With this review, I feel as if I am revealing the location of an endangered animal, what could be perceived as both a documentation of an important scientific occurrence and a callous expose. While I’m aware that my gear-review subject, the Inov-8 Race Pro 22 backpack, is a widely available inanimate object, I still think that I’m loosing about it a big secret. Alright, here goes: the Inov-8 Race Pro 22 rocks at the Marathon des Sables and the rest of this review will tell you why.
Inov-8’s Race Pro backpack series looks, feels, and acts like the company’s contribution to the ultralight fell running, adventure racing, stage racing, and fastpacking gear communities. The Race Pro 22 is a 22 liter pack sporting a main storage compartment, a top lid with both interior and exterior zipper pockets that attaches with 2 straps to the main pack and provides a portion of the pack’s compression, and a lumbar storage compartment designed for Inov-8’s patented lumbar hydration bladder. Other pertinent features of the Race Pro 22 include its removable back pad and storage sleeve inside the main compartment, 2 large mesh pockets on the pack’s exterior, another main compartment compression strap, a vertically adjustable sternum strap, and an adjustable waist belt with 2 zipper waist/side pockets.
I am a small, short-torso-ed female who was going to race the 2009 Marathon des Sables, and I needed a pack to carry all that I would need for the 7-day, 6-stage, 250-kilometer race across the Sahara Desert. I chose the Race Pro 22 because it’s ultralight, its torso length was shorter than other similar packs on the market, and its narrow, spartan profile was conducive to true running. Once I began training with the Race Pro 22, I fell in gear love with even more of the pack’s features.
I learned that the Race Pro 22’s best feature is that it is designed to be redesigned by its user. Pieces of the pack may be co-opted to function in creative ways and savvy gram counters may remove useless-to-them pieces of the pack to save weight without compromising overall pack function. For example, I put my sleeping bag instead of a hydration bladder in the lumbar storage compartment, and it provided the finest kind of lumbar and waist padding yet known to the world of backpack design. I removed the provided back pad out of its storage sleeve, and replaced it with my own torso-length sleeping pad. Next, I attached two Inov-8 shoulder-strap bottle holders (pictured right); these holders are made to receive any bottle up to 1 liter in size, and so I used water bottles of my own choosing. Finally, I trimmed pieces of the pack that I didn’t need, saving a few dozen grams of weight.
Then, I took the Inov-8 Race Pro 22, in its modified-for-me form, to the Marathon des Sables and wore it with overwhelming success. The pack held all I needed for a 7-day desert romp, including a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, a change of clothes, a few toiletries and medical supplies, requisite survival gear, and about 19,500 kilocalories of food. It supported this 16 or so pound kit with no issue, riding almost unnoticed in the narrowest part of my waist.
I met a few challenges in racing with the Race Pro 22. The biggest problem I encountered was that the zipper waist/side pockets were awkward in their flat, lateral design. I wanted pockets with less lateral extension and more pocket volume near the front for easier access to the racing food and salt I was storing there. One other potential con for other users is that I am on the literal lower limit of body size that fits into this pack. The straps were almost cinched on my body’s frame, and a more petite woman would be unable to wear the pack.
I’ve worn a lot of packs for trail running, day hiking, and backpacking, and I’ve learned over the years that the best packs, inclusive of the Inov-8 Race Pro 22, are the ones that mold to your body’s form and carrying needs, and not those into which you have to fold and contort yourself and that which you want to carry. This pack and its high level of user adaptability was perfect for the Marathon des Sables, and I think that, if this word circulates, future racers may be running in a sea of black and green, Inov-8’s trademark colors. I’m elated to say that I’ll be returning to the 2010 Marathon des Sables, and I look forward to racing in an Inov-8 backpack.
Anyone else used an Inov-8 pack? If so, which one and how did you like it?
Appendix for the backpack geeks
Manufacturer’s published weights:
Inov-8 Race Pro 22 (not including the lumbar bladder), 560 grams
Inov-8 shoulder strap water bottle holder, no specified weight from Inov-8
My pre-modification weights:
Inov-8 Race Pro 22 (not including the lumbar bladder), 582 grams
Inov-8 shoulder strap water bottle holder, 42 grams
My post-modification weights:
Inov-8 Race Pro 22, 494 grams
Inov-8 shoulder strap water bottle holder, 34 grams
Weight-saving modifications I made to the Race Pro 22:
1. I cut all straps to my size, including 2 shoulder straps, 1 waist strap, 1 sternum strap, and 2 straps that connect the top lid to the main pack.
2. I removed elastic strap holders on all 5 above straps.
3. I cut off 2 reflective strips on the top lid.
4. I removed the main compartment’s compression strap and 4 small loops that held it.
5. I removed the zipper pull o
n the top lid’s interior zipper pocket.
6. I removed the back pad.
7. I cut out 2 tags inside main compartment.
Weight-saving modifications I made to each bottle holder:
1. I trimmed unused Velcro.
2. I cut off a tag inside the holder.
3. I cut off the compression strap and 2 small loops that held it.
4. I cut off pulls for adding/removing bottles.
Weight-saving modifications I could have made but didn’t:
1. I could have sewed the bottle holders to the pack’s shoulder straps, allowing me to cut off most of each bottle holder’s Velcro (I would have done this if I’d thought about it.).
2. I could have cut the key clip out of the backpack’s zipper waist/side pocket (I didn’t do this because I wanted to save functionality for future use.).
3. I could have cut off 1 or both of the mesh pockets on the outside of the main compartment (I thought I would need them both to hold extra water bottles, but I used only 1 compartment just 1 time. I didn’t do this to save functionality for future use.).
4. I could have cut off the backpack’s hoisting loop (I didn’t do this because I wanted to save functionality for future use.).
5. I could have cut and re-sewed the back support compartment to the size of my sleeping pad and my torso (I didn’t think about this until afterward. This I would task to a sewing expert, however. I think this would be a great way to save 15 or 20 grams and improve the fit a bit more.).