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Running Accessories • May 9, 2024

Ultimate Direction Spring 2024 Gear Review: All Aboard at Hydration Station

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What You Need To Know


Two new vests for different days on the mountain


Carry 500 mL bottles or much, much more



Introduction to the Ultimate Direction Spring 2024 Collection

TAYLOR: Whether you’re a beginner or have years of running experience, when it comes to on-the-run storage, Ultimate Direction has been the go-to brand. The Boulder-based company has created a niche in the “wearable” world for running packs, waist belts, and more. Like many cream-of-the-crop brands, Ultimate Direction’s origin story falls in the “I have a need, and nobody has made something quality enough to meet it, so I will make it myself” category. Buz Burrell and Peter Bakwin are the two responsible for this company and the modern day hydration pack.

Personally, I’m one of those fans who was sucked in by the classic Ultra Vest. Then, I tried the Utility Belt, which is still in daily use. From fit to thoughtful pockets and carrying capacity, the build quality and intention have always been noticeable. Needless to say, I think rather highly of this brand. With this gig as a reviewer, I also judge with a rather high standard, in part because of Ultimate Direction’s lofty bar.

With spring and summer approaching, it’s a natural time to start prepping for big adventures. New Ultimate Direction gear has dropped, and here’s my take on their latest.

Ultimate Direction Xodus Vest

TAYLOR: Ultimate Direction’s brand new Xodus Vest takes a rarely used design for a very precise fit and adds a tactical flair.

Many have commented on the bra-like construction. I could tell a ton of detailing and adjustment went into the fit itself, though, and I would personally take the bra-like comments as a compliment because it’s certainly working. I’ve thought of it more as a military-style vest, anyway.

In some ways, it’s both. The overall fit is quite precise — more so than any other vest I’ve worn, the Xodus Vest hugs the upper body with comfort. It felt secure enough to carry an array of items without bouncing and was relaxed enough not to be constricting.

Putting the Xodus vest on was not as awkward as it may seem. An underarm zipper opens up one side of the vest, making it quite easy to slip one arm through the opposite armhole and over the head. Once zipped, minor adjustments are made via cinchable bungees on either side of the body. It was nice not to have the typical cinching directly around the diaphragm or sternum.

Storage options are abundant. I have personally transitioned to carrying as much as possible up front for races and long runs. So, the 13 pockets of various sizes and shapes on the chest side are a positive for me. Better yet, all are usable because the fit is so dialed…Think of it as a layered pocket system. The front has a layer of mesh pockets, with another layer of mesh pockets behind/above those and other pockets behind them.

The organization of items was easy. One thing to look out for is quickly turning into a freakin’ camel. With so many options, one may feel the need to stuff every pocket. Ladies who are enthralled with handbag organization, this will be your jam. Gels here, salt tabs there, chapstick in the center, etc. On a serious note, these mesh pockets held a variety of items securely and comfortably.

My only true negative about the Xodus vest was because of the layered materials up front. Even on cool winter days and an aerated mesh closest to my body, I still felt warm. Truth be told, my body runs warm anyway, but the warmth is something to note.

I have found that most vests that encourage up-front carrying need to be balanced out with items in the back. That was not the case with the Xodus Vest. I comfortably carried bottles, a phone, gels, and a set of keys without needing to throw a jacket or bladder in the back to counter the weight.

I did appreciate the option for rear storage as well. The traditional larger open compartment with a bladder sleeve adds to the versatility of the Xodus Vest. Even though the rear storage is not as voluminous as Ultimate Direction’s more traditional packs, a bladder and a couple of layers can easily be carried at the same time.

A few more standard specs like pole carrying straps, whistle, and a few zippered pockets round out an already impressive pack.

Overall, the Xodus vest will please the runner who appreciates fit first and foremost. Secondly, thoughtful carrying capacity will be another big draw. I can see myself grabbing for this on many adventures in the near future.

PRICE: $179

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Ultimate Direction Clutch Wrap

TAYLOR: Ultimate Direction’s Clutch Wrap is my surprise gear of the year! I wouldn’t be shocked if this makes its way to the BIG Awards at the end of 2024.

Simple and practical are basically my love languages. The Ultimate Direction Clutch Wrap is just that in a nutshell. It takes a basic recipe of elastic material, mesh, and velcro to make an adjustable strap for wrapping a soft bottle to your hand/wrist.

To be honest, I have never liked carrying a soft flask as a handheld. While we are transparent, I also thought I’d equally hate this design. Like an ice-cold plunge into a mountain stream, the Clutch Wrap sobered me up really quickly. This actually works really, really well!

Whether using Ultimate Direction’s Body Bottle 500 or any other softflask, the Clutch Wrap can handle them all. It did not matter if the bottle was full or half empty; the simple adjusting strap made it easy (even enjoyable) to carry a soft bottle. It is easy to undo to switch hands or trade out bottles on the fly, making the Clutch Wrap an easy choice for race day as well.

I have already gone on many long runs with this system. Currently, I’m most excited to pair the Clutch Wrap with a filter top, and the Ultimate Direction Utility belt for big adventures made simple.

PRICE: $35

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Ultimate Direction FastDraw Elite 500

TAYLOR: The FastDraw series is a completely different take on bottles as compared to the minimalism found with the Clutch wrap described above. This is a hardshell bottle with a soft mesh hand wrap on one side and a pocket to carry the goods on the other.

Let’s take a pitstop at the pocket. It’s quite large. It will easily fit a modern smartphone in the main storage while holding a key fob on the outer zipper pocket too. Play with the combination of small items like a couple of gels and a credit card. Maybe some TP, chapstick, and a wad of cash, too. It all fits comfortably.

Compared to past models, the FastDraw Elite 500 comes with the same stout ergonomic bottle but a different way in which the hand interacts with it. In the past, it was a simple strap where the hands were tightened to the bottle in a horizontal fashion. The new iteration lets the hand wrap around the bottle from another direction. The winged mesh is able to hug the hand on more than one plane, which is more comfortable and secure…

… If only it weren’t for the chord. The hand strap is, theoretically, cinched into a secure position via two chords at the tip of each mesh wing. Again, theoretically, this would more comfortably and securely hold the bottle as compared to past models. It just doesn’t pan out, though. The clip that adjusts the chords simply does not hold.

I was a mere 150 feet from my house on my first run with the FastDraw Elite 500 before needing to retighten. Then, again, when I wasn’t even down the block. I turned around, switched out for the Clutch Wrap, and had a good run. It’s a few-and-far-between scenario that I would actually flat-out not recommend a piece of gear, but this is one of them.

The securing mechanism needs to change. If it does, you can easily put me back on the list.

PRICE: $35

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Ultimate Direction Tarmac Vest

SETH: Introducing the Ultimate Direction Tarmac Vest, seemingly tailored for beginner runners or those seeking a high-quality vest without the hefty price tag.

First, I have to mention the noticeable difference in quality comes with its smaller price tag. Compared to my favorite and most comfortable vest, the Salomon ADV Skin 5 Vest, it was challenging to switch to the Tarmac Vest. However, for someone on a budget who simply wants to get the job done, the Tarmac Vest has its perks.

The Tarmac Vest features two adjustable sternum straps, allowing you to customize the fit to your liking. The strap buckles are adjustable and capable of moving up and down to attach to the small string loops in the front of the pack. Previous budget-friendly hydration packs I’ve used had permanent straps, so I found this to be a creative way to make the pack more fitted and secure to the body. Additionally, the back of the pack has standard straps that are also adjustable.

This vest doesn’t come with any hydration bottles, so I attempted to use the flasks I had, but they were simply too big for the two soft flask pockets in the front. This was a bit frustrating since I didn’t have any smaller bottles to test with it. However, I still managed on a few longer runs.

During one particular run, a 27-mile loop around Lake Georgetown, a technical and beautiful local trail, I stuffed a 16 oz. water bottle in the front right flask pocket and my iPhone 14 Pro Max in the left. I found myself readjusting the sternum buckles a few times because the items felt too tight or rigid against my rib cage. I feel like the inside of the pack could have been a bit more padded.

The Tarmac Vest was certainly lightweight, but the material wasn’t as stretchy and contouring as I would have liked.

Storage was solid with this vest; I was able to keep my Shokz earbuds in the front zipper pocket once I got tired of listening to music and multiple gels in the other pouches. However, this vest doesn’t have quite enough storage to fit trekking poles comfortably. During this run, I really wished I had smaller flasks because I finished that 16 oz. water bottle too quickly. This is beside the point, but I ended up drinking sink water out of a lake park restroom.

Once I finished this run and removed my shirt, the left and right sides of my rib cages were clearly bruised. Maybe I had the vest on too tight or didn’t have it adjusted correctly. However, this never happened with my Salomon ADV Skin 5.

Overall, the Ultimate Direction Tarmac Vest is lightweight, well-fitting, and has a decent amount of storage. But in my honest opinion, I think this vest is low quality, and I would much rather spend more money on a higher quality vest five times over. This is not a vest that I would confidently reach for, but if it were all I had, it would get the job done.

PRICE: $79

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Taylor Bodin
Lead Trail Reviewer
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Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultra runner living in Estes Park, Colo., with his wife and daughters. Trail running is pretty much the only hobby he can manage right now and loves it. Every so often, he will pop off a race or FKT attempt because competition is pure and the original motivator for him getting into running anyways. When not running, Taylor is a 1st grade teacher, running coach (track & field, Cross Country, and Trail/Ultra athletes), and volunteers at his church.

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Fav. Distance


  • 27:03

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Seth Epley
Texas Trail Reviewer
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Seth Epley is an ultramarathoner and avid outdoorsman. After graduating high school, Seth struggled with drinking and was ultimately unhappy with the way he was living. Running became a remedy, and 3 years later he ran his first 200-mile race and has maintained a 100% sober lifestyle. In addition to running, he enjoys archery, videography, photography, and all things outdoors.

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