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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
Credit: Ultimate Direction
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Price:  $90 List | $58.47 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
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
54
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#13 of 14
  • Comfort - 30% 5.0
  • Features - 25% 6.0
  • Hydration System - 15% 5.0
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 15% 6.0
  • Pockets - 15% 5.0

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.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards     Best Buy Award 
Price $58.47 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$124.94 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$85.00 at Amazon$120 List$100 List
$44.83 at REI
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Highly visible, simple, affordableVersatile, comfortable, great storage capacity for how light it isComfortable, kangaroo pocket, pole carryLightweight, easily accessible pockets, great fitAmple storage, simple and successful design, approachable price
Cons Uncomfortable, poor suspensionHydration pockets are too small, chest straps finickyHydration system isn't ideal, soft flask positioning is challengingSoft flasks bounce around, no pole carryLower quality bladder, minor pain points over longer distances
Bottom Line For runners who value visibility, this hydration vest is a great valueGreat for runners looking to carry extra gear on adventures, but for faster efforts and races, the pack has limitationsClose to perfect pockets, fit, and adjustability, but this pack still misses the mark in regards to the hydration systemThere's room for layers, ample food, water, your phone, and then some in this featherweight vestAn entry-level hydration pack for trail running with a great price and ample storage
Rating Categories Ultimate Direction... Ultimate Direction... CamelBak Ultra Pro Raidlight Revolutiv... REI Swiftland Hydro
Comfort (30%)
5.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
Features (25%)
6.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Hydration System (15%)
5.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
6.0
Volume to Weight Ratio (15%)
6.0
9.0
6.0
6.0
4.0
Pockets (15%)
5.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Specs Ultimate Direction... Ultimate Direction... CamelBak Ultra Pro Raidlight Revolutiv... REI Swiftland Hydro
Weight (with included hydration vessels) 8.5 oz 8.4 oz 8.7 oz 6.6 oz 13.7 oz
Carrying Capacity 5.4L 8.5L 6L 3L 5L
Included Liquid Capacity 2.6L 1L 1L 2L 1.5L
OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!) 0.64 1.01 0.69 0.45 0.37
External Storage? Yes, back pouch pocket Yes, mesh storage pockets, bungee Yes, large rear pocket Not included Yes
Type of Water Storage Two 300ml hard bottles 2 500mL Two 500ml bottles Two 600mL soft flasks 1.5L reservoir
Pole Holders? No Yes Yes No No

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


Ultimate Direction Marathon V2 High Beam hydration pack for running - 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.
Credit: 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.

Ultimate Direction Marathon V2 High Beam hydration pack for running - 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.
Credit: 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.

Ultimate Direction Marathon V2 High Beam hydration pack for running - 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.
Credit: 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.

Ultimate Direction Marathon V2 High Beam hydration pack for running - easy pull tabs make these pockets highly functional, despite being...
Easy pull tabs make these pockets highly functional, despite being pretty small in size.
Credit: 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.

Ultimate Direction Marathon V2 High Beam hydration pack for running - 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.
Credit: 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.

Ultimate Direction Marathon V2 High Beam hydration pack for running - 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.
Credit: 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.

The pocket on the lower back is still reachable to take a layer out...
The pocket on the lower back is still reachable to take a layer out. Putting that layer back in while on the go is trickier.
While the pockets are minimal, they still store a surprising amount...
While the pockets are minimal, they still store a surprising amount of food and gear.

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.

Ultimate Direction Marathon V2 High Beam hydration pack for running - come hunting season, it's good to really pop against the landscape.
Come hunting season, it's good to really pop against the landscape.
Credit: Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt
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