Ultimate Direction started back in 1985, designing a waist pack specifically to carry water bottles on the run. They’ve been at the forefront of design and innovation ever since and have a loyal following of runners around the world. Wearing a UD pack it’s instantly easy to see why, with their thoughtful construction, superb comfort and great looks. Sim recently tested the small and light TO Race Vest and the larger AK Mountain Vest over a series of ultras. Here’s his full review:

Ultimate Direction TO Race Vest 3.0 £85 165g size M

The TO Race Vest – named after UD athlete Timothy Olson – is the smallest in the Ultimate Direction signature series with a capacity of 5 litres. It’s available in three different harness sizes, so there’s one that fits everyone without the need for lots of fiddly adjustment. I’d advise going smaller if you are between two sizes. My medium fits perfectly and sits high enough up so it doesn’t rub on my lower back.

The pack is built on a seamless, one piece mono-knit harness edged with a soft feel brushed fabric for comfort. The top half of the back is a light and breathable mesh while the lower half has two pockets – a smaller outer one for keys, card etc and the larger inner one which fits a waterproof jacket.

There’s a good selection of pockets on the front of the shoulder straps giving you good access to food, water and kit on the go. Both shoulder straps carry a bottle pocket which fastens down with elastic ties – this also works well for a phone or compact camera. There are also stretch mesh pockets, great for stashing food or a compass. Higher up on the shoulder straps are two small secure pockets, both with hook and eye closures.

The pack fastens with two fully adjustable chest straps. There’s also adjustment under the arms for a perfect fit. The TO Race vest fits me really well and doesn’t bounce whether it’s empty or full. It comes supplied with two 500ml Hydrapak soft flasks (40g each).

Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0 £120 300g Size M

The AK Vest (this one’s for Anton Krupicka) is the third model in the UD Signature Series, with a capacity of 11.5 litres. It’s another vest-style pack with a large main compartment and several front pockets on the shoulder straps for access to food and hydration on the run. As with all of the Signature Series packs it’s available in three different sizes, meaning you get a great fit with minimal adjustment. The medium fits me exceptionally well.

Like the TO Vest, the AK Vest is built on a seamless mono-knit mesh fabric with soft edging. It sits high on my back and comfortably around my neck with no chance of chafing. The main fabric is a lightweight siliconised Nylon, with stretch mesh for the stash pockets.

The main pocket has a separate reservoir sleeve and a hanging loop; if you choose to use this the tube can exit over either shoulder. There’s zip access across the top and down one side of the main compartment, allowing easy access to anything packed anywhere in the bag. There are also two small zipped pockets, a large stash pocket and a bungee/compression system.

There’s a zipped pocket on each side which also encloses some adjustment straps – I wondered if these might catch my arms as I ran but thankfully they don’t at all. Up front both shoulder straps have a soft flask pocket with elastic bungee closure. Both of these have a stretch mesh pocket on top and a small pocket above them. On the right there is a zipped pocket below the flask pocket which holds a smartphone, the left side has an additional stretch pocket, ideal for snacks.

The pack is fastened by fully-adjustable chest and a sternum straps. I don’t get any bounce at all with this bag and I don’t need to do the straps up very tightly which makes it more comfortable.

The AK Vest is available in two different colours with great-looking contrasting panels and large reflective UD logos on the front, back and sides. It comes with two Hydropak soft flasks (40g each).

To summarise – we’re really impressed with these packs and the continuing great design and performance of Ultimate Direction kit. We’ve heard there are some exciting innovations on the horizon for 2018 and can’t wait to see what’s next for the brand.