Ultimate Direction Ultralight Tee - Women's Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
Ultimate Direction, a longtime leader in the world of running vests, packs, and handhelds, expanded into apparel this year, and we're thoroughly impressed.
The Ultralight Tee earns top marks for comfort. The fabric is super soft — we continually wanted to take this one out for test runs, even after we'd determined its score in this metric. It's stretchy and thin and doesn't have that shiny polyester feel that we've all experienced in cheap tech tees. It moves gently across your skin as you run, and we never felt even a hint of chafing. The seams, too, help prevent rubbing because they're narrow, flat, and have no exposed edges.
This is a looser style, but we didn't feel like we were drowning in fabric. It makes use of raglan sleeves in order to keep seams off the tops of the shoulders where they might otherwise rub underneath the straps of a pack. There are also gussets underneath the arms, which provide a great range of motion without any pulling of the fabric, and helps keep this relaxed style shirt from looking too baggy.
As an aesthetic choice, we like how the contrasting color of the seams stands out from the shirt and gives it some visual interest. The neckline is slightly lower than a standard crewneck, but it still felt high enough for sun protection on our chest, and the sleeves were plenty long enough, as well.
The Ultralight excels in the breathability metric, as well. True to its name, a small weighs in at 2.22 oz, tieing for first place as the lightest shirt we tested. The tee has strategically placed panels of thinner weave mesh to allow for greater airflow. The back panel has an increasing number of pinprick-sized holes as it moves toward the center of the back, and the front panel contains sections of this same pinpricked mesh. We could certainly tell how breathable this fabric is while we were testing, and it even kept us comfortable during a full-sun desert run with steadily rising temps.
Another factor that helps in its ability to breathe is the cut of the shirt itself. The looser style is easy and breezy, floating away from your body while you're running and letting a ton of air move naturally between your body and the shirt. A huge sign of success for us is whether or not we are tempted to strip down to just a sports bra during a hot run, and with this one, we weren't.
In line with what we'd expect of its thin, lightweight fabric, the Ultralight Tee dried very quickly. We test this metric by soaking the shirt until saturated, wringing as much water out by hand as possible, and then hanging it up to dry while running a timer. We think this is important to test because how quickly a shirt dries can play a role in both your comfort and your safety.
In the summer heat, your sweat can evaporate more quickly, letting you feel the benefits of evaporative cooling and help your body regulate temperature. In the winter, a shirt that dries faster will help prevent you from getting as chilled as you would if your sweat was continually dampening your shirt. Since we know there can be some discrepancies in how we do this test, we're not looking at the fastest by seconds but instead at the general range of times that the shirts fall into. This one was definitely in the top performers, so take it out in the backcountry, run hard, and feel how comfortable your body will stay.
Features & Versatility
There isn't a ton to say regarding the features of this shirt. Ultimate Direction themselves wrote in the product description that they aimed for something simple and stripped back when they designed the Ultralight. There aren't any reflective decals, and there isn't a hanging loop. They do say, however, that the fabric is antimicrobial, meaning that it will be less susceptible to mold or mildew, which extends the life of the product.
Our feelings on versatility are a bit mixed. On the one hand, we love wearing this shirt and would happily throw it on for daily wear because it doesn't feel like a typical tech tee. It's more than comfortable enough to climb or stretch or go to the gym in, but by the end of testing, we realized that the inner part of the hem was starting to unravel in two spots. While we did take it on an off-trail ramble, it seems too soon to have this type of wear. The fabric that we love so much may snag if you are choosing to use it for off-trail travel or outdoor climbing. In spite of that durability concern, we'll continue to use it for a variety of activities because it's just so comfortable. It will be a great travel shirt because it can bridge that gap between performance wear and casual wear; it packs down to the size of your fist and can be easily layered over.
We know this shirt is on the upper end of the price range, but we still think its value is good. We have some concerns about durability, but otherwise, it's super breathable and fast to dry, incredibly comfortable, and we'd happily wear it for both training and race days. It may be a bit of a splurge, but the Ultralight holds its own.
We're impressed with Ultimate Direction's debut running shirt and the minimal direction they took the design. It's a seriously high-performing shirt in a style that looks a little bit more laid back. Built to withstand sweltering heat and blistering paces, you'll be comfortable and cool in the Ultralight.
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