When we were reached out to about trying out an Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest, I made it very clear. “I am not an ultra runner. I have run one marathon in my life, and my loves of half marathons do not require me to carry gear with me. I would be willing to try this out, but just know that my experience may be limited to some long hikes instead of an all-day ultra trail run. Just FYI”. The folks at Ultimate Direction were great and sent the vest regardless. It hasn’t made me an ultra marathoner…yet. But if I ever go down that route, I have a great piece of gear to help me out. In the meantime, I am getting a TON of use out of it.
I will admit that I felt overwhelmed and out of my league when I first opened the box in January. It looked too fancy and well-constructed for a simplistic runner who still prefers basketball shorts to a 5″ inseam pair of running shorts. My training plan consisted of 100 miles/month and I suspected most of them would be 5-6 miles on my lunch hour and a few half marathons sprinkled in there as well. I started a generic “review” 2-3 times over the first month or so just highlighting the specs, but couldn’t go much beyond that. I sat staring at it, just wondering what the heck I was going to do with it.
For reasons, both good and bad, my work schedule shifted a little bit in late February. Instead of being stationed in Salem, I was going to be on the road 3-4 times/month in all (and I mean all) corners of the state. When packing for these trips, I began tossing in the vest with my other running gear – just in case. This turned out to be a great move, as one of my first trips was over to the coast. Even though I wasn’t going a crazy-long run, I broke it in running at Cape Lookout State Park. I also was able to utilize it on my run/hike up Misery Ridge and around Smith Rock State Park in Terrabonne.
My thoughts on the vest:
- Was a cinch to get sized and fitting right. I’m not sure if that was luck, but I only ended spending about a minute getting it fit comfortably.
- The fit was this weirdly awesome feeling of being solid, yet light at the same time. For something so light (16oz) to feel like it is constructed so solidly that it won’t break at the slightest tug, stretch, or twist is a great feat. I have experienced none of the “chafage” I expected.
- Along those lines, the pack felt breathable. Being a novice vest wearer, I expected it to feel constricting and leave me unnaturally sweaty and hot. While sweating still occurred (of course), I didn’t feel like it was ramped up or made worse by the pack.
- I thought the 2 water bottles would be in the way and leave me with feelings of lopsided-ness as I drank. I ended up hardly noticing the water bottles at all except for when thirsty. Nice.
- The patented “Kicker Valve” was an initial challenge. I believe blogger Tina reviewed a handheld water bottle by Ultimate Direction, where she lamented the difficulty with the valve. Before my first run, I consulted with her and took a detour to YouTube for some research. This is where I figured out what the “issue” was and how to utilize the valve appropriately. I’m glad I didn’t try to figure it out on the fly.
- Even knowing how the Kicker Valve functioned, it still took some getting used to. I still feel I have a hard time directing the flow of water to drink and end up spraying the back of my throat or cheek with a hard stream of water – effectively causing a back spray onto my face and clothes. I am slowly getting better, but these do appear to have a learning curve.
- There was so much storage, I didn’t really know what to do with all the pouches! Again, I know this wouldn’t be an issue for those long-runners. I utilized some for my energy packets, and the others for my keys and phone. I desperately ended up wishing I had more stuff to pack around! I was able to reach all pockets with relative ease, even while jogging along a rocky path. I honestly think this is great, and I think that this will work great for my summer hiking trips with my wife and kids this summer. Extra slots for snacks, as well as an area for a hydration vest (for me) and the water bottles (for my kids) will be perfect.
Here are some features and specs pulled from the Ultimate Direction website:
- GPS Locator / phone pockets (2)
- Bellows side pockets can carry 26 oz. bottles
- Gel or bar pouches (4)
- Electrolyte or valuables pockets (2)
- Fully adjustable sternum straps (2)
- Emergency whistle
- Super soft VelvetexTM no-chafe bindingFeatures (Back):
- Micro adjustment straps for better fit (2)
- Quick reservoir access zipper
- Internal bungee and gear separation panel
- Two zippered compartments
- Secure lat pockets, with stretch panel behind (2)
- Trekking pole (2) and Ice Axe (1) loops
- Accommodates a 70 oz. reservoir (sold separately)
One of the complaints that I have seen from reviews around the internet is that Ultimate Direction products tend to fit small and be better for “thin” runners. I received the M/L sizing, and at 6/2 180, I don’t consider myself a “thin” runner. Granted, I never had a need to stuff the vest full with fuel and other ultra-runner necessities, but I felt the fit was spot on for me. Maybe I would feel differently if I had the need for more stuff in the pack, but for my experience I can’t complain about the sizing.
Overall, I have incorporated this vest increasingly into more runs, regardless of if they are “worthy” of a pack of this versatility. And, like I mentioned at the start of the review, my plan is to incorporate this into hiking with my girls this summer. We have a few day hikes planned, and this will come in supremely handy for those hikes when all that is really needed is some hydration, refueling, and a GPS. I have a feeling everything I need will fit perfectly into the pack.
We were also notified that Ultimate Direction is now partnering with the women at Another Mother Runner. They will be providing a variety of pieces from their female-centric Jenny Collection to serve as race prizes for participants.