I got a new hydration pack for my birthday, and it is amazing. I got an Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0. I used to wear a Nathan hydration vest, which was a hand me down from Endorphin Dude, and it has served me well over the last year or so. But it would chafe my bicep if I wore a singlet, and it didn’t have enough carrying capacity. I was running out of room for nutrition during longer runs, and sometimes I would run out of water.
I went to several running stores and tried on a few vests. I tried the Solomon vests, and while I liked the capacity, I thought they sat to high on my ribs, and I couldn’t access the pockets without taking it off. I tried a couple of other vests and they didn’t seem to work. They just didn’t fit well. I tried on an Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek 3.0 vest, and it was great! The only problem with that vest is there didn’t seem to be enough storage.
It could handle a 2L bladder (which is not included), plus it contained two 0.5 L soft bottles in the front. It had plenty of room for gels and stuff, but there wasn’t much room for my running jacket or some other random things I like to carry. Then, I found the Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0, it had more pockets for a lot more storage. A LOT MORE.
Note: For those of you in America (like me), and don’t know the conversion between the metric volume (liters) and standard volume (ounces, pints, quarts, etc) measurements. 1 liter is about 34 ounces, or 1.06 quarts. Basically, a liter is a wee bit bigger than a quart.
The vest has a spot in the back for the water bladder, and there is room for some cargo in that area as well. Plus the two 0.5 L soft bottles in the front (you can get 20 oz (0.6 L) hard bottles in those pockets as well). There are two small pockets on your clavicles, one is waterproof, two pockets for gels in front of the water bottle pouches, an open pocket on the left that can hold another water bottle or phone, a zipper pocket on the right that hold food, plus two pockets on the side by the bottom of your ribs. Behind the water bladder, there is an open pouch that you could shove a jacket or poncho, and two pockets on the outside of that. There is also a bunch of criss-crossing bungee on the back to shove whatever back there, a tent maybe. The brochure also says that the little string things on the front can hold trekking poles, and there are loops in the back for ice axes. You could probably put in a kitchen sink. Well, maybe one of the camping kitchen sinks I have seen at REI.
I had to search all over town to find this vest, as none of the running stores carried it in stock. But I did find it, and once I tried it one, it was amazing.
So, empty, with the bladder (which is not included, BTW) and water bottles, the vest weighs less than a pound (0.5 kg). Once you fill everything with approximately 3L of water, you are looking at about 7.5 lbs (3.5 kg), plus whatever else you load up with. I added another small water bottle (0.3L) with pickle juice, plus all my other crap, and I think all together it was less than 10 lbs (4.5 kg).
While this is a lot of weight, I am pretty confident I could go a solid 25 miles on hilly trail with no support, and probably farther on road. I’ve gone 20 with my old vest, which was 2L and two- 10oz (0.3L) bottles (one of which was on my hip belt and bounced all the damn time), I figure with the extra fluids and nutrition I can carry in this new vest, that 25 miles is pretty obtainable.
I have put a full 3L bladder into pack, but I have not attempted to run with it. It does fit, but I found that it was a lot of weight, and I had not added anything else to it, but it did fit. If you needed the extra fluids, it can be done, but you are adding another 2.2 lbs (1kg) to your pack.
Another great thing about this vest is that I can access nearly all the pockets while I am wearing it. I can’t get into the bladder pocket, and I can’t access the upper pocket in the back, but that is it. But I would take the pack off to refill the bladder, and anything else in that upper pocket would require me to take my pack off (first aid, jacket, etc.).
So far, I have done three 14+ miles runs with this pack, and a couple of shorter ones to get used to it. I have been on roads, trail, altitude, sea level, and just walking around. There have been no issues. I haven’t had any chafing, or discomfort.
I am not that excited about the soft water bottles, but I figured out the trick to them. You don’t take them out of their pouches to drink. Just lean over, bite the valve, and drink. You can suck on it or squeeze it, and it works okay. You look silly, but you will be hydrated. Plus, runners don’t worry that we look silly. Have you seen some of the outfits we wear? (Says the guy who wears bright yellow shorts). The other issue is that I am still trying to dial in how to secure the end of the bladder hose, I think I have it figured out, but it is a work in progress.
On a side note, if you are doing a short run, or meeting folks, you can stuff a small thermos in a front pouch of your favorite warm beverage.
The other thing with the soft water bottles is that your electrolyte drink may stain them. I have been using some lemon lime flavored mix, which stained my bottles yellow. They look like…. Well…. yeah, like that.
I have not tested the water-proof-ness of any of the pockets yet, so I would keep important things in plastic bags if you a) are running in the rain, b) are going to fording rivers (i.e. the Rucky Chucky), or c) are a sweaty bastard like I am. It is probably a good idea to do that anyway, but that is just me being paranoid.
Overall, it is a great vest and it works for me. It retails a $150, without a bladder, which is about the upper range for some of the vests I have seen. My old Nathan vest retails for $75 and does come with a 2L bladder, but some of the Soloman vests were closer to $180, and did not include a bladder. The Nathan vest worked well, but just didn’t have the storage I needed for those longer runs. 2L bladders usually run in the $20-ish range.
Note, if you do get one of these vests, they come in sizes. I am 5’8” and 165 lbs (1.7m and 75 kg) and the medium fits me great. I could fit into a large, but I had to cinch the straps all the way down. The small was too small. Ultimate Direction does sell women’s vests, but they don’t have the same configuration as this one. There is a Jenny Ultra and a Jenny Adventure (by Jenny Jurek) for the same $150. A look at pictures shows that they don’t have the same amount of pockets, but it are pretty similar to the AK Mountain Vest.