Hands-on Gear Review

Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 Review

Best Buy Award
Price:  $135 List | $134.95 at REI
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Breathable, comfortable, less expensive
Cons:  Lacking in storage
Bottom line:  The Ultra Vesta is a solid choice for runners looking for a less expensive yet still comfortable running pack.
Editors' Rating:   
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Weight (oz.):  11.4
Carrying Capacity (liters):  7.2
External Storage?:  Yes, front storage for phone, keys, etc
Manufacturer:   Ultimate Direction

Our Verdict

The Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 is a solid contender in our lineup of women's specific vests. We loved its comfortable fit, wide array of pocket sizes and shapes and large storage capacity. While it ultimately fell short of the revolutionary Nathan VaporHowe, we did give this pack our Best Buy award. It has everything you need to get you from point A to point B and will save you a significant amount over the VaporHowe. We were less than impressed with its hydration system, but this vest includes a variety of features that we did love, making it an excellent choice for the avid runner not quite ready to spend $180 on our Editors' Choice Award winner.

New Version Available
Ultimate Direction released the Ultra Vesta 4.0, shown in the photo above. Read on to learn about the updates!

RELATED REVIEW: The Best Running Hydration Packs of 2018

Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Lauren DeLaunay

Last Updated:
May 1, 2018


The Ultra Vesta 4.0 vs. the Ultra Vesta

The Ultra Vesta has been completely redesigned this year, manifesting into the Ultra Vesta 4.0. This version uses new materials and has some size, fit, color, and storage overhauls — all for the same $135 price tag. The photo below on the left depicts the Ultra Vesta 4.0, while the image on the right shows last year's model.

  • Material Updates — The 4.0 utilizes a combo of 150g Flex Mono Mesh, MicroMono Mesh, 30D coasted nylon ripstop, and 4-way stretch weave mesh. These new materials are used to help eliminate chafing.
  • Pocket Redesign — Note the comparison photos above to see how the zipper pockets have changed on this version.
  • Volume Increase — Total volume of the new pack is 10.1L, up from the 7.2L on the old Ultra Vesta.
  • Comfort Cinch Technology — Ultimate Direction's new Comfort Cinch technology was designed to provide easy adjustment and a custom fit.

These are exciting updates, but as we haven't tested the Ultra Vesta 4.0, this review reflects the original Ultra Vesta we tested last year.

Hands-On Review of the 2017 Ultra Vesta

With a slightly smaller storage capacity than the VaporHowe, the Ultra Vesta is great, comfortable vest with excellent pockets. For runners who prefer bottles to bladders, the hydration system will be a major selling point.

The Ultra Vesta is a solid contender on the trails.
The Ultra Vesta is a solid contender on the trails.


The Ultra Vesta has a very comfortable fit, and its soft material and intentional design saved us from chafing or rubbing. We dug deep in this category to evaluate all the small details as well as the bigger picture, and we awarded this pack an 8/10 for a solid, though not exceptional comfort score.

Adjustability is key to a comfortable pack, and the Ultra Vesta has a very user-friendly system. This vest features a lateral strap, similar to that of both the Osprey Dyna and VaporHowe, and we appreciated that the buckle was easy to reach without needing to remove the vest. The adjustment strap is made of a thick, stiff material that makes it significantly more easy to use than the elastic strap of the Dyna. We also appreciate that it has an elastic band to keep the excess strap from bouncing around. The dual front sternum straps are located on a sliding rail for infinite adjustability. We greatly prefer this feature to the less-adjustable design of the Dyna.

The Ultra Vesta's design is more open than that of the VaporHowe and Dyna, as there is no material under the arms other than the adjustment strap. We worried that the strap laying directly on our skin would cause chafing or be uncomfortable, but our testers never found this to be the case. The material on the back of the pack is extremely breathable and comfortable, as well, making this product an excellent choice for hot days when breathability is essential.

The Ultra Vesta's open sides add much-appreciated breathability.
The Ultra Vesta's open sides add much-appreciated breathability.

While the VaporHowe forces our trekking poles into a slightly uncomfortable spot on our shoulder blades, the UltraVesta puts them a little more toward our arms. We never noticed any discomfort with the trekking poles on our backs.

Because we only judged each contender on the hydration system they came with, we only used this vest with the front bottle storage. The soft flask bottles are an immense improvement over the hard bottles of the older version, which our tester has used for the past two years, but unfortunately, these bottles sit very high on the chest, forcing the pocket's bungee straps into the tester's face. Running with front bottle storage has a very different feel than using a bladder, so you'll have to decide if this is a fit that you could get used to. We noticed some discomfort on our ribs when we were first using this system, but once we adjusted to it, we felt that the soft bottles molded nicely to the body and were hardly noticeable.

Features & Design

For this category, we looked beyond pockets to all the smaller details of each pack. The Ultra Vesta included some great bonus features as well as a unique rear bungee cord. Because pockets are crucial to a running pack design, we left those out here and gave them their category, which we delve into below.

As far as bonus features go, the Ultra Vesta is stacked. This pack has a whistle, like all three women's vests we tested, but the whistle pocket was our least favorite. It failed to keep the whistle secure, and the bouncing around bugged us. We did appreciate, however, that this vest has an ice axe loop. If that's a must-have for your fast and light missions in the mountains, look no further. We appreciate that Ultimate Direction has seemingly looked beyond the race venue to realize that these running-specific packs can be used for many types of mountain adventures. One of our favorite details of this contender was the emergency hair tie that's attached inside a rear pocket. Long-haired runners know that nothing can dismantle a race like a snapped hair tie, and it's great to know that we'll always have a backup.

The trekking pole attachment system, while more comfortable than that of the VaporHowe was a little harder to use. The bungee straps that Ultimate Direction has employed are quite stiff, and though our poles felt secure once we had the pack on, we found them a little harder to get in and out.

The Ultra Vesta packed up and ready to race
The Ultra Vesta packed up and ready to race

The rear bungee strap is a unique feature on the Ultra Vesta, and while we felt that it was a good idea, we often worried that we could drop things out of it. One of our testers tried to put her extra layers in a stuff sack for a long day in the mountains but often found it slipping through the cracks. This was frustrating, and we wished dearly that we had used the VaporHowe, whose large stretchy pocket was a great solution for storing bulky items. For individual layers, the bungee seemed to work just fine, but we valued the security of the VaporHowe's pocket and hated that we kept reaching back to make sure we hadn't dropped a climbing shoe out of the Ultra Vesta. What seemed like a unique solution often left us less than satisfied.

Hydration System

All three women's running packs we tested can be used with front or rear water storage, but we chose to judge each product on only the system that it came with. For the Ultra Vesta that was two soft-flask bottles. This took some getting used to after acquiring a love of the bladder systems found on the Dyna and VaporHowe, but for runners with a preference for bottles, this could be a great choice. Unfortunately, we found some serious room for improvement in the design of this pack's hydration system.

The Ultra Vesta is equipped with two 22-ounce bottles, making for the smallest hydration storage of the three women's vests we tested. These bottles are soft and readily conform to the body and are a vast improvement over the hard bottles of the previous version of this pack. However, our testers were disappointed in the placement of the bottle pockets. The bottles sit very high on the chest and are therefore very difficult to get in and out. While this may be the best positioning for running comfort, they are annoying to access. Additionally, the wide mouth and lid of the bottles are perfect for quick refills at aid stations but makes getting the bottles back in the pockets involved. Accessing the bottles gets easier once the bottles are less full, but a packed bottle is very frustrating to shove into the pocket.

The hydration system of the Ultra Vesta has some serious room for improvement.
The hydration system of the Ultra Vesta has some serious room for improvement.

If the bottles just aren't for you, the Ultra Vesta does include a great rear pocket for a bladder. We love that the bladder has its own space to limit jostling, but we worry that the snap closure of the bladder-holding strap is just one more thing that could break. We greatly prefer the Velcro of the VaporHowe that leaves us more confident in its longevity.

Storage Capacity

We never want to find ourselves out in the mountains without a crucial piece of equipment, so it is vital to us that our running pack can carry everything we need. The Ultra Vesta has a decent storage capacity, way above that of the Dyna but ultimately paling in comparison to our Editors' Choice, the VaporHowe. Because we'll give details of the structure of this pack's pockets below, this category is more focused on general capacity limitations than types of storage available.

Stopping to take in the views of Lake Tahoe with the Ultra Vesta
Stopping to take in the views of Lake Tahoe with the Ultra Vesta

When used with the front bottle storage, the Ultra Vesta has a ton of room in the back. Multiple pockets give ample room for gear while the bungee accommodates most bulky layers. When put to the test, though, the bungee couldn't hold as much as the stretchy pocket of the VaporHowe. The bungee is also limiting in the types of things that it can hold, as only big items can be held securely, as opposed to its competitor's bungee pocket that can hold big and small items alike.


There's nothing ultra runners obsess over more than the organization of their electrolytes, so we knew that this was going to be a big category. Jokes aside, there are few things more frustrating than not having proper storage for the things that you need, whether you're on a solo adventure in the wilderness or are competing for a podium finish at your next hundred miler. To earn high marks in this category, the pack has to have a variety of pocket sizes and shapes that feel both practical, easy to access, and secure. The Ultra Vesta has sufficient pockets in a wide array of designs, but ultimately we preferred the design of the VaporHowe.

Rear storage is ideal, and the Ultra Vesta excels here. Two smaller zippered pockets are great homes for our most essential gadgets. Behind these is one large pocket, complete with an internal mesh pocket for a hydration bladder. We loved the two-way zipper of this rear pocket which made accessing things shoved to the back easier to access without needing to remove everything in its way. However, we think that this could be better addressed by having more pockets for natural organization. The VaporHowe's multi-layered pocket design makes it incredibly easy to know where all our gear is.

The Ultra Vesta has a nice zippered pocket on the front for valuable snacks.
The Ultra Vesta has a nice zippered pocket on the front for valuable snacks.

Even more important than back storage is front chest storage. We want to be able to access our most essential things without wasting precious time removing the vest. Because the Ultra Vesta is set up for use with front bottle storage, the front pockets are severely limited. On each side is just one pocket. One of these can fit a large phone or a few snacks, while the other has a Velcro closure and is a great spot for gels and bars. Switching to a bladder hydration system would free up the bottle pockets for other essential gear, but these are located so high on the chest that they are challenging to access. While the Ultra Vesta has a comfortable fit, we doubted its practicality for longer missions and were disappointed in the lack of front pockets.


In almost every review we do, whether it's chairs, jackets, or helmets, weight is an important factor, and we almost always prefer to save as many ounces as possible. The Ultra Vesta has an average weight that neither earns or loses points compared to its competitors.

This lightweight vest helps us float!
This lightweight vest helps us float!

The Ultra Vesta, bottles included, weighs in at an astonishing 11.5 ounces. While exceptionally light, much of this is because the bottles themselves are much lighter than bladders. Alone, the vest weighs 9 ounces, compared to the 8-ounce VaporHowe. Regardless, this pack is amazingly light without sacrificing comfort, and we were hugely impressed with its design when compared both to its female-specific competitors and the rest of the men's packs in this review.

Best Applications

A solid choice for runners and adventurers, our testers would be happy to use the Ultra Vesta on ultra races with ample aid stations and a shorter list of required gear. Because it holds less water and gear than the VaporHowe, this pack is not our first choice for longer, more remote missions. We loved it for training runs and short hikes, though, when large amounts of water or a variety of layers were not needed.

Plenty of room for treats in the Ultra Vesta
Plenty of room for treats in the Ultra Vesta


At $135, the Ultra Vesta is a pretty standout value. While we think that the VaporHowe was by far the best women's pack we tested, its $180 could make it an intimidating purchase. The Ultra Vesta isn't cheap, but its price tag is a bit easier to digest, hence our Best Buy award. For runners who plan to use a vest occasionally, this product could be an excellent choice.


The Ultra Vesta quickly became our baseline vest, as our testers felt that while it accomplished just about everything we wanted it to in a reasonable fashion, we still weren't wowed. Able to hold a decent amount of gear and water, with a comfortable and breathable design, the Ultra Vesta won a notable tag for us as a great pick for the sometimes user looking for a solid product but not necessarily needing the top of the line model.

Dancing in the Ultra Vesta above Lake Tahoe
Dancing in the Ultra Vesta above Lake Tahoe

Lauren DeLaunay

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