UltrAspire Surge Review

UltrAspire SurgeBryce Thatcher has been designing hydration packs for quite a while now… in fact, he invented the category. Now, he and a stable of stellar athletes (Krissy Moehl, Karl Meltzer, and Duncan Callahan to name just a few) are combining technical know-how and trail knowledge to try and reinvent the category with UltrAspire’s line of hydration and portable storage systems. The first two packs in the UltrAspire lineup – the Spry and the Surge – made a limited debut this fall before the company launches its full lineup next March.

The following is a review of the large of this two packs, the Surge. At 11.4 ounces (322 g) and $115, this is a reasonably lightweight vest-style pack that would work well for a 20+ mile trail run or an ultra for those who carry more than just food and water. On its front, the Surge features two large pockets low on the straps with one featuring a small stash pouch on its face while the upper portion of the straps have one small stash pouch and one “Magnon” pocket, a small water-resistant, self-closing pocket for all your pills. The rear has one large zipper compartment, including a sleeve for holding a 2-liter bladder, while a generous stash pocket sits outside the large compartment. For more details, check out the following review.

Update: Due to a wealth of comments looking to compare the UltrAspire Surge to the Nathan HPL 020, we’ve uploaded pics of both packs to a Facebook album.

[If you prefer text reviews, there’s a full transcript of the review below.]

UltrAspire Surge Video Review Transcript

Hi! Welcome to Trail Trials, the video review section of iRunFar.com. My name is Travis Liles and in this review we’re going to take a look at the Surge from UltrAspire. UltrAspire is a new company that is working really hard to make innovative products in terms of carrying your supplements, your water, and the things that you need when you’re out on the trail. One of the things we’re going to look at today is one of the first products available from them commercially, which is the Surge backpack. The Surge backpack is a backpack/hydration pack, so it has an area in here for a sleeve. What we’re going to do is get up close and personal, look at the features, as well as look at this on one of my recent trips to the Grand Canyon. So let’s check it out.

Let’s start by looking at the front of the pack. The first thing I’ll call out are these extremely long straps here that are part of the side compression or side adjustments. You have a lot of travel there. I’m a smaller runner, 5’5″ and 130 pounds, so for me I need something that’s going to cinch up. But if you are larger, there is a lot of space here. If this would have been my own personal pack vs. a test unit, I would have cut these off just so they weren’t flopping around as much. I wanted to leave these on here definitely to demonstrate the distance and the amount of adjustment that you have here.

In the middle, at the chest and the lower part of the stomach, we have two clips. The thing that is different about these is that they are aluminum vs. the standard two pronged clips where you have one piece that clips onto another, here you have a simple hook and a loop and that’s going to go in there pretty easily. What’s nice about these is that it’s sturdy, you don’t have to pinch it, so if you’re wearing gloves or something like that, you’re not going to have to futz around to try to feel that. And you’ll see that in a couple of other spots that there was some good attention to detail for things like that for winter running or when your hands might be cold or even later in a race when dexterity might become an issue. You have two of those:  one right around the lower chest and one maybe closer to the stomach area depending on maybe where this is going to ride. Those do not adjust much except for down, so if you’d like it a little looser across your chest and tighter on the side you can do that or vice versa but, again, because of the length of the straps on the side, lots of room for adjustment.

On the left lower pocket you have one that’s easily accessible. This could easily fit a camera or something along those lines, of course, any other type of gear. Again, a very big pull is on this zipper, which if you’re wearing gloves, it’s going to be very easy to pull and to pull that across. So more good attention to detail. And here’s another pocket, as you can see from a size perspective, I can get about my whole fist in there. This does not stretch. This pocket is going to be a confined size here but quite a few gels and things are going to be able to fit into that one.

On the other side, we do have a stretch pocket. So this will open up, you have a bungee cord on here, and again this will get big and you can put probably two hands in this one. So you can see there, again, a lot of space for things to fit into this if you need it, and if not, you can very easily scrunch it down and with a quick pull on your bungee cord reduce that distance quite a bit.

Up here on the upper left pocket, you have a loop for if you have something that you want to stuff in there and hold or (a tube) from a hydration pack. Then behind this is another little mesh pocket where you can put electrolytes which are actually in here. Also, it’s your clip for a bottle. In the video that you’re going to see of me wearing this in my Grand Canyon run there’s actually a little display of that.

Over on the upper right hand side is a really interesting thing:  the Magnon electrolyte pocket. You don’t have to put electrolytes in here but you can and what’s nice is that this is magnetic and it just flips closed really nice so you don’t have to worry about that staying open and something falling out of it. So chapstick or something like that, or electrolytes in there, and that’s going to close really well so that you’re not losing anything. There’s not an extra pocket behind that.

There is real simple open-weave mesh on the straps across the whole thing. What you’ll see in the next video and what I want you to take notice of is how wide it fits on the shoulders. That’s something I really found to be great.

[Demo video]

Getting the pack on and off is really easy. It’s just simply getting the front clips undone as well as the hose from the hydration pack. In the front main pocket here I have quite a few items. I have a baseball hat, some nutritional supplements that are about 4.5oz of liquid in a foil pack, you can also see some nutritional bars hanging out the bottom. Simply clip that top back together. Everything is in nice and secure, and then it’s just a matter of placing the pack back on. You can see it has really wide straps. I’m 5’5″ and 130 pounds so I have a small frame but that’s not riding up, it’s not scratching on my neck or anything like that. Real simple with the hooks here to get them back on (chest strap). Then with the hose, it clips in really easy and then you have the Magnon pocket over here. To elaborate on the hose, this is built in (the clip on the left), it can’t move from either side, but it’s really simple to just clip in. You can see it just flips in really easy and it flips out really easy which is nice. There’s a lot of attention to detail that makes it really easy to get in and out of.

The back of the pack:  let’s start of by looking at the bottom portion. The first thing we have is another stretch mesh pocket. The suspension of this pack actually comes through here. So what you’ll see from the sides here when we pull on it is some elastic. That has a lot of travel to it, which means it has some good kind of compression or spring or elasticity to it. So when you’re moving, the pack has a little bit of stretch and a little bit of give to it giving it a really good feel when it’s riding. It’s not hard and stiff shaking back and forth. It has some give to go back and forth. Of course with that, you have holes going through this pocket. So you need to take note of the things that you’re putting in there that they don’t escape out the sides. I was able to get some things like some Honey Stinger waffles and a sandwich and stuff like that in here so I didn’t have to worry about anything like that, but a gel or something like that would more than likely slide out the side.

As we move towards the top, we have a very simple clip here [I’ll spin this around]. So on the top of the pack [we’re upside down now], we have a clip that you’re going to open up and that’s going to give you access to the inside of the bag. Now the inside of the bag you have some space. Now, of course, if you don’t have a (hydration) bladder in it you’re going to have more. If you do have a bladder in it you’re going to run out of space kind of quick, maybe only a couple hundred cubic inches of space. Inside here you don’t have a full bladder sleeve either. It’s not segregated into two separate parts. Rather, there’s a strap right here in the middle, which is going to be hard to see, but it’s going to separate that out and give it something to hold it back. But it’s not kind of slid down and tucked in there. I didn’t notice that to be a problem. Now the hydration bladder that comes with this, as noted on the UltrAspire site, I didn’t get that. I had a Nathan 100 ounce fold top that I used with this and it worked just fine, if not maybe a little too big for this pack specifically, but it worked.

Up top, the last part is this hood, or this little top that we have on here that’s going to connect back up. So, again, we have one of these nice pulls on the zipper that is easy to pull on especially if you’re wearing gloves or something like that. Then we have a stretchy pocket. This is good for flashlights and headlamps. It’s big enough to fit electronics if you throw your phone or something like that in there. And then this fabric on top is treated a little bit or has a plastic-y feel so that, obviously you want to be careful with those electronics or battery things up here, but that can hopefully keep some water from getting to the inside of this if it was raining or something along those lines.

So that’s the pack in its entirety. So now give it a look as to what that’s going to look like full and on my back as I’m ascending the North Rim of the Grand Canyon just to see it in use.

[Demo video]

We’d just stopped a few miles before this to fill up so this is a full pack. It’s centered, really compact, and right in the middle of my back.

So with another option out there in terms of companies that are helping you get to the finish line by making sure you have your stuff and doing it comfortably, UltrAspire has a really great pack on their hands.  Some innovative features here:  the suspension system, the Magnon pocket for making sure you don’t lose those all valuable electrolyte pills or other small items you might want to carry in there, the really great ride.

So, as always, make sure to leave your questions and comments below this video. Thanks for watching and we’ll catch you next time.

Travis Liles

resides in Portland, Oregon where he is a husband, father, and a technical specialist for a software company. In his spare time, he is exploring his new home in the Pacific Northwest, getting more vertical but still not living in the thin air, while producing "Trail Trials with Travis Liles" video gear reviews for iRunFar.