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Ultimate Direction Halo Review

An excellent running pack for those looking to go light and fast
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Price:  $170 List | $119.96 at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, comfortable, breathable, storage
Cons:  Expensive, pole storage is obtrusive
Manufacturer:   Ultimate Direction
By Brian Martin ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jul 13, 2020
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 12
  • Comfort - 30% 8
  • Features - 25% 5
  • Hydration System - 15% 6
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 15% 9
  • Pockets - 15% 7

Our Verdict

There are a few reasons this excellent hydration pack didn't win any awards. None are because it doesn't perform, it just didn't perform quite as well as a few others, especially in the comfort department when fully loaded. There are plenty of great features on this vest, including its feathery weight, variety of fit adjustments, and ability to hold quite a bit of kit considering its small size. While we really like the Ultimate Direction Halo, it seems so focused on being an ultralight racing vest that it was a stretch to use it in any other capacity. The lack of a secure zipping pocket gave us a bit of anxiety about losing items like our car key, too. Overall, however, we like this vest and would recommend it to a friend, especially if they had a big budget and were serious about racing.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Halo is a race-worthy ultra vest designed to get you from aid station to aid station as quickly 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.

Performance Comparison


The racing pedigree of the Halo was apparent from the moment we pulled it out of the box. It is a lightweight vest with few extras designed to get you from aid station to aid station quickly.
The racing pedigree of the Halo was apparent from the moment we pulled it out of the box. It is a lightweight vest with few extras designed to get you from aid station to aid station quickly.

Comfort


With its race-centric focus and eye towards efficiency, you would think comfort might be sacrificed with the Halo, but this isn't the case. Other than the breathable micromesh material, we find the comfort of this vest to be up to snuff. Our issue with the micro mesh is how abrasive it is against bare skin. As long as you have something between you and the fabric, it's totally fine, but for those boiling hot days when you want to run sans shirt, this isn't the most comfortable option.

The ultra-breathable mesh was quite a blessing running around in the harsh sun of Arizona. While it is comfortable over clothing  it's a bit abrasive against your bare skin.
The ultra-breathable mesh was quite a blessing running around in the harsh sun of Arizona. While it is comfortable over clothing, it's a bit abrasive against your bare skin.

The fit adjustments along the front and sides of the Halo are incredibly easy to use, and the initial adjustment of the sternum straps is also pleasantly simple. Some of the vests we tested have needlessly tricky adjustments on the sternum straps making on the fly adjustment impossible.

The fit adjustments on the front and sides are simple and well designed. A slider inside the cinch keeps them from loosening while on the move.
The fit adjustments on the front and sides are simple and well designed. A slider inside the cinch keeps them from loosening while on the move.

Among the minimalist models we tested, the Halo is the most comfortable and balanced, as it utilizes soft flasks (typically more comfortable), and spreads food and equipment weight around the entire jacket on the front, back, and sides.

Features


This may be the first zipper-free vest we have ever tested. The omission of zippers certainly gives the jacket a lightweight feel and makes 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 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 design of the Halo is excellent. While it is a bit difficult to reach some of the pockets and adjustments  they are functional and greatly add to the comfort of the vest.
The design of the Halo is excellent. While it is a bit difficult to reach some of the pockets and adjustments, they are functional and greatly add to the comfort of the vest.

The equalizing cinch system on the Halo is a huge improvement from past Ultimate Direction vests we've tested that utilize 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 them 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.

Hydration System


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. However… 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.

Like all soft flasks we have tested  the Ultimate Direction flasks don't want to go to their home. Why don't you just go to your home flask!

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.

The dual 500ml soft flasks are positioned for easy hydration and the bite valves are leak-free. Except for our frustration with stuffing the flasks back in the pockets  we really enjoyed using these bottles.
The dual 500ml soft flasks are positioned for easy hydration and the bite valves are leak-free. Except for our frustration with stuffing the flasks back in the pockets, we really enjoyed using these bottles.

Volume to Weight Ratio


Considering the Halo is a lightweight ultramarathon-focused vest, it can hold quite a bit while not adding many grams of material. As with all of the vests we tested, we compiled a common kit of things to take on our runs and compared each vest side by side holding the same equipment, food, and a full supply of water. The Halo fit all of our 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.

This vest is made to be ultralight, and indeed it is. At 9.2 ounces, it is one of the lightest we have tested. The weight of these vests is a critical component to their function, 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. In terms of race-oriented vests, this model nails the volume to weight ratio better than any other.

At 9.2 ounces  the UD Halo is comparably lightweight. The functionality and storage to weight ratio is quite high.
At 9.2 ounces, the UD Halo is comparably lightweight. The functionality and storage to weight ratio is quite high.

Pockets


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 to 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 are also superior to other minimalist packs. We were able to stuff a few extra layers in as these pockets are stretchy and generously sized. And when you don't have them packed full, the cinch straps keep them tamed.

The Halo has a nice variety of pockets and a significant boost in storage over other minimalist running pack designs.
The Halo has a nice variety of pockets and a significant boost in storage over other minimalist running pack designs.

Value


This vest 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!

Conclusion


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 this vest ill-suited for big days out in the mountains without any support or resupplies, but perfect as part of a supported racing kit.

Brian Martin