10 Best Ultimate Direction Vests Tested

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Ultimate Direction provides reliable, light-weight, and durable hydration vests. Having introduced the concept of the hydration vest itself, Ultimate Direction is a leader in hydration vest technology. With some of the top runners in the industry having designed these vests themselves, you’re guaranteed a great product that will work with you at every stride.

Last Updated: June 23, 2017
by Brian Price :

After getting our list together, we figured we should just keep on researching to see how much more information we could find to share with you to help find the right vest for you.

We added a bunch of extra info, found just beneath our list of vests, which we hope will help you find out what you need to know before making your choice. We also put together a handful of frequently asked questions, each based on what other seem to be asking while searching for the same products.

UD SJ Ultra 2.0
  • UD SJ Ultra 2.0
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Micro Adjustment Straps
  • Price: See Here
UD AK Mountain 3.0
  • UD AK Mountain 3.0
  • 4.8 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Reservoir Included
  • Price: See Here
UD TO Race 3.0
  • UD TO Race 3.0
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Volume: 305 cu in
  • Price: See Here

10 Best Ultimate Direction Vests

 

1. SJ Ultra 2.0

1. SJ Ultra 2.0
One of the highest-grossing hydration vests on the market today, the SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 is an extremely popular product.
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Weighing only 13.3 ounces with its 2 bottles included, it’s one of the lighter vests on the market.

Durability
The Power Mesh and Silnylon design combine to make this vest lightweight, yet strong simultaneously. The pockets also feature reinforced elastic edges, so the pockets will spring back to their original size even when they’re stuffed.

Cost
There are newer models of vests on the market, causing the price of the SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 to decrease, but it appears that this vest is as popular as ever. As vests go, it is certainly affordable.
Pros
  • Extremely light weight. It has more space, but is even lighter than the previous version.
  • The water bottles are easily accessible.
  • Extremely durable. Many consumers are happy with the ability of this vest to “last forever”.
Cons
  • Accessibility is an issue with this vest. If you’re not flexible, you’ll struggle to reach the back pockets.

2. AK Mountain 3.0

2. AK Mountain 3.0
Ideal for a mountain runner who wants to fit more into his or her vest, the AK Mountain Vest is a close second to the space capacity of the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20.
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Storage Capability
This vest can hold 11.5 liters, and the bungee cords on the back expand to a wider width to hold everything in place more easily. The large cargo pocket in the back perfectly fits an extra layer of clothing.

Fit
Sliding sternum strap rails allow you to place the straps higher or lower on the chest. This makes the increased weight that you’re carrying in the vest less burdensome.

Cost
This is one the pricier vests that Ultimate Direction offers. Be sure that you need extra space on a consistent basis before purchasing.
Pros
  • Perfect for longer runs when you can’t bear to leave anything behind
  • Great storage capacity combined with weightless design
  • Hydration system capable
Cons
  • Multiple consumers claim that the size of this vest runs big.

3. Ultra Vesta

3. Ultra Vesta
An editor’s choice according to some other commended sources, this vest is a clear winner for any woman looking for a perfect ergonomic fit.
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Comfort
This vest comes with the 500ml soft water bottles. The soft plastic of the bottle is able to conform to the body as you drink it. Similar to the AK Mountain Vest, this vest features sliding sternum straps along with side body straps that help keep the vest extremely snug to the body.

Organization
This vest comes with two zippers for the main storage pocket on the back. This makes it easy to access the gear that’s in the bottom of your bag, without having to remove all of the pocket’s contents. The side pockets are also compartmentalized into two separate regions, so you’ll easily know exactly where everything is.

Cost
Having won the distinction of Editor’s Choice, you would think that this vest would be more expensive. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s also not the most expensive vest that Ultimate Direction offers.
Pros
  • The bottles on the front of the vest can easily be reached without having to remove the bottle from its pocket.
  • The sternum and side straps really do lock this vest in place so that little to no bounce occurs.
Cons
  • Some consumers claim that the nip on the bottle is a bit hard to open while in the pocket.

4. SJ Ultra 3.0

4. SJ Ultra 3.0
The SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 is the next generation vest of the 2.0 SJ Ultra Vest Signature Series. This vest improves upon the design of the 2.0 vest and was just released in 2016.
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This vest is made with both Knit Mono Mesh and Darlington Power Mesh. These are lightweight materials that stretch with your things and conforms to your body simultaneously. It’s also made with SilNylon and is a third lighter than the original 2.0 design.

Efficiency
The bungee cords on the back of the vest are perfect for storing bladders, so that you’re always hydrated. This vest can carry 8.5 liters, while the 2.0 can only carry 7.0.

Cost
The SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 is slightly cheaper than the Fastpack 2.0. If you would prefer something extremely lightweight, this vest is your best bet.
Pros
  • Its storage capacity and weightlessness have been improved upon from the previous model
  • You’re able to access your running poles without breaking your stride.
  • Consumers are amazed at how lightweight the product is.
Cons
  • These vests run small, and multiple consumers have complained about its tight fit and restrictive design.

5. P.B 2.0 Adventure

5. P.B 2.0 Adventure
This vest’s design improves upon the design of the previous version. You will feel confident with this vest on your back.
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Comfort
It’s not the lightest vest on the market at 16 ounces, but most consumers agree that the sizes for this vest fit well.

Waterproof Design
Cuban Fiber has been replaced with Silnylon. This helps to keep the seams together, while also keeping the contents of the vest dry.

Cost
The cost of this vest is great considering the space that you're getting and the updated design.

Pros
  • Stronger bungee cords to allow for greater durability
  • Large front straps and storage pockets
  • Contains a third pocket for easier access to a larger bladder reservoir

 

Cons
  • Some consumers have stated that the Silnylon is not completely waterproof.

6. AK 2.0 Race

6. AK 2.0 Race
This vest is perfect for anyone who needs the ultimate hydration setup during a marathon or a longer single-day run.
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Hydration Capabilities
This vest comes with two 20 ounce bottles and has adequate space for a 70-ounce bladder.

Accessibility
The four front pockets are able to perfectly fit bars and gels, while the two pockets above the water bottles are large enough to hold cell phones.

Cost
This vest is cheaper than many of the other ones, but is still pricier than the previous version of this vest. This vest has a 4-liter storage volume, which is .5 liters less than the previous version and yet, the price of this vest is more expensive than the previous model.
Pros
  • People agree that the back-storage pocket is the perfect size.
  • It can easily be taken on and off.
  • Most consumers consider it a comfortable and well-fitting vest.
Cons
  • Some claim that the bottles are almost in your face, while others state that the bottles feel like they’re punching you in the gut with every stride.

 

7. Marathon

7. Marathon
Simple and perfect for everyday use, this vest will make you feel as if you’re not even wearing one.
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Weight
Cool Wick Mono Mesh is used to make this particular vest feel weightless. You’ll experience no bouncing while it’s on, with maximum breathability.

Convenience
This vest emphasizes the essentials. It includes one water bottle pocket, one gel pocket, one cell phone pocket behind the gel pocket, a 2-liter reservoir pocket and a zipper-less mesh pocket in the back that’s perfect for a small clothing item.

Cost
This vest is affordable, although it does not come with an actual bladder.
Pros
  • Its lightweight material is extremely comfortable.
  • Holds a large amount of water for its smaller size.
Cons
  • Some consumers claim that their vests tore soon after purchase.

8. TO Race 3.0

8. TO Race 3.0
The TO Race Vest 3.0 is similar to the AK 2.0 Race Vest except it is not able to hold as much water.
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Comfort
The Knit Mono Mesh allows the vest to cling to the body for a superior feeling of comfort. The Mono Mesh prevents the vest from bouncing or rubbing against the body. The T-hook adjustable sternum straps at the chest and torso of the vest provide additional comfort.

Efficiency
The two small pockets at the back of the vest are within reach while moving. You’re also able to reach your trekking poles easily while in motion.

Cost
This vest is fairly priced. You should be able to budget for the TO Race Vest 3.0.
Pros
  • Fits snugly to the body to accommodate a weightless feeling.
  • Breathable mesh fabric
  • Two ounces lighter than the previous TO Race Vest 2.0

 

Cons
  • You’ll likely be unable to fit larger gear into the back pockets

9. PB Adventure 3.0

9. PB Adventure 3.0
This vest takes the 2.0 version to a higher level, mainly through more pocket options
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Storage Space
The pockets on this vest are larger than the ones found in the previous 2.0 model, with stretch-mesh storage pockets and layered pockets on the backside of the vest.

Capacity
This enhanced version of the PB Adventure vest allows for 33% more space than the 2.0 vest, while only weighing 14 ounces.

Cost
One of the newer styles in the Ultimate Direction arsenal, this vest is on the pricier side.
Pros
  • Can carry 1.5 gallons of water
  • Reservoir pocket is completely separate from the rest of the vest
  • Bungee cords on the back of the pack allow for more storage.
Cons
  • Vest is smaller than advertised.

10. Jurek FKT

10. Jurek FKT
This vest was designed by Scott Jurek soon after he broke the record for the fastest time on the Appalachian trail.
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Accessibility
This SJ vest features more pockets on the front than the previous SJ models, specifically a large sweat-proof phone pocket. The small pockets underneath of the water bottles pockets have been replaced with bigger dump pockets.

Convenience
This vest is able to carry a 70-ounce bladder and still have plenty of room for larger supplies such as jackets, gels and nutrition.

Cost
This vest is moderately priced as Ultimate Direction vests go. It is the right price for the amount of space that you’re getting.
Pros
  • Great storage improvements compared to the previous SJ vest.
  • Many reviews state that this is an extremely comfortable and well-fitting vest.
  • No complaints regarding the FlexForm 600ml bottles.
Cons
  • The underarm pockets can be inconvenient because anything larger than a gel is going to rub against the arm.

 

Here we’ve looked at a wide range of Ultimate Direction hydration vests. Some are fancy and some keep it simple. There are differences in all of the products on this list, but they all have one factor in common: they’re reliable products. Choose one that will best meet your personal running style, and get moving.


The Criteria We Used While Searching For The Best Ultimate Direction Running Vests

Whether you’re hiking, biking, or running, we know how important it is to have a reliable  vest to keep you hydrated  and fueled during even the most intense trail-traipsing and mountain-scaling adventures. The following is a list of the metrics used for comparing each Ultimate Direction Vest.

Are they comfortable?

Training for an ultra-marathon is all about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zones. Yet, the last thing you should be worrying about is the comfort of your hydration vest. The straps and back should be soft and adjustable and not feel overly constricting or awkward, while still fitting snugly against your body to reduce movement to a minimum. They should also be breathable and lightweight enough so that you don’t have to carry too much additional weight, while not chaffing if you choose to go shirt-less.

Do they have room enough for adequate water-storage capacity?

The whole purpose of investing in an ultra hydration vest is to ensure you remain hydrated even on your longest runs. While bladders and reservoirs are typically sold separately from the vest, each vest needs to have the ability to hold enough water that will meet your particular needs.  Ultimate Direction vests hold a range of different size bladders, from from 1.5 ounces  in the more lightweight vest models intended for shorter distance running, to being able to hold 4 ounce reservoirs and bladders in the bigger vests that are perfect for longer hikes. In addition to reservoirs and bladders, some vests come equipped with water bottles, sizing up to 20 ounces each of additional water storage.

Is it easy to use?

It’s important to purchase a hydration vest that has pockets and storage compartments that are easy to access and use. Stuffing your gels into a pocket that you can’t reach with ease during your training is no good. The same goes for the accessibility of water bottles, water bottle storage compartments, and the straw if one is included – they need to be easy to reach, easy to use, and easy to clean.

Are they durable?

Whatever your sport is, if you opt outside you’re bound to face some kind of inclement whether at some point during your training. A hydration vest needs to be able to endure the hottest of days, the coldest of mornings, and the heaviest of rains and snow storms. A good hydration vest will keep its shape and comfort no matter the forecast. They also need to be able to stand up to sweat and moisture. The water bottle holders need to keep their elasticity, the water bladder shouldn’t easily break or rip, and the straps and clips should remain tight and secure even over time, so as to maintain a snug fit.


Other Important Factors to Consider When Choosing The Right Vest For You

Purchasing a high-quality hydration vest can be a serious investment, and we want you to be sure you make the best decision possible when shopping for a vest.

Versatility

One of the first questions you may want to ask yourself is, what are all the ways in which I plan to use my vest? For some, the vest will be worn strictly on runs. Others might need theirs for biking, hiking, casual outings, or all of the above. If you plan to use yours for more than one sport or purpose, be sure you think about all the features you would need to fit your specific uses. For instance, if you plan to be hiking for days, you would definitely want to have enough storage pockets to store snacks and emergency essentials. But then if you also intend to wear yours for marathon training, you also need to consider a vest that has pockets that are not so big that they get in the way of a comfortable run. Are you going to need a place to store your car keys? do you need water-proof pockets for enduring possible rainstorms or treading through rising bodies of water? Whatever your needs, make sure your vest can cover them all.

Bulkiness

Especially if you plan to use your vest for running, you may want to purchase one that isn’t bulky or too heavy. While a vest with two water bottle storage compartments that sit directly on your chest might be easy to access and convenient, they might block your natural running arm swing. Consider your particular running style. If you tend to exaggerate an arm-swing from left to right, a bulky vest is going to get in the way of your natural swing and be uncomfortable and annoying (although, it might end up helping your form in the long run!). The same goes for considering the bulk that is carried on your back: while the vest might have enough storage to carry all of your fuel and emergency essentials, the bulkiness might not suit your specific running style.

Material

The type of material a hydration is made out of is certainly something to consider when thinking about comfort and use. While you probably want to stay away from vests that are not soft to the touch, you also want to avoid materials that are not waterproof and will not wick sweat and moisture. Obviously, the most important thing is to choose a material that is comfortable to you.

Pressurized or Not?

A pressurized hydration system will allow the user to squirt out water from the pack, as opposed to sucking it through the hydration tube. This might be useful on those especially-exhausting runs, climbs, hikes, or rides when your breathing is heavy and you just need to quickly and efficiently get water and/or electrolytes into your body. Consider how hard  you plan to work out before purchasing a vest, and if a pressurized hydration system makes sense for your needs.

How Cold Will it Be?

If you plan to use your hydration vests for winter sports or outside in sub-freezing temperatures then you will need a vest that has an insulated tube and bladder and water bottles to avoid freezing. You may find that you can additionally purchase a neoprene sleeve to cover the separate vest features, and provide some insulation (if they are not already insulated). However, in most hydration vests, the bladder is located on the inside of the vest, closer to your back, and so won’t as easily freeze since it’s so close to your body heat. Bottom line: if you plan on being in extremely cold conditions, take insulation into heavy consideration. Otherwise, it does not have to a top concern.

Can you clean it easily?

To avoid bacterial growth in bottles, bladders, tubes, and mouth valves, you will need to choose a vest that can be easily cleaned and disinfected. This is especially true if you plan to consume sugary liquids that might leave behind sticky residue. Ultimate Direction vests pride themselves on easy cleaning, for the most part, but at a cost. To clean the mouth valve and tubes, Ultimate Direction advises purchasing a special tube cleaning brush, and rinsing with soap and water. The bladder and reservoir are typically much easier to clean, in that they can just be turned inside-out and scrubbed by hand (or by filling with warm water and dropping in a dissolvable cleaning tablet.) As for the vest itself, consider how often you will be using it and, thus, how often you will be cleaning it. All of Ultimate Direction’s hydration vests are machine-washable, which will save on time and convenience. (However, Ultimate Direction advises to never machine-dry their products, but instead to hang dry).

Are they safe to consume liquids from?

If you’re going to be ingesting anything, you need to make sure it is safe. Ultimate Direction’s bottles and bladders are all made with BPA-free plastic and an FDA approved Polyethylene. In addition, Ultimate Direction uses a plastic urethane film in their bottles because it is safe, but its slightly porous texture may result in a slight yellowing effect. Users should not be alarmed by any yellowing – it is not dangerous and can be easily cleaned.


FAQ

 

Q: How much does an Ultimate Direction vest cost?

On Amazon, Ultimate Direction hydration vests typically range from $80 to $160, depending on the size and storage capacity available, with most hovering around $120.

Q: Do Ultimate Direction vests come with a water reservoir and/or bladder?

No, most reservoirs and bladders for hydration vests need to be purchased separately.

Q: Do Ultimate Direction vests come with water bottles or flasks?

For the most part, yes. While reservoirs and bladders are sold separately, most vests include bottles.

Q: Other than a bladder and the included water bottles, what additional items can I fit in my hydration vest pockets?

Depending on which Ultimate Direction vest you purchase, there is enough room to hold two GPS Locators and/or smartphones, up to four gels, bars, and small snacks, and a small key in the larger models. Smaller models will generally have enough space for one or two gels and a smartphone or GPS locator.

Q: Can the hydration vests be washed?

Yes. All of Ultimate Direction’s hydration vests are machine-washable, but should never be machine-dried.

Q: Can trekking poles be attached to Ultimate Direction hydration vests?

In some of the models, yes. If you’re a hiker or climber and need to be able to attach trekking poles, look for models that are larger and with more storage capacity. Certain models come equipped with specific trekking pole attachments.

Q: What sizes do the Ultimate Direction hydration vests come in?

Most vests come in small, medium, and large.

Q: How do I know which size will fit me?

Most Ultimate Direction vests fit true to size, so purchasing a vest in the same size shirt you wear is a safe bet. Specifically, the following unisex guide may be helpful for pinpointing your size: size small for individuals with a 24 to 38 inch ribcage (61-97 cm), size medium for a 31-42 inch rib cage (79-107 cm), and size large for a 36-50 inch ribcage (91-127 cm). Ultimate Direction advises taking measurements wearing the style of clothing you intend to wear with the vest.


 

Here are some sources we used while conducting our research

Sources

  1. Ariella Gintzler, 5 Women’s-Specific Running Vests Reviewed, Trail running site, May 03, 2017
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