Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Ultraspire Big Bronco Race Race Vest Review

Article by Mike Postaski

Ultraspire Big Bronco Race Vest ($150)


I noticed the Big Broco vest while running on the treadmill and coming across Breaking Moab 240 on YouTube. I had previously tested the regular (smaller) Bronco Race Vest last summer. In the YouTube video I immediately noticed the much larger rear pockets - giving the vest more of a “traditional” running vest look, as opposed to the high-riding Bronco Race Vest.

[BIG Bronco Race Vest on the right]

Checking the UltrAspire the Big Bronco product page, I noticed a mention of using those new rear/side pockets to hold additional water bottles. This was of particular interest to me, as I find carrying bottles on the lower back to be very comfortable with the least bounce. I love and have run many races in the Basham race vest - with its horizontal bottle holster in the back. I’ve also tried the Momentum 2.0 vest with the dual rear holsters. I found those a bit finicky to get the bottles in and out, plus the lack of other storage capacity on the vest was a downside.

[My size Small regular Bronco Race Vest is at 192g]

I will focus this review on what’s new and different with the Big Bronco Race Vest in comparison to the regular Bronco Race Vest. If there’s anything I left out in this review, it’s probably because I already discussed it in the previous review here. 

First Impressions and new features:

Immediately noticeable is that the vest in general is larger overall than the regular version. I expected the additional storage from the added pockets, but the other front pockets, as well as the main rear compartment have also been slightly enlarged. Note - I have the same size Small in both vests.

[12 gels on the lower left rear pocket, gloves and a winter hat in the lower right rear. WP jacket & puffy vest in the main rear pocket]

In addition to the larger size all around, the inner mesh of the front panels has been bolstered a bit - the inner material is thicker, more structured, and spans the width of both chest panels. I find this minor “upsizing” all around helps the vest wrap around the body better and gives overall a more secure fit.

The main new feature of the Big Bronco Race Vest is the enlarged side/rear pockets. The regular version has what they deemed “saddlebags” which closely wrap along the side of your torso. UltrAspire has essentially enlarged those side pockets - making them deeper and extending them around to the lower back. Of note - there is a vertical stitching along the middle which separates the two sides. So you can’t center something in the middle of the lower back.

[I don’t need to use 2 hands to get in - just demonstrating how far forward the pocket opening is]

[Here demonstrating that my hand can reach the deepest part of the rear pocket. I’ve got 12 gels (1,440 calories) in there now]

[Gearhead note - the vertical stitching is clearly visible and accessible. I think you could easily remove it with a stitch puller if you wanted to turn it into a single large kangaroo-style pocket.]

The new pockets utilize a magnetic closure on both sides. There’s also a bit of fold-over to the top edge to ensure that items don’t fall out. I found these new pockets to be extremely useful, even though I didn’t end up using them for hydration bottle storage as I anticipated. They are quite roomy and you can really stuff a lot of gear in there. Also, the side entry makes them much easier to get into than most kangaroo-style pockets.

[Magnetic closure with fold-over on the inside]

One thing to be aware of is making sure you don’t accidentally jostle something out when you’re pulling an item out of the far rear area. It’s probably best to keep less needed items tucked in the very back, and more “in and out” items closer on the side around the “saddlebag”/closure area.

Another new feature is that two pole bungees were added to the rear - over the new rear pockets. They allow you to attach poles horizontally across your lower back. This isn’t my favorite spot, as they stick out too far and hit my elbows when I swing my arms.

[Rear pole bungees. You can also see the vertical stitching separating the two side/rear pockets]

The poles location also compromises the ability to get items in and out of those new rear pockets. On one hand, those pockets would need to be somewhat full for the poles to be secure. But then if you need to take stuff out, what happens? But I’d say it’s a welcome addition to at least have one pole storage option. If you’re used to that arrangement, you likely will find  strategies to make it work.

Hydration Options

Similar to the regular version, the vest is primarily oriented towards using soft flasks up front. The pockets ride higher than most vests, so the bottles are located at mid-upper chest, and the bite valves are closer to your mouth. With the slightly larger pockets, the bottles fit much better than before in my size small vest.

[Upper bottle pocket with loop to hold bottles up. That bottle loop bungee does not cinch the top of the pocket]

Using a hydration bladder is also “more” possible. The main compartment now extends a bit lower, so it can now accommodate a standard 1.5L bladder. I don’t think a longer 2L bladder would fit but UA's 2 L reservoir is listed as compatible here. The regular version, having its sculpted area at the lower back, was too small to fit a full size bladder. But there is still no dedicated bladder sleeve, so any bladder is not well held or restricted from swinging side-to-side.

The only way this is not an issue is if the rear compartment is fully stuffed. I did notice Jeff Browning used a supplemental hydration bladder in the rear - and his vest was definitely fully loaded. Something to keep in mind if you prefer hydration bladders.

I tried using the new rear pockets to hold water bottles (2x 16 oz UltrAspire Hybrid bottles). I found it difficult to get them in and out since the opening is on the side. You have to slide them in through the side, then push them all the way to the back. Also, they do sit horizontally, not angled as in the Momentum vest. This made the valves stick out to the sides slightly. It did interfere with my arm swing and I would also be concerned about the valves eventually damaging the mesh. Perhaps this may not be an issue if you have a larger torso and in turn a larger size vest.


The major downside for the Big Bronco Race Vest continues to be the lack of secure closure pockets - especially up front. There’s only a single zipper pocket which is located in the rear in the main storage area (same as the regular version). The four front pockets have no closure or even tightening mechanisms and rely on stretch mesh for containment.

[The only zipper pocket is located in the rear. I had to remove the metal zipper pull tab as it was jangling around driving me crazy. I’ll replace it with a string pull. You can also see the hydration bladder hang tab.]

Then bottles are loaded into the upper pockets - it does seal off the lower pockets well enough. But once those bottles start emptying out, you’re back to the same issue of items being too loose and potentially floating around. On one of my first test runs, where I was testing the bottle options, and not fully loaded - I found trouble finding a spot to put my chapstick. I ended up putting in one of the side/rear pockets, but those are not really ideal for small, loose items.

[Not much up front here as I was testing the rear pockets. You can see how the pockets are somewhat loose, and work better when full]

I haven’t had anything actually fall out during a run, but it's definitely on my mind as a potential issue for extended runs, adventures, or races. Especially when you’re dealing with lots of smaller items. Normally you have some items that you’d like to be accessible up front, yet absolutely secure (zipped up) for peace of mind. Examples for:  Phone, camera, meds, extra lighting, salt tabs, personal items, etc. 

I’d say there should be a way for UltrAspire to integrate at least a single zip pocket somewhere up front - perhaps layered on top of or behind the other front pockets. In my opinion this is a definite miss, and likely a big negative factor for many potential buyers.

Performance and Conclusion

I found the Big Bronco Race Vest to be much better fitting and a much more versatile vest than the regular version. Those two new/extended pockets really do add a lot, while also having the side effect of helping the vest wrap the body and fit better. The slight size increase all around of the other pockets is also welcome.

As with the regular Bronco Race Vest, the main objective to have all pockets accessible on the go is again met. You can reach the depths of each pocket easily without having to take the vest off. With two hands you can even get into the rear zipper pocket if necessary - although I’d be careful about jostling something important out if you have multiple items in there.

The question of jostling items out also comes up when you’re dealing with the 2 side/rear pockets as well as the main compartment. I’d say it’s up to you to determine if that’s something you could manage. That’s the tradeoff for having everything open and accessible.

In general the design of the vest works best when the pockets are fully utilized, i.e. filled with gear. If you prefer to have a bigger variety of smaller and/or sealable pockets for organizational purposes - this wouldn’t be the vest for you. But if super light weight and accessibility are your top priority, the Big Bronco Race Vest would work well for you.

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


UltrAspire Basham Vest  

Mike P: Perhaps my favorite and most useful race vest for shorter distances, especially in hot weather. The rear horizontal bottle pocket has 100% no bounce, and if I need more fluids I can use a handheld or put an extra bottle in the vertical rear pocket. Just enough small pockets to hold some gels and small items. This is my go to for 50Ks or even longer, as long as aid stations are close enough and I don’t need to carry bad weather gear.

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 (dedicated sleeve), and full load of necessary gear and nutrition. The Zygos is quite different in that it has more small and secure pockets up front - 1 large zippered chest pocket and two small ones on the shoulders.  The sizes of the pockets of the Zygos are more difficult to access than those of the Big Bronco. I think the Zygos could steal that design for the next version. Also the rear pocket of the Zygos is zippered and not accessible on the move. I think you could likely stuff more volume into the Big Bronco.

Patagonia Slope Runner Endurance 

Mike P: Not the highest capacity vest out there, but very comfortable with low body coverage, and similar to the Big Bronco- all pockets accessible on the run. The pockets are all a bit smaller than the Big Bronco, and the rear kangaroo pocket of the Patagonia vest overlaps the main compartment. You can definitely stuff a lot of gear in there, but I’d say there’s more of a focus on the “essentials” vs. the Big Bronco where you can really carry everything.

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/seemingly custom, unreleased versions) 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. 

With the new side/rear pockets of the Big Bronco - I’d say it has a more solid, structured fit on the body as opposed to the thinner, more clothing-style fit of the Sense Pro. Again, as with the Zygos, the Salomon vest shines in the organization department with its many pockets including multiple secure options. Also there are numerous pole attachment configurations as well as attachments for my preferred custom quiver style. 

With the Sense Pro, you can get to mostly everything on the run, except for the large rear zippered pocket. Also the kangaroo pocket area is a bit difficult to reach back into. Big Bronco wins for on the go accessibility. If only the Big Bronco had 1 or 2 zipper pockets up front, it would be a much closer call between the two.

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 Big Bronco Vest is available at Ultraspire and our partners below



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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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