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Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 4.0 Review

One of the most popular packs out there, the Ultra Vest is a solid choice with lots of storage.
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Price:  $130 List | $129.15 at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Light, lots of storage capacity, versatile
Cons:  Some pockets hard to reach, bouncy
Manufacturer:   Ultimate Direction
By Brian Martin ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 20, 2018
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83
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 11
  • Comfort - 30% 8
  • Features - 15% 8
  • Hydration System - 15% 9
  • Storage Capacity - 15% 9
  • Pockets - 15% 8
  • Weight - 10% 8

Our Verdict

The Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 4.0 is no doubt a versatile, well designed, and capable running vest. It's also extremely well represented at running events and clearly get the job done. That said, in our tests we found other vests either performed better or were a better value. This is a solid vest, but the competition is fierce.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The SJ Ultra Vest 4.0 is the great grandchild of the original Scott Jurek line of running vests. Our biggest question was, has Scott passed on his dominant ultra genes to his great grandchild? Spoiler alert, this vest did indeed inherit some amazing traits from the past three versions and mutated some easily accessible, stretchy pockets and water storage as expandable as a two humped camel.

Performance Comparison


The Ultra Vest 4.0 is the newest in a long line of great running vests. While we had a few frustrations with this vest  all-in-all it was comfortable  functional  and packed with features.
The Ultra Vest 4.0 is the newest in a long line of great running vests. While we had a few frustrations with this vest, all-in-all it was comfortable, functional, and packed with features.

Comfort


The biggest alteration to the new 4.0 Ultra Vest is how adjustable the side and back straps are. There is a massive amount of adjustability within each of the size categories (sm, m, l). While this design does a fantastic job at fine tuning the fit, it is a bit on the bouncy side when the vest is loaded down. As you work through your food and water and the vest lightens up, it is quite stable and comfortable. The dual cinch system that allows the side straps to be adjusted also has several (6) hard plastic pieces that became a bit irritating if we were wearing the vest without a shirt.

Fast descents made the bounce of this vest apparent. When our water was full and the pockets filled  there was a pretty significant amount of bounce compared to our Editors' Choice.
Fast descents made the bounce of this vest apparent. When our water was full and the pockets filled, there was a pretty significant amount of bounce compared to our Editors' Choice.

Features and Design


This pack has a lot of features. Perhaps the coolest (no pun intended) is the Micromonofillament material that comprises nearly the entire structure which is super lightweight, strong, and totally non-absorbent. We also made use of the hiking pole storage bungees, expandable pockets, whistle, and back bungee allowing us to quickly store and deploy our running jacket. All in all, this vest is packed with unique features.

A closeup of the micromonofillament. It's completely see-through mesh material. It proved to be durable  comfortable  and highly breathable.
A closeup of the micromonofillament. It's completely see-through mesh material. It proved to be durable, comfortable, and highly breathable.

The monofilament material did an excellent job keeping air moving through the vest and helping us stay relatively dry. It wasn't the most comfortable material on bare skin, so bear that in mind.

This vest almost has too many features to include pictures of. There are holsters for hiking poles  whistle  a creative cinch system for the side straps and much more.
This vest almost has too many features to include pictures of. There are holsters for hiking poles, whistle, a creative cinch system for the side straps and much more.

Hydration System


To start with the good first, the 4.0 version moved away from hard bottles to the more popular soft flask design. This was a positive switch for comfort, eliminating uncomfortable pressure points on the front of the vest. On the downside, the soft flasks just aren't as lightweight and friendly as the Salomon design. UD's soft flasks have unnecessarily large and heavy caps.

Of the front pocket bottles tested  the Salomon was by far the lightest and easiest to load into the vest  both of the Ultimate Direction bottles proved to be a bit clunky. Left to right  UD Soft flask - 51g  Salomon Flask - 32g  UD Hard Bottle - 81g.
Of the front pocket bottles tested, the Salomon was by far the lightest and easiest to load into the vest, both of the Ultimate Direction bottles proved to be a bit clunky. Left to right, UD Soft flask - 51g, Salomon Flask - 32g, UD Hard Bottle - 81g.

Another upside with a few caveats is the expandable water carrying capacity. The 4.0 allows up to a 2-liter water bladder to be added, just keep in mind there isn't a built-in system to secure the bladder hose. Consider checking the Platypus hose clamp, an extremely cheap solution to this issue and a good bit of kit to have on hand even if your vest is equipped with some type of hose management.

Storage Capacity


Just shy of the big boys, the SJ Ultra 4.0 can swallow up pretty much anything you need to bring along. While the vest can only contain about 10 liters of stuff inside, keep in mind the stretchable pockets and back bungee allow you to expand storage quite a bit.

The lower blue zippered pouch is stretchy enough to accomodate a wind jacket even when the rest of the pack is full. Bungee straps allow you to expand the capacity even further  holding a hat  shirt  or light jacket.
The lower blue zippered pouch is stretchy enough to accomodate a wind jacket even when the rest of the pack is full. Bungee straps allow you to expand the capacity even further, holding a hat, shirt, or light jacket.

If you aren't utilizing the expandable water storage capacity, you will no doubt have enough space to bring along way too much equipment, clothing, and food. If you're on a run with ample water sources, bring along a Sawyer Mini filter, and you will have the capacity to bring an entire day's worth of food and equipment.

If you aren't using the storage space to house a 2L water bladder  you can pretty much haul around anything you need.
If you aren't using the storage space to house a 2L water bladder, you can pretty much haul around anything you need.

Pockets


While there are a few pockets that aren't accessible while your wearing the SJ Ultra, it does have a plethora of storage within reach. The front of the vest has four tiny pockets for organization, and two large stretch pockets, one with a zipper and the other open as well as two sleeves that seem designed to fit tubes of electrolyte tabs or gels. If you are using the soft flasks, there isn't a location big enough to fit a regular smartphone. If this is important to you, check out a few of the other large capacity running vests in our review.

If you're addicted to honey stinger waffles like our gear tester  you're in luck  this vest could hold about 500 of these things.
If you're addicted to honey stinger waffles like our gear tester, you're in luck, this vest could hold about 500 of these things.

The back of the vest has two large compartments. One runs the entire length of the vest and is capable of holding an extreme amount of food or extra layers. The stretchy compartment is also big enough to house a running jacket, gloves, or even more food. The stretch pocket is also equipped with a keychain clip to keep your keys from escaping. Finally, to supplement these pockets, the bungee on the back allows you to over pack, and as you use supplies from inside the vest, you can migrate the external load into the pack.

There are pockets and storage nearly everywhere on this vest. The variety and stretch of the pockets really allow you to find a home for almost anything. One frustration was having to store our smartphone in the back pouch as it was the only place large enough for a iPhone 6 regular sized phone.
There are pockets and storage nearly everywhere on this vest. The variety and stretch of the pockets really allow you to find a home for almost anything. One frustration was having to store our smartphone in the back pouch as it was the only place large enough for a iPhone 6 regular sized phone.

Weight


We tested the large size SJ Ultra Vest 4.0. Completely dry and without bottles, the vest weighs in at 216 grams (7.6oz). With bottles included it bumps up 320 grams (11.3oz). While the vest is quite light, the bottles detract a bit from the ultralight design. When comparing the Salomon bottles to the UD bottles, we found a single Salomon weighed in at 30grams vs. the UD bottle at 50grams. That isn't an insignificant amount of weight. All in all, 320 grams for a vest that can haul so much equipment is pretty dang good, and admittedly the bottle weight is nitpicky, but we must be thorough!

Best Application


This vest is super versatile. The ability to run with just soft flasks, water bladder, or both gives huge variation in how far you can go without resupply as well as how much equipment and food you can haul. This ultralight vest is as appropriate for unsupported days out in the mountains as it is for a trail marathon with multiple resupplies. If you're looking for a capable all-around running vest this is a pretty good choice.

Value


If we look way back to the 2.0 version of this vest, the price has only risen a few bucks. At 129.99 retail, the SJ Ultra isn't even close to the top of the price range for running vests, yet its packed with features and versatility.

Conclusion


While this popular model gets the job done, we found other vests that performed better or were a better buy. Yet, this pack is a good one. The competition is fierce, making a good pack like the SJ Ultra fall out of our top 5.


Brian Martin