I’ve been running with the female-specific Ultraspire Astral for about five months and I feel like I’m in a good position to give a real review. First things first: I do love this vest! It fits better by far than any other vest I’ve ever worn. Yes, the “boob framing” still feels a little awkward—as in, are people looking at this thing and thinking that it’s weird? But let’s be honest, accommodating the female form will probably result in a little bit of awkward design, no matter what direction it takes.
So far I’ve worn the vest in temperatures down into the 20s, with bulky clothing, and up into the 80s, with minimal clothing. It has fit well in all conditions. Once you get it on and adjusted you don’t have to touch it again. The vest sits in a good spot on my back and doesn’t feel heavy, even with two liters of water. My back would ache after running a few hours with my old Nathan vest. I’ve had no aches (or chafing!) with the Astral.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the front of the vest has a lot of storage. There are small pockets on the upper straps: a small magnetic pocket for electrolyte capsules (I put my keys there) and a larger zippered pocket where I keep my lip balm. The two larger front pockets are extremely roomy. I keep my phone (and sometimes other random things) in the open pocket on the right; I keep my wallet and any food I’m eating in the zippered pocket on the left.
Things to be aware of before buying:
1) The back pockets aren’t as roomy as they seem. I’ve managed to get a tightly rolled shirt in the main compartment along with a few smaller items. (There is a small zippered pocket inside the main compartment that I looove.) The outer (gray) pocket, while not stretchy, has been fine for small items and they’ve stayed put throughout my runs. Using the outside straps has been a tight fit for storing anything there. I haven’t actually been able to use them yet for storing gear.
2) The front left (zippered) pocket doesn’t lay flat if there’s nothing in it. It sort of sticks out.
3) And finally, the hydration pack is not my favorite. First, it doesn’t fit in its compartment:
This isn’t unique to Ultraspire—the same size hydration pack didn’t fit properly in my Nathan vest either—but if you say your vest will hold a 2-liter pack, it should hold a 2-liter pack. So what happens is you have to kind of fold over the top and stuff it down to be able to hook it to the loop inside. If the pack isn’t full, it can work itself back out. I’ve had to stop a couple of times and push it back in to keep it from flapping.
The hydration pack chosen by Altraspire also has a “wide-bore” hose and an open-close valve. This bugged me from the beginning, because it was hard to open and it was hard to draw water out. I contacted Hydrapak, the company that makes the reservoir, and they sent me a bite valve to swap out, which made a huge difference.
And finally, I was trying to keep the end of the hose under one of the elastic straps on the front of the vest, but it wouldn’t stay put. I ordered some handy little magnet clips from Altraspire to attach the hose and it works like a charm.
It’s not perfect—I don’t imagine any hydration vest is—but it’s pretty darn close. It doesn’t bounce, doesn’t smash, doesn’t keep you from being able to breathe…I highly recommend the Astral!
**Photos at the top are borrowed from Ultraspire. I actually have the black version.**