The Ultimate Direction was a shoo-in for the Top Pick Unsupported Mountain Adventures category. The previous winner in this category was the Ultimate Direction Jurek FKT (which was a fantastic and durable vest) though this new design is better and offers more customization for whatever the adventure may be. The ability to pack a massive amount of equipment along as well as collapse the pack down to a reasonable size for every day running is a huge plus.
The Ultimate Direction FKT offers ample storage for long, unsupported missions.
With the ability to haul around tons of equipment, even enough for fastpacking missions, comes the need to adjust shoulder straps, sternum attachments, and side strap tension. Without the ability to adjust almost every strap, having a fully loaded running hydration pack can be pretty miserable. The Ultimate Direction FKT did an excellent job when fully loaded thanks to the high level of adjustability.
Thanks to height adjustments on both the sternum straps and side straps, dialing in the fit depending on where the weight rides in the pack was simple. When getting settled into the FKT initially we realized the side adjustment straps were outrageously long. Once you figure out the range you use, it would be wise to cut off the excess strap with a hot knife as it can get in the way.
Both the FKT and the Circuit utilize an equalizing V-strap as a side adjustment. For reducing bounce, we found this design to be far superior to having only one strap along the side like the Osprey Duro.
While the comfort of the FKT isn't the best, it does have a wide array of fit adjustments, mesh ventilated material, and wide enough shoulder straps to spread out the weight when fully loaded. All in all, the FKT offers the necessary comfort and adjustments to utilize its massive storage capacity.
The simple design incorporated by the FKT makes fit adjustments easy. This feature was appreciated when weight and pack fill fluctuated throughout the day.
Where to begin… The FKT is packed to the rafters with features. This thing has detachable external pockets, media pocket, roll top back compartment, expandable water capacity, external bungees to attach a light jacket or shirt, and on and on. The FKT utilizes something we hadn't encountered in our testing to date and thus were a bit skeptical of — detachable pockets. These detachable external pockets initially gave us pause but ended up being an awesome added bonus. The ability to add a few hundred extra calories to your pack and have the weight distributed along the shoulder straps was key for long days out. One detachable pocket is set up to be a media pocket with an outlet for headphones. It just barely fits an iPhone 6 with a Lifeproof case. We opted to put the phone in the larger chest pocket and use the media pocket for snacks. The other nagging issue with using the detachable pocket as the media pocket is how difficult it is to reach as well as cram a phone into, as it is a snug fit.
The FKT is also uniquely asymmetrical in the front opting for one semi-rigid water bottle and a large zippered compartment on the opposite side. While some may like this feature, you do lose the option of having different liquids in bottles up front. If you opt to add a water bladder, which is really necessary to get the most out of this pack, you would still have the option of having multiple liquids.
There isn't another running hydration pack in this review that rivals the level of features the FKT provides. Most vests offer a few "extras" but this thing is comprehensive in what it offers. Ultimate Direction even states the nylon loops at the bottom are capable of holding an ice axe if you're going to get rowdy.
The FKT offers a wide variety of fit adjustments with both sternum straps and flank straps. All of them utilized the same simple, frustration-free hook design.
The FKT doesn't come with a water bladder/hose hydration system, even though it is designed to be used with one. The included hydration system is a semi-rigid 600ml bottle on the right chest strap. Initially, we were critical of only having the option for one bottle in the front but quickly realized with similar vests, we would often replace one bottle with food and add a hydration reservoir in the back. That being said, in an ideal world, we would like the option of two bottles up front (for the ability to have different types of liquid) as well as an included water reservoir when the pack is meant to be used with it.
Considering this pack can't live up to its full potential without a hydration reservoir, we found the lack of hydration hose management a little frustrating. There were a few workarounds, like capturing the hose under the hiking pole loop, which worked ok but wasn't perfect.
The FKT is the only pack in our review to utilize a semi-rigid water bottle. We like this for several reasons -- it loads into its pocket easily and makes one-handed filling simple. There is a small sacrifice in comfort as soft flasks are more form fitting.
The FKT is made with customization and storage as a top priority. Of all the vests we tested, this has the greatest level of storage and organization. Our testing of storage capacity entailed having a standard set of food and equipment we take on nearly every run, including an extra layer, basic first aid/emergency, food, water, and our phone. Some vests tested could barely fit these essentials, whereas the FKT had about 90% of its capacity still available.
The left image (below) shows our a basic kit including extra warmth, salt tablets, ibuprofen, headlamp, first aid, etc. We packed this same kit in every vest tested to get an idea of how much capacity would be left after a base level of equipment was added. On the right, you can see it looks like there is barely anything in the FKT and indeed it has a ton of space left for food, equipment, or adding a 2-liter bladder.
We managed to cram a few thousand calories, two liters of water, Sawyer Mini Filter, a SOL Escape Bivy and our Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody into this thing along with our typical base kit. This allowed us to manage an overnighter where we stopped for a few hours rest in relative comfort using only what we could fit into this running pack. While the FKT isn't necessarily made for this, it was just a test of how much we could realistically fit into the pack. While our Editors' Choice Salomon ADV Skin 12 has a generous storage capacity, the massive roll top compartment of the FKT set it apart.
The expandability of the FKT is one of the most impressive attributes of the pack. It has the ability to cinch down and appear quite small when in reality it has the largest storage capacity of all packs tested.
There is a huge variety in the size and type of pockets on this thing. The detachable shoulder pockets add an element of customization and allowed us to shed some of the packs bulk when heading out for shorter trail runs. There are also some fine details that set this hydration pack apart from other vests when it comes to pocket design. The largest zippered compartment on the front left of the vest has a stretchy liner that keeps items contained in the pocket even when it is unzipped. This allows you to keep moving, even if it's walking, and rummage around for whatever snack you're craving. Other vests with similar front zippered pockets don't have this simple but effective stretch barrier.
Underneath the main zippered pocket on the front and the water bottle pocket adjacent are two stretch pockets capable of holding 5 or 6 gels each or make a decent place to stuff your used wrappers. In addition to the five pockets on the front of the vest, there is a cavernous roll top main compartment, stretchy stuff pouch, and zippered compartment with a key clip on the back. The pocket variety and organization on the FKT is top notch.
Having a stretchy barrier sewn into the pocket might seem unnecessary but we appreciated being able to fully unzip the pocket without bars spilling onto the ground.
The only reason we felt the Salomon ADV Skin 12 was superior in its pocket design was simply because of how accessible each pocket was. Other than the back compartments we could extract and stuff food, jackets, and headlamps from its pockets without too much contortion. We absolutely love the storage capacity of the FKT but often felt that we didn't have as much nutrition and hydration within reach and would have to stop for a quick reload from the main back compartment.
Along with all our base equipment, we could even stuff an insulated jacket and have tons of room to spare. There is no shortage of pockets or space in the FKT.
For a pack that holds far more than any other in our testing group, it would be reasonable to expect it to be the heaviest. Amazingly it isn't the heaviest, though it does sit on the heavier end of the scale. It's important to keep in mind that the FKT only includes one 600ml water bottle. As this isn't really enough water except for short outings, adding a hydration bladder will be necessary. This addition will add a bit to the weight and depending on the bladder will probably put the FKT right up with the heaviest vest we tested.
Throughout our testing, we never felt that the FKT was excessively heavy, and if we had a way to measure the weight to storage capacity ratio, it would be off the charts. The "MonoRip Mesh" material that makes up the entire back and shoulders of the pack felt light and strong as did the ripstop roll top main compartment.
At 14.46 ounces (converted from grams) the FKT is far from the lightest hydration pack we tested. It does, however, make up for the weight with its wizard-like ability to pack in the gear (think Capacious Extremis for all you Harry Potter fans!).
All things considered, the FKT allows for a generous amount of food, water, and equipment at a reasonable cost in weight. We feel like there isn't any material or weight added to this pack needlessly and that everything has a function.
As the name implies, the FKT is designed for those specialty missions where time is critical, and the distances are often so expansive that support is either non-existent or spread thin. The customization of this pack allows you to bring what you need for those odd missions like the WURL in Utah, the Rim to Rim to Rim in Arizona, or the Zion Traverse. All of these have unique resupply options and require a pack capable of holding extra layers, several liters of water, and all the equipment you might need to keep yourself safe in an emergency. The FKT checks all of those boxes, making it a great option for these demanding backcountry adventures.
It would be a stretch to say this pack is a screaming deal. It is extremely functional and can adapt to many different trail running needs. If you're looking for something that can be used in many different situations and is especially capable on long mountain running adventures, the price is justified. Keep in mind that to get the most out of this pack, you will need to pick up a hydration reservoir of your choice, which will add a bit to the price tag.
For long days of trail running, this is the pack you want.
The Ultimate Direction FKT is our Top Pick for Unsupported Mountain Adventures. The storage and customization possible with the FKT is matched by none in our test group. Not only can you pack a lot into it, but the plethora of fit adjustments, mesh panels, and wide shoulder straps also help make carrying the pack fully loaded a comfortable ordeal. If you have some big all day mountain loops planned this year and need a pack that is going to carry its weight, look no further.