Instinct are a relatively unknown manufacturer in the UK but have a strong presence in France and you will always see them with a packed ‘shed’ at the UTMB event village. The Ambition Trail Vest is their second lightest trail vest and in reality about as small as your likely to go for a long day in the mountains. With a stated 4.5 litre size and only weighing 190g this is a race vest and you will need lightweight race orientated kit to make the most of it – I’ll elaborate later. So design wise you have a one size fits all yet extremely ergonomic design. This is achieved through the use of two lightweight rib cage straps which provide initial adjustment and then two sets of elastic laces in lie of side panels that allow you to snug the vest for a zero bounce fit. On the front are two standard pouches for 600ml Hydropack soft flasks and beneath these two double layered stretch pockets, the inner pocket on the right having a slight envelope top for security. This inner pocket will accommodate a smartphone in an ‘outdoors’ type case whilst the outer pocket will accommodate multiple gels, bars or even a buff and light pair of gloves. Additionally there is a small shoulder pocket that has a mini whistle on a lanyard and a bungee loop which to be honest I never fathomed out a use for beyond larks-footing a key on until Sean from Instinct pointed out that this can be used to attach a long pole diagonally across the back – you don’t even have to be a contortionist to do this – it will work with Mountain King Trail Blaze Poles folded in half or with single or two piece poles but not with collapsed Z-Poles though you can attach these fully assembled. To the rear is a double layered hourglass shaped panel which has one ‘through’ pocket directly against your back and over this a another upper and lower pocket. The upper pocket has a small Fastex clip and loop arrangement that partly closes it and there is also an adjustable tensioned elastic cord which ‘gathers’ the opening. This upper pocket has been designed for ‘on-the-move’ access, you can reach over your shoulder and retrieve a waterproof jacket etc. without the need to remove the pack. The utility of this will obviously depend on your jacket being able to fit over your pack but more on that later. The lower pocket relies on just the material tension and the narrow neck to secure its contents. Finally there are multiple options for stashing poles; vertically on the front, horizontally on the rear, vertically slipped down behind between back panel and rear pockets (though this option may not work with some poles and/or prove uncomfortable for some people) and the aformentioned diagonal rear carry.
The most important aspects of a vest pack in my opinion are; can I adjust it to get a bounce and chaff free fit/carry and can I access food, water, kit easily on the move. If the pack doesn’t fit it will irritate and detract from my enjoyment. With accessibility I need to be able to eat and drink without effort and access gloves, Buff, windproof/waterproof, map, compass etc. with the minimum of faff. When I’m tired if it’s going to be a faff getting to my map or putting on my waterproof I might ‘delay’ it and push on hoping that this is the right re-entrant or that the rain shower doesn’t get worse. Neither of which is a good strategy! Fit wise the Instinct ambition is fantastic – I could easily dial it in for a second skin like fit using the side elastics and chest straps. Once fitted it disappeared in use being unnoticeable in the way all the best kit should be. The hourglass shaped rear panel reduces the sweatiness of the pack by minimising fabric coverage. The only negative I would say is that if you catch the side elastic on a branch and it ‘pings’ back you won’t half know about it wearing just a vest – I speak from personel experience! The pockets gave plenty of access and storage possibilities. Up front I carried two 600ml Hydropak soft-bottles and a variety of bars, chews and gels in the stretch pockets below the bottles all easily reached. My iPhone slipped securely into one of the ‘envelop’ like inner pocket and felt totally secure there (though obviously not weather proof so a ziploc bag or similar is essential). These pockets will also hold gloves or a Buff but you’d have to cut back on the gels/bars a bit. The rear pockets will hold lightweight race waterproofs – I fitted a Goretex Paclight LIM III jacket in the top pocket and Inov8 Racepant over-trousers in the bottom pocket. Following a tip from Sean I rolled a thermal top in a plastic bag and slid it down the inner back pocket spreading it out across the bottom. Doing so made the over-trousers a still tighter fit but it worked. The down side to this is that it would not be a quick job to re-stash the thermal if you used it and it makes stashing the overtrousers a little more time consuming but you can carry (minimalist) full kit for most sub 24hr ultras.
Initially I was nervous of regarding the security of the top rear pocket but I never once lost the jacket from there and you can employ the small Fastex clip to further secure the contents. The lower rear pocket requires some ‘stuffing’ to get anything short of ultralight over-trousers in partly because of its triangular shape with the opening being at the apex making it difficult to utilise the space its best advantage. The pole carriers work well – I preferred the front mounting as you could easily stash and remove them whilst still moving and they didn’t interfere with arm swing (I was using the excellent Mountain King Trail Blaze poles much of the time . The rear option puts them completely out the way and might suit people on long events where terrain changes are less frequent – I found that I could actually stash poles in the horizontal position without removing the vest which is great for those events where you only need the poles for the occasional massive slog.
Overall the Instinct Ambition is a great race focused vest designed to carry minimal race kit in a way that allows rapid on the go access. There is little in the way of secure storage but this is not the focus for race kit. I would like to see some form of larger stretch pocket to the front for a map but it is adequate for most race maps. Easier access to the lower rear pocket would increase its utility avoiding ‘dead’ space however the Ambition does a very good job of carrying mandatory kit comfortably and accessibly.
- Light and stable
- Comfortable one size fits all
- Easy access
- Multiple pole carry options
- No secure storage
- Lower rear pocket limited access/dead space
RRP €85 (without soft flasks)
Richie is the enthusiastic amateur of the team. Enjoying all aspects of climbing but especially alpine, winter and his local grit . Having managed to survive the vagaries of both fluorescent Koflachs and rainbow tights in the 80s he looks forward to an even more stylish future. A shady past in mountain marathons and adventure races, including the Marathon des Sables, means he’s an advocate of fast and light. Though the former is debatable if you’ve seen him on a tricky lead!
Disclaimer – CGR reviewers are never paid to provide a review and the website does not take advertising. We are a bunch of keen climbers and travellers that accept sample products and offer an honest and independent review of the item. The reviewer will often keep the sample after reviewing it for both hygiene reasons and more often they’re in no fit state to return!