Ultimate Direction Halo Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Lightweight, comfortable, breathable, storage
Cons: Expensive, pole storage is obtrusive
Manufacturer: Ultimate Direction
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Ultimate Direction Halo is a race worthy ultra vest designed to get you from aid station to aid station as quick as possible. There is ample storage to pack along the essentials but not much else. If we were suggesting this pack to a friend, they would have to be pretty serious about racing, and probably have another pack they would use for getting out in the mountains for recreation.
With its race-centric focus and eye towards efficiency, you would think comfort might be sacrificed with the Halo. This wasn't the case. Other than the breathable micromesh material, we found the comfort of this vest to be up to snuff. Our issue with the micro mesh is how abrasive it was against the bare skin of our testers. As long as you have something between you and the fabric, it's totally fine, but those boiling hot days when you want to run sans shirt, this isn't the most comfortable option.
The fit adjustments along the front and sides were incredibly easy to use, and the initial adjustment of the sternum straps was pleasantly simple. Some of the vests we tested have needlessly tricky adjustments on the sternum straps making on the fly adjustment impossible.
Among the minimalist models we tested, the Halo is the most comfortable and balanced, as it utilizes soft flasks (typically more comfortable), and spread food and equipment weight around the entire jacket on the front, back, and sides.
Features and Design
This may be the first zipper free vest we have ever tested. The omission of zippers certainly gave the jacket a lightweight feel and made all of the compartments easy to access. A small gripe would be the potential to lose some of those critical small items you may carry when out on a trail run (but not in a race), like keys or ID. While we didn't have anything drop out while running (that we know of), we did have smaller items like chapstick come out of the side pouches when we took the pack off and put it on the ground. The flank pockets do have a tab of Velcro, but they are still vulnerable to losing items. While the lack of zippers may be a downside for casual trail users, for racers who need quick and easy access to everything, this is a great design.
The equalizing cinch system on the Halo is also a huge improvement from past Ultimate Direction vests we tested that utilized a large plastic plate to accomplish the equalization. The Halo cinches down snug without the abrasion from previous models.
Our biggest design frustration is the placement of the collapsible pole holsters. We couldn't help but brush our arms past them continuously as we ran, making it more frustrating than helpful. If you are getting this vest for racing and use collapsible poles, make sure to test and see if your arms have enough clearance.
As this is an ultra-endurance race focused vest, the choice to include only two 500ml soft flasks is excellent. There is an option to add a hydration reservoir in the back compartment of this pack if aid stations are far enough apart to necessitate more water. The other two vests in our testing field utilize hydration reservoirs over soft flasks as they are more focused on shorter unsupported trail runs, where carrying a little bit more water might be necessary.
The frustration is real. While we like using soft flasks for water/hydration delivery more than we like hydration/hose bladders, there isn't a great way to fill the soft flask. Either it's a pain to stuff back in the pocket, or you get your vest soaked if you're using a spigot with an erratic jet.
One liter of water isn't very much in the grand scheme of trail running, so do your homework before hitting the trail. If 1000ml of water is enough for your body and the distance you are covering, this vest is an excellent solution. The soft flasks, while difficult to initially load into their respective pockets, are located in a comfortable position to dispense water. Once the bottles are loaded in the pack, ideally you don't have to pull them from their pouches to refill as they are frustratingly snug.
Considering the Halo is a lightweight ultramarathon-focussed vest, it can hold quite a bit. As with all of the vests we tested we compiled a common kit of things we take on our runs and compared each vest side by side holding the same equipment, food, and a full supply of water.
As you can see in the side to side comparison, the Halo fits all of the food and equipment without too much fuss. This is pretty impressive considering some heavier vests had a tougher time packing it all in.
It makes sense, being a vest designed for racing, that the Halo would fit only those critical pieces of equipment and nutrition while lacking space for any superfluous items. If you're racing in extra harsh climates or have a significant amount of required kit for a race, definitely make sure it's all going to fit as the Halo isn't cavernous.
The Halo gives a significant boost in both the number of pockets and how functional they are over other minimalist running packs we tested. As we mentioned, none of the pockets have zippers of any kind. The pouches on the back of the vest have cinches that do help to keep contents inside, and the flank pockets have a small tab of velcro. Having small items sneak out of these flank pockets is frustrating and ideally, since there isn't a zippered pocket, your running shorts have a small zipper pocket to keep critical small items like keys, ID, or chapstick.
The rear pockets gave a significant boost in storage over the other minimalist packs. We were able to stuff a few extra layers in as these pockets are stretchy and generously sized. When we didn't have them packed full, the cinch straps kept them tamed.
The Halo is made to be ultralight, and indeed it is. At 9.2 ounces this vest is one of the lightest we have tested. The Sense Ultra 5 is a few ounces lighter, but the Halo is much more functional. The weight of these vests is a critical component to the entire function of the vest and those intended for racing should indeed be on the lighter end of the scale as aid stations allow you to carry along the bare minimum and be as efficient as possible.
The UD Halo is an ultramarathon breed hydration pack. It has enough storage and hydration capacity to get you from one aid station to the next without having any bulk. If you're going out for regular trail runs and want the ultralight pack or are looking to shave some grams off of your racing kit, this vest is a great option. For those looking to pound out the backcountry miles without aid stations, check out some of the more self-support oriented vests.
This is a serious investment. Yes, it is very lightweight and comfortable but does that justify the price tag? As is usually the case, the answer is — it depends. If you're searching for a great ultra vest that is focused solely on giving you an edge, this is a great option. If you want something you can take on a typical trail run and value having zippered pockets for certain items like a phone, ID, or keys, check out some of the other minimalist vests and spend the money you save on gas to get to the trail, or better yet a new pair of running shoes!
The Ultimate Direction Halo is an excellent vest for ultramarathons. Its minimalist design and low weight offer the best functionality for the weight of all vests tested. There are few features and little extra space for anything but the essentials making the Halo ill-suited for big days out in the mountains without any support or resupplies.
— Brian Martin