Ultimate Direction has released a new line of gear designed by women for women and their specific needs. This line was designed by Jenny Jurek (Scott’s wife) with input from many other women.
I was asked to test and review the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta on behalf of URP, mostly because Eric and Scotty don’t have the necessary “curves” to give it a good review. They were also curious to know if this was simply a purpled version of the men’s vest, or if it was a different product in itself.
[Ed note: In full discosure, Tara was provided a prototype of this vest over the summer. We "sneak peeked" it here as she wore it for a few weeks. She gave Buzz and his UD team feedback about some scratching and chafing on the shoulder straps and they re-tooled the vest with different material that no longer chafes. The vest tested in this review is the new model available to consumers.]
I’ll start off by telling you that I am a devoted pack/vest girl. I do not carry handheld bottles ever, if I can help it, for two reasons: First, because I have incredibly weak arms and get tired of carrying anything, and two, because I am a bit of a science nerd, and I researched peer-reviewed literature exploring the energy expenditure and perceived difficulty of carrying water via handheld or pack, and the pack wins every time. For the past several years I have been running with the Nathan Intensity, and I have loved it. It has served me very well, and I still recommend it. I have curves, so I firmly feel that a vest needs to be made specifically for women; I have tried several generic or unisex vests and they were not for me. That being said, let’s talk about the Ultra Vesta.
I am pretty sure that Ultimate Direction read my mind when designing this vest, because it has so many features that I would want put into a piece of gear.
There are two sizes: XS/SM or MD/LG. I sometimes have trouble knowing what size to order in running-related clothing and gear. In normal clothing stores I wear a size 2/4 or XS, but I am not the tiniest runner out there, so my question, is “do they mean small for the running population, or small for the total population?” It seems that every brand interprets it differently. Here is the sizing recommendations copied from the UD site, measuring at the chest:
- XS/SM: 20 – 38 in. / 51 – 79 cm
- MD/LG: 24 – 40 in. / 61 – 102 cm
- Measure wearing the clothes you intend to wear
- A vest full of gear will fit smaller
Based on these recommendations, I decided to try the MD/LG. I chose this because my chest measures 28.5 inches, right in the middle of the size spectrum, fitting in either category. For full disclosure, and to help women choose the right pack, we will go right into the TMI category. I wear a 32DD bra. I also often wear a pack in the winter over layers of shirts and jackets, making me thicker, and I also shed layers to stuff into the pack. Additionally, I intended to put a large, bladder in the vest for long, unsupported training runs without water access. I believe I made the correct choice. The vest fits well, doesn’t chafe at any point, has minimal bounce, and cinches down in all the right places with two sliding sternum straps and an adjustable side strap. I do think that if I were even a tiny bit smaller, I would want the smaller vest; I’m probably right at the lower size limit based on my uses of the vest, with quite a bit of extra strap length. The straps do nicely fold up and store in an elastic band, keeping the straps from flinging around.
Water. This vest comes with two 10-oz bottles that slide easily into two pockets with zip cords and an elastic band that pops over the top to hold them in place. The way the vest fit me put the bottles sitting just above my boobs. I did notice the water, because the sloshing in the bottles was of course, a lot closer to my face than if they were in my hands, but it didn’t bother me. I didn’t mind carrying water in the front, and I actually believe that I drank more because of the easy access. I was able to grab a bottle quickly and then carry it in my hand for a few minutes as I ran, enabling me to drink over several minutes. I have often been guilty of not drinking enough on long runs or races because sucking water out of a straw seems difficult (if you’ve been at mile 41 of 50 and likely calorie deficient, you know what I mean). I love having the benefit of a handheld, but not having to carry something in my hand the entire way-what can I say, my arms get tired. I love the small bottles, but I do wish the opening of the bottles were larger for better filling
capabilities at aid stations-I like to zip through-and it would be nice to fit ice into the opening. In addition to the two bottles, this vest provides the option of being able to place a bladder in the back for additional water. There is a Velcro strap in the back to hang the bladder, a bungee cord to hold it in place, a hose exit hole, and elastic bands to accommodate the hose. I took the vest for a spin with a 70 oz bladder filled, along with the two 10 oz bottles. Yep. I carried 90 oz (2700 ml) for a long run, and it was super.
This vest has more storage than I know what to do with yet. On the rear of the pack, in addition to the large zippered area where a bladder can be stored, there is another large zippered pocket that could easily hold a jacket, as well as a smaller zippered area containing a strap with a key hook. The back also features external bungee cords, an ice axe loop, and two trekking pole loops. Although I have never needed to use an ice axe in my trail adventures, I like that the Ultra Vesta gives me those kinds of options.
In the front, the bottle pockets can be flattened, and have zip cords for adjustable storage if
the bottles aren’t in use. Below the bottles is a pocket on each side; one zippered, and one with a Velcro tab. Both are easy to access, and each fits an iPhone 4 or 5. The pockets are made of Power Stretch Mesh, with the ability to accommodate your fueling needs.
“Above the left bottle is a handy whistle to alert your trail companions of your location, scare away dogs or wild animals or to wake up the sleepy runner you might be pacing at 3am.”
Above the left bottle is a handy whistle to alert your trail companions of your location, scare away dogs or wild animals or to wake up the sleepy runner you might be pacing at 3am. Or as my husband calls it, a “rape whistle.” Tip: the whistle bounces around a bit, but I tucked it in one of the elastic bands and it’s all good. The vest also has reflective strips to enhance visibility in limited light, and it’s made of a Cool Wick Air Mesh, keeping it light (11 oz with bottles) and dry. I am a big fan of the soft material making up the binding of the vest, keeping the chafe away.
All in all, this vest is a huge win for trail running women. I highly recommend it.
[Final note: If you are interested in purchasing this vest, please consider using the Ultimate Direction banner on the right side of the page. We've partnered with a third party to work as a UD affiliate and will earn a small percentage of each sale. Our reviews do not affect either company's willingness to provide us with sample product. Thanks so much.]
Special thanks to Tara Barragan for reviewing and writing this great review for URP.