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Ultimate Direction Marathon V2 High Beam Review

For runners who value visibility, this hydration vest is a great value
Ultimate Direction Marathon V2 High Beam
Photo: Ultimate Direction
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Price:  $90 List | Check Price at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Highly visible, simple, affordable
Cons:  Uncomfortable, poor suspension
Manufacturer:   Ultimate Direction
By Jeff Colt ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 14, 2021
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54
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 11
  • Comfort - 30% 5
  • Features - 25% 6
  • Hydration System - 15% 5
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 15% 6
  • Pockets - 15% 5

Our Verdict

This hydration pack for running is more than meets the eye, and that is saying something. Brilliant reflective yellow may be the most notable component of the Ultimate Direction Marathon V2 High Beam, and for many urban runners out before and after work, visibility can be a lifesaver. Supplement this key feature with two well-designed hard bottles, an above-average fit, and additional storage options, and you have a highly useful vest that, even if it isn't our go-to for every run. But if you need to be seen and are in the market for a simple hydration vest that can carry some food, additional layers, and water, look no further.

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Overall Score Sort Icon
54
86
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77
Star Rating
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Pros Highly visible, simple, affordableAmazing pockets in arm's reach, carries a lot of gearComfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, versatileMinimalist, lightweight, accessible pocketsHighly versatile, comfortable, durable, waterproof
Cons Uncomfortable, poor suspensionSome stiff materials on the chest, pole carry is hard to execute while movingExpensive, must buy hydration bladder separatelyDoesn't carry heavy items well, some unwanted stretchHard to insert soft flasks, limited accessible pockets, no hydration system included
Bottom Line For runners who value visibility, this hydration vest is a great valueA comfortable and capable choice for big mileage when gear accessibility is mission-criticalA top-notch running pack, with excellent pockets and a comfortable fitThe best race vest on the market with form fitting stretch so it can store more gear comfortablyBuilt for any rugged activity in the mountains but the hydration system needs some work
Rating Categories Marathon V2 High Beam Nathan Pinnacle 12L Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set S/Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set Black Diamond Distance 15
Comfort (30%)
5
8
9
8
9
Features (25%)
6
9
8
8
8
Hydration System (15%)
5
8
8
9
5
Volume To Weight Ratio (15%)
6
8
8
9
8
Pockets (15%)
5
10
9
9
7
Specs Marathon V2 High... Nathan Pinnacle 12L Salomon ADV Skin... S/Lab Sense Ultra... Black Diamond...
Weight (with included hydration vessels) 8.5oz 13.6oz 13.4oz 7.9oz 14.2 oz (pack only, no bottles/bladder included)
Carrying Capacity 5.4L 12L 12L 8L 15L
Included Liquid Capacity 2.6L 1.6L 1L 1L 1L
OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!) 0.64 0.88 0.90 1.01 1.06
External Storage? Yes, back pouch pocket Yes, kangaroo pockets Yes, kangaroo Pockets Yes, back pouch pocket Yes, paracord
Type of Water Storage 2 300ml hard bottles 1.6L hourglass reservoir Two 500 mL soft flasks (included), plus reservoir sleeve (reservoir not included) 2 500mL bottles Not included
Pole Holders? No Yes Yes Add on Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

Every runner should have at least one hi-vis item for those pre-dawn and dusk runs. Do you? Trouble-free adjustability shines with a design that likely fits more body types than any other pack we reviewed. We aren't in love with this pack on the trail or for longer distances, but its utility is undeniable.

Performance Comparison


When running in an urban environment, high visibility is your best...
When running in an urban environment, high visibility is your best defense against distracted drivers in their 3,000 pound death machines.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Comfort


Comfort and fit go hand in hand. Designing a pack that fits dozens of body types prioritizes universality over ideal fit for any particular runner, and we felt this in the lack of ergonomic shape and comfort.

Two static webbing chest straps attach with small plastic hooks to loops of cord. Both straps can be positioned higher or lower for best fit, and both feature 14" of adjustment across the sternum. Similarly, across both flanks, there are "V" shaped adjustment straps that have an extraordinary amount of play. While this can make the vest versatile by fitting two very different sized runners, it also means excess webbing bouncing around if you are small.

All of the adjustable straps on this pack have significant excess on...
All of the adjustable straps on this pack have significant excess on our fit, cutting them shorter would prevent loose webbing flapping around.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Features


Standing out is important both in high-traffic urban areas and in the woods during hunting season. No vest addresses visibility as well as the Marathon V2 High Beam with both reflective accents and high beam neon yellow.

Running at dawn or dusk can be risky, having a high vis vest will...
Running at dawn or dusk can be risky, having a high vis vest will help.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Clearly positioned as an introductory hydration vest, we weren't surprised that more advanced features like trekking pole storage were omitted in the design. While this pack doesn't have all the bells (figurative) and whistles (literal), it remains highly functional in its versatility over different layering systems and pronounced visibility.

Easy pull tabs make these pockets highly functional, despite being...
Easy pull tabs make these pockets highly functional, despite being pretty small in size.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Hydration System


This is the only pack we tested that incorporates hard bottles in lieu of a bladder or soft flasks. While both of those other hydration systems are compatible with the Marathon V2 High Beam, we primarily tested it with included the 300mL hard bottles.

There are valid arguments for hard bottles: they are easier to refill, easier to get into/out of the hydration pockets, and they don't change the fit of the vest when they are empty. The hard bottles included with this vest are fairly comfortable, positioning a flat surface against the chest.

300 mL hard bottles are positioned in low pockets on the shoulder...
300 mL hard bottles are positioned in low pockets on the shoulder straps. Unlike soft flasks, these bottles are very easy to put in and take out of pockets.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Volume to Weight Ratio


Design often benefits from simplicity, which holds true in this case. As one of the middle-tier packs for carrying capacity, the V2 High Beam weighs in as the second lightest pack we tested. The weight is kept low with perforated polyester construction and spandex mesh for the pockets, doubling the benefits with high breathability.

One of the lightest packs we tested as it is made of light mesh and...
One of the lightest packs we tested as it is made of light mesh and has very little form to the pockets.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Pockets


We look for ease of access, functionality, and versatility in pockets, and the Marathon V2 High Beam achieves all of these traits. A small zippered pocket on the right shoulder is great for carrying a credit card or keys. Two hydration pouches hold the included hard bottles with two deeper pockets positioned just above, big enough for a phone and plenty of snacks. A third pocket positioned at the bottom of each shoulder strap by the flank conveniently carries more snacks or small running gloves.

One small pocket on the lower back carries an easily accessible rain layer and can be closed with hook and loop tape. A larger compartment on the bag is designed to carry a bladder, if desired, but can certainly fit an additional long sleeve, hat, and buff.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Value


We had a hard time assessing the value of this pack, as the visibility quality alone adds a great deal of appeal when you want it. And when you find yourself on a run in the Elk Mountains during hunting season or on Colfax Ave in Denver, CO at dusk, you want it. An argument can be made on either side regarding the versatility of the fit and the resulting lack of comfort. In all, we see a lot of value in this pack; we just weren't willing to recognize it with an award as it isn't as appealing to use as an introductory, everyday pack.

Conclusion


We hear mom's words ringing in our ears, "better safe than sorry." This vest performs well for an introductory hydration pack, and it could help power you through your first trail race or marathon. Additionally, it will keep you seen by weary drivers on your pre-dawn training run. If you enjoy running in the cold and dark of winter, the Marathon V2 High Beam has a huge range of fit and can slip over winter layers.

Come hunting season, it's good to really pop against the landscape.
Come hunting season, it's good to really pop against the landscape.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt