Gear Review: Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 Hydration Pack
Ultimate Direction is one of those brands that has become synonymous with hydration in the running community, you can’t go to any big trail or ultra run without seeing the logo. I have been test running with the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest for several weeks now and I am back to report back on the updates
Just like the 2.0, the SJ Ultra Vest is named for Scott Jurek, basically one of the world’s greatest distance runners if you weren’t aware. Jurek worked with the folks at UD to design and test the newest version of the Ultra Vest and the output of that partnership is what you see here. He actually used a prototype during his 43 day Appalachian Trail world record run that then fed into design improvements. These made their way into the final model we see today.
Material and Design Changes
The SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 is composed of a flexible Mono Mesh material which cuts down on any skin abrasion and breathes even better keeping you cooler. The material is also more flexible overall so you can pull, stretch, etc without any concern for damaging the unit. Unlike other vests, this model’s larger pockets don’t wrap around your body which should lead to less friction. It also has a wider lateral strap which provides greater stability and also makes it easier to adjust.
Here are some shots of it on body:
Capacity, Storage, and Connections
The 3.0 version has bumped the overall capacity giving you overall storage capacity of 8.5 liters vs 7 liters in the 2.0 version at the same size. In terms of storage you have the following:
- Upper rear pocket for a large bladder (not included, but I tested with a 70oz reservoir).
- Bottom rear area for smaller storage.
- Secure pocket in the base of the back, which is reachable while you’re running.
- On the front there are two long pockets with hold the included two UD soft bottles, but also can handle regular style bottles as well if you aren’t a fan.
- A Small velcro pocket above the bottle area.
- Zipper pocket below long chest pocket that is made of stretch mesh (used this spot for my phone).
- Additional stretch pocket on the opposite side for edibles or other.
Shots of various pockets here:
The net result is you have plenty of room and then on top of that you also have awesome little trekking pole holders on the front.
For the last several weeks, the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 has been my companion. It hit the road and trails with me, I ran it fully loaded with reservoir, bottles, and snacks and then I also ran it light with bottles only. My first comment is that the base weight on this thing is ridiculous. If you throw this on without the water, then the ~200g of weight is basically unnoticeable. Caveat that with its super high tear strength, so they packed durability into a lightweight package. It also handled inclement weather nicely as well including some solid rain dirt, dust, and its clear the unit is solidly weather resistant.
Most long runs find me going through the same routine. The night before, I will load up the dry stuff and get everything into its proper place. Every time I did it with the 3.0, I found that routine very methodical because there is clearly a well thought out place for everything. Gels/blocks check, bars check, phone check, bottles ready, etc. The front of the unit felt like a swiss army knife and I loved it. It never moves in run and things stay in place well. The reservoir on the other hand feels a little thrown in. It works well, I just found it to be a little prone to movement and would love to see some sort of tether for the reservoir itself.
My one big catch is the sizing and I realize I should have tried it a bunch first, but the unit basically runs a full size smaller. So if you are a Medium, then buy a Large, for Smalls, get a Medium, etc. I also recommend some solid testing before you totally commit because for me at the 6 to 8 mile marks without fail, the deep neck chafing begins. It feels fine at first, but then comes on quick so get in front of it and get those sizes right first!
So my biggest caveat for the SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 is the sizing. Make sure you try this on and even then wear it around a bit because it definitely runs very small. I got chafed on most runs at a size that would be “normal” for me from other brands. I wasn’t a huge fan of the reservoir pouch as I think the actual reservoir moved too much and sloshed a bit excessively. However, the front of this unit is super well thought out. From the bottle pockets, to the various storage options, the association and insight from Jurek on this clearly paid dividends. The usefulness here and the front bottles quickly made me forget the hydration reservoir issues.
Technical Stats, Pricing & Availability
- MSRP: $124.95
- Available: Now