valliere loves to run and explore the mountains of Colorado, the steeper and more technical the better. He has summited all of the 14ers in the state and can be found on mountain trails daily, no matter the weather, season, conditions or whether there is daylight or not.  On the side he loves to bike and hike, often with his family, as he introduces his 12 year old daughters to the outdoors. Jeff was born and raised in New Hampshire, but has called Colorado home for over 25 years. He is 5’9” and 145 lbs.


Robyn: Robyn comes from a background in sailing, not only competitively since an early age, but also in the design of America's Cup racing sailboats as an MIT educated Mechanical and Ocean Engineering Engineer. She has only been competitively running for a few years. At the 5 stage 117km, 7,000m vert, 2022 Golden Trail Series Final on Madeira she finished 15th overall against the best trail runners in the world. She is sponsored by Vibram. Her Instagram is at Trails4Smiles

Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 65 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 was Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range, if he is very lucky, training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs, if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.

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

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