Monday, March 31, 2014

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 Review

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0
With the Tahoe 200 looming large in my future, I have already started to work on trying to figure out what gear I am going to need.  Unlike a typical 100 miler, the aid stations are much farther apart.  This creates a bit of a dilemma for me because I am going to have to carry more than I am used to.  For my daily runs I like to run as minimal as possible.  Give me a pair of shorts, a good pair of socks and shoes and let me loose in the woods.  Unfortunately, that lack of equipment usually is not possible for longer races.

Front view with bottles
I have many hydration packs, but still haven't embraced using them unless I absolutely have to.  They slosh and pull the back of my shirt up.  The drinking tube freezes in the winter.  And I still haven't found one that works when I'm not wearing a shirt.  And worse of all, I find that I just don't drink as much when I don't have a bottle in my hand.

Back view
But the biggest downside for me is that it doesn't work with my fueling strategy.  Over the years I have perfected my nutrition.  Basically, it involves sipping Hammer Sustained Energy (3 scoops per 28oz bottle) alternating with sipping water.  That means that I need 2 bottles.  But after a while (like, maybe 100 miles....) you get really tired of always having your hands tied up.

Bottle holder with pockets on both sides
The UD SJ 2.0 Vest might be able to solve that problem (note - this vest was provided to me free of charge as a media sample).  Rather than using a bladder, it uses 2 pockets to hold bottles.  So I can now mix one up with SE and fill the other with water.  And I don't have to carry them.

Inside view, notice the super lightweight material
I was super excited to check out the vest.  First looks reveal a very "techy" piece of equipment.  And it seems to weigh about nothing.  According to their website it only weighs 11oz (15 with the included empty bottles).  It has a ton of well placed pockets and cleaver ideas, including an emergency whistle.

Emergency Whistle
This model fits in the middle of their range of vests.  The most minimal is the AK (Anton Krupicka) and the largest is the PB adventure.  All models are now in their second version with improvements over the originals in materials and features.

On top of Mt. Hancock
I have had the vest for about 6 weeks now.  I have worn it for most of my runs over 20 miles in all types of conditions from freezing wet runs to a hot 22 mile run at Red Rock Canyon.  For such a small pack, it looks like it will hold a ton.  In reality, it is not a very big pack.  But if you are looking for a backpack to use for weeks in the woods you wouldn't even be considering something like this.

At Red Rocks Canyon in NV (I took the vest off for the picture)
The first thing I noticed was that it really stays put.  There is hardly any bouncing.  The bottles do make more noise than a pack with a bladder, but I got used to that pretty quickly.   I was very excited to find that it doesn't pull up the back of my shirt either.  I find that I drink more having the bottles where I can see them.  And of course, I can now drink 2 different liquids because I have two bottles.  Having my hands free is liberating.  After using it maybe a dozen or more times, there is no sign of wear or tear at all.  It still looks brand new.

When I wear it with a winter type shirt I find it fits great and is super comfortable.  But when I wore it in the desert with only a thin running shirt I found that full bottles bouncing against my chest was not entirely comfortable.  I have an extremely bony chest.  I look just like E.T. without my shirt, but with more tattoos.  Actually, looking at the picture, he might have more of chest than me... I will be testing it out for much longer runs when the summer gets here before I decide on using it for the big race.

Smart phone pouch

As far as storage goes, there are a lot of compartments.  I have found it a little bit difficult to get to the side pockets when running, but with a little practice it's not too bad.  One thing I would like to see them change are the "smart phone pouches" that reside under the bottle holders.  I have an iphone 5.  While it does fit width wise, it is to tall to be fully encased.  I won't put my phone there for fear of it eventually bouncing out.  But I find it fits rather nicely in the side pocket without any discomfort.

Handy Velcro pill pocket under each bottle holder

I am still waiting for the official list of gear that we will be required to carry for the race.  If everything I need can fit in this vest it is most likely what I am going to use.  It is a great alternative to a traditional hydration pack/vest.

Super lightweight airy material
Adjustable clips slide for better fit
Outside zippered pocket
Which also has an interior Velcro opening
The Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 is available on the Ultimate Direction website for $129.95.  Full specs are also on that page for those of you who want to know every little detail.


Ian said...

I had some of the same issues with the first version of the SJ vest. The bottles felt like they were bouncing way too much and would bruise my ribs, so I switched out the bottles. Check out the 16oz Amphipod bottles (here). The bottle sometimes leak from the top, but they do the job when I am running. I still think Ultimate direction should move to flatter bottles for the vests, but I haven't seen any indication that they will. Good review and good luck at the Tahoe 200.

Unknown said...

I also have the same issues with the water bottles. I tried to tighten it up but I still ended up with a bruised lower ribs. I also wore a singlet the first time is used it, and had some chafing on my shoulders and back. Switching to flatter bottle sounds like a good idea, i am thinking of padding the water bottle pocket with some bubble wrap or something.