Considering that they are a relative newcomer to the business, Inov-8 has enjoyed a rather impressive rise to prominence within the trail running and adventure racing communities.
Inov-8 was founded in the United Kingdom in 2003, and established a US presence in 2004. They quickly made their mark in the sport of ultrarunning by every conceivable means: sponsoring numerous events and race series, establishing and supporting teams of runners on both sides of the Atlantic, and contributing to extensive trail maintenance programs. (They also have a Facebook page – but as I’ve explained more than once here, that hardly impresses me.)
From the start, however, their primary focus has been product development. The company’s stated mission is to create functional, lightweight products to meet the highest demands of all athletes – from elite adventure racers to everyday outdoor enthusiasts. They do extensive field testing and utilize athlete feedback to enhance its line of what it calls next generation products.
In recent years, Inov-8 has earned numerous accolades for their footwear, but their line of hydration packs are equally (pardon the pun) innovative and well-developed. The Race Pro 4 is the base model of this product line, which differs only in the cargo capacity that goes along with the hydration reservoir: the RP4 has 4L of cargo space, the RP12 has 12L, and so on up to the Race Pro 30.
The most obvious distinction that makes the Race Pro 4 unique among all the other 2-liter hydration packs on the market is that it is strictly a waist pack; there is no upper body component to the pack. This fact alone makes the simplicity factor about 10 times greater than any similar sized fluid carrier (for example, the only size adjustment is a single waist strap – no harnesses or torso straps to deal with).
The key to this design - and the integral component of all Inov-8 hydration packs - is the H2Orizontal reservoir, which flares out sideways rather than vertical, with a shape that (to me, anyway) somewhat resembles a stingray. This distributes the volume of fluid across your flanks and the small of your back, keeping the load close and secure under all circumstances.
the H2Orizontal bladder
Other companies have introduced waist-mounted fluid reservoirs in the past, and they all suffered the same problem: bouncing of the fluid reservoir due to the pack protruding too far away from the body. By contrast, the H2Orizontal reservoir wraps very comfortably across the lumbar region, which is the most ergonomically efficient placement of fluid during activity.
The reservoir pack is also segmented on each side, meaning there’s a small plastic divider between different regions. This design is intended to facilitate load distribution, which it does very well – but it also makes cleaning somewhat difficult, as I’ll explain shortly.
Functionally, the reservoir pack is very easy to use; it has a super-wide top opening that makes filling fast and easy, and it seals quickly and securely with a slide cap. The reservoir capacity is 70 oz, and both the main bladder and drink tube are covered with a Source “grunge guard” antimicrobial coating. The end of the drink tube also has a cap to prevent dirt or sweat from contaminating the contents inside, which is a nice extra touch.
The shape of the reservoir does present one difficulty, though: namely, the same design that allows for ergonomic positioning also causes a bit of difficulty when it comes to cleaning. The segment dividers make reaching the ends of the reservoir somewhat tricky. I used the contoured brush from my CamelBak cleaning kit to wash it, and clumped up paper towels in each side of the reservoir for drying, but it was still tough to allow air access to all parts of the bladder while drying.
Since the entire Race Pro 4 is about half the size of conventional shoulder-mounted hydration packs, its weight is lower as well. The pack weighs a mere 7oz when empty, but it still provides plenty of room for cargo. There are three separate pockets that combine for 244 cubic inches of storage.
large storage pocket in front of blue reservoir; waterproof pocket on left; mesh pocket on right
The largest of these pockets occupies the same space as the fluid reservoir, separated by a soft divider. The other two pockets are on either side of the reservoir compartment; one has a stretch mesh covering, and the other has a waterproof/weatherproof protective coating. Both of these side pockets are easily accessible on the go, even while running at high speed.
Likewise, nearly every aspect of this pack allows for maximal efficiency during long training days. I wore this pack for my Big Sur 36-miler, going in and out of the weatherproof pocket at least 50 times for my camera, and refilling the hydration pack within a few seconds at the aid stations – instead of unhooking out of a vest, all I had to do was spin the pack around to the front to access it easily. The drink tube can exit the back pouch from either side, so you can clip the valve at the most convenient point on your waist for quick access.
All in all, this pack handled just about every need I had during training or racing. Some summary bullets:
Very comfortable, very simple to use
H2Orizontal bladder is easy to fill initially and refill on the go
Side pockets provide quick, convenient access to storage contents
Waterproof pocket is perfect for cameras, iPods, other electronic gear
Difficulty with cleaning H2Orizontal reservoir due to unorthodox shape. Inov-8 doesn’t have its own cleaning kit, and the website instructions just say “We recommend regular cleaning and sterilizing,” but there aren't any specific instructions for doing so.
In short, the Race Pro 4 is a great choice for anyone who wants all of the benefits – primarily fluid capacity and storage space - of shoulder-mounted hydration packs, without the hassle and inconvenience of strapping into a vest. This is a true “think outside the box” product that befits its company’s name and upholds its mission of providing high-performance products to endurance athletes.