Ultimate Direction SJ Essential pack

P1050686It’s no secret that the SJ and AK vests are popular items right now. (See our reviews here and here.)  They’re uber-light, designed by people like us and UD is ready to release a smaller cousin to the vest that’ll be worn on the waist.  We managed to get a sneak peak (and some fun times on the trails!) with the newest piece of gear from the line, the Scott Jurek Essential Pack.

I received a nylon FedEx envelope and I could swear the package was empty. I cut it open and lo and behold there it was, a sample model of the SJ pack. Man, this things is light! How light? What can I compare it to?  How ’bout a….

–Half a lemon? Nope, the pack is 2.0 oz, the 1/2 lemon is 2.5 oz.

–Butter knife? Nope, knife is too heavy at 4 oz.

–My leather belt? Heck no, my leather belt weights almost 3 times what this pack weighs.

–2 Gu packs? Close, but the gels are still too heavy at 2 3/8 oz.

–A salad fork? Bingo. 2.0 oz. This pack weighs exactly as much as a salad fork.

Let that sink in. The weight in a fork is densely packed in a small product. Distribute the weight

across something that wraps around your waist and you can understand how light this thing

See thru mesh webbing!
See thru mesh webbing!

feels.

Much of the light weight can be attributed to the high-tech materials used in manufacturing. I won’t get into marketing babble, but the “backing” of the pack is made of see-thru super-fine nylon mesh. One pocket (green) is made from a sail-type kevlar-ish material and the other pocket (blue) is a blue stretchy nylon. The small pouch up front is a combination of the two. All very, very light weight.

Remember when you first held an iPod Shuffle or Nano and you thought how in the hell did they make this thing so small, yet it’s able to hold a coupla hundred songs (or, ahem, podcasts)???  Similar line of thinking here.

Features: My sample model (a prototype) has three pockets (2 large and one small) but the marketing materials I’ve seen have 2 small pockets in addition to the large, so not sure what the final product will feature. Each large pocket is approximately 3″ by 5.5″. An additional small pouch would be a great added bonus.  Update: I spoke with the product folks and the final product will have one pocket, just like my sample.

P1050702The green pocket is zippered and appears to be fairly weather proof.  I wouldn’t trust my cell phone in a downpour, but for basic splashes from a water bottle it’s done fine. It’s easily large enough to hold a scarf (bandana style) and is not “attached” to the pack, leaving space behind the pocket to tuck gloves or other items. I had a similar feature on a pack a few years ago and carried a knife there.

The blue pocket is made of a stretchable and breathable nylon that is perfect for gel packs, bars, or other essentials. My iPhone 4S fits into it snugly with a protective case attached.  Unlike the green pocket, this zippered pouch is attached to the pack.

As mentioned, the small pouch up front is perfect for keys (small so they won’t bounce), a bag P1050693of pills, etc.

There are two small reflective grey and red nylon snaps on my pack, though I’m not sure what purpose they serve. My initial guess is that maybe they’d attach race bibs, but their placement (both right next to each other on the same side of the buckle) wouldn’t allow that.

Fit: This appears to be cut to have the small pouch(es) worn in the front–along with the buckle–but I tried wearing it with the buckle in the back and it did just fine.  Personal preference reigns supreme and this is pretty easy to adjust.

Durability: How much beating does a pack take, really? I’ve worn it on a few runs and have had zero problem.

Bounce? This is an ultralight pack that is not designed to be weighed down. If you’re looking to IMG_2458cram SPOT beacons, 20 energy bars and an old Walkman in here, look elsewhere. I ran with my iPhone, car keys and 2 gels and had plenty of room. There was no bounce at all and the pack didn’t “slip around” on me one bit.  Though the nylon strap is static, there is a ~4″ section of elastic bypass that allows the pack to fit snugly without leaving marks.  Of course, everyone fits and wears things differently.

 

Availability and Price: I believe this’ll be out in May and will have an MSRP of $30. There will be a grey and black version as well, but I like this “citron” color. Expect an SJ hand-carry bottle, as well as a hydration waist pack from the same line

Final thoughts: Would I but this product? Absolutely. On training runs I always bring my cellphone (for safety as I usually run at 3am and I track some runs on Strava) but I don’t want to carry a vest unless it’s absolutely necessary in a race.  Up until this point I’ve been wearing a thick piece of black elastic around my waist with an Amphipod pouch clipped on to it. It got the job done, but was certainly less than ideal.  If I had Gu wrappers in there, they were sharing space with my iPhone and you can imagine how sticky it was.  Although I’m thrilled with my Essential pack, I’m also excited to see if they make any additional tweaks for full production.

UD nailed it with their tagline for this pack: When all you need are the essentials.

Now go out and run.

Full disclosure: This item was provided to me as a prototype testing sample at no charge from UD. I was/am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Any questions or comments? Ask away!

***************Update March 2013*****************

This is still the piece of gear that I depend on. I can switch shoes, wear dirty shorts, or go sockless, but I really need to have a place to store my keys and phone. This does the trick.

Now with this recent modification, it’s even better! I added a small Princeton Tec Fuel 4 headlamp (minus the strap) to the small elastic section on the waist strap and it’s perfect. I don’t assume the designers planned it that way, but the light fits perfectly and doesn’t move around.

 

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