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The Pros and Cons of UD’s Ultra Vesta Hydration Pack

The Ultra Vesta is a comfortable, no-nonsense running pack for anyone who needs to carry more than the basics when they head out the door.

Ultimate Direction released the women-specific Ultra Vesta in 2013 and made major updates in 2016. The vest continues to sell because it effectively combines fit and functionality while carrying out a cumbersome task—running with a lot of stuff. Compact and comfortable, the running pack is well-suited for trail runners, run commuters or any athlete looking for a single solution for storage and hydration needs on the go.

The Fit

Getting a running pack to fit just right often requires some fiddling over the course of a few runs. I played around most with the two sternum straps, not only with their tightness but also with their positions across my chest. They’re affixed to slide rails on the harness, so it’s easy to make small adjustments, but the straps also stay put once you’ve settled on placement. You can further customize the fit using adjustable side straps that connect the harness to the bottom of the pack. The only thing I don’t like about the sternum straps are their clasps: You have to insert the latch into the body of the side buckle just right, otherwise it won’t properly fasten. I’ve often thought the straps were latched, only to have them pop open later. Make sure you hear the buckle click into place to know it’s secure.

With a 35-inch chest measurement, I went with the M/L. I wore it comfortably with a few layers in the spring, as well as with a thin tank top in the summer, though I do have to tighten the sternum straps quite a bit when I’m in summer clothing. I’ve never had an issue with the pack bouncing around.

I mainly use the Ultra Vesta for run commuting. The longest I’ve worn it for was 15 miles, but have clocked several double-digit runs in high humidity. It’s snug, as it should be, but it breathes well and wicks away sweat. I’ve experienced some minor chafing on my back under my sports bra, as well as on my chest and shoulders where my skin contacts the pack, but applying a chafe-prevention product solves that problem.

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Airwall mesh harness, 70D ripstop nylon and 240g Darlington Power Mesh pack
2 Body Bottle 500s (16.9 oz/500mL capacity). The vest also accepts a reservoir up to 70oz (2L) but it is not included.
8.6oz (11.1oz with bottles. The Ultimate Direction 70oz reservoir weighs 4.31oz)
XS/S (23-36 inches at chest) and M/L (26-43 inches)
Main compartment size:
Both sizes are 9.4 inches high and 5.7 inches deep. The XS/S is 7.9 inches wide, and the M/L is 11.8 inches wide.

How it Functions

Not only does the Ultra Vesta fit comfortably, it also does its job well. However, I ran into some issues with its functionality, particularly with the hydration systems. The manufacturer specs say the Ultra Vesta comes with two Body Bottle 500s, but the product images online appear to show the Body Bottle 500+ sitting in the vest harness, and mine came with 500+s. Both models are soft bottles made of FDA-approved, BPA-free polyethylene.

The valve on the 500+ allows you to suck out the excess air in the bottle, which means there’s no sloshing while running. The bottles collapse in on themselves as you drain them of water, which saves space and eliminates sloshing, but it makes the bottles difficult to drink from or remove from the holster for a quick refill.

Despite how comfortable they are to wear, the Body Bottles can be tricky to drink out of, partially because they collapse and partially because the mouth-to-bottle angle is unnatural, even with full bottles. Using a hydration reservoir eliminates the drinking-angle issue, but it comes with many more annoyances.

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First of all, you have to buy it separately. The 70 oz reservoir is listed at $32.95 on the Ultimate Direction website. The reservoir is pretty easy to clean, but compared to the much smaller Body Bottles, it’s a pain to wash and dry. Even after a thorough wash, the water tasted like plastic the first time I used the reservoir, but it faded with increased use and additional washing.

Most important: The water in the reservoir sloshes. The more tightly packed the main compartment is, the less the water moves, but that’s not helpful if you wanted to use the vest primarily for hydration. At the very least, the reservoir stays in place, so your pack never feels unbalanced. Unless you need the greater capacity of the reservoir or strongly prefer the setup, stick with the Body Bottles.

Storage Options

The Ultra Vesta impresses with its versatile and efficient storage solutions. The main compartment has zippers on two ends, making it easy to grab something from the bottom of your pack. The main compartment has small openings in the bottom corners, so store smaller items in other spots.

Anything that doesn’t go in the main compartment can slide into the ultra-stretchy, exterior mesh pouch, on top of which is a compression bungee for keeping everything snug (or storing even more stuff on the outside of the pack). Between the mesh pouch and the main compartment are two zipper pockets lined with nylon—perfect for things like your keys or wallet. In fact, the top zipper pocket has a lanyard and elastic band for keeping your keys silently in place during your run (and easy to find after).

There’s additional storage on the front: On the bottom of the right harness strap is a mesh, zipper compartment (my iPhone 7 in a case fits easily but snugly), and on the other harness strap is a mesh compartment that Velcro shut.

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Other Things to Note

The Ultra Vesta also has loops for storing trekking poles and an emergency whistle. The emergency whistle has a little pocket inside the left bottle holster, but it doesn’t often stay there and, as a result, annoyingly bounces against the plastic bottle cap.

Washing the vest is easy: I tossed it in the cold water wash, hung it to dry and wore it the next day. As far as style goes, the Ultra Vesta is an attractive indigo with orange and hot pink accents on the zippers and bungee cords—but that’s the only option. Now that the Ultra Vesta 4.0 is out ($134.95), the Ultra Vesta is easy to find on sale. I paid $74.97 at my local running store (before tax), and the price on Ultimate Direction’s website is $107.96 as of this writing.