Ultimate Direction offers 3 new packs in November.
I noticed Anton (Tony) Krupicka posted about this on Facebook and had to go check it out because I just bought a hydration pack a month ago. I bought an UltrAspire Fastpack. If you click on the link you will notice the Fastpack is one of the largest packs in the UltrAspire catalog whereas most people are wanting a very light minimal pack for race day like the ones Anton is promoting. I'm not anticipating wearing any backpack any time soon in a race. I wore mine for the Coastal 50k and it was overkill. I had mini-maps and aid stations marked on elevation charts, gels, sports beans, MetRx Bars, band-aids for blisters, creams for chafing, a small compass & tiny flashlight. I carried my smart phone for tunes and the little magnetic sweat proof pocket had Salt Caps in it. Basically everything you would need if you were out for a long desolate training run with enough room leftover to carry multi-day camping gear. This pack is not specific to running. It's made for "fastpacking" for multiple days.
During a race the aid stations should have all that you need. A small racing pack to facilitate carrying a lot of water and a few trail snacks is plenty. That may even be overkill on a 50k where you could get away with just a waist pack with a bottle or two. The Coastal 50k was my first ultra event and carrying all that stuff gave me peace of mind knowing that whatever happened I was covered. My next 50k is in a few weeks and like I said I wont be wearing any backpack any time soon in a race. I'm going with my (1) 20oz bottle Nathan waist pack that was a gift from my marathon running brother. I will supplement that with my Amphipod handheld.
If you are in the market for a backpack style hydration vest I really like what I see of these new Signature Series Models from Ultimate Direction. The main reason is the bottles up front. All 3 models have the bottles up front. If you wish to have a bladder & hose in the back you can, as all 3 are designed with that in mind. That is a rare luxury in the hydration pack market.
I first saw the bottles up front idea while watching a documentary on James Cracknell and the Marathon de Sable with my other marathon brother and his marathon wife. When looking for a pack a few weeks later I could not find a model with bottles up front in any of my local running stores. My brother on the same hunt succeeded. He lives in the UK and bought a brand that is not well known in the States, the RaidLight Ultralight Olmo 5L Backpack. I asked him if the bottles up front idea was as awesome as it looked and he said "Absolutely!" Thats the only evidence I need to be convinced that bottles up front is the way to go. 3 elites, my brother and my imagination all agree.
Lets take a closer look at the 3 models starting from smallest to largest. First up is the AK Race Vest. It is the smallest and lightest of the 3 models weighing in at 6oz and with the (2) 20oz bottles it weighs 11oz. That's really lightweight. This is my favorite of the 3 models simply because it will do all that I need in a race and I already own a pack that can do more. The standout features to me on this pack is the strapping systems. Yes, plural. The dual chest straps on a height adjustable rail system is a useful new feature as well as the top chest strap being a little stretchy to help breathing. I have to admit that my UltrAspire is a little chest constricting. Take note of just how small this unit is. It does not go below the chest or upper back area meaning there is no strap around the waist area. That's why this is a "race vest".
The next size up is the SJ Ultra Vest. For those who do not own a pack yet and are looking for an all around pack that can support you on a long desolate run or be small enough and light enough to use on race day, this is your pack. The main reason I say this is the storage abilities on this pack. Unlike the smaller AK vest this unit has storage on the side lats which would be my food on one side and "stuff" (on the other side) that comes in handy while in motion like a small map or trail name list. You don't want to have to pull over and take off the pack to reach in the back to pull this stuff out. Reaching around to your side and pulling a snack or a trail list out to keep you on track is really great. My one criticism is the "almost dry" electrolyte pouch with the velcro closure. Did Scott say "almost dry" or something like that? My pack has a sweat proof pocket that is just that because its closure is achieved with magnets. Not velcro. You want salt caps or NUUN tabs to stay dry lest you leave a trail of foam down the trail bubbling forth from your velcro pocket, but I digress. The 2 sided storage in the back is a great idea. The bladder side will be wet on the interior from your bladder sweating, if your carrying a cold bladder or wet on the outside from refilling it. The other side of the pack will likely be dry(er) and that's nice for your poncho, arm warmers or whatever you want to keep dry.
The largest pack in the Signature Series is the PB Adventure Vest. This is the pack I should have waited and bought! This pack holds up to 4 big bottles and a bladder system. That is the first selling point to me, especially if you like bottles over bladders. The second is the cinching abilities with the elastic pulls. I have fiddled with my packs straps while running down the trail and it is rather cumbersome. To have the pulls right there where you need them and one second later you have a perfect fit is astounding. The fact that this pack carries so much in a super small, chest area only, vest is amazing. The price is right on this $150 pack. I paid a little more than that for my pack and honestly believe that this pack is superior to mine in terms of what I'm looking to do with a pack.
Whats your opinion in the matter? What do you use on training runs? On race day? Love to get your feed back and if anybody ends up buying one of these packs please come back and tells us about it.
See ya in the woods,