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UltrAspire Spry 3.0 Race Vest Review

Robins and tulips have returned to my backyard and the weather and calendar both agree that spring (summer!) is on its way regardless of how many snowstorms we have between now and then. So it’s been with pleasure that I’ve been testing the UltrAspire Spry 3.0 Race Vest ($69.95). I still have my original-version Spry from many years ago and though well worn, it’s a testament to the durability of these products. The new Spry 3.0 is similar in weight as the Spry 2.5 (both listed at 7.2 ounces/204 grams) while offering a bit more in capacity and featuring a new ‘cool’ material that definitely makes warmer-weather runs more comfortable. This minimalist vest can carry a surprising amount of stuff in the scant 3.5 liters of storage space (compared to 3.3 liters in the Spry 2.5) and it does so with relative comfort and style.

The UltrAspire 3.0 Race Vest. All photos iRunFar/Meghan Hicks unless otherwise noted.

UltrAspire Spry 3.0 Race Vest Fit

UltrAspire utilizes their proprietary ErgoFit technology which features angled, s-curved shoulder straps to make it easier to move your arms as you dance down rocky hills and a lower center of gravity to reduce stress and tension through the neck and upper shoulders. These are two features I really appreciate about all the UltrAspire packs. The angled shoulder straps give my neck and upper shoulder muscles more space to play between the straps, thus eliminating any possible chafing along the upper trapezius even on high-moisture days (via sweat or rain). With the lower center of gravity, I definitely feel more comfortable since I don’t feel like my pack load is riding between the upper aspects of my shoulder blades. This pack, whether light or heavy, settles more centrally on my back, effectively reducing strain and bounce.

The back of the UltrAspire 3.0 Race Vest.

The only drawback to the fit is the unisex/one-size-fits-most concept which theoretically means the pack fits men’s and women’s chest sizes of 26 to 48 inches, but practically it means medium-size, not-too-burly men have a strong advantage. I have to cinch the pack down quite a bit regardless of my load volume even though I’m firmly in the medium sports-bra rib-cage size. This leaves the shock-cord tails a’flappin’. When I have it cinched for a lighter load in the back and two softflasks in the front, I get a marked pucker between the two attachments. I fiddled with every strap length combination on the pack and was unable to eliminate it. While it doesn’t cause significant chafing over top of technical running shirts, I’m quite sure it wouldn’t be as comfortable against bare skin for those who like to run shirtless. Switching to a bladder in the back and using the front pockets for food items reduced the pucker slightly but not significantly. I have to think having this pack offered in women’s sizing and proportions would help.

The pucker the pack makes on the front of the author. Photo: Kristin Zosel

UltrAspire Spry 3.0 Race Vest Form

The Spry 3.0 is constructed with the new UltrAcool Light Mesh on the shoulders and harness of the pack which is very lightweight, breathable, and facilitates moving moisture away from the body through the pack and out. It really does feel cooler as the temperature rises and the sweat is wicked away. Even along the back of the pack where the sweat-proof zippered pocket sits doesn’t get particularly clammy on hot days like some packs can. The uber-soft microfiber polyester edging further increases the comfort around the entire edge of the pack and eliminates the need for a high collar or strip of tape along the neck and shoulders. The exterior mesh that comprises the stretch pockets is silicone and polyurethane-coated featherweight nylon that is surprisingly durable for the light weight and soft hand.

The minimal design has sweat-proof webbing that attaches the lower aspect of the back of the pack to the front. The webbing stays light and firmly set even in adverse weather conditions. Dense shock-cord bungees connect the right and left sides of the front of the pack at two non-adjustable points at the lower and mid-chest heights. The cords hold their position relatively well and only infrequently need to be adjusted on the run. I sometimes have a difficult time getting the loop over the metal hook to secure the pack particularly if I have gloves on, but once I have it set, I’ve never had issues with the cord becoming unhooked. I do love the Max O2 Sternum technology for ease of breathing particularly with faster running and big climbs. It really isn’t restrictive to the ribs and yet the pack stays securely in place and bounce-free.

On the left upper side of the front shoulder strap is a drop-in pocket big enough to fit a cell phone or a few narrow bars and gels. On the upper right strap is the familiar vertical Magnon pocket with a sweat-proof liner that allows quick access to electrolyte pills, batteries, or other small items. The pocket has a longer access, running much of the length of the pocket which makes contents a lot easier to reach but also made me nervous about small items dropping out. This is easily solved by keeping pills and tablets in a small snack-sized baggie for easy, worry-free retrieval.

In recent versions, the Spry has had two larger vertical open pockets on both sides of the front straps that could accommodate 500-milliliter water bottles or other fuel and gear items. In the Spry 3.0, the pockets are now angled upward toward the middle of the body for easier access ergonomics. Each pocket also has a cinch strap to help keep contents secure. While I think the concept was good in theory, I struggled some with things coming out. I really like front softflasks currently, and it was tough finding ones that would fit well, stay in, and not bounce out. I found some old 15- to 17-ounce softflasks that would stay in most of the time but only if they weren’t completely full. I could rig the cinch strap in a way that provided a bit more security, but if I bent over to tie my shoe, they’d still both fall out. Occasionally, they’d work their way out on the run. No flasks are included with the pack, but UltrAspire did send me two of their 500-milliliter firm bottles which stay in okay but put uncomfortable pressure on my chest and slosh around quite a bit. Perhaps this pack is really the best with a 1.0-liter bladder in the back—also not included—so the front pockets can be used for fuel and gear items. When I opted for this arrangement with an old bladder I had from another pack, I only had issues with loosing gels or a half-eaten pouch of chews if the pockets were mostly empty and a trail dog really needed to be petted. At that point, I just had to be faster than the pooch to retrieve it.

A close-up of the front angled pockets.

Beneath both large angled pockets on the front of the pack are two little horizontal-lying stuff pockets accessible by a narrow finger. I used them primarily for trash or a single gel since my fat-finger dexterity is questionable as I get further into runs. One also has a hole that allows you to pull the shock cord tail through from the bottom chest attachment—beware what you put in this pocket as it could easily work its way out if it’s small.

The back of the Spry 3.0 consists of a drop-in bladder pocket with easy routing for the hose and a clip to help the bladder stay up and in place. The overlying mesh stuff pocket can easily accommodate extra layers, fuel powder packets, or other items. Running vertically is a zipper along the right side which opens to a sweat-proof pocket that can hold a wallet, a key (with a strap and clip available), and a phone as well. This keeps the items lying flat against your back in a very comfortable manner. I prefer to keep my phone completely dry no matter what, so I typically place it in a baggie before going into the pocket just in case.

UltrAspire Spry 3.0 Race Vest Function

The Spry 3.0 is a great warm-weather pack for me on my runs of up to a few hours where one liter of fluids is adequate and I don’t need a ton of food and other gear. I’ll reach for it this summer for sure when I want to feel the breeze through my pack to avoid overheating. The nice thing in cooler months or when sudden storms arise is that the low-profile nature of the pack allows me to layer a jacket easily over the top though this works best with the hydration bladder because the bottles are completely covered and inaccessible beneath a jacket due to the angle and placement. I miss the vertical water-bottle pockets in the front from previous versions of the Spry. Though I did get better at keeping my softflasks and other items in the angled pockets, I can’t say they completely won me over. The back stuff pocket and zipped sweat-proof pocket are great and keep loads well secured, but I’m unable to access any of them unless I take the pack off—so once again, it’s probably best with the hydration bladder and little else there so you don’t have to take the pack on and off frequently during your run.

Using the back bungee cords to stow an extra layer.

UltrAspire Spry 3.0 Race Vest Overall Impressions

If I lived in a really hot and/or humid location, this UltrAspire Spry 3.0 Race Vest would be on the top of my list to try because it’s hard to beat the breathability of the new UltrAcool mesh and the overall minimal footprint of the pack for shorter runs of a few hours or races with frequent aid stations. I also really like the added volume particularly with the vertical zip pocket now included in the back of the pack. As I state every time I review an UltrAspire pack, I love the Max O2 Sternum for ease of breathing and lack of restrictive sensation. For my own body, I want a women’s fit as long as the same features are included—please don’t shrink it and pink it—the bright blue and yellow color scheme is great. Secondly, I prefer the vertical pockets on the front of the prior model to the new angled pockets because I have no patience for launching items out of the front of my pack like I did all too frequently on the run (or while petting trail dogs). If I were more of a hydration-bladder person, I’d likely have had less issues. Lastly, I appreciate the relatively cheap price point of the Spry. 3.0, but I do wish it came with the buyer’s hydration option of choice—two of their soft bottles or a one-liter bladder since either of those options adds another $30. Overall, it’s a fine option in the two- to four-liter pack-size range particularly if the unisex fit and hydration bladder works well for you.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you running in the UltrAspire Spry 3.0 Race Vest? What do you think of it?
  • If you’ve also used previous Spry models, what do you think of the updates to this 3.0 version? How are you finding the updated material, the angled front pockets, the fit, and more?

[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]

Looking into the back sleeve to see its bladder, storage pockets, and magnetic closure.

Kristin Zosel: is a mom, wife, ultrarunner, physical therapist (on sabbatical), and transcriptionist for iRunFar.com. Her love of steep uphills, high mountain environments, and Swiss “lovely cows” keep alpine visions dancing in her head and strong cappuccinos in her mug.

View Comments (5)

  • I'm a big fan of the earlier models, having owned a 1.0 and a 2.0 (what I'm currently using now, and have been for 3 years, which speaks to its durability). My concern with the angled pockets they've introduced on this 3.0 is how well the soft flasks with straws will work with it. With my 2.0 model, I can easily slip the top of the straw under the strap near the shoulder. But with this angle design, it looks like that won't work. Do you know? Thanks!

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    • I think it would be a lonnnng ways to get the straw up that far and "around the corner" without issues... I think the straws would have a massive jousting competition. if I get a hold of some, I'll check it out. My guess is you'll prefer the vertical pouches for straw bottle purposes.

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      • Thx!

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  • Do you know if a bear spray canister would fit in the front pockets well?

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    • I haven't tested it with bear spray, but my gut feeling is you'd have to put it in the back. The front pockets have a pretty steep angle to them and the longer length of the slick/narrow spray canister is going to make it fairly difficult to stay in while running. I look fwd to others responding here if they've tried.

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