On receiving CamelBak's new running vest designed for women I was keen to see how it matched up to the various other running vests and bumbags I've worn as a fell runner. At 7 litres all-in (gear capacity 6L plus space for 1L of water) I recognise that it's designed for limited amounts of stuff. This makes it great for summer runs when you're needing to carry food and drink and not much else, but less so for hill running in colder or more mixed weather, when you may need extra layers. Weighing just 150g, it's a good lightweight option.
Pockets and other features
With the Ultra Pro you are spoilt for choice for pockets. I'll list them and then just make a few comments:
- Two long mesh pockets at the front
- Two bottle material pockets at the front with draw string
- One mesh pocket in front of the bottle pocket
- One secure zipped pocket in front of the left bottle pocket with further internal pocket
- Two mesh side pockets (one each side)
- One long "through" pocket running along the back, and layered under the other two mesh side pockets
- Large back pocket with flap to close
- Not technically a pocket – but a pole stow across the back
That's a lot of pocket... however I found that if you try to use them all at the same time or overfill the back pocket then the vest isn't comfortable. The large back pocket will only hold one item comfortably, be that an OS map or one spare thin top. The flap closure is secure enough that I have put car keys and phone in the bottom without issue.
This back pocket will still fit a bladder and there's a hole for the drinking tube to fit through. I like this versatility and have already used it.
The mesh side pockets and back through-pocket are where most items are going to go. Access to them on the run is fine, although it's a bit of a memory test as to which pocket you put something in. Initially I was worried that things might fall out of the more shallow mesh pockets, but I was wrong and I've run with buffs or food in them and with several pockets it means you aren't going to drop something when pulling another item out.
The back through-pocket is the most useful for spare clothing and is accessible whilst on the move, which is really handy. I've been able to pull my waterproof out and put it on over the sack so I don't have to lose time by stopping. Using this pocket to its full is again dependant on not much going in the long back pocket.
The front mesh pocket is excellent for holding more cereal bars than I could eat on most runs and the front zipped pocket is perfectly placed and reassuringly secure for keys. You can operate the zip with just one had too.
For safety the vest comes with an attached whistle, which is small and mighty; you also get reflective strips for night running.
Breathability & Fit
The Women's Ultra Pro Vest is specifically designed to fit the female frame (the clue is in the name), and comes in four sizes. There's a men's version too, which is available in just three sizes.
When you hold the vest up you see it couldn't be made of a better material for wicking - the whole thing is basically made of a honeycomb mesh. This has only been hampered when I've put some plastic in there. I've not found that the material is very stretchy though.
A double sternum strap helps give a close fit with minimal bounce, fastening securely and without any faff to ensure the vest doesn't move at all. However I've found the fit of the pack a bit off. I went by the sizing guide and ordered a medium, and whereas I'm usually an 8 - 10 / XS - S and a 34 A bra, when loaded the vest feels tight and short on my back and I'm not sure whether a size up might in fact fit better. Once I've drunk a bit of water and the bottles reduce in size it gets more comfortable and the bottles ride better.
I chose the Ultra Pro Vest with 2 drink pouches over the bladder because I think the pouches are easier to refill whilst on the move and to drink from. I wasn't disappointed. Together the bottles hold a total of 750ml, a bit less than the litre I'm used to, but they release the water well, feel robust, and don't hold any aftertaste from the drink (in fact it's refreshing not to taste Milton sterilising fluid which is the only way I can properly clean other bottles I've got). They clean with the biting parts dismantling easily and without fear of the tiny components disappearing down the plug hole. The open/close valve is so trustworthy that I've used a bottle in my handbag next to papers on the train to London without worry! Suffice it to say I prefer CamelBak's soft bottles to other models I've got.
Initially I didn't like the position of the bottles when loaded into the vest, but then I realised that contrary to the internet pictures, if you put them in the non-mesh pocket they sit much better and you don't feel as "busty".
I've put the vest through the washing machine on the handwash cycle a few times and it comes out great, highly recommended to keep the vest fresh and your friends close!
At £99.99 this is comparable to other running vests; its wicking property makes it worthwhile for those wanting a running vest of smaller volume.
I've tested the vest in the UK and on the Continent, and it suits summer runs because of its small capacity and water bottles. I wouldn't use it when FRA mandatory kit is needed in a race because it would then be overstuffed. I've grown to like it after getting used to the various pockets. However this is a 7 litre sack so you shouldn't be looking to load it up with full waterproofs. I've reached for it over my other kit when the capacity suited, and have enjoyed using it in both rural and urban areas for between 10 and 20 mile runs. Now winter's on the way and more clothing is generally required, it may get a bit less use...
The Women's Ultra Pro Vest is perfect for long distance training and racing. It's engineered to fit a woman's frame and available in four sizes to ensure a personalized fit. There are four different soft flask specific pockets so you can customize where you carry the included two 500ml Quick Stow flasks. Made with 3D micro-mesh, the Ultra Pro ensures proper ventilation and comfort over the long-haul. It offers plenty of front cargo storage for easy access to fuel and a secure zippered pocket for your phone. The back and sides include several stretch overflow pockets for extra layers or essentials and it can accommodate a 1.5L reservoir for longer self-supported runs. With reflective accents throughout, you'll always be visible on early morning or late-night expeditions.
- Weight: 150g
- Sizes: XS-L (women) S-L (men)
- 3D Micro Mesh: Multi-directional air flow and cushioning to maximize comfort and breathability
- Secure phone pocket
- Dual adjustable sternum straps
- Stretch overflow pocket
- Fuel and Gear Storage: Organize run essentials with pockets specifically designed for Quick Stow flasks
- Trekking pole carry
- Reflectivity for early morning or late-night runs
- Safety whistle
For more info see camelbak.co.uk