Ultimate Direction FKT Review
Manufacturer: Ultimate Direction
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Ultimate Direction is a no-brainer for unsupported mountain adventures. 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.
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 FKT does 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 this pack is simple. When initially getting settled into the FKT, we realized the side adjustment straps are 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.
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 weight when fully loaded. All in all, it offers the necessary comfort and adjustments to utilize its massive storage capacity.
Where to begin… the FKT is packed to the rafters with features. This thing has detachable external pockets, a media pocket, a 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 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 separate bottles up front. That said, 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 brings to the trail. Ultimate Direction even states the nylon loops at the bottom are capable of holding an ice axe if you're going to get rowdy. Yeehaw!
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.
Considering this pack can't live up to its full potential without a hydration reservoir, we find the lack of hydration hose management a little frustrating. There are a few workarounds, like capturing the hose under the hiking pole loop, which works okay but isn't perfect.
Volume to Weight Ratio
Throughout our testing, we never felt that the FKT was excessively heavy, and notably, it scores the highest of any pack in volume to weight ratio metric. For its size (18 liters), the weight is crazy light (14.5 ounces). The "MonoRip Mesh" material that makes up the entire back and shoulders of the pack feel light and strong, as do the ripstop roll-top main compartment.
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 supplies, food, water, and a phone. Some vests tested could barely fit these essentials, whereas the FKT had about 90% of its capacity still available.
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. The FKT easily swallowed all our supplies, barely looking as though we'd put anything in it and leaving a ton of space for more food, equipment, or adding a 2-liter bladder.
We managed to cram a few thousand calories, two liters of water, a 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. The massive roll-top compartment of this pack really sets it apart.
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.
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.
There is a huge variety in the size and type of pockets on the FKT, as well as details that set it apart from other vests when it comes to design. The detachable shoulder pockets add an element of customization and allow you to shed some of the packs bulk when heading out for shorter trail runs. 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 adjacent water bottle pocket are two stretch pockets capable of holding 5 or 6 gels — this is also 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.
On the flip side, while we absolutely love the storage capacity of the FKT, we often felt that we didn't have as much nutrition and hydration within reach as we might have ideally liked. This means that, as your day wears on, you will likely have to stop for a quick reload from the main back compartment.
It would be a stretch to say this pack is a screaming deal, though it's not outrageous. 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.
As the name implies, the Ultimate Direction 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. Not only can you pack a lot into it, but the plethora of fit adjustments, mesh panels, and wide shoulder straps also 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.
— Brian Martin