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Apparel • May 3, 2019

Ultimate Direction Hydrolight Apparel Review

Ultimate Direction Hydro Skin

Robbe: When I heard we were getting the Ultimate Direction Hydrolight line, I offered it to Jarrett for review, sight unseen. After checking them out, specifically the Hydro Skin short that requires a high dose of self-confidence and shamelessness to wear in American public, he politely declined.

Me on the other hand, I played in a borderline emo band for most of my 20’s. My daily uniform was super skinny jeans soaked in Busch Light and cigarette smoke, for which I was often randomly mocked in public, so I took on the burden. Heavy lays the crown.

I’ll let Erin give you the actual details on what the Hydrolight line is all about.

Erin: I was really excited to review the UD Hydrolight apparel; the idea of carrying water while running but without having to use a hydration pack or hand-held bottle appeals to me. But it also makes me think of those belts that people used to wear (still wear? I don’t know) for marathon training. I had one back in the day and hated how it bounced and moved around, and I was concerned that I might encounter the same issue here.

Each item in the Hydro series comes with two 300 ml (10 oz) bottles that fit into custom pockets that, according to UD, eliminate bouncing. I received everything in a size small.

Thomas: When I first heard about these shorts, like Erin, I thought about those old water battle belts. I hate those belts for two reasons: 1) you look like a dork wearing them, and 2) number 1 should be reason enough, but also I have no hips. I get GI issues when tightening belts on water contraptions. Oh yeah, that reminds me of a third thing I don’t like about belts- the bouncing! When I unwrapped these shorts, you can guess I was skeptical.

Robbe: First off, Erin and Thomas, I wore one of those belts for marathon training no less than two years ago. I was shocked to find it on sale for $15 at REI. What a bargain! I even made it out alive on a run through hipster-capital Brooklyn, New York, probably because everyone thought I was wearing it ironically. Then Thomas refused to hire me unless I let it go. It now hangs from a lonely hook in my basement. 

UD Hydro Skin Shorts (Men)

Like I said, these shorts are not for the weak of confidence. That said, if you are European, or want to be European, or want to flex your quads in public–these shorts are an absolute game changer. I’m going to be completely honest, I am 100% skeptical of any piece of clothing whose selling point revolves around either a) “cutting edge” light-up or reflective technologies and b) built-in hydration bottles. Ninety-nine percent of the time, if it walks and talks like a gimmick, it’s a gimmick.

These shorts are not a gimmick.

Featuring 60% nylon and equal parts polyester and spandex, these 9.5” shorts are equipped with an abundance of stash points. For starters, each leg has a 5” x 6” flat-seam pocket made of stretch hex mesh that can hold anything from a typical iPhone to your key fob. It’s incredibly secure but offers quick and easy access. I loved these pockets.

There’s a typical rear zip pocket with additional generous storage capacity; it can hold anything up to a small compressible jacket.

And then there are the water bottles. On each side of the top of the hip/butt, there are stretch pockets that securely hold each 300ml (10 oz.) bottle, shaped to curve against your body. I thought for sure these were going to suck, but they weren’t noticeable in the least. It’s surely a feat of running wear ingenuity.

Now, these shorts are tiiiiight. Putting them on is comparable to putting on a wetsuit. Be sure to loosen the built-in nylon belt as much as you can. However, once they’re on, tighten that belt as much as you can, otherwise, the hydration bottles will bounce those shorts right off your plumber’s crack.

I took these on a couple 8-mile trail runs and I absolutely loved them. I could carry everything I needed without any bouncing, my hands were completely free, and I didn’t experience any kind of chafing. Additionally, even in warmer spring weather, I felt like they were pretty breathable. In the dead of summer, there’s no way around it- they’re gonna be warmer than, say, a pair of North Face BTN. However, I’d trade that off for the hands-free benefit any day. 

The downsides? If ya got nuts, they got nowhere to hide. Embrace the bulge (not literally, that’s illegal- even in the woods).

Moving on up- when the waist belt is tightened, it’s really long and there’s no place to tuck it. It’s not wide enough to cover your junk either, so it serves no purpose other than to annoy.

Overall, I absolutely loved these shorts. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually think they’re worth the $89.95.

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UD Ultralight Tee (Men and Women)

Erin: The Ultralight tee is exactly as described. It is made of a very light, antimicrobial body-mapped mesh, meaning that the mesh is lighter in areas deemed to be high-sweat zones (chest, underarms, back). The seams are minimal, and I didn’t have any chafing. This shirt definitely breathes really well. I don’t feel I’ve worn it enough to fully test the antimicrobial capacity, but it doesn’t smell yet. I would recommend sizing down in this shirt unless you like your running clothing to be loose (I don’t). The neckline is also a bit wide (sort of a boatneck) which companies like to do with women’s shirts for some reason, and I’m not a fan. I don’t like to have my bra straps showing.

Robbe: FWIW, the men’s neckline is also wide for some reason. The antimicrobial bit may be legit- after an 8-mile run I threw it in a pile of clothes in a corner by the washing machine. A few days later I picked it up to smell it, and lo and behold- no smell. For reference on its look, refer to the above photos of the Hydro Skin short.

UD Hydro Tank (Women)

I received the Hydro tank in lichen, which is a pale aqua color. The tank is fitted, with stretch mesh panels at the back, sides, and neckline, and a looser panel on the front overlaying the stretchy inner tank. The bottles fit snugly into pockets on the back of the tank, with a large mesh pocket in between for keys and/or a gel or two; my iPhone 5S actually fits in there too, though I didn’t run with it.


While this style of tank isn’t something I’d pick out for myself, it fits really well and after receiving several compliments on it, it has become one of my favorite running tops. I like the looser panel on the front for days when I’m feeling bloated, and the fitted tank underneath doesn’t ride up.

It took about 10 minutes to get used to running with full bottles in the back, and I found that the bottles migrated a bit to the left, but once I started sweating a little they stayed put. I do think that this particular item does have the potential to chafe more so than the others, though I have not had any issues with it.

The other issue with the tank is that you can’t really wear it AND a hydration vest, although most people probably wouldn’t be doing that anyway. I did wear the shorts with a hydration pack though and liked the option of carrying extra water that way.

The bottles themselves are easy to remove and place back into the pockets, and are easy to open, close, and drink out of. Even so I found myself carrying one bottle in hand, because I’m just that lazy, and because I like carrying things in my hands when I run.

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UD Hydro Skirt (Women)

Again, this is not something I’d choose for myself; running skirts are a little too cutesy for me, but I channeled my inner Rory Bosio (girlfriend is adorable and badass enough to wear a running skirt) and gave it a try. I received the skirt in Onyx, which helped. If it was pink I’m not sure I’d have been able to handle it.


The skirt has fitted inner shorts with a 5-inch inseam, while the skirt is 13 inches long (measured from the waist). The shorts are lightweight and breathable and did not ride up (a pet peeve of mine with fitted shorts). The skirt is also very light and breathable, with a scalloped hem and reflective logos front and back (all the Hydro items have this). The bottles fit into mesh pockets that sit just below the hips, with a smaller Velcro pocket in between for your keys or whatever small items you want to stash in there.

All of the bottoms require a small amount of effort to get on; you have to loosen the waist belt almost all the way to get them up (and I have pretty narrow hips). Once you get them on, you can adjust the nylon belt until the bottles feel secure and don’t bounce. The end of the belt can be tucked into a little pocket on the waistband. The belt really works great to keep the bottles from bouncing. After a few minutes, I really didn’t notice the bottles back there at all. As with the tank, the bottles are easy to remove and replace in all the UD Hydro bottoms.

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UD Hydro Short (Men)

I’ll cut to the chase, the UD Hydro Short is nothing like the water grenade belts, even though the water bottles do rest near the waist. I think the key is that they actually rest closer to the top of your ass. I don’t really have one of those so-called asses, but imagine if I did- that is where the bottles are secured.

While hydration is a brand staple for Ultimate Direction, with these shorts it’s merely a nice addition to an outstanding running garment. Remove the bottles and you have three really large pockets in the back, large enough for an iPhone X, like the normal size for people that also own computers.

I am not sure they’re designed as pockets, but on the front where the substantial nylon strap goes into the short, there is enough room in the stretchy fabric for a key fob or a couple of gels. The best part is everything feels secure and battened down. I ran an 18-mile run with the bottles and the design works. I also relied on water fountains for a 20-mile training run the following weekend and used the pockets for the iPhone and nutrition. These shorts are perfect for carrying everything you need. That would be good enough- but wait!- there’s more.

UD Thomas

The Hydro Short rises above in fit and quality. The fabrics are all high quality, no detail was overlooked. On both long runs my legs, junk, and waist were perfectly comfortable during the humidity-filled miles. No chafing anywhere. I would even buy these shorts if they came without the useful pockets. They will surely make it on our Best of Gear at the end of the year.

My knocks against the short are:

  • Getting them on is like putting on a wetsuit
  • The flat nylon belt can get twisted. You are going to have to take them off and untwist it. Which brings you back to the first bullet. #@$&
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UD Hydro Short (Women)

These shorts are hands-down my favorites. They are very similar to the skirt, except that instead of the skirt (duh), there’s a pair of looser outer shorts over the inner shorts. The inner shorts fit the same as the ones in the skirt and have the same inseam. I received these in Blue Spruce, which is a dark teal that I love; the inner shorts are black. The outer shorts have a 3” inseam and are very lightweight and quick-drying. I wore these for a five-hour run during which I also wore my hydration pack (no bladder, 2 12-ounce soft flasks in front) and it was a really humid day. I ran out of water in my soft flasks with about an hour left in my run (one of the bottles in my shorts was also already empty) and I started to worry. I had completely forgotten I still had another full bottle in my shorts, which was a nice surprise!

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UD Hydro Skin Short (Women)


The Hydro skin shorts have the same bottles and waistband/belt system as the Hydro skirt and shorts. These shorts are fitted and have a 3-inch inseam which, IMO, seems shorter. Like the other fitted shorts, these don’t ride up, which is good, because there’s really nowhere for them to go. If you like to race or run in very short shorts you’ll probably love these, but you won’t see me wearing them.

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Ultimate Direction Hydrolight Apparel Conclusion

Erin: I think the Hydro shorts and/or skirt are wonderful. I love the fit, and it is really great to have the option of carrying water for shorter races or runs, or for having extra water-carrying capacity in addition to a vest. The tank is also great. All of these items are really well-made and fit true to size (aside from the tee, which runs a bit large). If you spend a lot of time on the trails, I’d absolutely recommend investing in the UD Hydrolight apparel.

Robbe: No joke, these shorts are going to be my go-to for any trail runs, and maybe even inconspicuous runs throughout the city. They’re just that nice. The shirt is featherweight light and super breathable, but I feel like the color options are pretty lacking. The engineering and technology is there to make the Ultimate Direction Hydrolight series a stand-out line of apparel for 2019 and a game-changer for trail runners with a little bit of cash to spend.

Thomas: You need to have these in your arsenal. Those days you can’t stomach putting on a hydration pack, strap these babies on and rip it up. The boring stuff: They fit true to size, breath well, and did a nice job with transferring sweat.

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