We can't help but admit that Ultimate Direction makes some great running products, so we were pretty excited to try out their clothing and see how they stacked up. The Ultra Jacket V2 is an interesting product in this lineup and one that we found to be focused more on performance than comfort, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The features and weather protection of this jacket were largely unparalleled in this review. Our testers were excited to announce this jacket our Top Pick for Running in the Rain award.
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, runner-friendly layer designed for racing in the rain. While it isn't as breathable or comfortable as some of its competitors, there's no better choice for workouts in poor weather.
Here at OutdoorGearLab, we often like taking our time in the outdoors. 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 in this review.
The Ultra Jacket was significantly behind some of its competitors in this realm. The inner nylon material of this product is prone to sticking to our skin once we started working up a sweat. We were forced to shed this layer for the uphills, no matter how bad the weather.
The Ultra is featured with underarm vents, but we didn't think they were entirely successful. Compared to the Airshed, whose material is inherently breathable, the Ultra would be brutal to use in warm weather or for the hardest workouts.
While we might wish that all our workouts happened with perfect temperatures and full sunshine, that's not always the case. We're not willing to stop running just because the conditions aren't great, so we need a layer that will keep us dry and warm. Weather comes in a variety of types, and in this review were evaluated each product's performance in windy, cold, and rain to get an overall score.
In the rain, the Ultra Jacket is an excellent companion. Burlier than many of the lighter wind layers in this review, like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite, this heavier jacket can keep out a solid amount of precipitation. Fabric aside, the hood is also a big reason this jacket does so well in the rain. The hood 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. Compared to many of the hooded jackets in this review, like The North Face Flight RKT, the Ultra Jacket is clearly designed for running. Our testers also loved that the bottom of the jacket can be cinched down to keep out moisture.
The Ultra Jacket excels in other inclement weather, as well. It performs excellently in windy conditions, as evidenced by our constant choosing of this layer while traveling in Argentine 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 really dipping, we'd recommend something a bit warmer, like the Icebreaker Cool-Lite Rush.
Additionally, this product has a feature that we've never seen before: built-in hand covers. Tucked up into the sleeves are essentially 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 for us to warrant wearing gloves while running, but having some protection from intense wind or rain in warmer temps was fantastic.
Hear us out: 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. Measuring comfort includes a whole host of factors, and for this review, we explore materials, fit, and mobility.
The Ultra Jacket has a great fit, but its materials were less cozy than some of its competitors. The inner nylon material felt stuffy, not smooth and 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.
With many of the products we test here at OutdoorGearLab, differences in weight are pretty hard to notice. We count ounces, but in reality, who can tell? Well, with running jackets, we can. Because we're trying to move quickly and often in a variety of types of terrain, a jacket's portability is crucial to its performance.
For the first half of this metric, we put all our jackets on a scale to see how they matched up. At 5.5 ounces, the Ultra Jacket is slightly better than average. While some of our favorite products, like the Patagonia Airshed and Brooks LSD, came in around 3 ounces, we also had a few contenders between 8 and 11 ounces. To be fair, the lighter jackets in this review had far fewer features than the Ultra Jacket, 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 Ultra Jacket's use in iffy weather or without a pack or running vest.
In this category, we wanted to know what features each product included that made it a running jacket, and not just a wind jacket or rain shell. The Ultra Jacket's main features are related to weather protection, though it has a few other great qualities.
We discussed all the great weather resistant features above, but to reiterate: we loved the hand covers, cinched waist, and sturdy hood of this jacket. Many of the jackets in this review don't have a hood, probably because they can so easily blow off during running, but not this one. The hood on the Ultra can be cinched down in the front and back and featured 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 that 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. Our testers found it more important to have visibility on the back than the front, and we would have liked to see more reflective logos here. Compared to the Brooks Canopy and LSD, both of which have a reflective stripe on the back, the Ultra has some room for improvement.
Finally, there are no pockets on this jacket. This means, first and foremost, that we can't bring a phone or music player with us unless we have a backpack or vest, which is a significant blow. It also means that this jacket doesn't fold into itself for easy transport, which we discuss more above.
The Ultra Jacket is pretty great for some reasons and pretty mediocre for others. It excels in bad weather, which is why we awarded it our Top Pick for Racing in the Rain award. We loved its hood, hand protectors, and burly material for days when the weather has really turned south. We would not recommend this jacket for warm days, however, as the breathability is less than ideal.
At a whopping $190, the Ultra Jacket V2 is tied for the most expensive jacket in this review. While the weather protection is great, it's hard for us to justify such an expensive jacket, especially when our Best Buy Award winner, the Brooks LSD is 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 Ultra Jacket had a few great purposes, though it wasn'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 more breathable option.
— Lauren DeLaunay