UltrAspire Astral Race Vest Review

The Astral by UltrAspire is the latest addition of female-specific gear to hit the market.  No longer are women relegated to “pinked” versions of mens packs–these are built just for the ladies.

MSRP is $130 available here and they’ll be available soon.

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Right Off the Bat

  • This pack has a great look. Electric blue color is fun yet practical (will hide trail dirt) and microfiber mesh fabric on chest is different—looks like honeycomb netting.
  • Hello, boobies. The new design draws attention to the chest, no matter how big or small. Kinda awkward.
  • Beyond vanity, it has several cool features I’ve never seen before: big front pockets that sit on belly vs. side for easy access, magnetic closure on a chest strap pocket, fastens in front with loopholes, new bladder hanging system.

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Fit and Feel

  • Super comfortable on. Took several adjustments initially but. Side strap adjustments are easy to pull tighter or loosen.
  • Still seems awkward when I look in the mirror – like a circle frame around my boobs and I am not large-breasted. I understand the point is to keep the chest clear and that aspect feels good when running with this pack on.
  • Light weight, even with the two liter bladder filled.
  • I was worried the water tube would poke through to my back so I turned the bladder outward and brought the tube up and over the outside of the bladder through the loopholes.

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Plus

  • Magnetic pocket on chest strap is impressive. Snaps shut naturally. Seems it will stay secure longer than Velcro closures which wear out with use. Also, pocket opens vertically so easier to access from top with your hand.
  • New bladder hanging system is quite smart and simple… maybe too smart and simple…until you figure out how to use it. Eric had to send a video from UltrAspire founder Bryce Thatcher, only to learn it was embarrassingly easy. The pack has a t-buckle you slide through the bladder slot, after you put bladder pack, and then flip horizontal so it locks the bladder in place and holds it upright. (See pics below.) That’s a major plus for me because the bladders in both of my previous packs fell off the hanger, sunk down and sloshed around.
  • Doesn’t bounce much or shift side-to-side with movement. Stays secure.
  • I’m a fan of the front pockets! Style variation provides user flexibility. I liked to use the zipper pocket for fuel and the open pocket for trash. And the pocket placement (on abdomen) made it easy to swing and move arms freely.
  • Dual sides for hose are always a good idea.
  • Front fastening system: cords are elastic so while they stay tight, they’re flexible for easier breathability. Easy on/off with the “book hook” system.
  • Not a lot of cords flapping and making noise! Love that!
  • Straps across back (outside of pack) are great to insert your jacket or extra layer after you warm up. External pocket on back I’d use for gloves, hat, or other clothing.

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Bladder attaches to this clip.
Bladder attaches to this clip.

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Delta

  • The top cord on the front attachment system constantly loosened on me, while the bottom stayed secure. I was sure it was a defect, but after a few annoying runs constantly reaching in the zipper pocket to pull the cord tighter, my boyfriend realized the recoil cords had popped out of the “lock in place” mechanism. Another feature too fancy for me to figure out, so UltrAspire may want to explain how to use secure it once adjusted with photos or a video.
  • UltrAspire promotes that the bladder in back will be much easier at aid stations. I’m not so sure. While I didn’t have the opportunity to test this pack in a race, the bladder doesn’t slide in and out of the pack itself. The slide on these types of bladders is complicated, even frustrating, for some people and the t-buckle hanging system may be new to aid station volunteers.
  • Having the bladder against my back warmed my water more quickly than other packs which would be a big problem for hot runs. Cooling lining against the back would be great.
  • Not a fan of the mouthpiece. It might be that I’m just used to the smaller pieces on other bladders, but it felt too big. Plus it’s kind of annoying to pull it out and push it in every time. I like the ability to just drink from it. The less work you have to do to get water the better, especially in longer distances when you forget to drink anyway.
  • I wasn’t sure what to do with the extra length on the water tube after threading it through the pack. I just let it dangle in front of me, which was annoying because it flopped around while I ran. It would be nice if there was a place to attach mouthpiece to upper part of the body or fasten it across the sternum.

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Final Thoughts

UltrAspire will have to explain to buyers/users how to attach the bladder to the vest since it’s such a new design. Photos will work and a video would be ideal. I also recommend the pack provide instruction to lockdown the coil-cords in the front attachment system. I didn’t pick this up on my own either because it’s hidden behind the front pocket.

Sorry to harp on the boob thing, but it really bugs me. I’m sure the chest harness curve is what makes it a comfortable fit/feel. For me, it’s uncomfortable because of the look. Maybe some women won’t care. Maybe I shouldn’t care because it’s comfortable.

Overall, I’d recommend this pack based on comfort and functionality. I wouldn’t recommend it for runs on hot days or hot-climate runners, unless UltrAspire creates a method to keep water cool. Kudos to UltrAspire for coming up with smart enhancements to make things easier for the runner.

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[This review was written by Whitney Chamberlain from Sacramento, CA but who commonly runs the trails around Auburn and Cool. Fall morning runs and cool, muddy trails with a little drizzle are her favorite conditions. When training, her average week is about 40 miles (half on trails). Since she finished Cuyamuca 100k in October, she’s just been running without agenda until she finds her next race.

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