I have now had several trail runs with both UltrAspire packs to be able to give a complete run down with pros/cons of each pack.
* Per label:
Weight 171g/ 6.03 oz
My take on the Spry: stupid simple...just as I like my packs. It is fast, ultra light weight, and no extra doo-dads to fuss with. All my necessities are front and ready for quick access. I don't need to mess with taking pack on and off for stuff in the rear. It is so light it feels like it's part of my shirt. Here's the low down:
#1 right drawcord pocket
#2 right magnetic waterproof pouch
#3 left elastic mesh upper mini pocket
#4 left very spacious zipper (appears waterproof also) pocket
#5 exterior mesh elastic pocket.
I store my kleenex/wipes in #1 and also use it as my quick stash pocket for gloves or armwarmers. This is a super convenient change from my old pack where I had to remove my pack every time I took off/put on gloves or arm warmers (or asked a fellow runner to do it for me mid-stride). I like this pocket and it cinches tight with a decent amount of cord to grab onto with gloves. I haven't had any objects fall out of this pocket (unlike my trial with one other Nathans pack where I lost my map). UltrAspire advertises this pocket can also be used to hold a bottle which I haven't tried. For me I think that might be a bit bulky and bang up my poor Ta-Ta. I'll have to give it a try just for future reference.
#2 is cool but teeny tiny. It is meant for salt pills or such but I haven't really had any use for salt tabs in quit awhile. Right now I store my car key and a tampon (sorry guys for TMI) there. I could see this pocket size might be an issue for guys with larger fingers.
#3 I tried putting my iPod Nano here but found it difficult to use the dial control on it. When I put it in the same location on my Surge, the bladder mouthpiece and clip interferes with the access. I now put a gel or gum in it. I would also consider putting my kleenex/wipes here to free up #1 for other things.
#4 I was surprised at how large this seemingly small compartment was. It fit a handful of gels in it with still room to breathe. This will be extremely convenient for ultra runs. With my other pack I had to stash three or four in my breast pocket and the rest on my back. Halfway through a run I would have to stop, take off my pack, and swap out wrappers for new gels. I now keep a little doggy bag in with the gels so I can just toss my wrappers in the baggy for a no-mess Leave No Trace cleanup post race.This pocket also feels as if it might be somewhat water proof or at least water resistant. The pull tabs on the zipper are long enough for a good gloved grasp but not long enough to slap around while running.
One thing I did note while doing a very short 3 miler around our local park, I only had one or two gels in this pocket and nothing in the other. The pocket, being secured slightly high on the actual pocket by the sternum strap, tended to bounce and slap me a little in the ribs. It wasn't painful just ever so slightly annoying. Once I added a little more weight to the pocket the bouncing became less noticeable. Not exactly a complaint by any means just know it can bounce if not weighed down some.
#5 I keep my camera here or my iPod when not carrying my camera.
The neck straps are wide. So wide I was a bit uncomfortable with my first run. I was used to my Nathan's pack which snugged my shoulders and neck more. After my first few runs I realized exactly how comfortable the wider shoulder straps were and noticed I wasn't having the mild neck muscle fatigue I sometimes get with really long runs. The fabric is really thin and breathable without compromising it's durability.
The hole in the back is a bit odd looking but I guess it works. Cuts down on fabric, i.e. weight, and allows my back to breathe. I'm okay with it.
The back of the Spry is simple. I like simple. The pocket closes with a sturdy magnetic snap. I have fit my .38 in here with an ultra-light Gortex jacket without any issues. The butt of the gun doesn't stick up or print too bad as long as I use my pancake Kydex holster my husband made for me. This pocket also fits a minimalist bladder for longer runs with two elastic bands up front for securing your mouthpiece. I will be using this pack a lot on my local 10ish mile trail runs where all I need is a handheld and maybe a light jacket or headlamp. With greater distances, the only time I would chose this pack over the Surge is in the dead heat of summer where I don't need a jacket and can toss extra water back there or purification tabs.
The Spry sits high between the shoulder blades, front sternum and single side straps are very easily adjusted.
Weight: 304g/ 10.72 oz
2L Hydration compartment
As you can see, same front except this now has a double sternum strap. I was initially concerned about the hook clasp attachment points (my Nathans had a quick release buckle which was indeed quick). After a few times using the clasp, however, I have come to the conclusion that it is very secure and super easy to work, even with numb fingers.
Nice slim profile, nothing bulky poking out or abnormally distributing weight. I could lay (or fall) on my back and not be discomforted while wearing this pack. Notice the front falls slightly lower down on my chest than the Spry. The Surge also has double straps on either side for a perfect custom fit. The extra slack on the straps dangle, which are easily fixed by rolling, tucking, or cutting. I, however, like the extra ribbon lengths and find it easy to grab hold of and adjust mid-stride as needed. I might trim them just a little.
The rear of the pack has three "pockets":
#1 top accessory zipped pocket. I put my water tabs and foot care kit here with a few extra things of food.
#2 exterior mesh compartment (for jacket etc.)
#3 large main compartment for bladder
Now the Cons:
A) I am undecided about the included bladder. I have always preferred my 1L Camelbak bladder with it's easy big bite valve mouthpiece. This bladder is unique in that to fill it, you slide a plastic bar off the very top then fold up the top of the bag (similar to the closure of a colostomy bag...for those medical people, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about). That part is cool once you get the hang of it but the mouthpiece is "different". To lock or unlock the mouthpiece, you rotate it. You bite down on it to get a slug of water (so far so good, it flowed extremely well) but when I locked it and clipped it to my chest it leaked. Not a lot but a few drops here and there was annoying. I also wonder how durable the hard plastic slide would be long term. The bladder is advertised as a 2L bladder but I couldn't fit more than 1.5L in it. I will take it for a few more runs before I ask UltrAspire if I have a leaky lemon, or just swap it for my previous loved Camelbak.
B) My biggest caveat: there is no separate compartment, even just an ultralight easy access sleeve, for the bladder. I loved how my Nathan's pack had an external zip compartment for the bladder. On races it was so easy to just slide the bladder out, pop off the attachment point (where the tubing meets the bladder), and refill the bladder in seconds. I also didn't have to worry about any objects getting too close to the bladder and puncturing it.
With the Surge, there is only one large compartment that fits the bladder (a small half-zip entry) and an elastic band that crosses horizontally midway down the compartment. I am not sure what purpose this band serves since the compartment isn't very big and therefore holds the bladder snugly without it. If you carry a full bladder there is very little room to put anything else in there and you have to be mindful not to put anything sharp next to the bladder. I stuck my ziplock bag of blanket, HotHands, and QuikClot there.
When I went to refill the bladder, I had to take out my ziplock (I wouldn't want to put anything small in this compartment that might get flung out unnoticed), refill bladder, than awkwardly restuff bladder then my ziplock back in. Not very speedy. I see the benefits of having a single compartment (mainly cut down on weight) but I do wish it had it's own divider or area for quicker, easier access.
C) Lastly, the exterior mesh pocket is not sewn all the way on the bottom for obvious reasons: there is a girdle-type band that stretches across the bottom and allows the lower part of the pack to fit tight and snug to your body. I like this feature but might find a way to stagger-sew some or all of this opening shut in a way not to hinder the function but so I don't lose any objects through this hole. As of now, I haven't had any reason to put anything small in this part of the pack. I save this for my jacket, gloves, hat, etc. Also, I had a little bit of an issue with the top pocket (#1) flopping while I ran. I secured the buckle down as much as I could but it still flopped. Minor annoyance. I might need to recheck to see if I really have it secured as tight as it goes....
Overall opinions: Absolutely love these packs and can't wait to get more runs in with them. I would highly recommend them to other runners/hikers over the Nathan's brand.
***4/4/13: I'm updating this blog since I just found out a friend of mine ordered a brand new Nathan's pack and I got to check it out in person (although haven't run with it). It is designed almost exactly like the Ultraspire Spry pack. I highly approve of Nathan's design here and would definitely recommend them! I think the pack ran about $45-ish***