I was stoked to receive in the mail a little package from barefootinc, the UltrAspire Omega Hydration Pack. Pity they didn't receive their order from the US prior to TNF100 as I definitely would've chosen to wear this baby over the flippety floppety one I chose to wear on the day. I was looking forward to giving this pack a thorough workout, and nothing gets more scrambly, scrubby and dirty than a weekend of hard core training in the Aussie bush. On Saturday I did a couple of reps of Mt Sol in the morning and then on Sunday I took part in the Paddy Pallin 6 hour rogaine out in the back of nowhere, body in the wheelie bin country near Kandos in the Clandulla State Forest.
I was able to test the pack on two different experiences. The Mt Sol reps showed how the pack handles on the fast firetrails and steep descents. The rogaine gave me the opportunity for best testing conditions; lots of bush bashing and scrambling amongst a bit of faster running on the trails.
The pack passed both tests incredibly well. There is something about the UltrAspire packs that feel so comfortable and snug on my back. The tag on the pack says it has 'Compressi-flex tension control', not sure what this means exactly but all I know is that it works really well to balance the pack and decrease sideways movement.
At the rogaine, I filled the pack with the full 2L capacity of water in the easy to use bladder, as well as carrying a rain jacket, thermal top, first aid kit, mobile, and a few other bibs and bobs. There was stacks of room left over and this pack will easily accommodate all the mandatory gear of races like TNF100. In fact I know it does as my friend and 2nd place getter from this very race Vajin Armstrong was using this pack (much to my envy!)
It has a couple of cool features. One is the side pockets on both sides of the pack that are there to fit a water bottle, but I used them to stow my beanie and gloves, a little into the rogaine as it started to heat up a bit. I found these pockets easy to access and would be great for a bottle of electrolytes or Perpetuem that you may want to use irregularly during a long race. The rest of the pockets are the same as those found on the smaller model, the Surge. These are all very well designed with long training or racing in mind. It has a large pocket for gels and the like and a pouch that can hold a small bottle too. All the things you regularly need to access are at very handy locations!
I guess what I am looking for in a pack is how it performs over a long period of time. I don't care if it's not the lightest (the Omega in any case is super light anyway) or the best looking or whatever, I just need a pack to be comfortable. Over the course of the 6 hours in the rogaine I didn't need to worry at all about the pack which is all I want. Believe me there is enough to think about in a rogaine already! The Omega didn't irritate my back or cause any problems. It didn't catch on any scrub or undo itself or anything like that. The bladder was filled once during the rogaine and that was quick and easy. This is another feature of the Omega, it has a separate space at the back for the bladder so you do not disturb anything in the main compartment when refilling.
The rogaine was super fun and it was great to team up with Jason, another Blue Mountains orienteer and super smooth navigator. We hit 90% of our checkpoints spot on and just made a couple of small errors that cost us a top 10 spot. While we weren't the fastest team on the course, we made up for it in smart route choice (most of the time!) and navigation.
I can definitely see myself moving towards competing in more orienteering events in the future. They are so mentally and physically challenging and seem to favour the 'more experienced' athlete! In any case, they are a welcome change from running events. I usually compete in a few of these each year, just to break up the routine a bit.