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Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0 Review

Great for runners looking to carry extra gear on adventures, but for faster efforts and races, the pack has limitations
Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0
Photo: Ultimate Direction
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Price:  $125 List | $124.95 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Versatile, comfortable, great storage capacity for how light it is
Cons:  Hydration pockets are too small, chest straps finicky
Manufacturer:   Ultimate Direction
By Jeff Colt ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 29, 2021
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78
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 13
  • Comfort - 30% 8
  • Features - 25% 7
  • Hydration System - 15% 7
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 15% 9
  • Pockets - 15% 8

Our Verdict

We love the materials and the layout of storage options on the Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0 because together, they make up a highly breathable and comfortable hydration pack for running. Airy mesh used on the interior promotes airflow and nicely displays the contents of each pocket when you slip the vest off. A four-way stretch nylon keeps the contents of the side pockets secure, but we found the two primary hydration sleeves to be too short for the soft flasks provided. For the average trail runner, this vest will be a great trail companion. But, challenging front chest straps and an imperfect hydration system prevented this vest from receiving an award.

Compare to Similar Products

 
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Price $124.95 at REI
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$159.95 at Amazon
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$160 List
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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40
Star Rating
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Pros Versatile, comfortable, great storage capacity for how light it isComfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, versatileHighly versatile, comfortable, durable, waterproofAmple storage, simple and successful design, approachable priceAffordable, carries water and gear well, simple design
Cons Hydration pockets are too small, chest straps finickyExpensive, must buy hydration bladder separatelyHard to insert soft flasks, limited accessible pockets, no hydration system includedLower quality bladder, minor pain points over longer distancesLower chest strap isn't placed well, no front pockets, hard to secure properly
Bottom Line Great for runners looking to carry extra gear on adventures, but for faster efforts and races, the pack has limitationsA top-notch running pack, with excellent pockets and a comfortable fitBuilt for any rugged activity in the mountains but the hydration system needs some workAn entry-level hydration pack for trail running with a great price and ample storageA versatile pack for lower intensity activities at a solid price point but lacking front access pockets
Rating Categories Ultimate Direction... Salomon ADV Skin 12... Black Diamond Dista... REI Swiftland Hydro Vibrelli 2L Backpack
Comfort (30%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
6.0
4.0
Features (25%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
4.0
Hydration System (15%)
7.0
8.0
5.0
6.0
5.0
Volume To Weight Ratio (15%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
4.0
3.0
Pockets (15%)
8.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
4.0
Specs Ultimate Direction... Salomon ADV Skin 12... Black Diamond Dista... REI Swiftland Hydro Vibrelli 2L Backpack
Weight (with included hydration vessels) 8.4 oz 13.4 oz 14.2 oz (pack only, no bottles/bladder included) 13.7 oz 14.5 oz
Carrying Capacity 8.5L 12L 15L 5L 2L
Included Liquid Capacity 1L 1L 1L 1.5L 2L
OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!) 1.01 0.90 1.06 0.37 0.14
External Storage? Yes, mesh storage pockets, bungee Yes, kangaroo pockets Yes, paracord Yes Yes, mesh storage pockets, bungee
Type of Water Storage 2 500mL Two 500 mL soft flasks (included), plus reservoir sleeve (reservoir not included) Not included 1.5L reservoir 2L reservoir
Pole Holders? Yes Yes Yes No No

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.

Performance Comparison


Versatility comes in the form of a lightweight, great storage...
Versatility comes in the form of a lightweight, great storage capacity, easy access, and high adjustability. What more could you want? For most runners, this vest will provide.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Comfort


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.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

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.

Features


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.

Trekking pole storage and access is a pain point on many hydration...
Trekking pole storage and access is a pain point on many hydration packs for running. Here, a simple elastic loop slides over the bottom and an elastic cord with a snap secures the top of the poles in place. When stored on the pack, the poles don't interfere with the soft flasks or snack pockets, making this design one of our favorites.
Photo: Jeff Colt

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.

External storage is always a plus for when you need extra space or...
External storage is always a plus for when you need extra space or don't want an item in a pocket that is closer to your skin. Elastic drawcords proved effective and helpful.
Photo: Jeff Colt

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.

Hydration System


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.

The positioning of the soft flasks is also a little low on the...
The positioning of the soft flasks is also a little low on the shoulder straps, so in order to drink while running we had to pull the bottle and whole vest closer up to the mouth.
Photo: Jeff Colt

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.

The included soft flasks are great, but the sleeves in which they...
The included soft flasks are great, but the sleeves in which they store seem to be too shallow as you can see the bottle sticking up above the sleeve.
Photo: Jeff Colt

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.

UD used strategic materials that expand well but have enough...
UD used strategic materials that expand well but have enough integrity to keep gear from bouncing around. They kept the weight of the vest low while making a vest that can carry a significant load.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Pockets


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.

The back zippered pocket is big enough to store an oversized phone...
The back zippered pocket is big enough to store an oversized phone with a case.
Photo: Jeff Colt

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.

The see through micro-mesh makes locating your gear at aid stations...
The see through micro-mesh makes locating your gear at aid stations all the easier and it promotes breathability, so your shirt doesn't get drenched with sweat.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.

This vest stored all we needed for a run starting in the valley...
This vest stored all we needed for a run starting in the valley where it was dry and topping out at 12,000 feet in a couple inches of fresh snow.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt

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