Gear review – Ultimate Direction Signature Series SJ Vest

Since starting my training for a 100 km ultra in June I’ve been having a pleasure of spending ridiculous amount of time … no, not running, though I do that occasionally too…  researching all the awesome trail running gear! Apart from the obvious shoes, clothes and head torches, the next most important thing is of course your backpack!

I find that women have been really deprived in the backpack department, it is a sort of trail running discrimination going on here. Every backpack that I have tried and tested just does not fit. Yes, you guessed it right, it does not fit because of boobs. You see, unlike all the awesomely fast and lean female ultra-runners that do 100 milers for breakfast, I am not that lean and pretty gifted in the boob department which becomes a problem when choosing a backpack. Gosh, I think I am talking too much about boobs now and I will surely get some requests to prove my words with photos.

Anyhow, after some research and loads of deliberation I had a choice between Salomon SLab 5 and Ultimate Direction Signature Series SJ vest. My dearest BF has got himself a Salomon and absolutely swears by it, but being a rebel that I am I decided to be different and get SJ vest. It has absolutely nothing to do with me thinking that Scott Jurek is awesome (despite being vegan) and is my ultra-running hero. So very well-calculated and informed decision was made here.

I was finally able to order it online on Amazon and it arrived a couple of weeks back.  I took it out on quite a few road and trail runs of up to 4-5 hours as well as a 36 km race I ran last weekend.

Fresh out of the box!

Fresh out of the box!

Now you must be telling me, Tania, STFU and finally get down to the actual review. Ok ok, here is goes.

Positives:

  1. It FITS AMAZING! I got a small size as this is the one according to measurements on Ultimate Direction site and it is just like a glove! I didn’t even have to adjust anything. No bouncing, no chafing – you basically do not notice the damn thing when running. It has stretchy straps on the front that you can slide up or down to adjust the fit so should not be a problem for anyone.
  2.  Separate word on front bottles. My initial fear was that mounting water bottles on the front over my boobs will make me look like Pamela Anderson impersonator, however surprisingly enough the bottles feel comfortable and do not annoy me at all.
  3. The Vest comes with 2 bottles and I absolutely love them, especially their kicker valve, and it also comes with a whistle that is normally a mandatory requirement for the majority of trail races.
  4. The vest is extremely light and well-made – craftsmanship and materials are pretty impressive. Cuben fiber that they are using for the vest is extremely strong and light as well as moisture resistant – simply perfect. The vest dries very quickly and is super-breathable. Side and back compartments are made of stretchy material and can accommodate a tonne of stuff! It is actually surprising how much fits into the back pocket and how expandable it is – according to the site the total capacity of the back-pack is 9.2 liters. I didn’t measure it, so I believe them.
  5. The vest design is well thought through. It has so many pockets and compartment for everything – ipod, phone, money, gels, bars, valuables – you name it.  One of the back compartments can accommodate a bladder as well. It also has holders for trekking poles and Ice Axe – which is an absolute necessity for me as I use an ice axe on my runs in a desert in 30+ degree heat like.. all the time!
  6. I read in some reviews that people find it difficult to access mesh side-pockets because they are positioned somewhat towards the back. It was not a problem for me, but could probably be related to how flexible you are.
  7. Last but not least is the price. 125 $ for a vest of this quality, including 2 bottles – not too shabby!
Me wearing the vest during last weekend Big Stinker

Me wearing the vest during last weekend Big Stinker

Negatives (yeah, there are some):

  1.  Hydration pack does not come with the vest and is not easy to find one that fits into the very short back pocket. I am using some cheap Quechua bladder that seems to be fitting well, but most of the bladders that I see around, something like Camelbak or North Face, seem to be too long.
  2.  If you keep your full bottles on the front and do not carry anything equally heavy in the back compartment (like a hydration bladder) the vest tends to pull forward. Not a big problem for me as I drink like a camel and always have a bladder at the back, but it could be for someone who wants to run with only 2 bottles.

Verdict: I’d give it 9 out of 10 – super comfortable, practical, lightweight and very reasonably priced (stingy 9 only because the vest does not include a hydration bladder). Definitely my choice for an upcoming ultra!

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