My friend and running buddy Scott Noack (www.DirtyTrailShoes.com) and I were talking the other day and thought it would be rad to do some sort of collaborative post since both of us are blogging nuts. We put our heads together and came up with the idea to talk about some hydration vests. BOOM! Scott is going to talk about the Orange Mud HydraQuiver Single Barrel and the Ultimate Direction Anton Krupicka (“AK”) Race Vest. I’ll be covering the Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin (“PB”) Adventure Vest, and the Nathan HPL 020 Hydration Vest. There are a lot of hydra-vests on the market of course, but this small group covers the bases pretty well from the most minimal all the way up to something an adventure racer would reach for. This is Part X of the series. Check it out and let us know what your favorite vest is!
Overview of The Hydra Vests in this Roundup
- Part I – Orange Mud Single Barrel: A minimalist vest that offers an alternative to carrying a handheld. (Read more at Dirty Trail Shoes)
- Part II – Nathan HPL 020:A small vest that carries a 70 oz hydration bladder and provides just enough room for some snacks or small items. (read more)
- Part III – Ultimate Direction AK: A small vest with the ability to carry two 20 oz bottles AND up to a 70 oz hydration bladder, or other gear. (Read more at Dirty Trail Shoes)
- Part IV – Ultimate Direction PB 2.0: A large vest with the ability to carry two 20 oz bottles, up to a 70 oz hydration bladder + room for clothing/other gear.
Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest (2.0)
The “PB” is Peter Bakwin’s signature vest. For those wondering “who is Peter Bakwin?”, he’s an ultra runner/mountain runner who holds several speed records on long distance routes. He’s also the man behind the FKT website, and of course an Ultimate Direction sponsored athlete. You can read more about Peter here if you’re interested.
Specs at a Glance
The PB is the largest of Ultimate Direction’s signature series hydration vests, sporting a claimed 11 liters of storage capacity. As running vests go, this is pretty big and is verging on being more of a small backpack than a vest, however it retains the close fit of a running vest. Yes, it’s overkill for an organized trail marathon with frequent aid stations (but will get the job done if it’s all ya got), however anyone needing to carry extra clothing, water, food, or gear during their long distance runs will understand the role of a vest of this size.
- Carrying Capacity: 11 liters
- Fluid Carrying Capacity: 2x 20 oz bottles (included) up front, 1x 70 oz bladder in back (not included)
- Weight: 16 oz
- MSRP: $159
- Options: 70 oz hydration bladder ($32.95) or 100 oz bladder ($34.95)
Having briefly owned another UD signature vest from the first set of designs (what we might call the “1.0″ versions) the construction of the 2.0 series seems better right away. There has been an improvement in materials used (more on this in a second) and a better adjustment system implemented. After a little tinkering I was able to get it adjusted to my svelt frame, and things were feeling good whilst out runnin’ the local hills. Since my break in period I’ve used the PB on a self-supported run of the Zion Traverse, as well as other long training runs and I have been mostly happy with it for my needs.
The PB comes in two size offerings: S/M and M/L. I am rather tall and thin (6′-3, 165 lbs) and chose the S/M. When it’s all said and done, the vest rides very close to my body with minimal bounce and the fit works well for me, however there are some specifics to be aware of.
The adjustment system consists of a double sternum strap up front, two side adjustment straps, and a rudimentary adjustment on top of each shoulder. Lengthening or shortening the side straps makes a big difference in how the vest rides and will determine whether the bottle position is straight up, fully splayed out, or somewhere in between (I prefer nearly-vertical). The one bummer is that there is no “give” in the adjustment system, so once it’s set, you’re sort of locked into it. No elastic components means no give as you move around. Some people won’t like this, although it doesn’t bother me (luckily). UD would get major props I’m sure if they developed a more dynamic design.
Cramming a bunch of stuff into the vest means re-adjusting everything. For example, on training runs I don’t go out fully loaded. The adjustment is dialed in and it’s good to go, however for an all day 40-50 mile run with a maxed out load I have to re-adjust it to get it to ride the same way. The need for some adjustment shouldn’t come as a surprise, but with a very full load I could just barely get the vest to ride where I like it to.
Craftsmanship is very good overall. All body-contact areas are a large mesh with decent breathability, and the storage compartments are made of a stretch material and/or Silnylon in areas that don’t need to stretch much. I did find one issue… Where the vest contacts my shoulder blade area, the seam on one side was more pronounced than on the other side. This created a hot spot and it was not comfortable! Later I replaced this vest (with another PB, explanation forthcoming) and both seams were fine… small difference in the sewing QA process I suppose… no more moleskin on my shoulder, woohoo!
A change from the “1.0″ designs is the lack of Cuben Fiber in all 2.0 models. Cuben is a very light and waterproof material, but it’s tricky to work with and thus is uncommon in many “mainstream” retail products. Hats off to UD for picking up on the ultralight nature of Cuben Fiber and taking a shot at it, but the vests had issues with tearing at the stitches and so it has been replaced with Silnylon. For this application, Silnylon is the way to go, the difference will be negligible in almost all respects but the vests will benefit from greater durability.
The shoulder pockets are zippered, which is nice, but during my Zion run one of the zippers broke and was not repairable. I had a camera in there and it was a tight fit. It must have been too much stress and the zipper burst. Ultimate Direction was very good with customer service, offered to repair the vest, then just replaced it instead. The turn around was quick and the way it was handled was very professional, leaving me with nothing but good praise after that experience.
The PB has plenty of features. There are two zippers on back – one to access a the main compartment and one to access a smaller secondary compartment. A third zipper on the side provides access to just the hydration bladder (if using one) which is somewhat segregated from the main storage area. It is held in place by a velcro tab which simply loops through the closure on the hydration bladder and a flap of lightweight material that has a shock cord threaded through it. The process of getting it in and out is not completely fiddle free, but once secured the bladder doesn’t move around which is the main point. The drink tube can be routed out the right or left sides and is held in place by a couple elastic loops.
It’s difficult to give a sense of how much space the pack has with a full 2 liters of water in it, but I attempted to show this with the photos below. The second photo I stuffed the pack with a somewhat large camp pillow to fill it up (along with the 2L bladder).
Up front there are of course two sleeves for your water bottles. Having bottles up front is great for access, and when carrying gear (or more water) in back it provides some balance to the load. This does take some getting used to though. I have never experienced chaffing, but in the beginning I had a few episodes of sore ribs where the bottles were riding. With proper adjustment and regular use I have not continued to have that issue.
Each of the water bottle sleeves has two small vertical pockets along its sides which are good for stuffing energy bars, shot blocks, or gels into. Below each bottle there is yet another small pocket which are handy for things like chapstick, medicines, etc… Each shoulder has a zippered pocket which is about the size of a handheld GPS, smartphone, or a small camera. That’s already 8 storage spaces in front! There are also two zippered side pockets which can each hold a couple of energy bars or similar sized things. Lastly, the side adjustment straps have their own stash pockets which are held closed by velcro. I really appreciate that the straps have somewhere to be stowed so they’re not flapping around everywhere, that $^!# can get annoying!
The back of the pack has a shock cord which can be used to compress the pack and/or lash more gear to the outside. There are also several loops there to aid with attaching more gear. I’ve lashed on a pair of Black Diamond Z-Poles and they carried very nicely back there.
If I could change just one thing about the PB vest, I’d add some elasticity into the adjustment system. The fit is very static. Aside from that, I might add a couple more liters of carrying capacity in back. For me 13-14 liters would be about perfect. It’s always nice to have a little room to spare, rather than a fully stuffed pack.
Final Thoughts on the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest
It’s a nice vest. I’ll continue to see regular use from mine. It’s not perfect but no product is. As mentioned, the adjustment system could use some tweaking and the lack of a dynamic fit means for some folks it’s simply not going to be comfortable no matter how it’s adjusted. The water bottles and many pockets up front are easily accessible, while the back and the far side pockets are hard/impossible to get into without unbuckling the vest and swinging it around. The side straps are neatly tucked away and everything feels “one with me”. For the ability to carry a lot of water and/or gear the PB is a good candidate as it fills a role that the small vests out there cannot. Hike It. Like It.