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Ultimate Direction Halo Review

An excellent running pack for those looking to go light and fast
Ultimate Direction Halo
Photo: Ultimate Direction
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Price:  $170 List | $127.46 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, comfortable, breathable
Cons:  Pole storage is obtrusive, tight around the neck
Manufacturer:   Ultimate Direction
By Jeff Colt ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 14, 2021
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75
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 12
  • Comfort - 30% 7
  • Features - 25% 7
  • Hydration System - 15% 7
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 15% 10
  • Pockets - 15% 7

Our Verdict

This exceptional running vest performs for the gram-counting runner looking to carry significant gear for longer races but comes up short in the comfort department when fully loaded. While equipped with great features and one of our favorite hydration systems, the Ultimate Direction Halo missed the mark in a few areas — notably no secure zipper pocket and some points of discomfort by the neck and across the ribcage when loaded with gear. The pole carry design is innovative and convenient, but it conflicts with access to important pockets for carrying food, gear, or a phone. We like this vest and recognize the lightweight design intention, but wish it carried gear more comfortably.

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Price $127.46 at Amazon
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Pros Lightweight, comfortable, breathableAmazing pockets in arm's reach, carries a lot of gearMinimalist, lightweight, accessible pocketsComfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, versatileAmple storage, simple and successful design, approachable price
Cons Pole storage is obtrusive, tight around the neckSome stiff materials on the chest, pole carry is hard to execute while movingDoesn't carry heavy items well, some unwanted stretchExpensive, must buy hydration bladder separatelyLower quality bladder, minor pain points over longer distances
Bottom Line An excellent running pack for those looking to go light and fastA comfortable and capable choice for big mileage when gear accessibility is mission-criticalThe best race vest on the market with form fitting stretch so it can store more gear comfortablyA top-notch running pack, with excellent pockets and a comfortable fitAn entry-level hydration pack for trail running with a great price and ample storage
Rating Categories Ultimate Direction... Nathan Pinnacle 12L S/Lab Sense Ultra 8... Salomon ADV Skin 12... REI Swiftland Hydro
Comfort (30%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
Features (25%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
Hydration System (15%)
7.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
Volume To Weight Ratio (15%)
10.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
4.0
Pockets (15%)
7.0
10.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
Specs Ultimate Direction... Nathan Pinnacle 12L S/Lab Sense Ultra 8... Salomon ADV Skin 12... REI Swiftland Hydro
Weight (with included hydration vessels) 9.3 oz 13.6 oz 7.9 oz 13.4 oz 13.7 oz
Carrying Capacity 11L 12L 8L 12L 5L
Included Liquid Capacity 1L 1.6L 1L 1L 1.5L
OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!) 1.20 0.88 1.01 0.90 0.37
External Storage? Yes, back pouch pocket Yes, kangaroo pockets Yes, back pouch pocket Yes, kangaroo pockets Yes
Type of Water Storage Two 500 mL soft flasks (included) 1.6L hourglass reservoir Two 500mL bottles Two 500 mL soft flasks (included), plus reservoir sleeve (reservoir not included) 1.5L reservoir
Pole Holders? Yes Yes Add on Yes No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Halo is a race-worthy ultra vest designed to breathe well, carry all of the essentials in an accessible way, and be featherweight. 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


Great for race day, this isn't the vest we turn to first for...
Great for race day, this isn't the vest we turn to first for everyday use on the trail.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Comfort


Among the minimalist race vests we tested, the Halo had a couple aches and pains, but it's worth noting we hold these more expert-level vests to higher standards when it comes to our ability to nitpick as we have high expectations. Compared to the entire field, this vest runs quite comfortably.

The loop and T-hook system secures the sternum strap in place and is...
The loop and T-hook system secures the sternum strap in place and is easy to move up and down based on fit preference.
Photo: Jeff Colt

The initial fit adjustments along the front and sides of the Halo are incredibly easy to use. Both systems are static adjustment, with the sternum strap offering 10" of expansion and the side adjustment cord ensuring a secure suspension. We like the feel of static adjustment straps paired with highly flexible stretch material used throughout the vest, as it provides a natural snug feeling of spandex and the ability to prevent unwanted stretch. The initial adjustment of the sternum straps incorporates small plastic hardware that locks behind a looped cord. The side suspension adjustment across the flanks is one of the best we tested, crisscrossing four times for a secure feel and tightening with a natural, forward pull movement.

We found this zigzag threading of static cord to support any weight...
We found this zigzag threading of static cord to support any weight in the vest and tighten easily for a bounce-free run.
Photo: Jeff Colt

With its race-centric focus and eye towards efficiency, the slender shape and narrower shoulder straps put pressure on our collar bones and neck when the pack was fully loaded and cinched tight. The breathable micromesh also felt abrasive against the bare skin on the neck or when used shirtless. 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.

We found the shoulders to be tight to the neck, causing some...
We found the shoulders to be tight to the neck, causing some irritation.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Features


Ultimate Direction put all of the features of the Halo front and center, making them very accessible. Important but low-tech features, such as reflective banding and the whistle, are done with great taste and design forethought. The whistle even has a tiny storage sleeve in the left hydration pocket on the chest strap, so it doesn't bounce around and grow aggravating.

As a race vest, the Halo nails the required features but we had a...
As a race vest, the Halo nails the required features but we had a hard time finding a place to bring along a phone.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Most of the vests we tested feature a pole carry system across the back or in a back pocket. The Halo tackled this design challenge of storing and accessing trekking poles on the go, a noble task. We found their solution of incorporating a pole carry vertically along each shoulder strap to have mixed results. Our biggest gripe is that the poles, when holstered, block access to critical large pockets lower down on the vest. Additionally, our arms brushed past them continuously as we ran, making them as frustrating as they were 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.

Collapsable poles store on the front of the vest. We fiddled to get...
Collapsable poles store on the front of the vest. We fiddled to get the lower loop around the end of the poles, but the upper loop uses a button and was effective.
Photo: Jeff Colt

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 if aid stations are far enough apart to necessitate more water. Ultimate Direction even did a great job designing a no-leak easy bite valve for their soft flasks. However… the frustration is still real. This vest is designed to be so minimal that it lacks the necessary structure to make reinserting a full soft flask anything short of pulling a tiny sweater over your head. The argument can be made for leaving the bottles in place and pouring liquid directly into them in situ — this might make sense if you have a full crew at a race, but likely not a reality for everyone.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

With the soft flasks full and in place, the bite valve is positioned so we could take a drink without craning our neck or the fear of running into a tree. This is huge, as many soft flask compatible vests place the bottles too low so that you have to remove them or loosen the vest whenever you want a sip. It is important to note: when the bottles are full, it makes accessing the lower chest pocket more challenging.

The Halo does come equipped to carry a hydration bladder if that is your preference, but the intended user likely favors the soft flasks.

Getting the soft flasks in is a chore, but once in place, these rank...
Getting the soft flasks in is a chore, but once in place, these rank alongside Salomon as the easiest to drink out of while running.
Photo: Jeff Colt

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. For this reason, it is a standout and the top scorer in this category. As with all vests we tested, we compiled a common kit of essentials 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.

We could fit our extended race pack, but we noticed space conflicts...
We could fit our extended race pack, but we noticed space conflicts between different pockets when each was stuffed full.
Photo: Jeff Colt

We built out our kit of essentials from the required gear for major international races and some additional items we like to have in the mountains. We have our gear organized by items that don't always need to be accessible (space blanket, spare leggings, waterproof pants, medical tape, headlamp) and those that we may need on the move (gloves, a buff, Garmin inReach, cell phone, rain jacket, food, and water). While the Halo stores everything handily and conveniently, the pack itself doesn't maintain its level of comfort as it gets stuffed.

While comfort is king when it comes to running long distances and we want more for the Halo, we commend Ultimate Direction for making a capable, ultralight vest. At 9.3 ounces, it is one of the lightest we have tested. In terms of race-oriented vests, this model nails the volume to weight ratio better than any other.

Highly effective side pulls are your friend when the pack is fully...
Highly effective side pulls are your friend when the pack is fully loaded with gear.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Pockets


Equipped with nine pockets and a tenth for a hydration reservoir, it's surprising that the Halo doesn't have a single zipper. We want easy access to our gear, but we also like the reassurance that our car keys are in a zippered pocket when we aren't racing in a competitive ultramarathon. On the shoulder straps are hydration pockets which we anticipate most runners to use for the included soft flasks. Additionally, there is a long tapered pocket beneath the hydration pocket on each shoulder strap capable of carrying lots of snacks, but difficult and uncomfortable for carrying a phone.

The ultra breathable mesh also makes for easy gear organization.
The ultra breathable mesh also makes for easy gear organization.
Photo: Jeff Colt

The flank pockets offer the most security of any of the pockets, with hook and loop tape keeping contents in place. The pouches on the back of the vest have cinches to help to keep contents inside, which act as a great compromise between accessibility and security. The lower back pocket is located in the right place to reach a rain layer mid-run and still be able to stuff it back in once the weather has subsided. The stretch in these back pockets helped store gear snugly, and when you don't have them packed full, the cinch straps keep them tamed.

Important to tighten the back straps down if you are carrying gear...
Important to tighten the back straps down if you are carrying gear in them, otherwise layers tend to migrate out.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Value


Ultimate Direction knows their audience, and we're confident readers will know if this vest is right for them. It is very lightweight and capable but isn't as versatile, so does that justify the price tag? For some, definitely. If you're searching for a great ultra vest that focuses solely on giving you an edge, this vest will do that. If you want something you can take on a typical trail run and value having zippered pockets or a convenient vest pocket for your phone, ID, or keys, check out some of the other minimalist options instead. You can 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. A minimalist design offers maximal storage at a very low weight. For the featherweight class, this vest packs the most punch in terms of capability and functionality. There are some features we struggled with embracing, and the skimpy shape sacrifices some comfort on big missions. But if you are hopping from aid station to aid station and looking to keep up with the best of them, this vest should be the centerpiece of your race kit.

Making the kangaroo pockets more accessible would bring this vest...
Making the kangaroo pockets more accessible would bring this vest from a mid-level performer to a hot contender.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt