Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 6.0 Review
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Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 6.0
$149.95 at REI
|$149.99 at Amazon|
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|$125.00 at Amazon|
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$160.00 at REI
$99.95 at REI
|Pros||Durable construction, comfortable fit, versatile features||Amazing pockets in arm's reach, carries a lot of gear||Comfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, versatile||Easy to access storage, lots of pockets including useful zippers, great fit and adjustability||Ample storage, simple and successful design, approachable price|
|Cons||Runs slightly large||Some stiff materials on the chest, pole carry is hard to execute while moving||Expensive, must buy hydration bladder separately||Included bottles create a pressure point against the ribs, coarse mesh against the neck||Lower quality bladder, minor pain points over longer distances|
|Bottom Line||Durable materials and ample storage combine with a comfortable and secure fit to make this pack ready for the mountains||A comfortable and capable choice for big mileage when gear accessibility is mission-critical||A comfortable fit and exceptional pockets make this among our favorite packs on the market||Designed by and for the fastest trail runners in the world, this vest has the fit and features to race fast||An entry-level hydration pack for trail running with ample storage at a great price|
|Rating Categories||Ultimate Direction...||Nathan Pinnacle 12L||Salomon ADV Skin 12...||Salomon Sense Pro 5||REI Co-op Swiftland 5|
|Hydration System (15%)|
|Volume to Weight Ratio (15%)|
|Specs||Ultimate Direction...||Nathan Pinnacle 12L||Salomon ADV Skin 12...||Salomon Sense Pro 5||REI Co-op Swiftland 5|
|Weight (with included hydration vessels)||11.7 oz||13.6 oz||13.4 oz||8.1 oz||13.9 oz|
|Included Liquid Capacity||1L||1.6L||1L||1L||1.5L|
|OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!)||0.88||0.88||0.90||0.62||0.36|
|External Storage?||Yes, bungees||Yes, kangaroo pockets||Yes, kangaroo pockets||Yes, kangoo pockets||Yes, bungees|
|Type of Water Storage||Two 500mL soft flasks||1.6L hourglass reservoir||Two 500 mL soft flasks (included), plus reservoir sleeve (reservoir not included)||Two 500mL soft flasks||1.5L resevoir|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Over years of testing and thousands of miles run in these hydration vests, we've witnessed many brands improve their pack designs through minor tweaks with each seasonal iteration. With the Ultra Vest 6.0, Ultimate Direction hit the sweet spot by retaining the durable construction their brand is known for and adopting more user-friendly pocket designs and highly adaptable features. We test in the rugged Elk Mountains of Colorado, where weight, robust construction, and accessible storage are all key. The Ultra Vest 6.0 strikes a perfect balance of pockets and features for full-day mountain adventures and shorter races.
Comfort can often be felt at first wear when trying on a pack, but the true test comes from a hard day out carrying ample supplies. With two different fit adjustment points, users can dial in the feel across the chest as soft flasks run empty and across the lower back as gear and food amounts change with distance and weather. Material choices and pack design keep weight distribution even, allow the pack to breathe well, and prevent abrasive rubbing against sensitive areas along the ribs, shoulders, and neck.
Lightweight perforated micro-mesh is used inside the pack along the back, ribcage, and shoulder straps. This material is soft against the skin and promotes airflow and breathability, which kept us dry even during high aerobic output. Ultimate Direction incorporated soft cotton-like material wrapping all of the seams, eliminating any contact between coarse fabrics and the skin.
The Ultra Vest 6.0 fits like a vest, wrapping snugly around the torso with plenty of room between the armpits and the side panels. We noticed no obstruction of arm swing, and the flank pockets and rear zippered pockets were easy to access with the slightly lower ribcage positioning.
Two static sternum straps ensure the soft flasks and weight on the shoulder straps are secure and don't bounce, while two directional lateral stretch fabrics give a snug, hug-like feel without billowing or altering the position of the vest on the body. These straps can be repositioned up and down depending on runner preference with T-hooks that connect through looped p-cord. The rear cinch suspension system makes tightening down gear in the back pockets very easy, keeping the entire vest moving dynamically with your body instead of bouncing. The fit of this hydration pack runs slightly large, so if you are right in-between sizes, consider sizing down. Our tester is 5'10" and 160 pounds and wore a medium, but upon trying on a small in the store, could easily have used the small and had more room for adjustment with the sternum straps. It's worth noting that Ultimate Direction's sizing guide is based on a measurement around the bottom of the ribcage, not around the torso.
Versatile, durable features with different carrying options separate the Ultra Vest 6.0 from the competition. First, many vests don't feature waterproof and water-resistant pockets to cut down on grams. Ultimate Direction managed to include a waterproof zippered phone pocket, shoulder stash pocket, and a large water-resistant rear compartment without adding much weight or impacting the volume-to-weight ratio. Standard features we expect — such as a weather whistle, key clip, and reflective banding — are nicely incorporated into the hydration pack.
The Ultra Vest 6.0 features an updated clove-hitch and bungee pole carry system that is moveable and removable, with attachment points along the shoulders on the outside of the soft flasks, across the lower back edge, or across the lower middle of the back. While we preferred the shoulder attachment points for mountainous terrain with frequent pole use, the attachment points on the back are convenient for longer stretches of flatter ground.
An external suspension system weaves across the back of the vest to help secure loads from bouncing. Ultimate Direction included six small plastic hooks along the pack's trim, allowing the runner to adjust the load carrying even more. While adjustment straps help dial in the fit, this suspension system also contributes to the vest's fit as tightening the entire load compresses more material against the back.
Year after year, Ultimate Direction has refined its hydration systems making them more user-friendly and efficient. The Ultra Vest 6.0 comes with two 500mL soft flasks and is compatible with a 2.0L reservoir for bigger mountain adventures.
Ultimate Direction designed their own soft flasks that slide nicely into the hydration sleeves on the pack's shoulders, thanks to a tapered bottom design. Once settled in the hydration sleeves, an elastic strap secures each flask in place and then loops over the top to prevent it from sinking down into the sleeve. Of all the soft flask designs we've tried, this one stands out as exceptional. The tapered bottom makes entry back into the pack easier without having to reinforce the bottom of the flask with a stiffer material that could cause pressure or pain against the ribcage. Moreover, this design keeps the shape of the soft flask so that it fits nicely in hand without flopping around. However, we found that the bottles' position is slightly low for our preferences — the hydration sleeves position the soft flask just out of reach from a natural crane of the neck.
While slightly heavier, the tops of the soft flasks also have a great design. A simple lock on the bite valve opens the flow of water when the valve is pulled out and closes the valve when it is pushed back in. With this lockable bite valve, water won't accidentally squirt out while transitioning and sliding refilled the flasks back into the hydration sleeves. For this reason, runners can carry an additional soft flask in the rear pocket or a hip belt without worrying about water leaking out. We've reached for these soft flasks for shorter outings, despite not having a handheld strap or harness.
There is not an easily accessible kangaroo pocket to store an additional soft flask. While this is more of a pocket design shortfall, we included it in the rating of the hydration system, as many competing hydration packs offer a kangaroo pocket, making water storage for longer outings more convenient.
Volume to Weight Ratio
This vest carries a lot of gear with limited bouncing or movement and does so without sacrificing too much weight. Durable waterproof materials and a beefy construction equip the Ultra Vest 6.0 for demanding days in the mountains and contribute to the 11.7-ounce weight, but also open up over 10 liters of storage space.
About half of the usable storage space is accessible across the shoulder pockets, flank pockets, and zippered rear lat pockets. A large main zippered compartment accounts for the rest of the storage space — we actually had difficulty finding enough gear to fill this up! The Ultra Vest 6.0 is outright capable of storing all of the essentials in addition to a light down jacket, and it still doesn't feel cramped for space. What's more, the bungee system that crisscrosses the back keeps the entire load secure.
In some packs, there is an imbalance of usable, accessible storage space and inaccessible storage. While the rear pocket on this pack is enormous, we didn't find any shortage of accessible storage space. Very few packs can carry this same amount of gear and not stretch out or become unwieldy — this vest succeeds thanks to durable material choices and intelligent adjustment straps.
Eight pockets, including the rear hydration bladder sleeve, provide ample storage and access while out and about. As mentioned, the rear storage pocket can fit an expanded kit for cold weather, a high alpine picnic, or even a larger DSLR camera. Most users will likely use the soft flasks that come with the pack; whether you use soft flasks or a 2L bladder, the unused storage is accessible for light layers you want to keep in reach.
Stretch fabric along the flank pockets increases their storage volume for additional soft goods like gloves or a hat, yet still effectively storing snacks. Our testers had no issue storing all of their food for a full day in the mountains in these long pockets, and the snug stretch of the fabric kept all contents secure.
Zippered pockets are a must, whether for carrying a headlamp, a phone, or keeping trash from becoming litter. Ultimate Direction nailed it with the zippered pockets on the Ultra Vest 6.0, including a larger waterproof zippered pocket for a phone on the shoulder strap, two accessible zippered pockets on either side of the lower back, and then a zippered main compartment.
The main shortfall of this vest is the absence of a kangaroo pocket that passes all the way across the small of the back. Ultimate Direction used this space to incorporate a cinch suspension system instead. It does seem like the design could be slightly tweaked to convert this area into additional accessible storage.
Should You Buy the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 6.0?
Some gear is built to last, and the construction of the Ultra Vest 6.0, the material choices, and the pack's functionality build confidence that this item will be with us for a long time without stretching out or breaking down. There is much to be said about a pack that doesn't show signs of planned obsolescence. We are confident that the Ultra Vest 6.0 will hold up to the most demanding races, adventures, and daily use for years to come. The real value of a pack only gets better with increased use and continued quality performance; if that sounds appealing, this vest is the best option for you.
What Other Running Hydration Packs Should You Consider?
Compared to other packs on the market, the Ultra Vest 6.0 stands out as durable, functional, and lightweight. Seldom does a streamlined hydration pack for running have the comfort and carrying capacity of a day pack and the efficiency for fast mountain travel. This pack can carry weight and stay secure, so it won't affect your gait. If this is what you are looking for, you should also consider the Black Diamond Distance 15 and the Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set as these two packs also stand out for versatility, carrying capacity, and durability.
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