Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket V2 Review
Cons: Expensive, not breathable
Manufacturer: Ultimate Direction
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Ultra Jacket is a bombproof layer chock full of cool features. This, however, comes at a cost. Breathability and comfort are seriously compromised in this jacket.
We often like taking our time in the outdoors, as you probably do too. We enjoy sauntering through the woods, casually riding our bikes, or heading out for a couple of moderate pitches of climbing. But for this review, we were dedicated to working up a sweat. Running, whether you're an accomplished marathoner or a new jogger, is hard work, which is why breathability is such a crucial factor. The Ultra Jacket V2 is, unfortunately, significantly behind most of its competitors in this realm. The inner nylon material is prone to sticking to the skin once you start working up a sweat. There are underarm vents, but they aren't entirely successful. Compared with products whose materials are inherently more breathable, the Ultra would be brutal to use in warm weather or for the hardest workouts. We were forced to shed this layer for the uphills, no matter how bad the weather.
While you might wish that all workouts happened with perfect temperatures and full sunshine, that's not always the case. Unless you're willing to stop running just because the conditions aren't great, you need a layer that will keep you dry and warm. In the rain, the Ultra Jacket is an excellent companion. Burlier than many of the lighter wind layers in this review, this heavier jacket can keep out a solid amount of precipitation. Fabric aside, the hood is also a big reason the Ultra does so well in the rain. It has a sturdy brim to keep water from dripping into your face, and it cinches down in two places: at the neck and behind the head. The bottom of the jacket can also be cinched down to keep out moisture.
The Ultra Jacket also performs excellently in windy conditions, as evidenced by our constant choosing of this layer while traveling in Patagonia. It's also a bit warmer than some of the lighter jackets we tested, which makes it a better choice for slightly colder days. It doesn't have any insulation, though, so if the temperatures are dipping, we'd recommend something a bit warmer.
Additionally, this product has a feature that we've never seen before: built-in hand covers. Tucked up into the sleeves are lightweight mittens that can be pulled out to cover the hands. At first, we thought this was a bit gimmicky, but after hiking and running in the rain, we grew to love it. It has to be pretty cold to warrant wearing gloves while running, but having some protection from intense wind or rain in warmer temps was fantastic.
Comfort and Mobility
Comfort is a performance factor. Running is tough, and if your clothing is uncomfortable, it's only going to get harder. Chafing and sore spots can shut down a workout or race, so having clothing that fits properly and feels luxurious is key to your success. The Ultra Jacket has a great fit, but its materials are less cozy than some of its competitors. The inner nylon material felt stuffy, not smooth or silky. Our favorite fit feature is the slightly tapered back, which aids in finding a great balance between loose and form-fitting. The material itself has no stretch, but this back tapering is elastic. Despite the lack of stretch, we never felt constricted because of the fit of this jacket. Overall, it's a bit of a mixed bag for the Ultra.
With a running jacket, every gram can make a difference. On top of that, because you're trying to move quickly and often in a variety of types of terrain, a jacket's portability is crucial to its performance. At 5.5 ounces for a size small, the Ultra Jacket is slightly better than average. While some of our favorite products came in around 3 ounces or under, we also had a few contenders close to 10 ounces. To be fair, the lighter jackets in this review have far fewer features than the Ultra, and we found it to be surprisingly light given its excellent weather resistance and surplus of features.
One big thing we missed in this jacket was pockets, and subsequently, the ability to pack into one. We'll talk about the lack of pockets more below, but the inability to pack into itself does limit the use of the Ultra in iffy weather or without a pack or running vest.
The main features of the Ultra are related to weather protection, though it has a few other great qualities as well. We discussed all the great weather-resistant features above, but to reiterate, we love the hand covers, cinched waist, and sturdy hood. Many of the jackets in this review don't have a hood to save on weight, but not this one. The hood on the Ultra can be cinched down in the front and back and features a sturdy brim to keep the water out of your eyes. We love it. The hand covers, as well, are an excellent feature. While we were skeptical at first, we learned to love this dorky feature, which kept our hands protected from the insane winds of Patagonia.
Another decent feature of the Ultra Jacket is the amount of reflectivity. There is one reflective logo on the front, a large logo on the arm, but sadly nothing on the back. Visibility on the back is more important than the front, and we would have liked to see more reflective logos here. Compared to many of its ultra-reflective competitors, the Ultra has some room for improvement. Finally, there are no pockets on this jacket, so forget about bringing a phone unless you have a backpack or vest. This also means that there's no way to fold the Ultra into itself for easy transport.
With a whopping price tag, the Ultra Jacket V2 is one of the more expensive jackets in this review. While the weather protection is great, it's hard to justify the price tag, especially when our Best Buy Award winner is less than half the price. We would be a bit more willing to shell out for this product if it was more comfortable and had more visibility and pockets.
After months of testing, we found that the Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket V2 has a few great purposes, though it isn't the best for everyday use. If you're looking for a jacket to wear during burly adventure races, this could be a great choice. If you're looking for something to use occasionally during quick bouts of rain or wind, however, we'd likely choose a less expensive, more comfortable and breathable option.
— Lauren DeLaunay