Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
Our team of expert testers was surprised to see the Ultra Vesta 4.0 change so much from its previous iteration. We like the increased amount of storage and comfortable fit but ultimately found the materials to be a downgrade from the last version. That said, it's still a great piece of gear.
When you're in it for the long haul, nothing is as important in a running pack as comfort. Our testers looked at a wide variety of features to come up with an overall comfort score. We wore each pack on long runs and short, in the mountains and on the track, to learn all of their ins and outs.
First, we wanted to know how the materials felt right up against our skin, especially in hot, sweat-inducing conditions. While the mesh material found on the Vesta 4.0 is highly breathable, we found it to be much less comfortable than some of its competitors when worn without a shirt. Luckily, the great fit kept us from chafing, but the stiff material was much less luxurious against our bare skin than that of the VaporHowe.
On the other hand, one of the major improvements to the vest is its adjustability. The wide side straps are much more comfortable and supportive, and they are easily adjusted with the rear cinch system. We'll talk more about the user-friendliness of the cinch system more below, but we can't argue against its effectiveness. The two front buckles have been improved as well. The sliding rail makes the straps much easier to move around for an optimal, personalized fit.
Similar to the last Ultra Vesta, we have some concerns about the chest bottle storage. We know that Ultimate Direction wanted the bottles to sit high on the chest for a more female-specific fit, but we agreed that users with larger chests will likely prefer a bladder system than the bottle storage. Frankly, the high bottles are both awkward to use and uncomfortable to wear. While the manufacturer included additional straps to help tighten down the bottles and prevent bouncing, we found these annoying to use as well.
In addition to a myriad of pockets, running vests are known for their high-tech, intriguing features. The Ultra Vesta 4.0 definitely is chock-full of features, but our testers felt that these nearly came as a detriment to the product's overall effectiveness, and at the end of the day we surprised ourselves by wanting something a bit more simple.
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 that we had used the VaporHowe, whose large stretchy pocket was a great solution to storing bulky items safely. For individual layers, the bungee seemed to work just fine, but we valued the security of the VaporHowe's pocket compared to 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.
Trekking pole attachment is one of the features that helps running vests stand out when compared to daypacks. Our testers really liked that the Ultra Vesta's pole attachments are now in the front of the pack. We found that we were much more likely to use this feature now that we didn't have to take the pack off in order to access it. The two elastic straps at the bottom and top are easy to use, but the snap-closure strap in the middle is more difficult to use.
Like all but one of the women's models in this review, the Ultra Vesta has a whistle. The previous version of this vest included a rear ice axe loop, and that has disappeared on the new version. We're not sure when or for whom this would really matter, but if it was a selling point of the previous version for you, you're out of luck with the 4.0 model.
Most of the 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 room for improvement in the design of this pack's hydration system.
The Ultra Vesta is equipped with two 500-ml bottles, making for one of the smaller hydration storage of the women's vests we tested. These bottles are soft and easily conform to the body and are a huge improvement over the hard bottles of the previous version of this pack. However, the bottles sit very high on the chest and are therefore very difficult to get in and out. Additionally, the wide mouth and lid of the bottles is great for quick refills at aid stations but makes getting the bottles back in the pockets difficult. Accessing the bottles gets easier once the bottles are less full, but a packed bottle is frustrating to shove into the pocket. The soft bottle system of the Salomon Advanced Skin, on the other hand, is excellent. The bottles are easy to use, in a comfortable place, and easy to access thanks to the long straw attachment. If front bottle storage is your jam, we'd much rather use the Salomon product.
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 could break. We greatly prefer the Velcro of the VaporHowe that leaves us more confident in its longevity. For bladder-users, the Ultra Vesta does provide a myriad of elastic options in the front to secure the hose. We thought these were effective and customizable, especially when compared to the VaporHowe's magnetic clip that often came undone with a simple knock of our arm.
We never want to find ourselves out in the mountains without a crucial piece of equipment, so it is very important 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.
One large improvement in this year's Ultra Vesta 4.0 was the increased storage capacity, up to 10L from the previous version's 8 liters. When used with the front bottle storage, the Ultra Vesta has a ton of storage 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. In order 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.
On the front of this pack are two small zippered pockets, one on each side, which are great for gels and small snacks. These pockets are not large enough for most smartphones, however. If both bottle pockets are being used for water bottles, there is nowhere on the front of the vest to store your phone, which we like to have close by for pictures, directions, and emergencies. Phones easily fit in the bottle pockets, however, if you're opting to use only one bottle or a bladder.
The rear features pockets in a variety of sizes and shapes which our testers really appreciated. We loved the large stuff-all pocket equipped with two zippers that wrap around the side and top for easy access. In front of this is a narrow, long, somewhat-stretchy pocket with no top closure. Behind this are two smaller zippered pockets. Neither of these fit a large smartphone.
In almost every review we create, whether it's chairs, jackets, or helmets, weight is an important factor, and we pretty much always prefer to save as many ounces as possible. The Ultra Vesta really stepped up its game for this latest version and is now the lightest women's pack in this review.
The Ultra Vesta, bottles included, weighs in at an amazing 11.3 ounces. While exceptionally light, much of this is due to the fact that the bottles themselves are much lighter and smaller than bladders. What we were surprised to find with the Vesta 4.0 was that the vest itself now weighs only 7.6 ounces. Now this pack is the lightest female vest we tested with and without hydration systems.
The Ultra Vesta is a pretty standout value. It isn't cheap, but its price tag is a bit easier to digest than some of the higher scoring packs in this review. For runners who plan to use a vest occasionally, this product could be a decent choice.
Able to hold a decent amount of gear and water, with a comfortable and breathable design, the Ultra Vesta is at a weird place in this review. It has a solid performance, but compared to newer additions to this review like the Advanced Skin or even more affordable Nathan TrailMix, we're not quite sure where the Ultra Vesta fits in.
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