Inov-8 Race Elite 15 Pack Review

Inov-8 Race Elite 15 packMy modus operandi when it comes to gear is to find something that I love, then use it until it’s in splintered bits and pieces. This stems from both a spartan life philosophy and the fact that I develop relationships with gear related to the experiences we endure together.

Contrary to my usual gear approach, I’ve now raced the Marathon des Sables (MdS) three times and used three different packs. In 2009, I used and loved the Inov-8 Race Pro 22 (review). After running the MdS that first time, I realized that I didn’t need to carry 22 liters worth of gear, so I chose and dug running with the Terra Nova Laser 20L (review) for the 2010 MdS.

At the 2010 MdS, I learned that I could still carry less gear. I also learned that I wanted to distribute some of my pack’s volume and weight to the front of my body. I achieved that at the 2012 MdS using the Inov-8 Race Elite 15 on my back and a modified OMM Trio, a four-liter front pack. This created a bomber sub-19-liter MdS kit.* (I modified the Race Elite 15 to make it a little smaller. See my notes on stripping the pack down below.)

*Note that a kit of this small size is not for everyone running the MdS. I’m a small woman looking to finish as high in the rankings as I can, so keeping my pack’s volume and weight as low as possible is important to me. In general, I think most folks running the MdS should strive for a 25-liter kit. If you’re planning to carry more than 30 liters, you’re bringing unnecessary stuff and you’re absolutely going to be hindered, not helped, by all that weight.

The author holding the Inov-8 Race Elite 15 and her Tent #56-mates before the start of the 2012 Marathon des Sables. Photo: Greg York

The Inov-8 Race Elite 15 was designed to be an ultralight running or hiking pack made for long mountain races or training days. Its key features include:

  • 15 liters of storage space;
  • a 285-gram advertised weight (mine weighed 289 grams out of the box);
  • a waist belt with two storage pockets (one that’s water-resistant and another that’s stretchy mesh);
  • very lightly padded shoulder straps with a sternum strap that may be adjusted to four different positions; other attachment points for water bottles, a front pack, or an accessory pocket; and an emergency whistle; and
  • a water-resistant main compartment with a vertical access zipper, an internal water bladder sleeve, and two adjustable straps for compression.

Why I dug the Race Elite 15 as my MdS running pack can be boiled down to one word: fit.

Its tall, narrow, and shallow design distributes the pack’s contents and, therefore, weight along the length of my torso and close to my body. The closer you can get your pack’s weight to you body, the closer-to-normal your running form will be. Also, between its positioning on my shoulders and the manner in which it cinches to the smallest part of my torso, I can run with no bouncing. No bouncing means no chafing and no lost momentum from you going in one direction and the contents of your pack going in another.

Rachid El Morabity and the author running in the Sahara before the MdS. The photo shows how the Race Elite 15 rides close to and along the length of the user’s torso. Photo: Lhoucine Akhdar

The second most important-to-me feature of the Race Elite 15 is its ultralight design but bulletproof construction. I don’t need extra pockets, zippers, compression straps, or volume. I want simple and super-light as well as 100% reliable. I get all that from this pack.

Let’s talk details, the sternum strap first. Inov-8 has updated their sternum-strap adjustments from earlier models. Previously, the sternum straps could be moved up and down via a plastic, sliding bar. While this made for fast adjustments, those adjustments couldn’t be locked in and the strap sometimes slid up or down. In the current Race Elite models, you can adjust your sternum strap into one of four specific, locking spots, allowing for a custom fit and negating any chance of the sternum strap moving without your approval.

The two waist pockets are identical to previous and other Inov-8 pack models. The water-resistant pocket makes a great pocket for placing materials you want to keep dry (and debris-free), like a small camera or iPhone. The stretchy mesh pocket is perfect for stashing on-the-go food. I can get 800 calories in of gels, bars, and gel blocks in the pocket without stressing it.

The internal bladder sleeve holds vertical bladders of up to three liters. Since the pack has no back pad, having a bladder against one’s back provides both padding and structure. While I trained with a bladder in that sleeve, I didn’t use one in racing. Without the bladder, the pack essentially conforms its contents to the shape of my back, which is also perfect.

The main compartment has two small, adjustable straps for compression on its top and bottom. I found the top compression strap to be useful when the pack wasn’t full. I never needed the bottom compression strap, though, as having just a few things inside the pack filled out the full width of the pack’s base.

I’m returning to the 2013 MdS and I plan to carry the Inov-8 Race Elite 15 along with a front pack. I don’t know if the OMM Trio will perfectly suit my needs (see my explanation of using the OMM Trio below), but I’ll be seeking something very close to it.

For anyone who’s uber-curious, here’s everything the author brought for the 2012 MdS, including the Inov-8 Race Elite 15.

Notes on Using an Ultralight Pack

At present, I’ve trained and raced about 600 miles with this pack (including hand-washing it three times) and it’s almost as good as new. That said, an ultralight life must be a careful life. Ultralight packs are made of lighter materials that can rip, crack, or break easier than their weight-ier, beefier cousins. Operate the zipper with intention. Try not to drop the pack around with too much gusto. Avoid letting the pack contact sharp surfaces. Give it the care it deserves and it’ll serve you well for years.

Notes on Stripping Down the Inov-8 Race Elite 15

I’m a neurotic gram counter, at least when it comes to building my kit for racing the MdS or fastpacking with an ultralight pack. As I said before, I’m a little woman and I like to move fast. Grams count. Here’s how I modified the Race Elite 15 to make this already ultralight pack even lighter:

  • Removed bottom compression strap on main compartment;
  • Cut out internal-bladder sleeve from main compartment;
  • Cut off both waist pockets (Recall that I used this pack in conjunction with a front pack, so I didn’t need the pockets.); and
  • Cut down all the extra lengths of shoulder, waist, and sternum straps.

My Race Elite 15 came out of the box at 289 grams. She weighed in a svelte 225 grams after this work, for 64 grams of weight saved.

Notes on Using the OMM Trio Front Pack

Here’s the author finishing one of the stages at 3 Days of Syllamo carrying her MdS kit as training. This photo is an example of how using a back and front pack promotes a natural running form. Photo: Travis Liles

While this is a review for the Inov-8 RaceElite 15, a couple of you might be curious about the OMM Trio as a front pack for the MdS or other uses. I modified my Trio by getting rid of the map case and sewing in means for the pack to carry two of the 1.5-liter water bottles issued by the MdS race administration at the race’s water checkpoints.

With a four-liter front pack, I kept the most important tools of each running day at close hand, including food, salt, the roadbook containing each stage’s route description and direction-of-travel bearings, and my iPod. Because the pack was four liters, I also carried other things that I didn’t use while running, to help distribute weight on both the front and back of my body. With the Trio modified to carry the race-administered water bottles, I carried either one or two 1.5-liter water bottles.

The author trains with her MdS kit at 3 Days of Syllamo this spring. This photo shows how the OMM Trio has been modified to carry 1.5-liter water bottles (Travis Liles photo credit).

A four-liter front pack, I learned, holds the perfect volume and weight of material, in terms of putting weight on the front of my body and keeping my running form near to normal. However, since the Trio has just one pocket, my racing materials became mixed with other stuff I was storing in the front pocket, making the race materials a challenge to access. In the end, I wish the Trio would have had a smaller, separate pocket into which I could store stuff for each stage of running separately from other items I carried in it. I also learned that this set-up struggled a bit with running over 10 kilometers per hour. At that speed, the water bottles bounced too much in the front pack.

Meghan Hicks

is's Managing Editor and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

There are 14 comments

  1. Tomas Eriksson

    Have you tried the Raidlight evolution? It's 690g weight can be trimmed down quite alot easily. Beside some weight shedding it doesn't need any additional modification.

    I have a race elite 25 that I train with and I like it, but I don't think it will go with me to the MDS next year.

  2. Meghan Hicks


    Thanks for the comment! I haven't tested any of the Raidlight models, but I have studied them closely and know they are the perfect packs for many runners.

    For me, however, a pack that begins at 690 grams is too heavy for self-sufficiency stage racing. I suspect that I could strip this pack down to something in the 400 gram range, but this is still too heavy for me!

    All of that said, finding the right pack to run with for a week's race and the hundreds of miles of training that come before the race is highly individualized. Super that the Raidlight packs work for you and so many others!

    See you in the desert, then, next year, right? :)

  3. Steve

    Great review. I can wait to check one out when I find a local store that carries it. Unfortunately, I just picked up the Camelbak 18X. It is very light and has a lot of room for all day runs. Thanks for the great review again.

  4. Jill Homer (@AlaskaJ

    After using a Raidlight 30-liter pack in RTP Nepal last year, I've been considering what would be the perfect pack for a "fastpacking" trip on the Colorado Trail. One of the main issues I found when testing a few different running packs last year is comfort and conformity to my body. The Osprey packs I tried caused horrible chafing on my hips, and threw the weight around through "bouncing" as you mentioned in this post. I actually prefer these lightweight versions because the lack of support structures make them more malleable, so I can shift the weight where it suits me. Although I think this particular pack would be too small for a self-supported effort where shelter and a warmer sleeping bag is necessary, it gives me some ideas.

  5. Tomas Eriksson

    Thank you for your reply! I totally get that you are weight fanatic, Im the same. I just got the Terra Nova Laser 300 Elite sleeping bag even though I already own a sub 500 gram sleeping bag.

    But if Im not mistaken, the combo you are running with weighs 289+150+bottle modification-weight cutting. So Im guessing you are around the 400 gram range? Im not saying the raidlight is better, but the weight difference is minimal and the front pack on the raidlight is easier to run with then the Omm one if you got some weight in it.

    Is it the HighLite sleeping bag you are using?

    Btw, Im doing a self supported mountain race in the most northern part of sweden in a few weeks (BAMM). There Im going with a Terra Nova Laser 20L Elite and the Laser 300 Elite. I'll probably get cold, but I will be light and fast :)

    1. Meghan Hicks


      Gram counters unite!

      I'd love to know how the Laser 300 Elite performs. I sleep cold so I don't know that I could get away with it, but it's a beautiful piece of ultralight technology. Yes, I use the 5'6" version of the Western Mountaineering HighLite.

      My back and front packs were a total of 345 grams (225 for the stripped down Race Elite 15 and 120 for the modified OMM Trio). In a perfect world, I'd commission an ultralight gear maker to create my front pack for next year, combining the simplicity/ultralight nature of the Trio with the strapping system of the Raidlight front packs. Your thoughts are encouraging me to at least purchase a Raidlight front pack and see what I can do with it… hmn, thanks!

      Best to you in your race and thanks for the conversation!

  6. Meghan Hicks


    Thanks for the note and I totally agree about needing a pack that fully conforms to your body for fastpacking/otherwise running with a pack!

    I love Osprey packs for backpacking (I just used an Osprey Talon 33 for last week's long backpacking trip through Glacier National Park.), but not for running. For me, the material on the backs of the packs that are large enough for multi-day use is too rough for use in running. That said, I've fastpacked with people using them with no issue, so go figure.

    I have a few Inov-8 packs and one of them is the Race Pro 22, which I've used for multi-day runs. It has a horizontal hydration bladder system, in that the bladder sits inside the pack around your hips and pads you from the other contents of the pack. I don't use the bladder (I use a tall, skinny, 1.5-liter disposable water bottle from the grocery store and I store it in one of the outside mesh pockets.), but I do stuff my sleeping bag into the bladder compartment to use it as padding. It feels like heaven.

    Finally, sometimes I get smidges of chafing where my cinched-down pack meets the fleshiest bits of the outside/top of my hips (Love handles?). I use two little strips of BSN Cover-Roll Stretch Tape as pre-tape on those spots. This tape is superthin, it stays on for three or four days, and it eliminates the possibility of chafing. If you're going out for more than an overnight, I definitely recommend finding a tape that works for you and at least carrying a little should something start rubbing.

    I'd love to hear what pack you go with for your outing!

  7. Marc

    First, congrats on getting your kit down some much! I ran the MdS this year & just about squeezed my kit into a 25L inov-8 race elite plus front pack.

    Second – couple of things on the race elite I would suggest to people to check out. First: zip came off after a couple of days. Similar thing happened on the 20L race elite I use for running to & from work (although lasted a bit longer…). Second: the straps ripped into my shoulder blades. Once I stuck a LOT of padding on, was OK but first couple days it was very painful.

    But all in all I do like the inov8 packs (and their shoes) & they are tough and light.

    1. Meghan Hicks


      Thanks for the note. Was it the zipper itself that broke or the zipper pull? My zipper pull broke somewhere along the way, too, and I attached a new pull. I agree that the pull could be redesigned stronger but just as ultralight. I haven't had issue with the zipper itself.

      I'm sorry to hear you had problems with the shoulder straps. Your words emphasize the most important factor about choosing a pack, be it for a stage race or long days in the mountains: fit. A pack that has all the right-to-you features (and that perhaps works perfectly for someone else) but doesn't perfectly fit you is simply not the right pack for you. In stage racing, I think it's particularly important to establish that you've got a pack with a proper fit during training.

      Best to you!

      1. Marc

        Sorry Meghan, yes it was the zipper pull that broke. Zipper itself is fine. Was just a bit annoying rather than a real problem. And you are of course right,I hadn't properly tested it out fully weighted which I should have done. Tested everything else which worked fine so there's the lesson!

  8. Mandy Miller

    Great review Meghan.

    Am deciding between 2 packs that I have for grand2grand – a 20L Olmo Raid Light and a Innov8 20L like the one you profiled, just bigger. Anyway, am tempted to get the same front pack you had and wanted to know if you think it would fit on a RaidLight – am thinking that'll be the pack I use as it has drink holders. Am devoted to keeping the pack weight VERY low but think the front pack might help balance and give less stress to neck and upper back overall. Any thoughts?

  9. Kevin

    I found this write up while researching packs for the Grand 2 Grand Ultra next September. I am pretty light as well,and really want to minimize the weight I will be hauling. I am having a hard time trying to figure out what size pack to use- looking at what you brought for the MDS, is that really all of the food??

    I'm figuring I will need at least 16,000 calories for the six days and have a hard time visualizing how it will fit into such a small pack.

    Thanks for any help you can offer.

  10. Ken Hughes

    Same with me for the zipper pull – snapped off. I just replaced it with a keyring holder thing anyway – much easier to grip when tired than the tiny zipper.

    Will probably do this for all my packs.

    Just about to buy the new model Race Elite 18 (or 24 maybe) – love their packs…

    .. Ken

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