Intro, Features and Tech
Jeff: I have reviewed several early iterations of the Mountain Vest, but have not really even seen any UD vests since I last reviewed the Mountain Vest 4.0 back in 2018. The Mountain Vest 4.0 has been one of my favorites, for the runs or hikes when I want to pack a large amount of running gear or heavy items that are too much for lighter vests.
The Ultra Vest is made of 100% silicone coated nylon (82% nylon and 12% spandex), so more pliable materials than previous versions that I am familiar with and while not super thin and clothing like, such as Salomon Sense Pro, it is very light, comfortable and breathable.
Comfort Cinch™ has been upgraded with High Molecular Weight Polyethylene cord for extra strength and with an air mesh panel to prevent chafing. (see photo below). The Comfort cinch is easy to reach and adjust.
Zippered water resistant phone pocket at front chest. An iPhone Mini 12 fits just right, larger phones may be a bit of a squeeze.
The vest shape has been upgraded to wrap completely around the body for a more secure vest-like fit.
The Ultra comes with 4 hooks and bungee loops to attach trekking poles. These loops can be attached at the front or back of the vest for customizable trekking pole carry options. Since I do not typically run with or carry poles, I removed these bungees to streamline the pack and not have anything extra flapping.
Th large rear compartment can accommodate up to a 2.0L reservoir
Front buckle sternum straps with T-hook adjustments are easy to adjust or reposition.
The zippered rear lat pockets are listed as being accessible while the vest is being worn, but I am certainly not able to reach them. No matter how hard I try, I cannot even reach the pull tab, much less operate the zipper and fetch items from the pocket. Instead, I find it easier to simply remove the pack to access. I like that they include a key clip here.
Stretch mesh back panel and bungee system to accommodate items for easy access such as a windbreaker.
The waterproof main pocket with zippered clamshell opening is large and secure.
There is one water resistant shoulder stash pocket for pills and other small items, though I find this pocket sort of difficult to use given the narrow top opening (would rather have a zippered pocket here.
The opposite shoulder strap is blank in this spot, so it would be nice to have another pocket in that spot as well.
Fit: I wear size Large and with a 38” chest, which fits me perfectly on warm days and with just a tee, or on cooler days where I need to bundle up with a base layer, mid layer and shell, the large still fits correctly without feeling maxed out. I have tried mediums in the past and while the size would work for runs just wearing a tee, the medium for me did not have the versatility to be able to add those layers underneath. The sternum straps can be easily adjusted up and down to fine tune depending on your body shape and torso length. The Comfort Cinch 3.0 system is easy to use and snugs up where the lower rear of the pack interfaces with the lowest section of the shoulder straps for a flexible, custom fit that can also be adjusted on the fly.
Performance: The Ultra Vest 6.0 is a great mid size carry option for longer days on the trail. It carries a moderate load well, with little bounce. The rear pockets are deep and voluminous, gobbling up jackets, clothing, food and other gear, with the outer stretch mesh pocket ideal for stowing a jacket for easy access. The materials feel light, breathable and comfortable.
Conclusions: The Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 6.0 is light, comfortable, easily adjustable and carries a reasonable load for a full day on the trails with little bounce. I like the variety of pockets in the back, which make for easy organization and having water bottles on the front is now the norm now,in addition you can opt for a bladder. Opting for a bladder will open up some nice pocket room in the front, or you can increase the amount of water you bring along.
My only minor complaints are that the side waist pockets at the bottom of the shoulder straps are somewhat shallow and while good for items like gloves or a beanie, anything that is not cloth like for friction can easily fall out when removing the pack (which I might do to access rear pockets on the go, or take off for a break). It would be nice to see these pockets be zippered to not have to worry about that and could thus double as another secure storage option for phone or satellite tracker. In addition, the small pocket on the left shoulder is difficult to access and I think a zippered pocket here, with matching one on opposite shoulder would be a nice touch. All in all though, The Ultra Vest is a great option for all day or shorter runs.
Salomon Sense Pro 10 (RTR Review)
The Salomon is much lighter and has that true clothing-like fit, with its capacity the same as the Ultra Vest 6.0, but in a more slim and streamlined package. I would not wear the Ultra Vest unless I were bringing a fair bit of gear (at least water, phone, some clothes and food), whereas I have often worn the Salomon if I am just needing a way to carry my phone and car key, it is that light, minimal and unobtrusive. The Ultra Vest however carries more weight more securely than the more stretchy Salomon.
Camelbak Zephyr (RTR Review)
Comparable in size to the Ultra Vest, the Zephyr feels a bit more “pack” like and is one size fits all. The Ultra Vest is superior in fit, comfort, pockets, bottle security, stability and offers the flexibility to add a bladder.
Ultra Vesta 6.0 (Renee)
Intro, Tech, Features
The Ultra Vesta 6.0 is essentially the “women’s fit” version of the Vest 6.0, reviewed by Jeff V.
The Vesta 6.0 has the same features as the Ultra Vest 6.0. The fit is more female-specific with “a narrower cut in the shoulder straps and back” meant for smaller frames. I think some women will enjoy the cut, and other ladies may prefer the men’s version (read on!).
I wear a vest frequently simply to only carry my phone. Occasionally, I wear a belt (I have the CompressSport Free Belt and a FlipBelt Classic), but the feeling of a belt across my stomach and waist is not my ideal level of comfort, especially in warm or hot weather. I wear trail shorts to carry needed supplies for short races or during speed workouts, but I’ve started to like the feel of a vest and by adding in extra weight as a sort of strength training. I rotate wearing my Salomon Active Skin 8 (unisex version, size XS) and the one-size-fits-most UltraSpire Legacy 2.0 Vest, depending on my needs. I will be wearing the UD Ultra Vesta 6.0 after my review for sure.
The front zippered pocket is great for a phone, which I prefer to wear in the front for quick access. I ran a few miles in the rain and some water entered the zipper, so I concur that the pocket is “water resistant” but not “waterproof.” The zipper closes up, so it’s possible the small gap allowed water to enter. I can easily fit my iPhone 12 Pro in the pocket, and I tried my husband’s iPhone 12 Max Pro too, which was a tight fit, but it fits too.
The strap to secure the bladder/reservoir in the back has a snap, and I found it quick and easy to use. I used a 2.0L full bladder during testing.
I can access the zipper pockets in the back while running, so it might be the smaller “frame” of the Vesta version that helps with the access (as compared to Jeff’s experience).Or maybe it’s my double-jointed elbow!
In those two back pockets, I had a small head light in one and a portable charger in the other. I did not need them while running, but I practiced grabbing them on the run. During my run in the rain, I had no water get inside these back zipped pockets or the main waterproof pocket.
I totally agree with Jeff about the water resistant shoulder stash pocket: I can’t reach it easily because the top is narrow and it sits too far back on top of my shoulder. I like the idea of using the space for a pocket, and agree with Jeff that a pocket on both sides would be great, with maybe access on the side with a magnet or zipper. There is a space between the stash pocket and the vest strap, which works well to place a bladder tube.
I ditto Jeff’s notes about the side pockets being shallow. I carried a buff and gloves in them and because of the bulk and light weight of those items, I didn’t worry about them falling out. I would hesitate to place heavier or necessary items there. While they might not fail out, I’d be distracted by the possibility. A zipper or some type of enclosure on at least one side would be nice, but I think that depends on the usage. The pockets are fine for storing gloves, a hat, and arm sleeves, and similar items.
Fit: I used the Ultimate Direction website sizing guides, and chose a size small. For shirts/tops, I wear a women’s size small too, unless the cut is super short or tight, and then I elect for a women’s medium. The fit is comfortable and the binding edges have a soft lining which helps in some part with irritation or chafing. As compared to the Vest 6.0, the Vesta 6.0 has a narrow cut in the shoulders and back. While not a deal breaker, the back collar and start of the shoulder straps are tight against my neck, so when packed with a full 2.0L bladder and other items in the back main pocket, my shoulders were sore.
The shoulder strap fits wide across the chest, which might appeal to large chested women. While I’m used to the more centered front/bottle pockets of my Salomon Active Skin, the wide-fitted bottle pockets of the Vesta are comfortable. The narrower fit doesn’t bother me if I don’t have a full bladder in the back.
Performance: The Vesta 6.0 works best for me under certain conditions. Because of the narrower fit across the shoulder and back, I’d prefer not to carry a bladder in the back because it pulls down on my shoulders. Luckily, the front pockets are comfortable with full bottles. I had no issues with the bottles annoyingly bouncing around any more than any other hydration vest, and I think it’s because they sit wider across the chest. And a huge bonus here: I can actually refill “on the go” and place a full bottle in the pocket without taking the vest off.
With hydration in the front, I would place “mandatory pack items” in the back (pants, jackets, space blanket, hat, gloves, etc.). I’d prefer not to put nutrition in the side pockets because they are shallow and open, so I’d put what I can in the back zipper pockets (which I can access while running). If you don’t like bending your neck down to drink from the front bottles, I suggest using long straw bottles.
Conclusions: I think the Vesta 6.0 is suitable for short to ultra distances, depending on a runner’s needs. I find it comfortable to wear when I’m taking only a phone in the front zipper pocket and one bottle in the opposite side front storage. The narrower fit across the back and shoulder straps is a bit too tight for me to comfortably hold a full bladder in the back, but runners with narrow backs/shoulders and a need for a wide placed front storage might disagree. A huge bonus is I can refill the front pockets with UD’s 500ml bottles without stopping because the pockets are wide. I used the UD 500ml soft flasks, which are shorter in length as compared to other options. My Solomon soft flasks are about 9.25” long as compared to the 7.25” length of the UD bottles I used.
Mike and Sam
Ultimate Direction Race Vest 6.0 ($125)
6.3 L capacity
[Semi-rigid bottle (UltrAspire hybrid) in right front pocket feels a bit more secure, soft flasks for me are just too bouncy in front pockets (left front pocket has a UD soft flask)]
[I’m not a fan of the various bungee attachment points for poles, but the main compartment works well and is easily accessible if you don’t use a hydration bladder]
Intro, Features and Tech
Mike: The Race Vest is Ultimate Direction’s more streamlined vest, positioned for race-type scenarios or shorter outings where carrying fuel and hydration is necessary, but you don’t need to pack a ton of gear. It features a lightweight mono-mesh type material against your body, which is non-absorptive, and a thinner fabric material on the outside. The lighter mesh material is generally covered by the regular fabric material in most areas of the vest except for the upper shoulders and back.
The vest features 8 pockets, with only one being zipper-secured. There are two large front bottle pockets which are loose – to accommodate varying bottle sizes. There are two lower utility pockets directly below the bottle pockets which stretch tightly against the body. Behind the left bottle pocket there is the zippered waterproof pocket, which should be large enough to hold most phones.
On the rear of the pack, there is a large main compartment which is accessed from the top which should accommodate the bulk of gear, or a hydration bladder if you choose. There’s also a smaller square pocket at the top where you can reach behind your head and stash smaller items- and they won’t fall all the way to the bottom. Neither of the rear pockets are secured on top.
[Main compartment between the clear mesh and the blue. Smaller upper compartment (blue)]
On the outside of the main compartment there is a kangaroo-type pouch which is a good spot to store extra clothes or anything larger that you would want accessible and not in the bottom of the main compartment. Curiously, the key loop is also located in the kangaroo pocket. I did find the entrance to this pocket a bit high and difficult to reach into. You need to have quite flexible shoulders to comfortably utilize it on the run. Right next to it there’s the opening for the Comfort Cinch (see below), and I actually kept reaching into that opening by mistake. There’s just cords in there, and it’s really not functional for storage, unless you want to get something tangled up in those cords.
[When I reach back for the kangaroo pouch, I kept finding this area with the cinch straps]
Sam: Mike has described the features well. Highlights for me are the thin, very breathable mono mesh that is in contact with the body at the shoulders and the back and everywhere kept chafe free by very soft bindings at the edges, and the Comfort Cinch 3.0 system and front straps that all easy to adjust on the go.
I would also add that there is a safety whistle that is tucked into a small pocket next to one of the bottle pockets. A really nice add, well executed.
My iPhone 13 Pro fits in the shoulder zip pocket but it a bit hard to rapidly remove if you have a flask in the pocket above it. At my recent trail half I put my phone in the excellent waistband stretch mesh pockets of my UD Velum Shorts.
Lowlights features are clearly the baggy bottle pockets not helped by their low on the body positioning. I would also like to see another zip pocket to join the existing one on the opposite shoulder strap. Why not?
Mike: I’m thinner framed in the upper body, and typically wear size small in most apparel and running vests. The Race Vest in size Small fits me perfectly. Sizing is adjusted via two chest straps, as well as UD’s Comfort Cinch technology – it’s the same as in the Ultra Vest. The two cords in the back are easy to reach and cinch up, but if you want to re-loosen them, I found it a bit finicky. Overall for me, being properly sized, I didn’t feel it added much to the fit and security that I couldn’t get from adjusting the two front chest straps.
[Comfort Cinch pulls in the middle]
But I could see how it could be accommodating for different torso shapes. Also they could be utilized to slightly adjust where you want the front pockets/straps to sit on your chest. I notice some people like the pockets cinched together at the center of the chest, while others prefer them to be wider on the outside. For me, somewhere in the middle works just fine, so I find the Comfort Cinch to be a bit unnecessary. It doesn’t hurt the fit or comfort of the pack, but it does add an extra bunch of cords and material on the lower back, which is an area that does get warm.
Sam: My vest is medium size and I think given the construction (and those baggy bottle pockets and the Cinch 3.0 system I could have gone with a small as it is unlikely I would use this vest for its rear capacity beyond potentially a hydration bladder. I am usually a medium in vests but have found that going small just keeps things snugger and here with the front bottle pockets I think I would have had a better fit. I raced a trail half with the vest and a bit more secure fit would have been a good thing. For use with layers, not needed this time of year I might consider medium but with the Cinch system I am guess I could make a small work with a mid to base layer and maybe a light shell as well.
Mike: The main issue I have with the pack is that I find the front bottle pockets to be a bit too loose and floppy. I find that they do not press the bottles snugly against my chest, leading them to bounce around too much on the run. With full 500ml soft flasks, it’s slightly better, but anything less and there’s just too much space inside the pockets. There are bottle cap loops at the top of those pockets to keep the bottles from sliding down, but they don’t keep the bottles from bouncing. I tried both soft and hard flasks. The hard flasks (UltrAspire hybrid bottles) worked a bit better, but I’d still prefer them strapped to my chest a bit tighter.
[1.5L bladder in tow]
I’ve been toying around with the idea of using a hydration bladder, especially in the summer months – so I decided to try my daughter’s 1.5L bladder in the Race Vest. This was a total change for me, and I began to appreciate and enjoy the vest much more. I found much less bounce with the bladder than having bottles in the looser front pockets. I think that’s the ideal setup for this vest – using a bladder so that you can utilize the front pouches for other items and have them more accessible in a short distance or race-type situation. I can see myself using the pack for a very hot summer race, where I would need to carry a lot of water, but not as much gear. I could keep all my nutrition, buff, gloves, hat, light, etc. up front, and a spare jacket in the kangaroo pouch.
Another point to cover, which Jeff mentions is pole storage – there’s various loops on the vest that serve as attachment points for pole bungees. I typically don’t find those to my liking, as the single point of attachment tends to let them flop around too much. If you can’t tell by now, I want everything tight and secure against my body. A previous UD Jurek FKT vest had bungees on the shoulder that were attached at two points – and I find that the best design if you want to strap poles on the front of your vest. Otherwise I think Salomon’s custom quiver is the best design overall.
Sam: I raced the Race Vest at a trail half in Park City in significant heat and sun and the breathability and comfort was excellent.
I was able to easily access the side mesh pockets on the go, assuming there is something in them to make them easier to find.
Empty they are a bit hard to find as they have no guide tab and are they are below a similar feeling upper mesh band that is part of the Comfort Cinch system. Once I stuffed my phone in the inner mesh thinking it was a pocket so after that I had something in the pocket to help locate the opening better. Once in the mesh pocket my iPhone 13 Pro stayed secure but once must remember to push it back past the partial mesh covering towards the rear to be totally secure.
The bottle pockets were challenging. All seemed good when the two included large cap 500ml flasks were full as shown above. To hold them up I used the cinch on the pocket as well as the trekking pole cord.
Full at the start the front water carry was bouncier than I like as Mike describes. As soon as they started to empty the bounce was reduced but they sagged, requiring reaching into the pocket with the cords around the cap also tending to loosen the cap as I twisted the bottle to pull it out. I think the issue is that there is just too much stretch mesh in these pockets and it is not compressive enough. Less material, let the stretch expand and hold.
[Very hot day down in a Colorado canyon – appreciated the hydration bladder, just need to figure out the best way to attach it up front]
Mike: Trying out the Race Vest with a hydration bladder turned the tide of my opinion about this vest. I could definitely see it serving well as a “Race” vest for the summer months. Many are familiar with UD’s vests, so if you know that those front pockets work for you, then it opens up the back compartment for more storage and the vest can actually accommodate a lot of gear for a longer race. Overall, I’m not sold on the Comfort Cinch technology. I think without that, the kangaroo pocket could be designed differently and work much better. The overall comfort of the vest is very good, and quite accommodating for small to medium sized loads of gear. My ultimate recommendation on this one would be a “try”. If you would like the adjustment provided by the Comfort Cinch, and feel like the arrangement of storage options could work for you, it can be a solid choice.
Sam: If I could figure out the right size flask the Race Vest would be a winner. I am going to next try a Nathan insulated soft flask which stands on its own, even empty, and which is quite long as well. The Race Vest is for sure comfortable and breathable in heat, if a bit oversized in my medium even with the Cinch 3.0 due to the thin unstructured materials upfront. Interestingly at the back the fit is more solid, again credit to the Cinch 3.0 which essentially wraps the lower back. I would like to see a second shoulder zip pocket, an easier to reach kangaroo pocket and some kind of closure for the outer rear compartment, maybe velcro.
In the future as I figure out the bottles the Race Vest will be my choice for 1-3 hour runs in heat where a liter of water, phone, and a few gels are what I need to carry due to its lightweight and breathability. I will also try it with a 1.5 L bladder leaving front pockets for the rest of my gear as Mike suggests for longer runs. At $125 including bottles (if they work for you and I think the vest and pockets would work better for me if I sized down) the Race Vest is a decent value.
Salomon Sense Pro 5
Mike: The Salomon vest fits just as well, and even better than the Race Vest as it really wraps the body. The material is also quite thin and lightweight and I don’t find much difference in terms of breathability. Fit-wise, the Salomon for me rides slightly higher up on the neck and the UD is just a bit lower down on the shoulders. The SP5 holds bottles more securely up front, and features larger stash pockets and a single zipper pocket. The SP5 also features shoulder pockets which are highly useful for smaller items. Rear storage is comparable but the SP5 kangaroo pocket feels slightly easier to access. SP5 is also custom quiver compatible which seals the deal for me.
Patagonia Slope Runner Endurance
Mike similar in storage volume, the SRE, like the Salomon SP5, features tighter front bottle pockets which are designed for taller, slimmer soft flasks. There’s also larger stash pockets over the bottle pockets. The SRE has a larger single kangaroo pocket which compresses and holds gear well, utilizing bungee on the sides and shoulders to stabilize the load. The SRE has a single zipper pocket on the outside rear of the pack which is useful to secure items that don’t need to be readily available. The front stash pockets are deep enough to secure items up front. I find the SRE pole storage better as the shoulder bungees can be used to tightly secure the top of the poles to the chest. The SRE is also hydration bladder compatible.
UltrAspire Basham Vest (RTR Review)
Mike: This is also a great race vest, and it’s my go to for any race where poles are not needed and water/aid stations are reasonably close together. I find the lower rear bottle pocket to be the most stable spot to keep a 16 oz bottle with zero bounce. You can also use the vertical rear pocket for an additional bottle, but similar to the UD Race Vest’s front pockets, it’s a bit loose and you’ll have some movement. The body footprint is much less with the UA, so it’s more breathable than the UD in hot weather. I love it for racing in the aforementioned conditions, but if I need more water or gear, the UD race vest would provide that.
Salomon Sense Pro 10 (RTR Review)
Sam:The 10L Salomon is more clothing-like, fits all bottles well and securely and has far more front capacity and usable on the go capacity. Outback the giant zippered compartment can be left open if not needed for ventilation and used for lots of extra clothing and gear if needed making it a fine day pack cold weather run pack as well. I do think the Race Vest is slightly more breathable and comfortable in heat. The Sense Pro 10 is considerably more expensive at $180 to the $125 here and if all you need is some hydration carry capacity and a few essentials is a better value but for any more substantial use and you want one vest for all uses the Salomon is the way to go.
Ultimate Direction 2022 Race Vests are available at Ultimate Direction and at our partners below