Monday, November 03, 2014

Ultra Vesta Review

A few weeks ago I became completely enamored with the idea of buying a hydration pack. It felt like such a silly desire, considering I had a four bottle Fuel Belt that I loved and was (mostly) serving me well, so I couldn't really justify spending the money on something new. But, wait! It was almost my birthday! I knew financial gifts from parents and grandparents would be coming in the mail and I knew exactly what silly desire I would spend them on: a hydration pack!

It turned out to be a very wise move on my part and I found a pack that is almost totally perfect.

I did a bit of research, but it is so hard to tell online what kind of hydration pack will work when you have never even put one on. One that kept coming across my path in my research was the Ultra Vesta by Ultimate Direction, so my interest was piqued. 

On a rainy weekday afternoon I drove across town to a new-to-me running shop that my friend had raved about, which was the Seven Hills Running Shop. I walked in and the friendly person working that day directed me towards an Ultra Vesta pack that had been used a couple of times and returned, so it was marked down 50%. I put it on, stood in front of the mirror for about 5 seconds to determine I didn't look absolutely ridiculous squeezing in my boobs, and was sold. 

Sadly, the shop did not have any bladders to go in the pack (the Ultra Vesta comes without a bladder) so I headed straight over to REI. They only had two brand options in store, so I went with the Camelbak Antidote Reservoir in the 50 ounce (or 1.5 liter) size. I have nothing else to compare this bladder to, but it's fine. The water did taste "chemically" the first few times I used it, which was gross.
photo from REI.com

My other complaint, and I am not sure if this is the fault of the Camelbak or the Ultra Vesta, but the bladder has a hook (sort of like the top of a hanger) at the top to help secure it in to the pack. The pack has a velcro strap to hold the bladder in. Between the hook and the velcro strap, they are not effective at securing the bladder and it always slips out. I am not sure why the Camelbak has a hook instead of having that piece of plastic go all the way around and connecting? It's not a HUGE deal, just mildly annoying. I only use water in my bladder and at the advice of the staff person from Seven Hills, I store the bladder in the freezer between runs.

So, back to the Ultra Vesta. 

Ultra Vesta
Photo from UltimateDirection.com

I won't go in to every single detail about this pack because many other online reviews already exist outlining that info (google is your friend!). I just want to share what my personal experience has been with this pack as a new hydration pack user and as a new trail runner. 

The most important thing about this hydration pack is that it fits me well. I bought the M/L size and from the first time I ran in it it was perfectly comfortable. The straps are easy to adjust, two in front and one on each side. I also do not feel any bouncing when I run. 

The bladder is fairly easy to put in the pack. As previously mentioned there is a velcro loop at the top to hold the bladder up and a web of thin bungee cords to hold the bladder in place. I played with the hose a bit, trying to find the best place for the bite valve. I have settled on pulling the hose out from the back of the back over my right shoulder and looping the bite valve through the gray loop on the middle of the vest on my left side, so the hose crosses over my chest. It seems to work okay. 

It has been tricky for me to adjust to using a hydration pack in that at first I didn't instinctively drink enough water when I wore it. So that's just something I had to get used to and force myself to drink more often. The water in the pack gets pretty warm, but it's not like my water in bottles on a belt was ice cold, so it's not any worse than what I was doing.

One thing I really did not like was using the two plastic bottles in the chest pockets. The ones that UD provides are very, well, square and they pressed in to my chest. I replaced them with one Fuel Belt bottle, I believe it is 10 ounces, and I like that a bit better because it is more rounded. I use the bottle for Gatorade.  

There are plenty of pockets on the pack, which is awesome. I can stuff all of my stuff! My only complaints are: First, the pockets on the front do not comfortably hold my Samsung Galaxy S4 (it's a big phone). Yes, I can shove it in the lower right pocket, but it isn't comfortable to run with it there. I end up storing it in the smaller upper pocket on the back, which holds it securely, but I have no access to my phone without taking the vest off. The other complaint is that the pockets are not water (or sweat) proof! When I run at Cougar Mountain I bring my map and fold it up and put it in a front pocket. By the end of the run it's practically in shambles from getting damp (presumably from sweat). So, when I run with my phone or anything else I don't want wet, I put it in a ziploc baggie before packing it away. 

A blurry photo of me on my first run in the Ultra Vesta. 
For reference, I am 6' tall and have, uh, ample boobage. 

The longest run I have done in the Ultra Vesta is my "30K" that was 20 miles. The vest was great, held all of my food and water (I drank one tiny cup of nuun on the course and that was it!). Zero issues with it during the 30K. I saw so many runners during the race who were wearing packs that were shifting and bouncing all over the place, but not mine!

About to cross the finish line in my Ultra Vesta! 

The only thing I have had come up was after wearing it four times the stitching on the strap started coming apart. I brought the pack back to Seven Hills and they shipped it back to Ultimate Direction, who fixed it for me. A++++++ customer service for both of these places!

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