Review: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 15

The Ultimate Direction Fastpack series is loved by fastpackers, trail runners, ultra-lite hikers, and bike commuters alike. It’s a very versatile pack that seems like it would be great for run commuters and comes in several sizes to meet all our needs. Whether you carry clothes, lunch, a laptop, and additional gear, or only a few personal items, there is a Fastpack for you (including a women’s-specific model). This week, we take a look at the Fastpack 15 (unisex).

Test Model

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 15  (2018 model)

Size: Unisex Medium/Large

Carrying Capacity: 22L, 1,281 cu. in.

Cost: US $120

Performance and Evaluation

Following the style of memoranda in the military, here is the bottom line up front: This is a great piece of kit.

I had studied many options for a new backpack, and I selected this model because of prior good experience with the brand. I have decided that it is better to be a regular customer, once you have become familiar with and developed trust in the products of a specific company, especially if you are wearing the item, rather than trying this and that, with the risk it will fit or it will not. I have owned two vests by Ultimate Direction. They were both well made and durable. I gave one away to a friend of mine after about 50 half marathons, and I replaced it with a version that cinches up slightly tighter. That is my only criticism. UD straps, other than in this case, do not tighten quite as much as might be ideal. I was aware of that potential modest negative, offset by the positives. For the record, this particular model has straps (front and side) that pull taut. (For reference, I am 5-9 and 175 pounds, wearing a men’s 42 suit and a 17-33 shirt, and my pack is the larger of the two available sizes).

The most important news I have to share about the Fast Pack 15, however, does not appear anywhere else –  even on the manufacturer’s website. It fits a 15-inch MacBook Pro (2018 model) perfectly, meaning snugly, as if the sleeve had been designed for just that unit. I was unsure from my research. I even spoke with a customer service representative over the phone, who said he thought the device would be a tiny bit too tall. I am glad the guy turned out to be wrong, because I am able to bring a laptop on the run commute now. He was responsive, indicating he would share with the team that a smidge more room would be advantageous. I wrote back after my discovery, to assure them the dimensions were fine. (The other variations in the series with the same name do not share the same features, in particular the sleeve. It may be this year’s model will be replaced in any event.)

There are critics on the internet who disapprove of the very concept of running with a computer. They lead lives different than mine. I work; I work at a job that involves a computer; and I like to run for my commute. That involves running with a computer. I formerly resorted to a tablet, an iPad, and that is acceptable, but the laptop form factor remains the more effective option, with it’s existing software and my personal workflow. If we are similar, then I recommend this superlative choice. For that matter, if I were running recreationally, I likely would reach for this pack as well. I simply wouldn’t lug the laptop. The sleeve is unobtrusive. You would not be bothered if you never availed yourself of the signature feature. Be warned though that the back has a moderately rigid panel. If that is bothersome, consider an alternative.

I am a minimalist in philosophy and by practice. When I am not running to work, I carry more because I expect to use more. I have, for example, a breast pocket wallet, business cards in a case, a toothbrush and toothpaste in a drawstring bag with hand sanitizer and eye drops, a monocular and a tiny magnifying glass, pen and paper, and so on. On travel, I typically have noise cancelling headphones and a digital camera. All of that stays at home when I run commute. I keep a toiletry kit in my desk drawer at the office. In reality, unlike fantasy novels, the laws of physics limit us: a vessel that has X by Y by Z dimensions can hold only X by Y by Z volume, with whatever allowance is made for elasticity; there are not sacks hiding infinite expanses.

The materials are first-rate, but lightweight. The construction is highly competent. The zippers, a point of failure on bags, are medium weight, and seem sturdy. There is a simple handle at the top. There is a corporate logo in big lettering down the back. That is normal, albeit not to my taste.

What I Liked

Laptop compartment (fits MacBook Pro 15)

Quality construction

Excellent design allows good fit

What I Didn’t Like

Minimalist style inherently means not much can be carried

Backpack Details

Shoulder Straps

The shoulder straps have multiple pouches, three that zip and a fourth for a water bottle.

Main Compartment

The design is good. This is not for an around the world journey or even a domestic flight. Although the capacity is more ample than advertised (21 liters rather than 15 liters), it is not by virtue of thickness. The room comes from height. The main section opens down the center with zip featuring two sliders and then further from the top, courtesy of hook and loop fasteners; it is a roll top, fastening securely on each side to a plastic clasp.

The compartment has room beyond the laptop sleeve. It isn’t much space. There is a zippered inner pocket for a power adapter and cables. I put loose items that are larger but not large enough to avoid the risk of falling out unnoticed into a separate drawstring bag.

Backpack loaded with Macbook Pro 15 and clothing (shirt, t-shirt, socks)

Conclusion

To tell the truth, I loved this backpack on first sight. I was not disappointed in testing on the first run. My comparison is an ultra-lightweight backpack by Marmot, which I was fond of, enough so to buy an extra. It was and remains excellent for general use, and I would not hesitate to endorse it as formless as it is. The unique selling proposition of this UD offering is the transportation of the laptop. There was no significant bouncing thanks to the straps having considerable travel. There is a bit of heat on the back. I am no engineer, but I have enough common sense to suspect it would be impossible to avoid some friction and trapped sweat between my back and the backpack.

Run commuting takes effort. That extends beyond the physical exertion. It obliges a person to plan. The Ultimate Direction Fast Pack 15 facilitates the process. I have a short list of favorite things. This has earned its place there.

By |2019-08-12T19:21:04-04:00August 12th, 2019|Categories: Gear, General|0 Comments

Review: Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0

While not technically a backpack, the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0 has all the features you would expect on a pack, and a whole lot more. It’s great for the run commuter who doesn’t carry much with them to work, and is perfect if you also want something light and comfortable for carrying gear and water on long road/trail runs.

Test Model

UD PB Adventure Vest 3.0

Size: Large

Carrying Capacity: 16L, 977 cu. in.

Cost: US $169.95

Add-on: UD 20oz. Water Bottle

Performance and Evaluation

I tested the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0 during 35 miles of run commuting. 

I was worried the Large might be a little big at first, but after adjusting the numerous straps (hidden and otherwise) it felt secure and form-fitting. With a water bottle added in the shoulder strap pocket, it was even more snug. I don’t normally run with water, though, so for most test runs I left the bottle out.

This thing is extremely lightweight – if you put it on while empty, you almost don’t even notice you are wearing it. The reason for that is the almost completely see-thru material from which most of the vest is made. Not only is thin…some of it’s compartments are waterproof, too! Or are they?

I was skeptical, so I ran a test. I placed several folded-up paper towels inside each of the small pockets on the shoulder straps, and then placed a rolled up pair of pants and shirt in the main compartment. All three pouches are made from “SilNylon/66: Silicone-Impregnated 30D nylon with a polyurethane face” which “creates a permanently waterproof fabric.” I was hoping to test it while running in a heavy downpour, but the rains never came. So I did the next best thing I could of…

Waterproof Testing

Result – Everything got wet

The water most likely seeped in through the zippers and not the material, but, still…lesson learned.

Wrap everything you need to stay dry in something waterproof (plastic grocery bag, drybag) before packing it into the vest.

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For most runs, here is what I carried: 

  • A set of work-appropriate clothing, rolled up and placed in a plastic bag (not garment carrier compatible) 

  • Small lunch

  • Cell phones, wallet, work ID

  • Clif bar, and a couple of gels

  • Packable rainjacket

  • Sunglasses

That was a lot to carry in this vest. My regular run commuting pack is a 24L and I usually pack it almost entirely full. The UD PB Adventure Vest’s carrying capacity is only 16L, and while it does have additional external pockets and compartments to stash gear, I had to leave some things out that I would normally carry – namely, my sizeable lunch. However, that is often leftovers in glass containers and race vests aren’t meant to carry that in the first place.  A simple sandwich, with crackers and fruit fit fine.

On the run, the full vest ran extremely well. It felt really good to not have to wear a tightly-fastened waist strap, and the two sternum straps served very well as overall stabilizers of the pack’s load. One thing I noticed that is different than running with a traditional running pack – the weight of the pack is carried quite differently. On a standard pack (waist strap, sternum strap(s), frame or no frame) the full weight of the backpack is pulled against your back and becomes an extension of your body, rather than a bouncy, separate accessory. The UD vest’s weight is carried down lower on your body and pulls at your shoulders, straightening up your back slightly. It was a nice change and similar to how other waist-strapless hydration packs like the Nathan HPL-020 carries it’s weight.

Side view, showing water bottle in shoulder strap pocket

Back of the vest, showing elastic cord lockdown on sides of pack

Front of vest with water bottle

What I Liked

An abundance of run-accessible pouches

Comfortable and carries weight differently than a backpack

Extremely lightweight

Hydration system compatible and accepts additional water bottle

Double sternum straps

What I Didn’t Like

Low carrying capacity

Not waterproof

High cost

Backpack Details

Back

The back of the vest consists of two large, stretchable pouches, with the tops being held together with the blue elastic cord shown in the picture. These pockets are of decent size and can hold a jacket or hat and gloves with ease. The criss-crossed elastic cord area is excellent for holding wet clothing or shed layers.

Once the main compartment of the vest is loaded, the blue cord can be cinched tightly and then connects to a loop at the top of the pack to ensure the contents remain contained. For additional security, the elastic cord may be stretched to the sides and snapped in to gray cord fasteners on the sides and top of the vest (8 in total; 3 per side, 2 on top). These function very similarly to external compression straps found in good running packs.

On the left side of the main compartment is another zippered pouch. Like the main compartment, it is not run accessible, so store things here you won’t need until you are done running.It contains a key clip and (in addition to keys) can hold a wallet and a couple of other small items.

At the bottom of the pack are two reflective, non-stretchable loops. I think these are for carrying an ice axe, so yeah – not really useful for run commuting. 

Elastic cord hooks for extra compression

 Keys and valuables pouch

Main Compartment

The main compartment of the vest is made entirely of water-resistant material, and is closed with a zipper that runs up one side and across the top. It won’t hold much, as it is quite small by normal run commuter pack standards. I fit my clothing in there, but not much else. 

You can easily secure the contents in order to keep things from bouncing by using the elaborate elastic tie-down system.

 Almost full with a pair of pants and a shirt

Sides

The sides of the Adventure Vest are the defining characteristic of vest-style packs. Each side of the vest forms one unbroken loop from the waist all the way to the top of the shoulder. In a backpack the shoulder straps have thinner straps that connect to the bottom of the pack and can be shortened and lengthened to tighten the bag to your shoulder area. With the vest you put your arms through each loop and buckle the sternum straps at the front.

On each side of the vest at hip level, there are large zippered pouches, made of the same soft, stretchy material found on the front of the pack. These are great for storing hats, gloves, sunglasses, etc. Softer things would probably work best though, as this area presses directly against you hips.

Behind each large pouch is a small piece of velcro that, when opened, reveals an adjustable strap that tightens the vest to your waist. It took me a while to realize that this important feature was here, so be sure to make note of it’s location if you plan on buying one.

In front of the large pouches are smaller ones that are ideal for energy bars, gels, a wallet, or other small items that need to be accessed quickly and easily.

 Left side of the vest

Right side of the vest

Shoulder Straps

Working our way up from the bottom on the right side, you will find a pouch that holds a water bottle. It can hold anything really, but was designed to hold a bottle and includes a cinch strap at the top to hold the bottle in place. On the outside of this pouch, you’ll find another small, stretchy pouch that is good for holding one or two gels or a Clif bar.

At the top of the shoulder strap on both the left and right sides, is a narrow, long, zippered pouch that (like the previous pouch) will hold a couple of gels or an energy bar.

On the left side shoulder strap, you will see a large, stretchy, open-top pocket that will hold a hat and/or gloves, camera case, or similar-sized items. Above this is a pouch similar in size and location as the water bottle holder, but zippered on two sides. This is great for a large smartphone, sunglasses, or additional clothing, such as a t-shirt. It will also fit another water bottle!

Sternum Straps

The UD PB Adventure Vest has two sternum straps attached to long, sliding rails allowing for a wide range of adjustment. The straps themselves are thin and unpadded, and connect using small buckles. There are no excess strap holders, so to keep them from flopping around, try securing them with small pieces of Velcro tape.

 Closeup of sternum straps

Zippered pouch on left side holds an additional water bottle

Hydration Pouch

The Adventure Vest does not come with a bladder, but will accommodate most bladders with capacities up to 70 oz. (2L).

The hydration pocket can be found within the zipper located at the top of the vest. Inside is a velcro strap that holds the bladder and keeps it from slipping down and bunching up. The drinking hose can be routed out either the top left or top right side through holes that bring it out and down the shoulder straps. The hose can also be passed underneath the narrow, white, zippered pouches in the shoulder straps to keep the end of the drinking tube from bouncing around while running.

Additional Pictures

Disclaimer

Ultimate Direction provided us with the PB Adventure Vest 3.0 for review, however this did not influence my opinion regarding this product. The thoughts and pictures contained in this review are my own.