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Ultimate Direction: Signature Series Running Vests Review

The three option Signature Series line of running vests being launched by Ultimate Direction this winter (2012-13) is definitely taking the pack choices for runners and other light and fast-moving adventurers to the next level and I have a feeling these are going to become the latest gold standard. The Series is comprised of 3 packs of varying storage capacity, but all with very similar design features, created with the input of 3 highly accomplished household names in the ultra and adventure-running worlds: Anton Krupicka (the AK Race Vest, the smallest of the options at 4.5L), Scott Jurek (the SJ Ultra Vest, mid-sized at 9.2L) and Peter Bakwin (the PB Adventure Vest at 12L).  I had the good fortune of being able to test out the Race Vest and Ultra Vest earlier this fall and immediately wished I could keep the test samples for myself and add them to my gear arsenal.
Not long after I received the samples I had a 50 mile Sierra backcountry adventure run planned and decided to take the Ultra Vest for a spin. After laying out all of the clothing, gear and food that I felt necessary to take along I took one look at the Ultra Vest and thought, “There is absolutely no way all of this stuff is going to fit in this pack.” But as I began to carefully load the pack up the main storage compartment seemed to simply keep expanding and everywhere I looked I was discovering yet another pocket or stretch mesh pouch and the next thing I new everything I wanted to take was in the pack. I truly couldn’t believe it. My excitement was tempered though by another thought, “Okay, it all fits but now that this thing is fully loaded down how is it going to ride?” I put it on and it felt very comfortable but the only way to truly find out was a real world mountain run test.
The Ultra Vest passed that exam with flying colors. The pack felt and functioned incredibly during the all day outing. The features that I am about to discuss are more or less the same with each pack, the main difference being overall storage capacity.
The water bottle holsters are mounted on the front of the shoulder straps for easy access and monitoring of fluid level in bottles. Draw-cords allow for further tightening down to prevent bottles from popping out. I was concerned about enhanced bounce with this bottle placement but that turned out to be unwarranted as I hardly noticed they were there. If you are a diehard handheld bottle runner like me then those 2 bottle pockets can be freed up for additional storage space for frequently needed items such as gels. Speaking of gels it seems that the design team left no space unused where even the smallest of pockets could be placed for storage of small items such as gels, keys, credit card, etc. Some of these pockets are constructed with cuben fiber, making them nearly waterproof and thus ideal for items such as electrolyte capsules.
The use of stretch mesh and cuben fiber throughout the packs allows for a sweet combination of compartments that are either highly water resistant (think protection of gear from sweat or the condensation off a water bladder) or have the ability to expand and contract with changing load size (for instance, when a sudden storm has you wearing all of your gear instead of carrying it on your back), or in some cases both, as with the outer zippered compartment on the Ultra Vest. The outside of each pack is equipped with a stretchy bungee-like cord where clothing such as a windbreaker that may be taken on and off frequently can quickly be secured and re-accessed.

The vest design makes for an exceptionally comfortable ride and the mesh used allows for greater breathability against the skin helping to minimize sweat-soaked back syndrome. The vests are secured across the front with two thin, almost unnoticeable straps, one across the sternum with a stretchy webbing piece that allows some give as your chest expands and contracts during the breathing cycle, and one several inches lower.
In summary, for how lightweight and compact these packs are, they are loaded with innovative features sure to take you the distance of your next race or mountain adventure in comfort and carrying everything you could possibly need. They are due to arrive at Sage To Summit, check them out.
Adventure Vest, Ultra Vest, and Race Vest.
Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest: The smallest vest in the Signature Series it  is perfect for a 50 mile mountain day!

Profile View - Jacket and Shorts are stuffed in the  back sleeve

Rear View

Front View:  The two water bottles are easy to access and perfect for those who prefer bottles over handhelds

The pack can easily fit a jacket, pants and shorts.  

One thought on “Ultimate Direction: Signature Series Running Vests Review”

  • Chris Gaggia

    These things look awesome! I'm glad to see that the running vest hasn't died--these look like worthy updates. To comment on two posts at once: I think bottles are far and away the best way to hydrate because you simply drink more when it's right there. Having them on the chest is probably the most efficient way to carry them (in terms of not paying a higher metabolic cost.) Still, I'd probably end up using these vests WITH my handhelds. I can see getting some good long training runs in relatively waterless areas by having two on the vest and two in my hands. Gimmie gimmie gimmie!

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