10 Best Ultimate Direction Vests Tested
The 10 Best Ultimate Direction Vests offer many different and highly functional designs for novice runners to those that go the ultra-miles. They are engineered for runners by runners and this is what makes them more than a noteworthy addition to any serious runner’s gear.
Scroll through and check out why we think they are one of the best companies to look at for your hydration vest needs as well as get more informed with our FAQs and criteria for evaluation sections. This info is there to help you choose the best option and to explain why Ultimate Direction Hydration vests are rated so highly.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 20 hrs of research
Fits snugly to the body and is very comfortable
Breathable mesh fabric
Two ounces lighter than the previous model
Our Favorite Picks
1. SJ Ultra 2.0
Fits snugly to the body and is very comfortable
Breathable mesh fabric
Two ounces lighter than the previous model
You probably won't be able to fit larger items into the back pockets
One of the best-selling hydration vests on the market today, the SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 is an extremely popular product, and for good reason. With the best weight-to-volume ratio on the market today, as well as lots of cool features such as pockets for your cell phone and energy bars or gels, it's a great choice. Reviewers also loved how light and comfortable the pack was and commented that it didn't bounce at all once it's adjusted correctly. The 3.0 version has come out and even made our list, but it has yet to match the 2.0 in number and quality of reviews so until it proves itself we're keeping this version in our top spot.Read more
Weighing in at only 13.3 ounces including its 2 bottles, it’s one of the lightest vests on the market.
The Power Mesh and Silnylon design combine to make this vest lightweight yet strong. The pockets also feature reinforced elastic edges, so they'll spring back to their original size even after they’ve been stuffed.
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.
2. Ultra Vesta
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
Some consumers claim that the mouth on the bottle is a bit hard to open while in the vest pocket
Having won several awards from well-recognized sources, this vest is a clear winner for any woman looking for a perfect ergonomic fit. Especially designed for women, reviewer loved the comfort of this vest as well as all of the well-thought-out pockets for different types of gear.Read more
This vest comes with two 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.
This vest comes with two zippers for the main storage pocket on the back. This makes it easy to access the gear that’s at the bottom of your bag, without having to remove all of the pocket’s contents. The side pockets are also compartmentalized into two separate parts, so you’ll easily know exactly where everything is.
Having won several awards, 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.
3. SJ Ultra 3.0
Its storage capacity and light weight have been improved upon from the previous model
You’re able to access your trekking poles without breaking stride
Consumers are amazed at how lightweight the product is
These vests run large, you may want to order a size smaller than normal
The SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 is the next generation vest of the SJ Ultra Vest Signature Series. This vest improves upon the design of the 2.0 vest and was released in 2016.
Designed by ultra-running legend Scott Jurek, the SJ Ultra 3.0, and is noted for its high-quality construction and runner friendly design.Read more
This vest is made with Knit Mono Mesh and Darlington Power Mesh. These are lightweight materials that simultaneously stretches with your things and conforms to your body. It’s also made with SilNylon and is a third lighter than the original 2.0 design.
The bungee cords on the back of the vest are perfect for storing hydration bladders, so it's easy to stay hydrated. This vest has a total capacity of 8.5 liters, while the 2.0 can only carry 7.0.
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.
4. AK Mountain 3.0
Perfect for longer runs when you don't want to leave anything behind
Great storage capacity combined with light-weight design
Hydration system compatible
Multiple consumers claim that the sizes run big
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.Read more
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.
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.
This is one the pricier vests that Ultimate Direction offers. Be sure that you need extra space on a consistent basis before purchasing.
5. Adventure Vesta
Designed by women for women
Includes 2 water bottles
Water may slosh
Hydration bladder not included
May not fit fuller figured women well
This option is designed for women by women and is a larger product that's very versatile. You can use it for running but it's also big enough to store gear for long hikes and even the occasional overnighter if you go ultralight. Users love the size and versatility but if you're a fuller figured woman it might not have the ideal fit for you.Read more
Comfort and Durability
Most reviewers found this a joy to wear even on long runs and hikes. Some fuller figured women felt it didn't fit well for them however so please keep this in mind before ordering. As with most Ultimate Direction products this one is made with a lot of attention to detail and quality so it will last you a long time even with consistent use.
Versatility and Materials
It's big enough to be used for hiking as well as running. The company takes pride in their products and uses high quality components that make it a joy to use.
This one is perfect for longer runs where you need to take more with you, and/or if you're running to the gym to get a workout it's large enough to carry a change of clothes, snacks, your phone, and other exercise paraphanelia.
6. Ultra Vest 4.0
A lot of water storage
Uses Soft Flasks
Back pocket isn't that durable
Winning the Best in its Category in Ultra-Running Magazine, the Ultra Vest 4.0 has it all. It is light, versatile, loaded with features and made to go the distance without irritation. Ultimate Direction stepped up the hydration vest game with the 4.0 and you’ll notice the greatness as soon as you slip it on.Read more
Ultra Vest 4.0 is not only 20% lighter, but the new Comfort Cinch technology makes this hydration vest more customizable. It is easier to adjust while on-the-go and offers T-hook adjustments in the sternum and waist.
The Comfort Cinch sits on the small of the back and is easily accessed while running. Making the Ultra Vest 4.0 even comfier is the 4-way stretch strategically placed for added motion and less restriction while still staying snug. This Mono and MicroMono mesh material adds support as well.
Ultra Direction revamped the trekking pole holders as well, which can second as a holder for other items such as a running jacket. The newer design reduces bounce and has a snap that allows you to secure the holders when they are not in use.
Another great revamp is their switch to the soft flask holder design. They also give you the option to use just the soft flasks or soft flask/hydration-bladder combination. Although the soft flasks have been proven to be a bit heavier than other models, the lightness of the vest itself adds to the well-distributed weight when in use.
Made with a rip-stop pattern, you can be assured you're Ultra Vest 4.0 isn’t going to fall apart no matter what your running environment is throwing at you or how much you wanna try and fit in all the space available in this hydration vest. Honestly, with the versatility the Ultra Vest 4.0 offers, it was made to take the challenge further and all that means extra durability.
All that rip-stop is supporting 5 pockets on the front with 2 bungee retention bottle pockets, 2 small stash pockets, and pole holders. The back has 2 small zipper pockets and 1 large one that holds a bladder while offering a compression bungee for extra items you may need to access quickly.
7. Jurek FKT
Great storage improvements compared to the previous SJ vest
Extremely comfortable and well-fitting vest
No complaints regarding the FlexForm 600ml bottles
The underarm pockets can be inconvenient because anything larger than a gel is going to rub against the arm
This vest was designed by Scott Jurek soon after he broke the record for the fastest time on the Appalachian Trail. Made to be durable, comfortable, and hold everything you need and nothing you don't, the Jurek FKT is the perfect vest for long adventures in the woods.Read more
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, making it easier to access items kept there.
This vest is able to carry a 70-ounce bladder and still have plenty of room for larger supplies such as jackets, gels, and food.
This vest is moderately priced as Ultimate Direction vests go. It is the right price for the amount of space that you’re getting and represents a great value.
8. TO Race 3.0
Fits snugly to the body to accommodate for comfort
Breathable mesh fabric
Two ounces lighter than the previous TO Race Vest 2.0
Very small back pockets
The TO Race Vest 3.0 is similar to the AK 2.0 Race Vest, except that it doesn't hold as much water. Reviewers loved the comfort of the vest but noted that the back pocket is very small and doesn't hold much.Read more
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 and support.
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. Reviewers did note that the back pockets were very small, so please keep this in mind as you shop.
This vest is fairly priced. You should be able to budget for the TO Race Vest 3.0.
9. P.B. 2.0 Adventure
Stronger bungee cords to allow for greater durability than the previous model
Large front straps and storage pockets
Contains a third pocket for easier access to a larger bladder reservoir
Some consumers have stated that the Silnylon is not completely waterproof
This vest’s design improves upon the design of the previous version. You will feel confident that you have everything you need when you wear with this vest.
It has enough capacity to be able to fit more than just water. Some reviewers even used it for overnight adventure races and carried food, a sleeping bag, a hammock, and extra clothes.
At 16 ounces it’s not the lightest vest on the market, but most consumers agree that the sizes for this vest fit well, and it's worth it when you want to carry lots of gear. Reviewers remarked that the vest was generally very comfortable, but the load could get unbalanced when it's really full.
The Cuban Fiber from the previous version has been replaced with Silnylon. This helps to keep the seams together, while also keeping the contents of the vest dry.
The cost of this vest is great considering the amount of space that you're getting, the updated design, and the high-quality build and materials. Ultimate Direction vests aren't cheap, but reviewers consistently comment that they're well worth the price.
10. Fast Pack 15
Strap pockets are well-designed and useful
Can be expanded
Size may run large, you may want to think about ordering down a size
This is another larger option that can be used not just for running but also overnight trips to the backcountry and it's also great for traveling. Several reviewers who run as their commute to work absolutely loved this pack and found it perfect for that purpose.Read more
Comfort and Durability
It has a mesh back panel for breathability so it will keep you dry during use and reviewers of varying sizes, both men and women, found it a pleasure to wear. Customers also found it to be long-lasting even when used consistently over a long period of time and put through a lot of hard use.
Versatility and Materials
This product gives you the option of carrying just the essentials on a short run or expanding the back panel to take more with you while hiking. There is also a 30L option with even more room that is perfect for traveling for those who are able to pack light. Its components are made with durable rip-stop mesh and nylon that is high quality and long lasting.
Perfect for running/cycling commuters, long distance and endurance runners, hikers, and travelers who pack light.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
Ultra-marathon running is about pushing yourself hard and outside of your comfort zone.
Therefore, getting the most comfort out of your hydration vest is a big deal. They should have soft straps that are easily adjustable without any awkward constrictions while still fitting snug, reducing any unnecessary movement.
The best hydration vests should also breathe well and be extra light. Ultimate Direction vests are designed with attention to all these comfort details. Moreover, they know not every runner is made the same and that is why they have so many options, using runners like you to help work in comfort, catering to different needs.
Hydration vests are made to carry extra weight without adding any. They need to be able to take a little pressure and bounce while still protecting you against chaffing and the elements.
The best hydration vests will keep shape and elasticity through some of the harshest runs. They shouldn't rip under the pressure of a few water bottles and energy gels.
Ultimate Direction has many designs to choose from with high durability standards. Each one is made to cater to a certain running style and distance and is, more than not, made with rip-stop materials. Also, keeping the vest just snug enough to prevent sliding around without restricting the runner’s movement helps with durability as well.
The less a vest moves, the less likely it is to have added strain. A durable design is going to maintain the structure and hold weight, it is that simple. You don’t need a fancy vest, you need a functional and durable one.
For some, hydration vests will be worn strictly on runs while others might use it to bike, hike, or for other types of outdoor adventuring. Therefore, versatility plays a huge part in what makes the best hydration vests.
Having enough storage without weighing your down is a great place to start. What can you use the vest for? Are the pockets and holders good for other items? What do I need to have versus what the vest offers?
These are all good questions to ask when using your Ultimate Direction vest for other activities other than running. It is also great to know what the weather is like and how the materials are going to paly into the elements. How long you will be trecking versus how much space and water storage you have will also play into the most versatile options.
Material will play into durability and comfort when searching for the best Ultimate Direction Vests. Softness, moisture retention, and seams are just some things to look at when thinking material.
The wrong material can leave you chaffed, irritated and uncomfortable. It is also where you start with durability. Most well-made hydration vests are made to not rub, tear or breakdown in sweat or wet environments. This is why we really look hard at materials, we want your best option to last you as well.
Since Ultimate Direction makes 22 different hydration vests, there are a lot of options and each one has something different to offer.
We found that the smaller options are best for simple distance running or training. Others larger ones accommodate more Ultra style runners, hikers, and even light outdoor travel.
It’s important to purchase a hydration vest that has pockets and storage compartments that are easy to access and use as well. IT makes no sense to pack in water and energy where you can’t reach it. Items need to be easy to access when you’re on the go and stopping isn't an option.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
Ultimate Direction's Race vesta 4.0 is where it is at for hydration packs.
This pack has plenty of room to store a coat, snacks in front pockets for easy access, your phone, and keys. It is lightweight. There is easy access to water bottles, just bend your head down and grab a drink. Water bottles hold enough hydration to get me through a 2-3 hour run on the trails.
Before you are quick to purchase any hydration vest, stop! Take the time to read those consumer reviews. Many people purchase an item and forget to see what other people have said about their experience. In almost any case, customer reviews will answer any question you might have before spending money. For example, if you are curious about the fit, the comfortability, or even the overall quality of the product, you can find some good feedback in the customer review section.
When purchasing a hydration vest, such as those from Ultimate Direction, the last thing you want is for the product to break, or show signs of wear and tear. With that being said, rather than purchase a product from a cheap, unknown brand, always go with a company that is reputable, even if it means paying the extra dollar - as you will be getting a wealth more of quality, durability, and use.
Other Factors to Consider
Especially if you plan to use your vest for running, you may want to purchase one that isn’t too large or 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.
The bottom line is that Ultimate Direction hydration vests are well-designed, well made, and an overall great piece of gear. Below are some other factors we looked at while making our selections.
Does it Have Enough Room 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 for your particular needs. Ultimate Direction vests hold a range of different size bladders, from 1.5 liters in the more lightweight vest models intended for shorter distance running, to being able to hold 1.5 gallon reservoirs and bladders in the bigger vests that are perfect for long hikes and runs. 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 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 the Weather Be When You're Using the Vest?
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 a top concern.
Is It Easy to Clean?
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 a 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 the Water Bottles That Come With the Vests same to drink 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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 water bottles and/or a bladder?
No, most reservoirs and bladders for hydration vests need to be purchased separately, although most do come with water bottles.
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 always be air dried and not placed in the dryer.
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 that have more storage capacity. Certain models come equipped with specific trekking pole attachments, which we've noted in our reviews.
q: How do I know which size will fit me?
The vests come in small, medium, and large sizes and 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.