Fast forward a few months and James Elson from Centurion Running released a YouTube video showing how, with the right combination of equipment, it was possible to fit the complete mandatory kit list for a race such as UTMB within the many compartments on the vest. At that point I became interested again, especially as most of my races have slightly more lenient lists.
A chance conversation a few weeks later with Steve from Castleberg Outdoors led to him sending the vest for me to test - so thanks to him for that (there's my official disclaimer that I didn't purchase this myself).
So, to the vest in question. My first impression is how light it is. Compared to my Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 3 12L set the difference is very noticeable. It almost feels flimsy, however, in use that definitely isn't the case.
As with all the 2015 Salomon vests the Sense Ultra is supplied with two 500ml soft flasks that fit into pockets on the front straps. Below those are two open pockets that could store a fair quantity of gels etc - however, this is one of the (few) flaws with the pack as the bottles protrude down into these pockets, meaning their storage capacity is compromised. During use I ended up just stuffing empty food wrappers in these, as they were secure enough to prevent any littering. Above the bottles are two more small pockets - one zipped, and supposedly for a mobile phone, although there's no way you could get any of the current smartphones in there (I know, I tried with three different makes and models). The other is just open topped, but reasonably deep. It's worth mentioning at this point that all of the open topped pockets do have an elasticated top edge, offering a reasonable amount of security.
The main compartment at the back has no padding, and no closure at all. Whilst I've seen it is possible to put all extra clothing in stuffsacks, then shape them to fit close to the spine during use, that's not something I ever tested. By not filling that section it meant the vest was definitely cooler to wear than any of my other packs as there was only two layers of (very thin) material covering my back.
On the rear at the bottom is another small open topped pocket, that was the perfect size for my Berghaus VapourLight Hyper Smock in it's stuffsack. This gave a huge advantage as I was able to reach back into that pocket, remove the waterproof and put it on over the top of everything without even really breaking stride.
Finally, there is a large pocket either side, connecting the back to the shoulder straps. I found these worked best when a buff (or equivalent) was used as padding first, meaning the pockets could be reasonably well laden without digging in. I used one side for all my gels/bars etc, and the other side for phone, compass, blister pack etc.
In use I found the pack absolutely brilliant. As it was so light, and fitted so well, there was absolutely no movement when running - meaning no annoying rattling noises, and no friction (and thus chafing). All of the pockets were easy to reach without having to remove the vest, meaning I could eat, stop to take photos, access a map etc etc without having to stop, slowing down to a walk made everything possible. One thing I did notice was that the 500ml flasks were quite awkward to get in and out of the pockets when full - I found using two 400ml flasks from Ndure was much easier. As the pack is completely soft (the front straps fasten onto tensioned cords, rather than the hard moulded plastic of earlier Salomon vests) there was no discomfort even when wearing a heart rate monitor strap.
I tested the pack on a few runs first, then used it on the Norfolk Coast 100km race. At no point did it cause me any issues. I'm a definite convert to using bottles/flasks on the front of my pack rather than a bladder mounted at the rear - the ease of swapping bottles with my crew (the delightful Miss G.) or just getting the bottles filled at an aid station means I'll never go back to using a bladder. Also, the load distribution is much more even, thus making smooth running easier.
Thanks again to Castleberg Sports for supplying the test pack - it's definitely a keeper!