Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0 Review
Cons: Hydration pockets are too small, chest straps finicky
Manufacturer: Ultimate Direction
Our Analysis and Test Results
In our opinion, the Race Vest 5.0 is the easiest vest to recommend among the selection we reviewed. It is versatile, competitively priced, and has everything that most runners want in a hydration pack for running. That said, we were not confident presenting this pack with an award as it wasn't a standout in any select category and had a few drawbacks.
This pack is comfortable and de-light-ful (dependable, lightweight, and full of all the goodies we need). With a great selection of hydration vests to choose from, we found ourselves reaching for the Race Vest 5.0 with increasing frequency. This updated design keeps more gear in reach and stores trekking poles comfortably without interfering with other important pockets. A simple design paired with excellent material choices team up for a bounce-free ride and convenient adjustment options for fit.
As for fit, the two sternum straps are easy to adjust up and down for the best height; on the flip side, the attachment points to secure the straps are more difficult to use than they should be. Whether we had cold fingers, were moving quickly, or were under the spell of exhaustion, we kept fumbling with this attachment. The rear adjustment straps feature a lightweight cord with two dangling ends that are perfectly within reach, and tightening secures the back of the pack snug across the lower ribcage.
A large reflective Ultimate Direction logo across the back keeps this vest visible in the dark. Other features we expect in premium hydration vests include a storm whistle, external storage, trekking pole storage, and at least one zippered pocket. The Race Vest checks all of these boxes with simplicity and a function-first design approach.
The trekking pole storage is one of the areas with the most room for innovation on trail vests. With an elastic loop on each side of the flank and a secondary elastic cord with a button attachment near the sternum, UD took the clean and simple approach to storing collapsable poles. In previous models, this system directly interfered with access to hydration and food storage pockets. We didn't have those issues with how the Race Vest 5.0 stores trekking poles. Our one note is that the button on the top elastic straps takes some finessing to secure.
In the case of this vest, the materials used are also worth calling out as a feature, as the micro-mesh promotes breathability and prevents the build-up of sweaty back on hotter days. Many vests don't address airflow, and we appreciate that Ultimate Direction makes it a priority in this design.
Over several years of testing, we've always loved the soft flasks with lockable bite valves that Ultimate Direction includes with their packs, but the bottles have never fit well in the hydration sleeve pockets. They're either too tight to get the flasks in or too loose so the flasks are prone to bounce out. Unfortunately, it seems they still missed the mark. The sleeves for the soft flasks are too short, so inserting a full flask is not effortless, especially when we had the flank pockets filled with snacks.
This is our greatest frustration with this pack, as the design is otherwise really excellent. If you insert the soft flasks and then add food and gear to the pockets just below the sleeves, the bottles sit better, but we refill our water more often and don't want to empty our other pockets each time we do. There are, however, elastic drawcords that double as loops to keep the soft flasks in place, which is really nice.
Volume to Weight Ratio
Wow. There's not much more to say, but as this is a long-form review, let us take a deep dive. This is the category where the Race Vest 5.0 really shines, ranking among the best vests we tested for carrying lots of gear but weighing next to nothing. What's most impressive is the structure of the vest makes carrying significant gear feel easy and comfortable.
From material choices to design, this vest manages to carry all of the requisite gear comfortably and doesn't weigh much at all. This is one of the reasons we feel so comfortable recommending this vest to almost any user. Some race-focused vests have an intimidating user experience, but that is not the case here.
With seven pockets, two of which are zippered, and two more hydration sleeves for soft flasks, Ultimate Direction provides plenty of storage options for each runner's preference in the Race Vest 5.0. That said, we found the two nutrition pockets located on the right shoulder strap to be impractical for carrying gels, as they are too shallow and don't stretch enough. We found they worked better for carrying small items like chapstick or trash, which was still helpful.
We found the side pockets along the flank to be valuable for storing gear you need to access readily. On the right side, the side pocket has a zipper, handy for storing lots of nutrition or a phone, while the left pocket is quick access with an elastic closure that keeps gloves, a buff, or a layer snug in place.
While we didn't recognize the Race Vest 5.0 with any awards, we still feel that it is the easiest vest of the group we tested to recommend to any runner. Value comes in many different forms, whether it is just a cost-based decision, how versatile a product is, or how much use it gets. We find the Race Vest to be really comfortable, and for a challenging sport that is filled with different points of discomfort, we are confident that this vest will be a positive addition to your life as a runner. Comfort is king when it comes to the vest you want to run in each day. For how much this vest can carry, how light it is, how easy it is to use, and how much it costs, we believe this vest is among the best value of any option out there.
While serious ultramarathon racers might find the sternum clasps on this vest to be finicky, we know the majority of trail runners will love the Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0 for its ease of use, versatility, and carrying capacity. Rich with features and pockets that are a breeze to access, this is a great option for most any runner looking to hit the trails and needing to carry additional goodies.
— Jeff Colt
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.Learn More