*Disclaimer* I have been gifted this pack by Ultramarathon Running Store for an honest review. I am free to say what I like or don’t like about this pack and to provide a review based on my use of it over the next few months. I tested the ladies specific Fastpackher30 in XS/Small.
When offered one of these packs to test I had to decide which one to get in terms of capacity. I thought about when I might use it, what kinds of events and routes. One event that quickly came to mind was The Spine Race. I have taken part in the Spine Challenger 3 times and have volunteered on the race every winter since 2016. I used my Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 on the 2015 and 2017 events and found that not all my kit fitted into the pack so strapped some items onto the outside . This was not the most comfortable arrangement and made it hard to do any running without the weight swinging about. In 2019 I used the Osprey Tempest 30l pack and have found this to be a great pack. This is what the Fastpackher30 is going to have to beat!
My first thoughts are that in many ways this pack is an improvement on my original Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20. The main improvements are that the back panel and shoulder harness have been made more rigid and breathable, the roll top has a zip down the side so it can open wider and there is a zipped phone pocket on the front. A waist belt helps the pack to stay against the body when running and the whole shoulder harness fitting is fully adjustable. On the downside the waist/kidney pockets are not on the new pack, I did find these really useful for a pack of tissues, my compass and small food items.
So one of the main improvements is that where the pack fits against the back is now more breathable. The InfiknitTM mesh covers the back panel and shoulder harness and is seamless so there should be no problems with rubbing. According to Ultimate Direction the back panel has ‘fastflow technology for increased breathability and wicking’. The short video below compares the mesh back of my original Fastpack with the new version.
The shoulder harness also offers more height adjustment both on the sides and the front. The sternum straps slide nice and easily on the bars. It did take me a while, however, to work out the fit of the sternum straps. You can see in the first picture below that I have kept the side straps pulled in tight which resulted in the should harness being pulled under my armpits. I was feeling frustrated when trying to get items in and out of the pockets on the front. The next day I took everything out of the pack and tried again. Firstly I adjusted the fit of the side straps to give wider points of attachment. Then I played with the fit on the front. I found that the best method was to extend the side straps so that the sternum straps could then be adjusted on the bar and fastened so that the shoulder harness was straighter on my front. Once this was sorted I could then tighten the side straps to take up any slack. I tried this again with the pack reloaded and found it sat in a much more comfortable position. I am not sure this is completely ok and it would be interesting to compare with the fit of the M/L version.
Having got the fit of the pack correct it was then time to see what would go in it. So armed with my Spine Race list of compulsory kit I gathered together all the equipment that I have previously used on this event. Over the years I have refined and improved my kit gradually acquiring lighter and small items, there is still room for improvement, however, with the roll mat the next item to get replaced.
One of the improved features on the new pack is the zip to undo the side of the roll top. This made filling the pack much easier and I was able to stuff my sleeping bag and bivvy bag right down into the bottom of the pack. On top of this I packed most of the rest of the compulsory kit including my spare layers, roll mat, stove and gas, 3 dehydrated meals (3000 cal), gloves/hat/socks, ice spikes, first aid kit, and also a powerbank for charging.
The inside pocket designed for a hydration pouch also works really well for dehydrated meals. I got 3 meals into this space.
Once the bag is packed you can still access the contents of the main pocket through a two way zipper on the side. I always use dry bags to keep my kit organised and dry so I would make sure that I packed anything I need to access quickly against this zip. I think this is a really useful feature and will save opening up the whole bag in a rainstorm to get one item.
A zipped pocket on the back of the bag proved to be just the right size for my head torch and safety goggles.
In the stretch pocket right on the back I slid my two maps and my waterproof overtrousers. (My waterproof jacket could also go in here if I wasn’t wearing it.
On the front of the pack are some smaller pockets on the harness, I used these for my handheld GPS and my compass. My phone would fit into the zip pocket and there are also some stretch pockets which would be useful for cereal bars and chocolate. There is also a pocket here for a soft flask but with the pack fully loaded I did find that this sits quite high. Also I do not have the correct bottle to go into the pocket, they are designed to take up to 600ml soft flasks. I would suggest the Ultimate Direction 500ml soft flask to go in here.
On the side of the pack are 2 large stretch pockets which each are designed to hold a 750ml bottle. I put a 1 litre bottle in each of these which was a tight fit and I would struggle to get these in and out without taking the pack off. I also placed my cooking pot/mug in here as it fits with the Nalgene water bottle.
So all the kit went in, just! In reality I would also like to fit in my down jacket and a couple more pairs of socks. One way I have made extra space with my other packs is to also use an OMM front pouch. This fitted fine with the old Fastpack so should probably also work with this one. I will try this later.
The next blog post will be a review after I have used the pack on an actual expedition. We are due to come out of lockdown soon and should be able to get back out onto the hills. I have plans for a couple of long distance routes so I should be able to give this pack a proper test. From what I have seen so far it looks like a great pack with some real improvements from the previous versions. Will I use it for Spine Challenger instead of the Osprey? We will have to wait and see!
Have you tried this pack? Got any questions? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
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