Monday, July 08, 2024

2024 UltrAspire Round Up Reviews: Spry 4.0 Race Vest, Synaptic 2.0 Waist Pack, ISO Versa 2.0 Handheld , 550 Race 2.0 Handheld

 Article by Mike Postaski 

Spry 4.0 Race Vest ($74.95Synaptic 2.0 Waist Pack ($59.95), ISO Versa 2.0 Handheld ($24.95), 550 Race 2.0 Handheld ($21.95)


I was sent a package of UltrAspire gear this spring for testing. I'm a big fan of the brand, with their products being indispensable in my running/racing setup. The Zygos 5.0 vest is my go-to for long ultras, and the Basham vest is my favorite ultralight vest option for shorter runs and even longer outings where water is readily available. Their waist lights have also been a go-to for night running and overnight ultras. Currently I'm using their Lumen 600 for overnight racing.

I've also tested both versions of the Big Bronco race vest. I've been leaning towards using hydration bladders recently, so those vests aren't ideal for me. But they are advantageous if you prefer flasks up front, and want all pockets accessible on the go. The main item I'll be reviewing here is the Spry 4.0 vest. This vest wasn't on my radar at all, so I fully tested it with an open mind, with no expectations as far as expected usage. I also received their Synaptic 2.0 waist belt as well as two handheld options - ISO Versa 2.0 and 550 Race 2.0.

Spry 4.0 Race Vest ($74.95)

The Spry 4.0 appears quite similar in form and function to the Basham vest. It has a bit more capacity though, with larger front pockets on the lower chest, and a larger main rear compartment. Similar to the Basham, it also utilizes the shoulder areas for small item storage - something I like.

The material is the same mono-mesh lightweight material as the Basham vest - it's extremely breathable and absorbs essentially no sweat. It also uses nylon straps along the side body to adjust the fit, as opposed to having the vest material wrap around the sides of the body. I find this effective as a one-time adjustment, which lets you situate where the front panels of the vest fall on your front torso. The lack of side storage is not really and issue here, as it's meant to be a lightweight, low to medium capacity vest.

[1L bladder works really well (no bounce) with the Spry 4.0 - great for hot days]

I experimented with carrying different bottle options up front. I tried variations of soft flasks as well as UltrAspire's semi-soft Hybrid bottle. All worked well, but again, I do have a preference for hydration bladders these days. The bottles sit a bit lower on the chest, which I find to be more stable, but you can't really sip easily. You'd have to rig up some longer straws or take them out to drink.

[Separator between hydration bladder section and main rear area]

The setup I found that worked best is using a hydration bladder in the rear. There's a separator panel within the rear compartment which holds the bladder in place and prevents it from swinging around. This was an issue I had with the Big Bronco vests - which has a bladder hanger, but no "sleeve" to prevent them from swinging side to side. The bladder area is somewhat small, but I've taken to using a smaller 1L bladder anyway, and it fits perfectly.

As far as storage capacity, there's more space in the rear compartment on top of the bladder sleeve area, as well as a smaller secure zipper pocket. The zipper pocket isn't really reachable on the go, so I tend to put extras in there which I won't need urgently mid-run (there's a key loop in there too). If you really want to max-out storage, there's an integrated bungee which can be used to strap on any extra layers. This is a nice-to-have I suppose, but if I really need to carry so much gear, I'd probably start off with a higher capacity vest.

Its breathability factor is great for hot weather, and I love being able to carry a stable 1L of fluids in a hydration bladder. I tend to use the pockets up front for my gels, gloves, buff, camera, tripod, etc.

[Very low rear footprint as seen here]

I used the Spry in an extremely rugged mountain race - Heavens Gate in Riggins, Idaho - 19 miles with nearly 8,000 ft. of elevation gain. I carried all my gels and extra gloves up front. I packed a lightweight shell in the rear and wedged my lightweight Leki poles in there as well as there is no pole attachment otherwise built in. For hydration, I used a hydration bladder filled from the start, then a handheld which I filled up at streams and the 1 aid station along the way. This is pretty much an ideal scenario for this vest. I highly recommend this vest and it will be staying in my rotation going forward.

Synaptic 2.0 Waist Pack ($59.95)

I'm not a big fan of waist belts - I've tried many, and they always seem to either ride up, or bounce too much. To prevent those situations, I usually have to tighten them up too much for comfort. They're very much a piece of gear that comes down to personal preference. If I need to carry that (small) amount of gear, I prefer the super-light and minimal Basham vest. Having recently run a number of timed events, and a Backyard ultra, I've been interested in varying my hydration carrying options in those scenarios.

The UA Synaptic 2.0 “pack” features a single, angled bottle carrier in the rear - which works with the Hybrid bottle. There are also several small stretch storage pockets in the font and the rear. It's up to you how much you'd want to stretch/load those pockets. I tried a few gels, gloves, and a buff without any problem. You could probably also fit a small headlamp and maybe a few extra smalls.

The waist cinch is comfortable and utilizes a sturdy hook on one side. Extra belt length can be rolled up and stuffed into a small mesh area. I found the waist belt sat really well for me with little/no bounce. I did have to cinch it down a bit, and I guess that kind of pressure around the waist is just something to get used to. The one big problem I had with this belt was the difficulty in getting the bottle out. There's a semi-rigid corner strap which holds the bottle in place once it's seated, but I found that it held the bottle a little too tight. I have a really hard time getting the bottle out with one hand. I usually have to reach back with my left hand and hold the bottom of the belt while I try to wiggle the bottle out with my right hand.

This is really not ideal, having to reach behind with both hands while on the run. Perhaps it's just something about the way the belt sits for me personally? But I would have thought it would be easier and straightforward to get the bottle in and out. Let me know in the comments if anyone else has a similar issue. Perhaps the Plexus waist pack with its horizontal bottle orientation works better?

[Standard front attachment at the bottom, Lumen Ally in the middle]

There's also the Lumen Ally optional attachment ($29.95)  which you can swap in if you want to use one of UltrAspire's waist lamps up front. This is definitely a handy feature if you're a fan of waist lights. UA's wait lamps snap in & out of the plastic carrier so it's a simple swap. My Lumen 600 has a single battery integrated into the light, with no wires to an external battery so it's as simple as can be.

[Simple swap of the lamp into the Lumen Ally]

The Synaptic 2.0 has some really nice features, and a comfortable, no-bounce fit, but ultimately the main function of carrying a bottle is just not working for me. The bottle does fit snugly inside the bottle area, so perhaps that overlapping strap could be reworked so it's easier to get the bottle out with one hand. Perhaps a magnet closure?

ISO Versa 2.0 Handheld ($24.95)

I haven’t used a handheld regularly for quite some time. I have a few small Nathan ones that I’ve used from time to time - when I do a workout outdoors and I just want to bring some fluids with me. Most of my longer races are in the mountains, so I almost always have a vest. If I need additional fluids, I’ll carry a soft flask in my hand so when I’m done I can stash it away in a vest pocket.

The Versa 2.0 Handheld carries a solid 20 ounces, which is more than I’ve ever carried in a handheld. The triangular hand strap is easily adjustable on both sides with cinch pulls. The top of the bottle is angled, but I couldn’t really determine which was the best way to orient it (either away or towards me). I tried both ways, and didn’t really notice one way or another being better.

20 ounces is a lot to carry around, and I did notice the weight. But if you’re used to using handhelds, this is not an issue. Once you cinch the handstrap, it’s really locked in. It actually takes some effort if you want to switch the bottle from one hand to another. I also had trouble operating my watch on the run due to my hand being in something of a “grip” position. Again, these may be non-issues if you’re an experienced handheld user, but please read on for my comparison to the 550 Race 2.0 Handheld…

550 Race 2.0 Handheld ($21.95) The second handheld I tested was much more preferable for me. I’ll just go ahead and outline the reasons for that right away. It uses UltrAspire’s standard Ultra Flask 550ml hybrid bottle - over the years I’ve collected a few of these, so it would be easy to prep and swap out spare bottles in a race situation. The hybrid bottle is wider than the Versa bottle, and is rounded on one side. This fits the palm of my hand really well. I get a more natural “resting” hand hold around the bottle as opposed to the more “grip-like” feel around the round Versa bottle.

[You could put your thumb through that loop, or not]

I had an earlier version (I guess 1.0?) of the handheld that works with the Hybrid bottle. That one seemed to have the issue that the bottom cradle area didn’t completely wrap around the bottom of the bottle. It seemed to just wrap over the top of the bottom edge and tended to slide around unless I strapped the bottle in pretty tight. 

As you can see in the pic below - the lower portion wraps horizontally around the bottom edge of the bottle, giving a secure fit. It’s seemingly a minor detail, but this version is much better and holds the bottle securely, with no fuss, which is what you’re looking for.

[This 2.0 strap wraps around the base of the bottle better than the previous version]

Compared to the previous version, the materials seem to be a bit thinner and more stripped down - which is a good thing. There’s enough there to hold the bottle to your hand, and nothing more. A single velcro strip on the opposite side gives a touch of extra squeeze if you need it. 

I prefer this, simpler handheld over the Versa due to the specific reasons above, but mainly just due to its simplicity. The Versa seems too strapped in for my taste - I really don’t need to have my hand strapped down that much to a bottle. With the 550 Race 2.0,  I can easily slide my hand in and out, and swap the bottle between hands very easily. I tend to keep my thumb out of that loop without losing any hold on the bottle. This makes it easier to use the watch while having the handheld on. 

UltrAspire continues to provide quality products and remains probably my favorite gear brand. The Spry 4.0 and 550 Race 2.0 handheld have become staples in my rotation - especially with the hot summer temperatures setting in. 

Vest Comps:

Patagonia Slope Runner

This is the most similar vest to the Spry 4.0. The Patagonia also has quite a low body footprint, and it’s also super lightweight. It seems to have a bit more storage capacity even though I think it’s also listed at 4.0L. It wraps around the side of the body so you can really stuff that kangaroo pocket with a lot of gear. The Slope Runner also has pole straps, which the Spry lacks. I find that the Spry holds a 1L bladder really well with its well fitted bladder sleeve area. The front chest pockets are similar between the two, but the Spry’s shoulder pockets are very useful. I’ve been strictly using the Spry in the very hot summer weather as it covers less of the body and is more breathable. In cooler temps if I wanted to be lightweight but carry a bit more stuff, the Patagonia is still a good option.

UltrAspire Basham Vest

This vest is a little more stripped down -with even less body footprint and definitely less pocket storage all around. I love this one in very hot temps, even racing with adequate water access. But I find that I’ve been using the Spry more recently - again I can carry a full 1L bladder in the back and a little bit more gear comfortably up front in the pockets. I’d say the Spry is a bit more versatile and if I didn’t mention it already - a great deal at $75. 

UltrAspire Bronco Race Vest

These vests differ in terms of location of front bottle storage. The Bronco seats them high up on the chest, whereas the Spry puts them lower. Some runners have different preferences on where the bottles sit. The Bronco doesn’t hold a rear bladder well - unless you really stuff the back storage with gear to prevent the bladder from swinging around. I wasn’t too crazy about having everything so high up on my body with the Bronco - for me, the Spry seems to center the weight of everything a bit better around my torso. Two good options based on preference.

Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0

Similar lightweight mono-mesh type materials here. The Race Vest has a somewhat convoluted side/rear adjustment system in addition to the front straps. The Spry does just fine with two chest straps and two thin nylon side straps. The UD Race Vest front pockets I find to be loose and floppy - hard to keep things from bouncing around. Perhaps it has more storage capacity than the Spry, but generally speaking, the Spry is a better and better-designed vest. 

2024 UltrAspire available at UltrAspire HERE

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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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