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.

There are 61 comments

  1. adamiata

    The really obvious question here is how this pack differs from the Nathan HPL 020. They are clearly very similar competing products – with the same designer even. Highlighting the differences between the two would really help justify the much higher cost of the UltrAspire.

    I really like a lot of what I'm seeing so far from UltrAspire, but a comparison with Nathan is inevitable.

    Any idea why Bryce Thatcher switched companies?

    1. Rob Timko

      Adamiata – I have no ties to UltraSpire, but I too was interested in the differences compared to the HPL 020 as that's my main pack. I've been following the release of these bags since the beginning, being a bit of a pack-head (anyone wanna buy a used 3 times salomon s-lab!?). I peeped 2 models at Boulder Running Company this past weekend and I can say without a doubt the construction is significantly better. The sewing, material, the clasps, etc. I had to re-sew the straps on my HPL once (ok, it was due to overpacking it, but…) and just looking at this pack, I can tell you that won't be a problem.

      The magnetic electrolyte pocket is pretty neat and the front pockets are a little different than the HPL (better) The stretchyness of the back is better than the bungee I have on my HPL.

      I tried on the race vest type pack and it was nice, but a bit tight on my frame (5'8 160)

      I'm really awaiting the pack that has the water bottle holder in the back.

      1. adamiata

        Now that you mention it, I have noticed some quality issues with a couple friends' Nathan race vests. The sternum strap stitching on both sides of one unraveled on the first use and another had the silicone wishbone on the back split apart. I've had no issues with my own 020. It get used heavily and I love it.

  2. art

    is the 304g weight mentioned in the article the "Real" weight ?

    has anyone acutally weighed the pack ?

    is this claimed weight without bladder or with ?

    1. Bryon Powell

      Your comment made me realize that I'd actually weighed the Surge and it came in at 322 grams without bladder. I'd consider those 18 grams (.63 ounces) to be well within tolerances as the Spry I weighed was actually lighter than claimed (165 g actual vs 171 g claimed).

  3. Weldon

    Any alternative to the Nathan HPL 020 is welcome. I know the Nathan is a very popular pack and I liked mine until the soft rubber thingy that holds the straps broke after only my third training run using it. Can't see trusting it for a long event although I know a lot of people do. I bought a Salomon S-Lab pack that I like even better for carrying hydration but it is harder to pack with lots of gear and not necessarily as good for long runs. So, I'm looking forward to seeing Ultraspire's lineup.

  4. Matt Smith

    Given Krissy's involvement with UltraSpire, I'm surprised to see that they don't offer any women-specific packs. I like the look of the Surge, but will likely go with the Nathan Intensity or the Ultimate Direction Wink for my sweetie's Xmas present.

    1. Travis


      While the Surge is not specific for women, I'll call out that the straps on the front of the pack are across the midsection and not the chest. I would see that as being more of a gender nuetral position then most other packs that have a sternum strap.

  5. Ethan

    While the company looks to be designing some great products, and I have no doubt it is full of good, humble, salt-of-the-earth people, is anyone else wincing at the "Elite Immortals" roster title?

    1. Non-Elite Mortal

      I not only winced, I laughed out loud. Not enough to be elite; not enough to be immortal … we now have the !!$$ELITE IMMORTAL$$!! (trademarked of course). I guess that means there are the 'run of the mill … far less talented … non-elites of the immortal realm … that must suck having to live all eternity getting your ass whooped and having to listen to discussions of prize money you're never going to get FOREVER.

      Think I'll stick with my bike tube handstrap'ed bottles …

  6. Aaron

    Was hoping to see one of the Ultraspires packs reviewed with the hand bottle holders instead of the only Ultraspire pack that I would not want. Just another bladder pack, even though it was made with UTMB in mind through Krissy and I'm sure it's a pretty sweet "bladder pack". It seems that Ultraspires main drive is there unique design for there hand held bottle holders to fit on there pack line.

    Another preview please…

    1. Peter

      I've noticed that lots of trailrunners in the USA use hand bottle holders, even in 100 mile ultra races. What is the advantage of these holders compared to hip packs or back packs with Camelbacks? In Europe (Netherlands in my case) these hand bottle holders are barely used. Thanks for fiiling me in.

  7. Meghan

    Thanks for the review, Travis!

    I've been testing the Surge and it fits great on my female, 5'6", 125-pound frame.

    The front straps cross nicely over my sternum and belly; the length of the pack down my torso is perfect; there is plenty of room to cinch the straps further for ladies who are littler than me.

    While there are a couple things about the Surge that I'd prefer to be different, they have nothing to do with female-specific form/fit/function. I totally vouch for it being a solid pack for us ladies and our bodies.

    Here's a photo of me wearing it a few weeks ago, as an example: http://www.meghanmhicks.com/wp-content/uploads/20… (I'm on the left).

    1. Krissy Moehl

      While the pack is not woman specific we tested the pack on a variety of body sizes and shapes while in the Philippines as well as on our team of athletes. I was in the Philippines in May with the design team and got to be one of bodies that tested the range of hydration packs. The idea now is to make packs that have adjustability for the range of body types. If you check out my blog post about my trip to the Philippines you will see a photo of 4 of us ranging from me (5'7" 135lbs) to Scott (6'1, 185lbs). Our athlete team also ranges in size to help ensure our designs are dialed. [Broken link to Krissy Moehl’s June 7, 2011 blogpost entitled “Invincible I Am Not” removed.]

      I hope that helps in addition to Meghan's comment :)

      1. Matt Smith

        Thanks to everyone for the clarification and details about the form and fit of the Surge pack – the pictures definitely help! Plus, my fiance is the same size as Meghan, so I'm confident that the pack would work well. Definitely worth a second look…

        I'm also liking the Omega pack – maybe for my own Xmas gift. :)

      2. Jeff Faulkner

        Thanks for clarifying that the UltrAspire packs have been designed with runners of many different sizes in mind. I'm built more like a football linebacker than a Kenyan marathoner and it's hard to find a pack that fits well on me. Could you tell me which model would be the best for a 5'10" 180 pound ultrarunner?

  8. gary aronhalt

    dang… as a guy who's 6'4" and 215, i'm so jealous of how nicely all these running accessories fit you "little" people! :-)

    any thoughts on how this would work for someone my size? i'd really like to get a good hydration pack for longer excursions, but have ALWAYS had difficulty finding stuff that fits my frame.

    i love the look of that S Lab pack, but this seems like it might be a good (cheaper!) option, too…

    1. Krissy Moehl

      The idea now is to make packs that have adjustability for the range of body types. If you check out my blog post about my trip to the Philippines you will see a photo of 4 of us ranging from me (5’7″ 135lbs) to Scott (6’1, 185lbs). Our athlete team also ranges in size to help ensure our designs are dialed. [Broken link to Krissy Moehl’s June 7, 2011 blogpost entitled “Invincible I Am Not” removed.]

      It would be great to hear if there is enough adjustability to fit your frame comfortably…

      1. gary aronhalt

        as a man of above average size, and as one who has real difficulty finding gear that "fits" i'd be thrilled to help field test one of your packs… and i'd be happy to write up a review from that perspective, too (for irunfar.com, of course)… feel free to email…

    2. wyocapt

      I concur with Rob ……… No way you are fitting in a s-lab pack. I have the m/l version and its a solid, well built pack with great features, but at 6' and 180 I am pushing its sizing contraints. Additionally, the angle of the bottle pouches and side mount position the bottles in such a fashion they will slightly rub the inside of each bicep during normal arm swing. Not something you will notice in the store or during a 30k, but wearing it for a 12 hour technical 50M will leave you looking at the inside of your arms and thinking WTH? If you look at the Salomon runners (UTMB, Hardrock) they are wearing a similar pack, yet with repositioned, more frontal mounted, more vertical bottle pouches. Hmm.

    3. EeroK

      I'm 6'7", 209, and use a S-lab pack. i have the older one-size-fits-all model that I've heard is somewhere between the current sizes. I recently tried on the M/L and it fit even better, so I'm thinking about getting a 12l one in that size and selling the old one

      So I'd say try it on. Mine is snug, but I really the fit. You don't almost even notice it's there. I like it because it doesn't have a waist strap (I've never owned a pack with a waist strap that would sit in the right place).

      Wide chest and/or shoulders might not work, but IMO it fits a tall person just as well as a short one.

      1. EeroK

        The only thing that I don't like about the pack is the front bottle pockets (wyocapt above describes it well). But I only use them for gels, so they don't really bother me.

        I'm sure a bigger vest would fit me even better, but I've yet to find a model from any other company that would be better for me. I'm sure there might be one out there.

        1. EeroK

          Oh, forgot to mention that I'm really looking forward to trying the Surge or the Omega on. They look like they might be the perfect hybrid between Nathan and S-lab. And it looks like it would fit a runner of almost any size.

          1. wyocapt

            To clarify, excluding the limitations of the size offerings, the s-lab pack is a well built, quality piece of equipment. As suggested, fit is very personal, but limiting sizes is akin to vise-grips …… they work alright in a pinch for a variety of applications, but excel at nothing. Perhaps Ultaspire has engineered the holy grail of adjustability with the new series of packs. While typically resistent to the newer, bigger, better, faster mentality – I have no doubt I will be wearing one at some point in the near future. Considering the team of folks behind the product, I am confident the packs will be worth the wait and asking price.

  9. Tony Bunt

    Is anyone else not liking the purple? I can't see myself buying a purple pack… I'm not against the color in general, I would just prefer something less ugly for my money. I happen to be a fan of the Nathan HPL 020 as well; this looks like another good option.

  10. Aaron

    For all those tall people, try the Salomon XT Wings 5 Pro Backpack.

    My friend is 6' 2" and he has a friend that is 6'4" and it fits him. The torso is supper long.

  11. solarweasel

    I received my "Spry" on Friday and took it for a 4-hour test run Saturday morning. I am willing to say it's an awesome piece of gear.

    Comparison to the Nathan 028:

    -added pockets on upper shoulder straps

    -magnetic snap to secure the pouch

    -aluminum(?) buckles that cinch down very securely

    -slightly lighter, but maintains that snug, comfortable, "forget-it's-even-there" fit

    Gave it a little love in this blog post: [Removed broken link to Solar Weasel blog]

    …and ordered another for my sister who'll be running her first 100 in 2012 :)

  12. Matt Lutz

    Same question here – HPL 020 is my racing pack and I can't justify swapping it until a) it dies or b) something much, much better comes along. From what I've seen of this, HPL 020 > Surge.

  13. Brian R.

    Has anyone tried the Fastpack from UltrAspire? Also, I'm a bigger guy (6'6", 235), so I'm wondering about fit. Looks like a great pack for an all day adventure in the mountains.



    1. Jeff Faulkner

      Good idea Gary. They could market it towards us guys that don't have the time to run 100+ mile weeks to get svelte like the elites.

    2. Travis

      just to chime in here…. most stuff does not fit us "little people" either. Most the time adjustment straps are cinched up as much as possible and the fabric is bunched or folded. Also the packs tend to be too long and will hit too far down on my back. I would say most of the time these things are made for average size then just adjust up or down. As a smaller person who has packs like the UD Wasp, Nathan Endurance 2.0…. this one fits me the best. It maintains its original shape without creasing or bunching up like those others do.

  14. Tan and Fabulous

    Dear Abby,

    Does it have a lifetime guarantee? It is created by immortals so it should, right? But then again, I don't know if it being created by elite immortals means they have any concept of a 'lifetime'.



  15. DLip

    Surge looks just like the UD Wasp, except for the colors. For those looking to add a bottle to the pack, UD Diablo has a bottle option on the back to go along with bladder.

    I am in the same boat as Jeff, built not like a linebacker but more like a strong safety, and most packs are for the lean. I do train with the diablo. Just scrapped the 96oz. bladder, and use camelbak 50-80 oz. bladder with the bottle.

    I feel for the big fellas, far and few between for pack options.

    Good Luck from a mortal,


  16. Brendan

    ANy idea of how these packs shape (pocket usefullness, size etc) in comparison to the SLAB 5 or upcoming large 12 litre vests?

    Also, can they carry more than 2 litres of water?



  17. Aaron H

    Two sternum straps is the critical feature for me. I sewed a second one onto my HPL 020 which made it more stable and comfortable when full.

  18. Geoff

    Tried one on this morning, I'm 5'8", around 190 with fairly broad shoulders and wide chest…fit was very tight. I'll keep using my Camelbak Octane XCT until I find a vest that fits comfortably.

  19. Weldon

    Runningwarehouse.com has them (a little cheaper too). I ordered one yesterday. Would have ordered from ultraspire days ago but they were already out of black ones, I'm not crazy about the blue, and I don't want red.

  20. Jay

    Are you sure the Spry is lighter? UltrAspire claims the Spry is 171 grams (~6 oz). The sources I can find online (it's not on Nathan's site) claim the HPL 028 is 4.5 oz. Anyone know for sure?

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