That's right friends, my "favorite pack ever" already got an upgrade.
Less than 6 months ago I wrote a review of the Epic XT 2.0 from UltrAspire, and how it instantly became my go-to pack for longer (12 hour and up) adventure races. I was stoked to see that an update to the pack was being released in February of 2023, and got my name on the list to be among the first shipment.
Even better, I received my new Epic XT 3.0 just in time to race with it for the 2023 Sea to Sea Expedition Race.
So while I haven't necessarily had the pack for a long time, I have became intimately familiar with the Epic XT 3.0 over the course of 72 hours of racing across the state of Florida, via foot, mountain bike, and canoe.
You'll notice this by the fact that the pack is absolutely filthy and still covered in sugar sand in the pictures to follow.
Now, the Epic XT 3.0 didn't just get a few upgrades from the previous version, but rather, seemingly received an entire overhaul. In this review I'm going to highlight the upgrades - and note some of the things I wish hadn't changed.
UltrAspire Epic XT 3.0 Hydration Pack Specs
First, let's cover the general specifications of the new Epic XT 3.0 hydration pack for those who may be looking for a general review, and not necessarily a comparison to the previous model.
UltrAspire markets the Epic XT 3.0 as a "backpack that’s prepared for any adventure", ideal for long or multi-day self supported endeavors. I personally use my Epic XT for adventure racing, which involves anything from running, to hiking, to mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing, to bushwhacking, to napping in the forest...you name it.
The longer the race, the more mandatory gear that you have to carry, and the more food and water you need to have on you at any given time, making a pack larger than a standard hydration vest necessary.
How Big Is The Epic XT 3.0?
The Epic XT 3.0 is a 35 liter hydration backpack. Again, this is not a typical hydration vest, but rather something you'd want to use for longer or unsupported adventures.
UltrAspire lists the Epic XT 3.0 pack weights as follows:
- with Frame = 2lb (32oz, 907g)
- without frame = 1lb 11oz (27oz, 765g)
- with frame = 2lb 2oz ( 34oz, 964g)
- without frame = 1lb 13oz (29oz, 822g)
For comparison purposes, the Epic XT 2.0 weights were listed as:
- with frame = 33 oz (935 g)
- without frame = 26 oz (737 g)
The removable "frame" that comes with the Epic XT 3.0 is high density piece of EVA foam.
While I personally chose to remove the frame for racing, I have used the frame multiple times while "rucking" (aka, hiking on my treadmill at a 12% climb with 2 bricks duct-taped together and shoved in the bag) more than once. Despite it's rudimentary shape, it actually provided a lot of comfort and stability to the pack.
The Epic XT 3.0 is reservoir compatible, and will hold up to a 3.0 L bladder. It also has an insulated bladder compartment, a hook to hold up the bladder, and a tube port (aka, purposeful hole) near the neck to feed the hydration straw through.
Personally I am using UltrAspire's 2 liter reservoir, and have had zero issues or complaints with this setup.
Just like the 2.0, the UltrAspire Epic XT 3.0 is made with an incredibly durable fabric known as "XT Fabric", which UltrAspire claims is stronger than steel ripstop fibers. The white lines you see in the pack are not just for looks, but are a polyethylene fiber that helps with durability.
I have drug both of these packs through endless miles of trails, fields, and forests with briars, thorns, and other plants that absolutely tore up my skin - but did not tear up my bags.
The inner portion of the pack (the part that touches your back and shoulders) features sweat proof webbing and XT Mesh, which is a polyester and nylon combo designed to pull moisture from the body and help it evaporate.
It was 90 degrees in February in Florida for Sea to Sea, so I can confirm - the fabric did not feel suffocating or hot.
Changes and Upgrades to the UltrAspire Epic XT 3.0 vs. the 2.0:
Let's dive into the changes and upgrades in the latest version of the UltrAspire Epic XT.
But first...I want to take a moment to put in a disclaimer: I do have (and will share below) a number of complaints about this pack. However, I fully recognize that these complaints are from the adventure racing perspective, which I will be the first to admit is super niche and incredibly nuanced with its demands.
Many of the features that I found to be less than ideal for *my* particular use, aren't the fault of the pack itself. I hope to make that clear in the points below.
No More Universal Fit:
The fit of the Epic XT 3.0 is unisex, as was the 2.0. But while the previous version was only available in a "one size fits most" option, the Epic XT 3.0 has two sizing options:
- Small/Medium: fits waist 27″-42″, torso 16″-19″
- Medium/Large: fits waist 27″-42″, torso 19″-21″
Personally I went with the small/medium size for the 3.0, and it fits me much better than the 2.0. In fact, I will go ahead and say that this is by far the best upgrade to the Epic XT 3.0 in my opinion.
My only complaint about the 2.0 version was that even at it's smallest, tightest fit, the pack was just a little too large in the shoulders. While not a problem initially, the pack would became uncomfortable after a few hours on the trail. It was not uncommon to see me holding the pack up by the shoulder straps during long treks in order to pull some of the tension off of my upper back.
Other changes to the overall fit include:
- Ergo-fit harness system, follows the shape of the back to fit tighter and more naturally against your body.
- The 3.0 has been raised about 2 inches higher off of the lower back and where it connects with the hip belt, to allow for a more natural movement while running.
- Added Max O2 Form™ sternum strap system, which is composed of stretchy shock cord for unrestricted breathing while maintaining a stable pack. You can also adjust where the clips attach, based on your comfort and needs.
Added Shoulder Strap & Hip Belt Padding:
UltrAspire added open-cell foam to the shoulder straps and hip belt of the Epic XT 3.0. This provides added moisture wicking and comfort. Further, they added filter foam to the back area of the pack to draw moisture away from your back.
And let me tell you, this pack IS comfortable. Wearing it for 72 hours in a wide variety of temperatures (but mainly, HOT) left me with zero chafing, blisters, or areas of discomfort.
The previous edition of the Epic XT had a 30 liter capacity. The Epic XT 3.0 has a capacity of 35 liters (or, 2135 c.i. ). And do you know what that means?
5 extra liters of volume for carrying MORE SNACKS.
Aluminum Hooks Instead of Buckles:
Both the buckle on the hip belt and the buckles to secure the main compartment closed have been replaced with aluminum hooks instead of the traditional, hard plastic, side release buckles that are standard on most packs.
Aesthetically speaking, the buckles LOOK awesome.
Practically speaking, I struggle with them. I find they are difficult to connect or disconnect in normal situations. With cold, wet, or macerated hands (all things I experienced during Sea to Sea), it is often downright impossible.
Further, I find that I have to continuously tighten the buckle, as it will easily become loose over time.
Roll Top Closure + Snaps:
While the Epic XT 2.0 featured a cinch top that was covered by the back of the pack, the 3.0 features a snaps paired with a roll top closure.
In theory, this allows you to roll the bag down to secure the pack when it isn't very full, preventing the items inside from bouncing around.
In reality, however, I found this closure system to fail more often than not.
First, after the first few uses, the snaps on my pack became difficult to snap together. Perhaps it was because everything I owned became covered in Florida sugar sand, and some sand got into the socket. Or maybe it was because I was racing in 90+ degree weather, and the metal of the snap ever-so-slightly expanded. I'm not sure - but I do know that after a while, I gave up trying to snap the bag closed.
Second, I found that the rolled fabric would unroll, while the straps stayed securely hooked, leaving my bag gaping open anyway.
Lastly, the metal hooks, as already mentioned, became more and more difficult to use over time while I was tired.
Pockets, Pockets, Pockets - but No Zippers:
Like the 2.0, the Epic XT 3.0 has a lot of pockets. However, almost all of them are now open top mesh pockets.
One of the things I loved about the Epic XT 2.0 was that I felt there was a great balance between secured, zippered pockets, and more open, easy to access pockets.
On the Epic XT 3.0, the only zippered pocket on the entire pack is the one on the top/back of the pack.
Now, while the open top, mesh pockets are certainly more accessible while on the go, they also leave you open to the potential of losing stuff while on the go. Especially if your version of "on the go" looks anything like ours, which may include dragging your pack under fences, throwing it into the cockpit of a kayak, climbing trees...you name it.
What made me endlessly nervous during Sea to Sea was that my small, important, "do not lose" stuff that I didn't need to access during the race (like cash, or the key to the rental car) was floating around in this large zippered pocket with other important "do not lose" stuff that I did need to a access during the race (like GoPro batteries, my headlamp, etc.).
Personally I wish that there could have been one or two smaller, more secure pockets as we saw in the Epic XT 2.0 (pictured below), where I can secure the important things that I do not need to access as frequently.
Fluidic Holster System:
The zippered pockets on the hip belt have been replaced by a Fluidic Holster System. This "system" includes one long mesh pocket, the length of the hip belt, that is separated by a strong magnet.
The idea is that you are able to have easier access to things in the pocket by being able to open it up wider. And, you can securely store water bottles of all sizes in the pocket.
While I think the idea is fantastic, in practice, I struggled with getting my bottles back to where they need to be...especially when I'm riding. The video below demonstrates my struggles:
Z - Pole Attachments & Cords
In the Epic XT 3.0, the Z-pole (foldable trekking pole) attachment cords were brought further out away from the body, to prevent poles from hitting your back.
The buckles and cords on the back of the pack (over the large mesh pocket) are a bit stretchier and with an easier to adjust closure system. I carried a blanket for a 40+ mile overnight trek using these straps, and had no issues whatsoever with the blanket slipping.
UltrAspire Epic XT 3.0: Final Thoughts
I won't lie, I loved the Epic XT 2.0 SO much that I had incredibly high hopes for the newest version of this pack. I had hoped that thew new fit would be combined with all of things I loved about the previous model.
But instead, the new fit (which is great) is paired with a bunch of other changes that I'm not entirely in love with.
At the end of the day, when you're stomping around in nature for 24, 48, 72 hours and beyond, the MOST important thing, in my opinion, is comfort. Since the Epic XT 3.0 fits me better than the 2.0, I have decided to stick with the newer model (and have since passed the 2.0 onto my teammate Greg).
And I still enjoy the Epic XT 3.0 more than every other pack of this size that I've either tried on or demo'd for my adventure racing needs. Between the fit, and the quality, I'm still a huge fan of the UltrAspire Epic XT line.
However, I will be completely honest and admit that I'm left with quite a "wishlist" of things I'd love to see before I feel comfortable saying that this is the perfect pack for me.