Go to any trail or ultra race and you’ll see a large contingency of runners using Ultimate Direction hydration packs or gear to keep them comfortable and supported over long distances. For good reason– Ultimate Direction is known for its quality products, especially in the hydration world. Some of our reviewers have worn UD in the past, but we wanted to see where they’re at in 2020, so we pulled in a handful of pack/vests to review: the Ultra Vest 5.0, the Race Vest 5.0, and the Marathon Vest 2.0. We wanted to provide a rounded-out review for packs that can cover a variety of distances/efforts. Check out Taylor, Jarrett, and Erin’s thoughts below.
TAYLOR: Trot the trails around Colorado and you’ll notice that the packs people are wearing are almost exclusively Ultimate Direction. Until lately, I’ve wondered what the buzz was all about. After many miles on the trails, I have a pretty intimate view of what their OG pack has to offer. The Ultra Vest 5.0 fits beautifully, durable, and showcases a variety of storage options.
I’m not going to mess around. This pack reigns supreme in terms of fit and overall comfort for its size (10L). Imagine a cuddly koala with oven mitts on (they may be cute, but they have some crazy claws). The 5.0 provides an almost perfect hug and stays snug to your body without any pinching, rubbing, or excessive squeezing. UD has figured out that the hook and loop sternum straps are the way to go (very similar to the Black Diamond Distance series packs). It provides just as much adjustability as with past models but adds a whole lot more security and comfort.
On the backside, the Comfort Synch 2.0 torso adjustment is the real money maker. Two easy-to-access bungy-style cords offer a simple and superb adjustment to cinch the pack close to your body without limiting breathing. It provides a great base for the rest of the pack without taking on all of the weight. The 5.0 rides higher and stays put on your shoulders/traps rather than sinking down and settling in your mid-back. No other pack that I have tried could get such a secure and comforting fit.
TBH, I had to get down into the very minute details to find one darn thing that I’d change about the whole pack. The only minor downside is that I could feel the cinch system rub on my back when I wasn’t wearing a shirt.
It didn’t matter what junk I had in the trunk, there was no bounce and very little movement otherwise. Upfront there are a multitude of pockets to accommodate bottles (provided with purchase), a phone, consumables, and smaller items that need weatherproofing all at the same time. On the back, there are three zippered pockets of various sizes, a bladder sleeve, open stuff pocket, and external cinch cord for more gear. All of the storage options make a strong combo for having plenty for those ultra-distance/self-supported runs in a light and well-balanced package.
Doesn’t the Ultra Vest 5.0 sound like what you’ve always wanted in a running pack? It probably should. You can pick it up using the shop link below– it’ll be worth every penny.
PRICE: $139.95Shop Ultra Vest 5.0
JARRETT: The Race Vest 5.0 is Ultimate Direction’s newest lightweight vest in their signature series.
The previous 4.0 model clocked in at an impressive 5.29 oz without the bottles. Ultimate Direction found a way to cut that so this version weighs 5 oz. on the dot, while increasing the storage capacity from 5.31 L to 8.5 L. The mesh used along the straps is extremely light and breathable. I had concerns it would be delicate, but man this mesh is strong!
As for fit, the hook and loop sternum strap along with the comfort cinch allow for a super comfortable and adjustable fit. It was nice to not fear breaking a chest clip with every deep inhale. If you’ve ever had a hydration vest that had no stretch, you know what I’m talking about! The strap allows for tons of customization for where it connects to, but it’s also more effort to try to hook it on to one of the tiny loops.
I love that all the zippered pockets are accessible while the vest is on. Even the back one, so long as you remember which side it’s on. While the side zippered pocket stretches to hold my iPhone 11 (I’m not rich enough to get the pro), I found the best place was that back zippered pocket.
Now for the bad/embarrassing: I’ve learned I’m not a fan of the soft flasks in the front. I imagine this is what it feels like to have a poor-fitting sports bra with “things” bouncing every which way. My last run in them I kept thinking about stopping to adjust the bottles. Yes, I did have the corded elastic wrapped around the top of the bottle, but that didn’t help much. Just under 2 miles in, I looked down at the bottles, for what was at least the 10th time, as I was running and ended up pulling something in my back. Yup, you read that right. I pulled my back because I was looking down at my chest while running. Here at Believe in the Run, we’re elite caliber…
To me, reservoirs located on the back just feel more natural. While I liked everything else about the Race Vest 5.0, I struggled with the main purpose, which was hydration. If you can handle soft flasks, the Race Vest 5.0 is a fantastic option. If you can’t, you can purchase a bladder separately.
PRICE: $124.95Shop Race Vest 5.0
ERIN: Guys, I’m embarrassed to tell you how many hydration vests/packs I own, so I’m not going to tell you. What I will say is that this is my first Ultimate Direction vest. How does it compare to the, uh…several other vests I have? Let’s find out!
This is a nice, lightweight (4.8 ounces without the bottles), well-fitting vest. It has two front pockets that are made to fit the two 300 mL bottles that come with the vest and I just want to give a shout-out to these bottles: while they don’t hold much ( you won’t get through a 12 mile run on the east coast in July without refilling these, let’s just say that) I feel like they were made for carrying in the hand. I take one of these with me for shorter (5-6 mile) runs and they’re kind of a game-changer. Anyway, back to the vest.
Pocket situation: in addition to the two in the front that are meant for the bottles, there are two small lateral pockets (one on each side) that don’t zip closed but fit a key fob perfectly (mine stayed in with no problem); one small zippered pocket in front; and two additional front pockets that are situated behind the bottle pockets, making them good for gels but somewhat challenging for anything else – it took me a good while to get my phone shoved in there.
There’s also a large mesh back pocket that fits a 2L bladder, which is not included.
While this vest is pretty basic and comes in two sizes (XS/S and M/L) I found that the XS/S fit really well, and it is also very easy and intuitive to adjust, even while running.
First things first, I wore this vest for a self-supported neighborhood 50K and it was great (I also carried a handheld bottle separately, FYI). After my second run in the vest, however, I got home and noticed that the dye from the vest had stained one of my favorite running shirts and, after three washes, it still hasn’t come out, so I’m kind of annoyed about that (I received – asked for, technically – the black vest).
The front closure of the vest is two straps that you can move up or down, which is nice, but instead of snapping closed, these straps hook onto small loops and man, are they a pain (in my opinion). The last thing I want to do at an aid station when I’m putting my vest back on is to spend 20 minutes screwing around trying to secure the front closure. I can’t even imagine trying to do it with cold fingers.
It’s a decent vest, though, for long (but not super long) runs or races with enough aid stations that you don’t have to carry a ton with you. Just make sure that if you get the black vest, you wash it first!
PRICE: $89.95Shop Marathon Vest 2.0